Millennials might not be squirreling away as many collectible bottles as boomers yet, but they have it just about right when it comes to the meaning of wine—it’s about experience. And now, more than ever, the wine industry understands that. A visit to a winery rarely involves standing at the bar for five tastes; it’s an extended and layered stay, often with delicious bites and satisfying information about the wines. Clubs are popping up that offer exclusive access and a like-minded community. And destinations worldwide are combining wine touring (and making!) with local traditions, for total cultural immersion. This year, we’ve compiled some peak wine experiences with the potential to make 2020 a most memorable year for your favorite wine lover. And, well, because they are likely to open a few bottles at home too, we’ve got the best tools for them.
The Last Corkscrew You’ll Ever Buy
This is for the wine lover who has a drawerful of corkscrews yet still doesn’t have a favorite. Some have ill-functioning foil knives, others a wobbly helix, and still others an extraction angle that tends to snap corks in two. Enter the Code 38 P-Type Pro X model ($445 for a personalized gift edition). Sure, there’s “pro” in the name—the tool was designed for sommeliers working the floor. But what private collector doesn’t also want a corkscrew fashioned from a solid piece of stainless steel, with a black titanium-coated helix and foil blade? This one gets the job done expertly, and with serious style.
A Royal Champagne Exclusive
At the luxurious Royal Champagne Hotel and Spa, the new Champagne concierge, Lise Lagrand, is waiting to open the hotel’s most expensive bottle: the 2002 Krug Clos du Mesnil, a 17-year-old expression of a single plot of Chardonnay. But before you have a chance to ask how much that might set you back, the region’s premiere hotel has thrown in a two-night stay in the Joséphine Suite, with its handcrafted furnishings and spectacular view of the Marne Valley through panoramic windows. And Michelin-starred chef Jean-Denis Rieubland will design a dinner to complement the rare vintage bubbly at the chef’s table, where you can keep an eye on the kitchen team in action. Expect the likes of espelette peppers from the hotel garden with langoustines, turbot with seaweed butter and artichokes, Saint-Pierre mollusks, Aveyron lamb … An unforgettable food and wine adventure. Cost for the package: 4,485 Euros (about $4,900).
Membership in the Garzón Club
When it comes to South American wine, Uruguay isn’t the first country that generally comes to mind. Yet it has a winery—with a private club—that offers a range of experiences rivaling any in the world, along with world-class wine. Members of the Garzón Club at Bodega Garzón can learn winemaking from famed Alberto Antonini himself, and even participate in the process. In the handsome space, surrounded by stunning landscapes, the Uruguayan wine lifestyle includes food and wine pairings as well as other educational, recreational and social events, to say nothing of private dining privileges at the Restaurant at Bodega Garzón, which was developed by celebrity chef and live-fire-cooking guru Francis Mallmann. It’s an exclusive slice of Uruguay, but membership (about $200,000) also includes insider access to all of vintner Alejandro Bulgheroni’s wine properties worldwide, including the Alejandro Bulgheroni Estate in Napa; Bodega Vistalba in Mendoza, Argentina; Dievole, a Chianti Classico producer in Tuscany; Podere Brizio, in Montalcino, also Tuscany; Château Suau, in Bordeaux; and Alkina Estate in Barossa Valley, South Australia. Golf lovers, take note: Wine club members are also eligible to join Garzón Tajamares, the 18-hole golf club designed by Masters and U.S. Open champion Angel Cabrera.
Chile’s Ultimate Destination Wine Tasting
Among its annual Wine Star Awards this year, Wine Enthusiast magazine gave the nod for Best Winery Experience—in the world—to Chile’s stunning Vik estate. Cutting-edge architecture and technology; breathtaking vineyard, mountain, and valley views; meticulously crafted wines; a delicious culinary program; and the means to explore the vineyards by mountain bike or on horseback … there are rich layers in a visit to Vik. But the winery has designed a special package for us (about $15,000 for two) that rolls out four days of a deep dive into this multifaceted wine-lover’s destination: transportation from Santiago by helicopter, a morning horseback ride in the vineyard, a traditional asado lunch with the chef, tour and tasting with the winemaker, guided trekking to explore Millahue Valley (at which point you will need a decadent spa treatment) and memorable dinners in the Milla Milla Restaurant, as well as a private evening at the Lodge. Nights will be in the new Puro Vik, glass bungalows that seemingly hang from the steep hills below the winery, offering panoramic views of the dramatic landscape, with the Andes Mountains in the distance.
The Only Wine Glass They’ll Ever Need
If the wine lover on your list favors a single variety or region, there’s a clear choice of glass shape to optimize the wine. Look no further than the renowned Riedel collection to find it. If, though, your giftee is a wildly adventurous drinker, given to trying high-end Burgundy one night and South African Chenin Blanc the next, there’s no cupboard space in the world vast enough to hold all the stems custom-designed for every wine. In fact, says René Gabriel—sometime wine writer, wine buyer, and now the glass designer behind Gabriel-Glas—“people are shocked and unhappy by the lines of different stems. They’re unsure. What’s the right glass?” In his case, in the face of an outsized volume of wines in his professional life, he wanted the simplicity of one glass for tasting them all. Gabriel rejected the universal egg shape in favor of a modern low bowl for wide surface area, topped by a graceful taper and flair. “Tip a little to the right,” he says, “and a little to the left, and you have all the aromas. Sip, and it’s like the wine is slipping over a stone.” The only nod to individual need is two tiers of the glass—a slightly heartier StandArt Edition and a more delicate Gold Edition ($31.25 and $71 per stem, respectively). So ethereal is the Gold stem, it feels like you’re drinking out of thin air. Or as Gabriel puts it, “The weight is the wine, not the glass.” Gabriel-glasinternational.com.
Buy Now (StandArt, 2 Glasses): $62.50
Your Turn to Judge
Wine lovers know the story of the 1976 Judgment of Paris. A young wine merchant and educator (Steven Spurrier) organized a tasting to see how California wines would fare under the blind criticism of French judges. As it turns out, of course, very well—most scored higher than the top Bordeaux and white Burgundies they were pitted against, much to the chagrin of the French panel. And Time Magazine reporter George Taber was on hand to record the event for posterity (the only one on hand, in fact). We’re still talking about the historic event more than 40 years later because it gave California a phenomenal boost of credibility on the world wine stage. And you might think that’s the end of it—the question of comparative quality has been put to rest. But it’s too delicious a question to drop. In May of 2020, Napa wines will be pitted again in a blind tasting against top international bottles, this time at Napa’s Clos Du Val winery, and 50 lucky ticket holders will have a chance to weigh in and make the calls. The original duo—Steven Spurrier (pictured) and George Taber—will be on hand for this Judgment of Napa, but this time around, even Spurrier doesn’t know what wines are being chosen. Masters of Wine Peter Marks and Matt Deller have been tasked with making the picks. A VIP elite ticket ($15,000) also includes two nights at Meadowood, an exclusive dinner at a Napa winery as well as an intimate dinner with Spurrier and Taber, a one-of-a-kind Richard Von Saal art piece and a signed hardback copy of George Taber’s tell-all book. (A VIP premier ticket, available for $1,500, includes a welcome wine reception, exclusive dinner at a Napa winery, and access to a viewing deck and lounge to watch the Judgment of Napa.) Details at culturedvine.com.
Grand Cru of Sonoma County Dinner at Single Thread
When the 2019 Michelin guide was published, Sonoma County got its first three-star restaurant. Dinner at Single Thread in Healdsburg is a multi-hour adventure through vibrant flavors from the sea, nearby purveyors, and the owners’ own farm, with exquisite dishes often leaning Asian and always perfectly fresh and balanced. But Single Thread is also an inn, its rooms offering natural luxury and high-design. And restaurant and inn proprietors Kyle and Katina Connaughton are offering a special experience for wine lovers, a build-out beyond dinner, if you will, which includes two nights in the inn (including a special breakfast); a private wine education with the wine team, exploring the cool climate AVAs of Sonoma County; an in-room hot pot donabe dinner paired with favorite wines; an excursion to an iconic vineyard to taste through estate Chardonnay and Pinot Noir over a picnic lunch prepared by the Single Thread kitchen; a tasting from seminal local vineyards, such as Gap’s Crown, Coastlands, Olivet Lane, Hirsch, and/or Heintz; and, what you really came for, Single Thread’s dining experience paired with a reserve selection of library wines from Sonoma and Burgundy, chosen by chef Kyle and wine director Evan Hufford. The package starts at $8,350 per couple (tax included).
The Cork Extractor Made for Old Vintages
Collectors know the heartbreak of pulling out a carefully cellared bottle—now in the mature prime of its projected life—only to have the cork crack and crumble, no matter how gently we try to extract it. The wise alternative, according to conventional wisdom, is to do the job with an “ah-so,” the two-pronged tool that wedges between cork and glass, so you can, ideally, twist the stopper out in one piece. Too often, though, an old cork can’t withstand even that supportive process, and bits and pieces of cork land in the prized wine. Now, though, there’s the Durand ($125), a device that’s both corkscrew and ah-so. A helix goes into the cork first, then the prongs of the ah-so part of the tool, and both work together to extract older corks effectively. Just one caveat: If your wine is especially old, and the cork fragile, hedge your bets by using your fingers to nurse the last little bit from the bottle.
The Presidential Wine Experience at the Boston Wine Festival
Wine lovers across the country are no strangers to the fabulous wine dinners lined up each year at the Boston Wine Festival, the longest-running food and wine festival in the US. Hosted by the Boston Harbor Hotel and fueled by executive chef Daniel Bruce’s incredible wine-pairing skill set, the event pulls in top-notch wine producers from here and abroad in 2020 (which kicks off January 10) including Les Domaines Barons de Rothschild, Groth, Cain Winery, Vineyard 29, Chappellet, Opus One, Ramey Vineyards and more. This year for the first time, the hotel is offering a Presidential Wine Experience—a package that will transport up to eight guests from Boston’s Logan Airport and whisk them up a private elevator to the John Adams Presidential Suite (Winston flowers will be waiting). The experience ($16,000 a night) can be scheduled for any date when a chosen vintner will be hosting dinner and your group will enjoy a private toast with said vintner ahead of time. Chef Bruce will continue to indulge you the next morning with a Champagne brunch.
The Vines Wine Club Membership
You could search out a bottle of 100-Parker-point 2016 Les Manyes from Priorat’s trending producer Terroir al Límit. Or you could make your own barrel of wine there in partnership with the winemaking star of the team, Dominik Huber. Membership in the Vines wine club offers the chance to roll up your sleeves and crush and blend in carefully curated locations around the world. Beyond the aforementioned Spanish region (all the rage at the moment), in 2020 you can opt to make Brunello in Italy’s Montalcino, Riesling in Germany’s Rheingau or Malbec in Mendoza. (In that last region, membership actually gives you title to a small piece of vineyard.) According to the Vines founding partner, Michael Evans, the level of involvement is up to you, from simply describing your wine preferences to the winemaking partner, who will customize the wine for you, to being embedded in blending sessions and making the decisions about your own wine. Membership ($150,000, plus an annual fee of somewhere between $10,000 and $30,000, depending on where you choose to make your wine) includes blending and harvest visits, complete with stays in local hotel gems, special wine dinners and seasonal, regional activities like truffle hunting. With the Vines, winemaking becomes a cultural experience, according to Evans, as well as an ever-deepening education in the craft of winemaking.
The Art Gallery Meets Tasting Room Exclusive Experience
Rarely does wine tasting double as a contemporary art museum visit, but what’s on offer now at the Donum Estate in Carneros, Sonoma, manages that. Interspersed among the 200 acres surrounding the new Donum House hospitality center (90 of them under vine) is an eclectic collection of site-specific sculptures by contemporary artists, from Ai Weiwei and Keith Haring to Yayoi Kusama and Louise Bourgeois. You’ll find no explanatory plaques describing the artists’ intentions. It’s about personal reactions to these works of art, tucked into, and sometimes dominating, the vines. It’s also, of course, about terrific wine—specifically Pinot Noir (but don’t overlook the Chardonnay and sparkling). Opt to make a reservation for the Collect Winemaker Experience ($300 per person, a four-hour experience available for parties of 10), and you’ll walk through the vineyards with either winemaker Dan Fishman or associate winemaker Tony Chapman for a deep dive into the estate’s soils and clones. Next taste barrel samples of the winery’s top wines, giving the winemaker a sense of your taste. In the Sky Lounge, perched on one end of the new production facility (with expansive views across the rows to San Pablo Bay), a flight of Donum’s most limited wines will be followed by a delicious, multicourse lunch sourced from the winery’s garden and local artisan purveyors. Finally, tour the sculptural art collection itself, feeling the irony of the wild smiles on Yue Minjun’s Contemporary Terracotta Warriors, the magic of the music created by the elements through the chimes of Doug Aitken’s Sonic Mountain, and the juxtaposition of India’s sacred and banal in Subodh Gupta’s striking banyan tree fashioned from ordinary stainless-steel dishes and pots.
Wing & Barrel Ranch Sporting Experiences
Does the wine lover in your life also share a passion for shooting as a sport? Counting many vintners among its members, Sonoma’s Wing & Barrel Ranch, on a 1,000-acre parcel about 35 miles north of San Francisco, provides the setting for shooting alongside prominent winemakers who share the love. A bonus for foodies: Celebrity chef Charlie Palmer has recently become the club’s culinary adviser, and an impressive club house on track to open in 2020 will be a rich setting for food and wine events. If your commitment runs short of the $100,000 general membership fee ($225,000 for corporate), though, this season a few of the club’s vintner members are hosting very cool two-day Ultimate Sporting Experience packages for nonmembers. The producers—Michael Browne of CIRQ (former founding partner of Kosta Browne), Matt Crafton of Chateau Montelena, Shelly Rafanelli of A. Rafanelli, Andrew Hoxsey of Ghost Block, and more—will join you in either a guided upland bird-hunting excursion or shooting on the clay course, and then pour his or her wines paired with some of Palmer’s tasty creations. The packages ($3,800 per shooter plus guest, $16,000 for a group of eight) include a two-night stay at The Lodge at Sonoma Renaissance Resort & Spa, a private tour of the vintner’s winery the second day, and dinner at one of Charlie Palmer’s Northern California restaurants.