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Holiday season is primetime for wine gifts, and the first rule of thumb is to do a little research. Make sure the recipient even drinks alcohol — "I once gave a British executive a very nice bottle of Petrus without realizing he was a recovering alcoholic. He auctioned it off for charity," says So You Think You Can Dance and American Idol executive producer Nigel Lythgoe. Then find out his or her preference for a varietal or region or if the person has a penchant for trendy pét-nat sparkling and other natural wines. "You should establish whether the person is at least an Old or New World drinker. That's a big divide," says author and wine columnist Jay McInerney.
A good Hollywood assistant should be able to research anything, but also pay attention to details any time you're meeting the recipient, suggests CAA's head of music brand partnerships, Tom Worcester. If a client once mentioned a trip to Tuscany, get her a nice Brunello. "Surprise them with something they've talked about," says Worcester. "It's the gentle touch that can lead to a big payoff."
ICM senior media rights agent Josie Freedman, who collects mostly Central Coast wines made near her Ballard Canyon ranch in the Santa Ynez Valley, suggests seeking out bottles the giftee never would find in a store. "There are so many up-and-comers in California," she says. In addition to gifting bottles of his own Pursued by Bear wines, Kyle MacLachlan throws support behind rising stars in his home state of Washington. "My Baby Bear Syrah is always a surprise for people not familiar with it," he says, "but I also have an inside track on terrific Washington wines that aren't necessarily in the mainstream yet."
No time for sleuthing? Any well-known collector in this town will have their preferences kept on file at their favorite wine shop, so call and ask. "We might have more than 400 notes on a studio head," says Christian Navarro, president of Wally's Wine & Spirits, whose ubiquitous green box has been hitting Hollywood desks since the 1980s. "What he's given, what he's received and from whom, why it was given. It all helps."
If you don't know the recipient's preferences, zero in by finding out "if they're vegetarian or carnivores; if they're intellectual or creative; if they like art," says Jill Bernheimer, owner of Hollywood wine shop Domaine LA. It's OK to stick with a well-known and respected varietal or region, but make it interesting. "I'll give a full-bodied red wine that they wouldn't necessarily buy for themselves," Lythgoe says. "Barolos and Super Tuscans from Italy, like Sassicaia, Ornellaia and Tignanello." He also gives bottles from his own Paso Robles winery, Villa San-Juliette, which he co-owns with fellow Idol producer Ken Warwick and his wife, Julie Warwick.
Special touches such as packaging or the way it's delivered can make an everyday bottle more eye-catching. "I think a short, personal note on why you chose to send a particular bottle to that person is a nice touch," MacLachlan suggests. And don't worry too much if the bottle is regifted. "Take it to a dinner party or give it to your assistant," says Girls and Camping producer Jenni Konner. "I'm convinced there are five bottles of Dom Perignon in all of Hollywood, and we're all just continually switching them."
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