Wine can make a great gift"”it's an easy way to spread some holiday cheer, and wine lovers always enjoy a new vintage to try out. There's so many options: Up-and-coming vintages from countries once shunned by the wine community, stand-bys that never lose popularity, or perhaps a liqueur would be better choice? Local merchants, some renowned around the Tristate and even the country, have advice on what to give for the holidays and what to drink with all those big meals you'll be stuffed with by year's end.

Crossing Names Off Your Gift List
Giving great wine doesn't have to be expensive"”a relief if you've got a long list of people to buy for this holiday season. But should you play it safe with old favorites, or should you blaze a trail (and speak some Spanish, perhaps)? And while you're at it, maybe you can pick up something for yourself.

Spain didn't used to be known for great wineries, Dave Schmerr says, but now they're really making an impact. The beer and wine director at Jungle Jim's in Fairfield believes they're the best value for under $10, and vintages from Chile are right behind them. "We now sell more Spanish than French wine," he notes.

Once a joke of the wine world, Spanish wines are now a favorite at places such as the Wine Source in Springdale. Owner Ron Molnar says they specialize in Spanish wines, and always pair food with the wine at their tastings. He adds that while even the Wine Spectator is chiming in on Spain's importance, it's something that "the French won't ever acknowledge."

Tim Kinstler, with eight years experience working at the Party Source in Newport, adds that Spanish wines are "Far and away the best value for the money." In the $50-$100 range, however, he notes that "California cabernets are going to be the best received."

Local wine sellers say it is best to base your gift choice on other wines your gift recipient likes to drink, so do some research first.

Chris Waugh owns the Wine C.A.R.T, which will open in December in West Chester (C.A.R.T. standing for Courses, Art, Retail, Tourism). She recommends Argentinean wines for people who think they've tasted everything (how could they with new wineries opening all the time?). Her pick? "Nicolas Catena has a beautiful Alta Malbec deep purple, full-bodied with a touch of spicy black pepper."

However, if you're not quite sure what to get, some wines are considered safe favorites. Cork 'N' Bottle's Richard Goering says California chardonnays and merlots as well as high-end Italians will make an impression. If someone on your list is into something more "cutting edge," he suggests super Tuscans, an Italian wine that isn't Chianti but is a step above typical red table wines (due to the use of grapes that aren't traditionally used in Italian wines).

You can also give people license to explore on their own with membership wine clubs, such as the one offered by the Wine Merchant on Edwards Road. The Wine Merchant's Kathee Van Kirk says it's a way to "expand your horizons on some wines," with two wines each month, plus recipes for food pairing ideas.

If you're not looking for wine but would still like to give those on your list something to keep them warm this winter, try cognac or a coffee liqueur. Goering says hot cognac and high-end products become big sellers this time of year at Cork 'N Bottle. He adds that they also have special single bottlings of bourbons, where they've picked out specific barrels of certain brands, such as Eagle Rare. Each barrel has a distinct taste.

Schmerr says that coffee liqueurs are the most popular sellers at Jungle Jim's over the holidays; Bailey's and Kahlua come out with holiday boxes each year.

The Ohio Connection
You don't have to go far for great wine. You don't even have to leave the state, really. Chip Emmerich runs Burnet Ridge Inc., a winery in North College Hill. Importing grapes from northern California, Emmerich produced his own wines at home before making them available to the public in 1993. He recently brought out his 2005 pinot noir; his 2004 vintage came out in May and sold out quickly. Burnet Ridge, sold in high-end stores, is "high-quality wine for people who like fine wine," says Emmerich. He also makes the popular Purple Trillium, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Petit Verdot that's been tasted even by the likes of former President Bill Clinton.

And he's not the only one who wants you to think Ohio when it comes to wine. Waugh plans on spotlighting Ohio wines at the Wine C.A.R.T, including vintages from Valley Vineyards in Morrow, Kinkead Ridge in Ripley, the Vinoklet and Henke wineries from Cincinnati and Harmony Hill in Bethel. She's one of several Ohio purveyors who want to educate the masses about Ohi'™s great wines. The Napa Valley, Côtes du Rhône and"¦Ashtabula? "It's happening everywhere," she says.

A Guide to Celebrating the Good Times
Those big family meals are full of big flavors that need a wine strong enough to hold up. Schmerr suggests pinot noir. It's good with traditional dishes because of its "fruit-forward style" that won't be overpowered by your dinner. (Pinot noir, as wine and movie fans know, has had a boom in popularity thanks to the 2004 film Sideways.) And don't go for just any pinot noir. Those coming out of France and California are quite good, but Oregon has had "great vintages back to back to back for the last six years," Schmerr says.

Variety is always a good way to impress company. T.J. Christie at the Party Source says you don't have to grab a bottle of every wine available, "just enough to keep things interesting and fresh." Try two reds (Christie recommends Australian Shiraz and a Spanish red) and two whites (take your pick between pinot grigio, sauvignon blanc and German riesling). Van Kirk echoes the two and two idea, saying it's best to give guests choices between light and heavy, reds and whites.

And who wants a bunch of half-emptied bottles the next day? You can avoid the hassle of putting stoppers in all those bottles in a few different ways. Screw tops are no longer something to turn your nose up at, even for the biggest wine connoisseurs. Christie calls it a "a great idea" and says "most of the wine industry would agree." The caps actually keep wine fresher, unlike cork, which can contaminate your wine with harmless bacteria, leaving it tasting like "musty cardboard." Flavorful wines are also coming in 3-liter boxes, another good party idea.

But don't overlook the bubbly. This time of year, with families and friends attending a variety of gatherings, Schmerr notes that "Sparkling wines are great all the time." He adds, "They're for New Year's Eve, but when you have family and friends together, it's a celebration." And you don't have to break the bank either. Quality champagnes can be found for under $40. However, if you're looking for expensive champagne, there are plenty that are worth the price. At $250 a bottle, Bollinger makes what Schmerr jokingly calls "big boy champagne," explaining, "You're getting a little more bubbly for your buck."

The Wine Source's Molnar says that at the end of the year, more customers come in looking for fancy corkscrews or stylish decanters. They're great ways to embellish gifts.

Waugh recommends a personalized wine connoisseur box. It includes everything from a corkscrew, bottle openers, a pourer and a stopper, to even a wine thermometer. And the kits can be monogrammed. Could you need anything else? "It's great to take on trips that require items be packed in suitcases." Waugh notes. "A connoisseur never knows when they'll run into that 'special' bottle of wine."