Victoria Moore's gifts for drinks connoisseurs

A little thought can
turn the classic ‘bottle
under the tree’ into a
very desirable gift 
A little thought can turn the classic ‘bottle under the tree’ into a very desirable gift 

A bottle under the tree is an old classic – up there in the present stakes with the box of chocolates and woolly scarf. If that sounds dull then it doesn’t need to be; a small twist can make a drink-related present feel both personal and highly desirable.

Glasses make a beautiful gift. Unless I’ve been given a detailed brief, I usually steer clear of wine glasses, but I do give heavy, hand-blown tumblers for whisky or G&T, or elegant cocktail glasses because they don’t need to fit in with an existing collection.

For short, strong cocktails like daiquiris, champagne coupes can be a better bet than the (rather ugly) inverted cone of the standard martini glass. Have a look at thevintagelist.co.uk – a collection of hand-blown glassware whose designs take their inspiration from English glasses from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The delicate, hand-engraved champagne saucers (pictured, above) would be perfect for cocktails, come in several designs and can be bought by the pair (£24); the six (£72) or the mixed six (£72). They are also available from Liberty. But please note that I would never serve champagne in a coupe – always a wine glass or flute.

A cocktail ingredient is another good bet, especially if you write out a couple of recipes and include them on a card, or bookmark them in a cocktail book. I have been tempting negroni drinkers with boulevardiers – a kind of winter take on a negroni, in which you replace the gin with bourbon. Bulleit Bourbon Frontier Whiskey is particularly good with sweet red vermouth and Campari: regular Bulleit Bourbon Frontier Whiskey (below) is £22 at Waitrose and amazon.co.uk has a limited release Tattoo Edition in a bottle decorated with a design by New York tattoo artist Jess Mascetti. While we are on the subject of whisky, I’ve mentioned them before but Drinks by the Dram’s whisky tasting sets (above right) make excellent presents and the large range includes Japanese Whisky (£32.95 for five 30ml samples); Highland Whisky (£29.95 for five 30ml samples); Bourbon (£29.95 for five 30ml samples) – all of them available from masterofmalt.com.

Now, gin. Is there anyone who doesn’t like gin? One of the best new gins of the year is Twelve Keys London Dry Gin. Made using 12 botanicals, it is richly flavoured with quince, frankincense, basil and caraway among others but with juniper always to the fore (twelvekeys.com, £44). If you’d prefer to pick from the roll call of modern classics consider Sipsmith VJOP (around £40, masterofmalt.com, The Whisky Exchange and other specialists), the satisfying precision of Islay-distilled The Botanist (Waitrose, £36.99), or No 3 London Dry Gin (around £35, Waitrose, Berry Bros & Rudd).

As far as wine goes, one of my favourite presents is the luxurious half bottle – or a selection of them. Tanners in Shrewsbury; Lea & Sandeman in London and The Wine Society (online) all do these with particular élan; the half of Sarget de Gruaud Larose 2014 Bordeaux (Lea & Sandeman, £14.75 for 375ml) is just one of many jewels.

Sipsmith VJOP (left); Twelve Keys (right)

If buying for the type of drinker who would be horrified at the idea of not finishing a full bottle, halves of champagne can still appeal – they make a good aperitif. Lidl has some good halves of champagne at stocking-filler prices – Comte de Senneval Champagne Brut NV (Lidl, £6.99) – but you need to know your presentee here; don’t buy this for anyone who might be angling to savour each mouthful of a single glass of something immaculately delicious. They (and I) would prefer a half of Bollinger (Waitrose, £17.99 down from £23.99 for 37.5cl until Jan 1).

I forgot to mention Anthony Rose’s book Sake and the Wines of Japan (Infinite Ideas, £30) in my recent book round-up. Sake is growing in popularity and if you want to pair a bottle with the book then Rose suggests Akashi-Tai Junmai Daiginjo Genshu, Hyogo (£19 for 300ml, Majestic stores). He says, “Majestic is the first major retailer to have taken on premium sake, and this is one of three from Akashi-Tai in Hyogo Prefecture. It’s a powerful, full-strength sake infused with intense, savoury, umami flavours and a good foil for umami-rich foods such as tomatoes, parmesan and jamón ibérico.”

The pleasure of a good digestif is often forgotten, but Léon Beyer Eau-de-Vie Mirabelle 45 is beautiful; clean and prettily flavoured with yellow plums (Yapp, £42).

If you are looking to personalise a present by tying it back to an important year in someone’s life then it can be easier (and cheaper) to look for a good brandy than to find a wine. David Baker at Brandy Classics (brandyclassics.com) is a brandy gumshoe, a man with the years of experience, immaculate palate and network of contacts that makes it possible for him to hunt out rare and special casks of cognac. On his website you can find many fine vintage cognacs.

Japanese Whisky Tasting Set

For anyone looking for a very fine and special gift, he also has Hermitage 2008 Grande Champagne Cognac (45%, brandyclassics.com, £109.30 for 70cl). This cognac is a one-off – a single cask, which means there are just 240 bottles of it in existence. While the price may raise an eyebrow considering it’s a relatively young spirit, Baker says it is the best cognac he has tasted this year. “And as you know he will have tasted quite a few,” as his colleague says. The smallest glass is a sublime treat.

Of course you might just need a decent bottle – for the neighbours, the postman, the in-laws – whoever. Bottles as presents are the one time when it’s not OK to ignore a terrible label because the liquid within is spectacular. I always buy something I’d be pleased to receive. Unless I know someone’s taste is for Blossom Hill, in which case I buy them a pair of socks.