What Goes Well with Ox?
Tatler Hong Kong|January 2021
Searching for an appropriate gift for the Chinese New Year, our resident wine expert finds there’s more to consider than white or red
Sarah Helller MW

Christmas and New Year’s Eve are over, and you may be part way through Dry January by now, but the big season for wine gifting in Asia still lies ahead.

Every Chinese New Year, the cheesier element among the world’s wine producers pumps out container loads of bottles emblazoned with the coming year’s zodiac animal (this year, beginning February 12 in China, at least it’s an ox, a far easier sell than 2020’s rat). But what if you don’t want to be one of those gifters indifferently flinging bottles of ox-labelled red at everyone in their contact list?

Here’s how to think up some fun or even slightly off-piste ideas for wine gifts without accidentally offending everyone you know.

First of all, be realistic about your own level of wine knowledge. If you’re a novice, it’s better to invest your time in making a single, imaginative (and reasonably priced) choice, rather than try to personalise gifts for each of your friends, especially if your gift list is longer than ten. Since no one expects the wine you send to be the next sleeper cult hit, the pressure is off and you can actually have some fun with your choices, indulging in some Lunar New Year symbolism or punning. Rather than something safe and snooze-worthy, start with a wine style you know most of your crowd enjoys and then give it a little twist to earn you cred from the wine geeks (if you can’t be bothered to do the work, I’ve done it for you below).

On the other hand, if you’re a wine lover, you probably have more information about your friends’ preferences and may feel that it’s worth investing in semi personalised choices (dictating, implicitly, how much you should spend). Your friends’ expectations are also probably higher, meaning what is inside the bottle is more important than its appearance.

However, if you have to send gifts to more than ten friends, family members or colleagues, I highly recommended you stick to a single, reasonably priced and versatile option, as trying to categorise a long contact list may cause serious social awkwardness if the recipients ever compare notes (trust me, I’ve seen it; the results are not pretty).

Also, avoid the trap of spending too much time or money picking a “statement” wine; you’ll only find yourself grumbling about pearls to swine when it’s under-appreciated or even unappreciated by those who are less enthusiastic than you are. Better to choose something with broader appeal, even if it isn’t “safe” per se, and save your treasure hunting energies for your own table.

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