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How to Choose the Right Wine Gift

Whether you’re bringing a wine to drink with dinner or wrapping a bottle to bequeath, our wine columnist and the wine pros she polled have some very helpful tips to consider.

By LETTIE TEAGUE
Thu, Dec 22, 2022 8:58amGrey Clock 5 min

IT’S THE SEASON of giving, and wine lovers know what that means: You’re likely to give, and to get, a bottle of wine.

Will your bottle be gratefully received or quickly regifted? I always hope for the former, and I’ve been mostly—though not entirely—successful with the wines that I’ve brought to houses of both strangers and friends. I’ve given wines that I considered interesting or fun, or that pair well with food; sometimes they’re just wines that I like to drink (Champagne). How do other wine lovers choose the bottles that they bring along? When I asked oenophiles, both pro and amateur, I heard some good stories and a few useful tips.

For my part, I’ve found that the easiest wine to bring to somebody’s house is one meant to match with a particular meal. I often bring bottles to dinners with friends whose menus I’ve inquired about in advance, and the wines, carefully chosen to pair with the meal, are invariably well-received. Sometimes I’ll bring a wine to match with the meal and a second for the host to keep.

When it comes to bringing wines to the houses of people I don’t know, let’s just say that my track record isn’t exactly 100%. One of my biggest failures in that regard came a few years ago, when my husband and I were invited to an avid wine collector’s house along with the friends that we had in common. The host, I was told, loved expensive Bordeaux.

Since I don’t have lots of expensive Bordeaux in my cellar, I decided to bring something fun that the collector probably hadn’t encountered. I chose the Ceretto Moscato d’Asti, a slightly fizzy, fresh, peach-inflected wine from a top producer in Piedmont, Italy. The Ceretto Moscato costs around $20, and it’s not only delicious, but comes in a cool triangle-shaped bottle.

The wine was no mere novelty, however. Although some wine drinkers think of Moscato as cheap commercial wine that comes in a jug, Moscato from Piedmont is quality stuff. Still, it seemed the collector presumed that my gift belonged in the former category. He took one look at my bottle and left it by his front door. All the easier to re-gift to his letter-carrier, I thought.

Sometimes I’ve brought wines that are a little too quirky for popular taste. Take, for example, the 2012 Calabretta Nerello Mascalese Vigne Vecchie ($35) that I recently brought to the house of a friend. A rich, earthy, complex red from the Etna region of Sicily, it reminds me of an old-school Barolo. But the wine can be a little bit funky when it’s first opened, and it definitely benefits from a good decanting. And sometimes that takes too long when you’ve brought it to drink with a dinner.

Such uncertainties are why I usually opt for a bottle of Champagne or a Cremant d’Alsace. Everyone knows what to do with sparkling wine, and if they don’t like it or don’t want to drink it, it’s the easiest sort of wine to regift. I usually give Champagnes from small growers like Pierre Péters or Pierre Moncuit to friends. To someone I don’t know well or whom I suspect would like a “brand” name, I’ll bring a Champagne from Louis Roederer instead.

Katja Scharnagl, beverage director of Koloman NYC restaurant in Manhattan, told me that she likes to bring Champagne, too, and her budget is a rather generous $40-$50 a bottle. Ms. Scharnagl also takes care to bestow the bottle ready to drink. “I always bring it chilled,” she said.

My friend RJ, a big wine collector, used to bring very good Champagne and wines to his friends’ houses. As he explained, “I bring wines I like to drink.” But sometimes the bottles are so good they’re completely drained before RJ gets a glass. “I brought a bottle of Tignanello to someone’s house, and it was gone in two seconds,” he said, naming a famous Super Tuscan that costs around $150 a bottle. RJ decided to stop gifting wine and gives expensive Japanese knives instead. (“They’re really great knives,” he said.) That way, I guess, he’s spared the pain of missing out on something he truly loves.

I wondered what wines a winemaker might bring to a party or a dinner. So I put the question to Richard Olsen-Harbich, head winemaker at Bedell Cellars in Cutchogue, N.Y., on the North Fork of Long Island. Does Mr. Olsen-Harbich typically give wines he made, or wines made by somebody else? And what wines do others tend to bring to his house?

Sometimes Mr. Olsen-Harbich brings his own wine—but not necessarily in a bottle. “I’ll bring a sample right out of barrel, which is always fun,” he wrote in an email. If he’s dining with fellow North Forkers, he’ll bring a wine from elsewhere. “I like turning people on to wines from the Finger Lakes or Virginia, which are harder to find and beautiful examples of winemaking,” he said.

Is it daunting for others to bring him a bottle? “They often stress out about it because they think I’m a tough audience, which I’m not,” Mr. Olsen-Harbich replied. But he loves getting wines he doesn’t know much about or has never encountered, and is especially keen on wines from Germany and Alsace, France.

When Alison Smith Story, co-winemaker at Smith Story Wine Cellars in Healdsburg, Calif., visits friends, she might bring a bottle of her own Smith Story Wine Cellars Brut Méthode Traditionnelle Mendocino County Sparkling Wine but also a vintage cookbook or an old book of poetry. “The vintage cookbook almost always becomes a topic of conversation at the table and is passed around,” she said. What wines do others bring to her house? She said her friends tend not to bring wine at all but, rather, “single-origin coffee beans or packets of flowers for my garden.”

I imagined it would be just as hard to bring a bottle to a wine retailer as to a winemaker, and perhaps even harder. After all, a retailer can get any wine he or she wants. And what might a retailer give to someone, given all the options? I asked Gina Trippi, co-owner of Metro Wines in Asheville, N.C.

Unsurprisingly, Ms. Trippi said she tailors the wine to the taste of the recipient. For a female and/or Francophile friend fond of crisp white wines, it might be a Picpoul made by a woman winemaker. Ms. Trippi had actually just published a set of gifting guidelines in the Metro Wines newsletter “The Public Palate.” One key criterion: “A gift should not have a screw cap.” Another piece of advice: “A bottle [should be] shelf priced at $20. A bottle under $20 may make you look a little too holiday frugal and one [costing] way over can be seen as showing off.”

For Ms. Trippi, a great gift bottle is one purchased from a small retailer like her, not a big-box store. “It’s a bottle that says ‘You know me. Or, at least you tried!’ ” she said. (And by the way, she really likes a good bottle of Cinsault.)

I can’t say I agree with or abide by all of her gift criteria. For instance, it’s near-impossible to find a wine from Austria, Australia or New Zealand that isn’t screw capped, yet some of those wines make wonderful gifts. I’ve also given (and received) wines that cost more than $20. But I definitely agree about choosing a wine that shows care and intention.

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Equities are often seen as expensive after promising start to 2023

By CAITLIN MCCABE
Mon, Jan 30, 2023 7 min

A new trading year kicked off just weeks ago. Already it bears little resemblance to the carnage of 2022.

After languishing throughout last year, growth stocks have zoomed higher. Tesla Inc. and Nvidia Corp., for example, have jumped more than 30%. The outlook for bonds is brightening after a historic rout. Even bitcoin has rallied, despite ongoing effects from the collapse of the crypto exchange FTX.

The rebound has been driven by renewed optimism about the global economic outlook. Investors have embraced signs that inflation has peaked in the U.S. and abroad. Many are hoping that next week the Federal Reserve will slow its pace of interest-rate increases yet again. China’s lifting of Covid-19 restrictions pleasantly surprised many traders who have welcomed the move as a sign that more growth is ahead.

Still, risks loom large. Many investors aren’t convinced that the rebound is sustainable. Some are worried about stretched stock valuations, or whether corporate earnings will face more pain down the road. Others are fretting that markets aren’t fully pricing in the possibility of a recession, or what might happen if the Fed continues to fight inflation longer than currently anticipated.

We asked five investors to share how they are positioning for that uncertainty and where they think markets could be headed next. Here is what they said:

‘Animal spirits’ could return

Cliff Asness, founder of AQR Capital Management, acknowledges that he wasn’t expecting the run in speculative stocks and digital currencies that has swept markets to kick off 2023.

Bitcoin prices have jumped around 40%. Some of the stocks that are the most heavily bet against on Wall Street are sitting on double-digit gains. Carvana Co. has soared nearly 64%, while MicroStrategy Inc. has surged more than 80%. Cathie Wood‘s ARK Innovation ETF has gained about 29%.

If the past few years have taught Mr. Asness anything, it is to be prepared for such run-ups to last much longer than expected. His lesson from the euphoria regarding risky trades in 2020 and 2021? Don’t count out the chance that the frenzy will return again, he said.

“It could be that there are still these crazy animal spirits out there,” Mr. Asness said.

Still, he said that hasn’t changed his conviction that cheaper stocks in the market, known as value stocks, are bound to keep soaring past their peers. There might be short spurts of outperformance for more-expensive slices of the market, as seen in January. But over the long term, he is sticking to his bet that value stocks will beat growth stocks. He is expecting a volatile, but profitable, stretch for the trade.

“I love the value trade,” Mr. Asness said. “We sing about it to our clients.”

—Gunjan Banerji

Keeping dollar’s moves in focus

For Richard Benson, co-chief investment officer of Millennium Global Investments Ltd., no single trade was more important last year than the blistering rise of the U.S. dollar.

Once a relatively placid area of markets following the 2008 financial crisis, currencies have found renewed focus from Wall Street and Main Street. Last year the dollar’s unrelenting rise dented multinational companies’ profits, exacerbated inflation for countries that import American goods and repeatedly surprised some traders who believed the greenback couldn’t keep rallying so fast.

The factors that spurred the dollar’s rise are now contributing to its fall. Ebbing inflation and expectations of slower interest-rate increases from the Fed have sent the dollar down 1.7% this year, as measured by the WSJ Dollar Index.

Mr. Benson is betting more pain for the dollar is ahead and sees the greenback weakening between 3% and 5% over the next three to six months.

“When the biggest central bank in the world is on the move, look at everything through their lens and don’t get distracted,” said Mr. Benson of the London-based currency fund manager, regarding the Fed.

This year Mr. Benson expects the dollar’s fall to ripple similarly far and wide across global economies and markets.

“I don’t see many people complaining about a weaker dollar” over the next few months, he said. “If the dollar is falling, that economic setup should also mean that tech stocks should do quite well.”

Mr. Benson said he expects the dollar’s fall to brighten the outlook for some emerging- market assets, and he is betting on China’s offshore yuan as the country’s economy reopens. He sees the euro strengthening versus the dollar if the eurozone’s economy continues to fare better than expected.

—Caitlin McCabe

Stocks still appear overvalued

Even after the S&P 500 fell 15% from its record high reached in January 2022, U.S. stocks still look expensive, said Rupal Bhansali, chief investment officer of Ariel Investments, who oversees $6.7 billion in assets.

Of course, the market doesn’t appear as frothy as it did for much of 2020 and 2021, but she said she expects a steeper correction in prices ahead.

The broad stock-market gauge recently traded at 17.9 times its projected earnings over the next 12 months, according to FactSet. That is below the high of around 24 hit in late 2020, but above the historical average over the past 20 years of 15.7, FactSet data show.

“The old habit was buy the dip,” Ms. Bhansali said. “The new habit should be sell the rip.”

One reason Ms. Bhansali said the selloff might not be over yet? The market is still underestimating the Fed.

Investors repeatedly mispriced how fast the Fed would move in 2022, wrongly expecting the central bank to ease up on its rate increases. They were caught off guard by Fed Chair Jerome Powell‘s aggressive messages on interest rates. It stoked steep selloffs in the stock market, leading to the most turbulent year since the 2008 financial crisis. Now investors are making the same mistake again, Ms. Bhansali said.

Current stock valuations don’t reflect the big shift coming in central-bank policy, which she thinks will have to be more aggressive than many expect. Though broader measures of inflation have been falling, some slices, such as services inflation, have proved stickier. Ms. Bhansali is positioning for such areas as healthcare, which she thinks would be more insulated from a recession than the rest of the market, to outperform.

“The Fed is determined to win the war since they lost the battle,” Ms. Bhansali said.

—Gunjan Banerji

A better year for bonds seen

Gone are the days when tumbling bond yields left investors with few alternatives to stocks. Finally, bonds are back, according to Niall O’Sullivan of Neuberger Berman, an investment manager overseeing about $427 billion in client assets at the end of 2022.

After a turbulent year for the fixed-income market in 2022, bonds have kicked off the new year on a more promising note. The Bloomberg U.S. Aggregate Bond Index—composed largely of U.S. Treasurys, highly rated corporate bonds and mortgage-backed securities—climbed 3% so far this year on a total return basis through Thursday’s close. That is the index’s best start to a year since it began in 1989, according to Dow Jones Market Data.

Mr. O’Sullivan, the chief investment officer of multi asset strategies for Europe, the Middle East and Africa at Neuberger Berman, said the single biggest conversation he is currently having with clients is how to increase fixed-income exposure.

“Strategically, the facts have changed. When you look at fixed income as an asset class…they’re now all providing yield, and possibly even more importantly, actual cash coupons of a meaningful size,” he said. “That is a very different world to the one we’ve been in for quite a long time.”

Mr. O’Sullivan said it is important to reconsider how much of an advantage stocks now hold over bonds, given what he believes are looming risks for the stock market. He predicts that inflation will be harder to wrangle than investors currently anticipate and that the Fed will hold its peak interest rate steady for longer than is currently expected. Even more worrying, he said, it will be harder for companies to continue passing on price increases to consumers, which means earnings could see bigger hits in the future.

“That is why we are wary on the equity side,” he said.

Among the products that Mr. O’Sullivan said he favours in the fixed-income space are higher-quality and shorter-term bonds. Still, he added, it is important for investors to find portfolio diversity outside bonds this year. For that, he said he views commodities as attractive, specifically metals such as copper, which could continue to benefit from China’s reopening.

—Caitlin McCabe

 

Find the fear, and find the value

Ramona Persaud, a portfolio manager at Fidelity Investments, said she can still identify bargains in a pricey market by looking in less-sanguine places. Find the fear, and find the value, she said.

“When fear really rises, you can buy some very well-run businesses,” she said.

Take Taiwan’s semiconductor companies. Concern over global trade and tensions with China have weighed on the shares of chip makers based on the island. But those fears have led many investors to overlook the competitive advantages those companies hold over rivals, she said.

“That is a good setup,” said Ms. Persaud, who considers herself a conservative value investor and manages more than $20 billion across several U.S. and Canadian funds.

The S&P 500 is trading above fair value, she said, which means “there just isn’t widespread opportunity,” and investors might be underestimating some of the risks that lie in waiting.

“That tells me the market is optimistic,” said Ms. Persaud. “That would be OK if the risks were not exogenous.”

Those challenges, whether rising interest rates and Fed policy or Russia’s war in Ukraine and concern over energy-security concerns in Europe, are complicated, and in many cases, interrelated.

It isn’t all bad news, she said. China ended its zero-Covid restrictions. A milder winter in Europe has blunted the effects of the war in Ukraine on energy prices and helped the continent sidestep recession, and inflation is slowing.

“These are reasons the market is so happy,” she said.

—Justin Baer

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