How much do you want to spend is the obvious first question. Some gift-givers mistakenly believe you have to spend a lot on a bottle to get something good. Finding a very nice wine to give to a wine geek for under $50 is easy. For the occasional drinker finding something under $20 isn't too difficult. Even for the snobbier wine folks you can still find a nice enough wine in the under $20 range as it's the thought that counts, right?
What kind of wine
White, red or pink? Dry or sweet? Start there. If you don't know then think about when they are likely to drink wine. Sipping on a glass on a summer day? White. They eat a lot of seafood? White. Beef eaters? Red. Some of the wine geeky types might only drink red, some folks prefer white, some even say reds give them headaches. If they stick to Chardonnay and Merlot do you feel comfortable branching out to something like Pinot Gris or Zinfandel? Or maybe a sparkling wine they could use for the holidays.
Go to a good wine shop
Yes, you may pay more than the bargain store but you need knowledgeable assistance. Give the sales clerk in the store all the information you can about what you know of the person's wine drinking habits. Let them make at least two or three suggestions then you choose from there.
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If all else fails
And you know nothing of their drinking habits and don't have a good wine store available what do you do? Buy 'em socks! Just kidding. Stick with a lighter white, such as an off-dry Riesling, Gewurztraminer or maybe a Viogner, or a softer red, such as a Pinot Noir or Merlot. Without trying to sound age or sex discriminatory think of who you are giving the wine to because a 21 year old female, your grandmother, and a 50 year old male are all likely to have different tastes in wine. Go to the store and write down what's available in your price range then come home and do some Internet searching on these wines and see what others think of them.