I can’t believe I am writing my last wine column of the year!

This is a time when I reflect on what I have experienced in the year, and what I hope for for the next one.

I have seen the departure of friends, the meeting of new ones, changes in my personal life, and some memorable evenings of good food and friendship, in which wines have been an integral part.

Wine was a memorable element of my 50th birthday party that I celebrated with eight friends at a private dinner held in a beautiful art gallery in January.

I think of sitting in my cabin on a winter evening, having dinner with friends now living on the other side of the Earth, or kayaking Lake Laberge in summer, camping on the shore and dining on beef stroganoff and Spanish red wines.

There was a reunion and picnic on a beach on St. Lawrence River, Quebec, with my children and their mother, a gathering with family and friends in La Malbaie, Quebec to celebrate my father’s 80th birthday, and a picnic lunch with a friend in August on Kluane Lake. All these were happy moments, and each accompanied by a wine that made the moment even better and more memorable.

For some people wine is something to be avoided, but for me it has been, and continues to be, one element of many happy experiences that I have shared with the ones I care for.

I hope that perhaps certain moments in my readers’ lives have been made richer over the last year by the inclusion of a good bottle of wine, or that perhaps 2012 will bring such an experience for you.

Away, enough reflection; on to a couple of last-minute gift suggestions for wine lovers.

One innovation that I was given early this year by my kayaking partner from Alaska was a wine aerator. Her gift of this little gurgling device has made me a convert!

You pour a newly opened bottle of wine through this dandy device into your glass or a carafe, and it mixes air with wine, causing the wine to immediately open up and release much more of its taste and bouquet (smell).

This effect can be experienced in the more traditional way by opening a bottle of wine and letting it “breathe”, or sit open and react with the air for a half hour to an hour before a meal. I was skeptical that a device could accomplish this virtually instantaneously. But after friends and I tried newly-opened wines, we concluded that it really works. Coffee, Tea & Spice in Whitehorse offers a number of these and I recommend them.

A box of simple, classic wine glasses is always a nice addition… my guests and I probably break three or four a year, surprisingly more in the act of hand-washing them, rather than during the actual consumption of wine. Receiving a fresh set of four or six every year or two is a welcomed gift.

The basic President’s Choice ones from the housewares section of the Canadian Superstore are very nice. Get glasses of at least 18 oz. volume if you can. They’ll run you under $20, and enhance your wine drinking experience, particularly if you’ve been drinking from small or mismatched odds and ends.

They look so nice on a table that I often give a set as a housewarming gift to friends.

As someone who plays in the outdoors – and who of us don’t up here? – plastic camping wine glasses are a terrific addition to the experience.

Coast Mountain Sports has a good selection of plastic and stainless steel, stemless and stemmed wine glasses, starting at about $6.99 per glass. Last time I looked Coffee, Tea & Spice also carried some nice ones.

Another innovation I use when kayaking (when I don’t have to worry so much about carrying weight) is packing a bottle of white wine or bubbly for a shore side picnic.

I put a bottle or two into a 10-litre dry bag, then pour in a bag of ice and seal it up. The melting ice stays sealed in the dry bag, and when I arrive at the picnic spot and pull out a chilled bottle or two of white wine or Champagne, my paddling partners really are delighted!

You can pick up a dry bag at Coast Mountain Sports, Up North Adventures or Kanoe People in Whitehorse.

Finally, as New Year’s Eve approaches, don’t forget to check out the sparkling wine selections at the Yukon Liquor Corp.

Beyond the traditional Champagne, other parts of France, as well as Spain, Italy, Australia, Germany and the U.S. produce excellent sparkling wines that can be interesting and often less expensive alternatives to a classic bottle of Mumm’s or Moët – not that I’m going to turn down either of those excellent choices!

I wish you a very happy holiday season and love, health and big adventures in the New Year. If you taste wines over this season, as I will, please enjoy the evening’s end by walking home, staying with friends, catching a lift from a non-drinker or taking a taxi.

I want you all to be around in 2012 to read my columns.

Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and Cheers!