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Holiday Food and Drink Gift Guide 2012

by Mark Thompson
EDGE Style & Travel Editor
Wednesday Dec 5, 2012
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All through the holiday season, you just want to stuff your face. Everywhere you turn someone is offering you a drink. The sideboard is laden with all sorts of fattening goodies and one dessert is never enough.

Silver trays pass by and you help yourself: a lobster here, a scallop there, some foie gras, some terrine, a petit four, and a handful of truffles. You’re ready for more. Bring on the Bûche de Noël and another bottle of bubbly. Toast to the new year and order a truffle pizza.

But don’t forget to share the bounty. In the spirit of St. Nick, offer your friends and family some of the best tastes of the season.

After a year like 2012, they deserve something that tastes good.

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Arnaldo Caprai: Sagrantino di Montefalco Collepiano DOCG 2005

Italian wine, like Italian fashion, has seasons of genius - and 2005 was one of those years when everyone smiled at the "renaissance" of the industry.

In 1955, Arnaldo Caprai founded one of Italy’s leading textile companies, which enabled him, in 1971, to buy vineyards in the hamlet of Montefalco in his native Umbria. Since 1988, Arnaldo Caprai winery has been managed by Marco Caprai, a man whose devotion to his craft earned his family’s vineyard the Wine Enthusiast’s 2012 "European Winery of the Year."

According to legend, Sagrantino is an ancient grape brought to Umbria by followers of St. Francis of Assisi during the Middle Ages. Arnaldo Caprai has resurrected the intensely colored grape with formidable tannins that had previously been most often utilized for sacramental wines.

Sagrantino di Montefalco Collepiano symbolizes the renaissance of Montefalco as a wine town, with the label’s etymology evoking the region’s softly curved hills. With top notes of plum, cinnamon, and blueberry all balanced in impeccable harmony, Sagrantino di Montefalco Collepiano 2005 is 100% Sagrantino grape. Aged for 22 months in French oak barrels, this powerful wine exhibits class, with a bit of swagger as the red floral fruit notes linger with licorice and leather. With this on your palate, you could easily imagine yourself in the company of Armani and Valentino.

Rated 92 points by the Wine Advocate, Sagrantino di Montefalco Collepiano 2005 is a collectible that could easily age in your cellar for another decade, filling you with pleasure about your future. You could easily save this wine for the next big thing in your life - or you could drink it now and toast to all that you’ve already accomplished. Our counsel? Buy a case now and let one bottle a year become part of your holiday tradition.

PRICE: $60.00
LINK: Arnaldo Caprai

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Le Palais des Thés: Green Teas Box Set

For some people on your holiday gift lists, the nicest thing you can give them is the gift of time. This holiday season, spend some quality face time with some of your besties. Leave the iPhone at home and focus completely on your bff’s face - and listen.

One of the nicest places to share a tête à tête with a bestie is Manhattan’s The Lambs Club for tea. Make a reservation during the holiday season and sip tea from Le Palais des Thés.

One of Paris’s more illustrious tea purveyors, Le Palais des Thés has been serving some of the world’s most exceptional teas to its savvy clientele at more than 27 boutiques in seven countries. (The brand’s first NYC boutique just opened at 194 Columbus Avenue on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.)

Each one of Le Palais des Thés’ tea bags is filled with two grams of whole tea leaves, which unfurl completely in the large cotton muslin squares to release their full flavor and fragrance.

At the end of tea time, present your bestie with Le Palais des Thés Green Tea Gift Box. The beautiful presentation box contains nine of the purveyor’s most interesting green teas, including Thé du Hammam, Thé des Moines, Fleur de Geisha, Sencha Ariake, Tamaryokucha Impérial, Long Jing, Grand Jasmin Chun Feng, Thé des Sources, and Thé des Alizés.

The gift of time and tea for two: you’ll be in your bff’s good graces all year long.

PRICE: $49.00 / boxed set of 54 muslin tea bags
LINK: Le Palais des Thés Green Teas Box Set

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God’s Love We Deliver: Michael Aram Mantaray Shaker with Holster

It’s been a rough year, no question - but if you think you’d had it bad, then take time to think about those in need of food. Take time this holiday season and reward service organizations like God’s Love We Deliver.

Founded in 1985 when one woman began delivering food on her bicycle to a man dying from AIDS, God’s Love We Deliver now cooks 4,000 meals each weekday, delivering them to clients living with life-altering illnesses in all five boroughs of New York City, Newark and Hudson County, New Jersey.

All of God’s Love We Deliver’s services to clients are offered free of charge, which means that contributions account for nearly 80% of God’s Love’s annual budget. Apart from volunteering and writing a healthy check, another way to help those in need of healthy meals is to shop the God’s Love catalog, which is always filled with tasteful baubles, perfect for holiday hosts and hostesses.

Michael Aram’s Mantaray Collection is inspired by aquatic imagery and the mantaray. "The grace of the mantaray and the glistening surface of shagreen was my inspiration for these cast and hammered metal pieces," says Aram. Cast in stainless steel and nickelplate, the Mantaray cocktail shaker comes with holster, making it perfect for resting on the night table - when the cocktail party moves into the bedroom.

Shake a pitcher of holiday cocktails and toast to the saints at God’s Love We Deliver.

PRICE: $99.00
LINK: God’s Love We Deliver Michael Aram Mantaray Shaker with Holster

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Van Gogh Vodka: PB&J

Yum. Or not? At first, we couldn’t decide how we felt about Van Gogh Vodka’s PB&J, which takes one of the most iconic American flavor combinations from childhood and swirls it into vodka. Isn’t that a little like giving Honey BooBoo a big lady cocktail with her PB&J sandwich?

Then we tasted Van Gogh Vodka PB&J. The weirdest thing is that you smell the peanuts - but you taste the raspberry. And it’s decidedly delicious - a little like how you learned to love a peanut butter-and-pickle sandwich when you were shipped off to camp. The salt and the sweet in Van Gogh Vodka PB&J marry together nicely, not unlike the way you enjoy a salty caramel. There’s a hint of vanilla on the side and a smooth, velvety texture.

You’re going to want to mix this with milk for a novelty egg nog - or maybe with cola, for something like a cherry Coke. And when mixed with cranberry and apple juice, you’re drinking something akin to a spiked fruit salad - and how better to survive the holidays with your family. Just tell your mother you’re drinking the lunch she used to pack for you for school.

PRICE: $27.00 / 750 mL
LINK: Van Gogh Vodka PB&J

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Crystal Head Vodka: Skull-Tini Glasses

Comedian Dan Aykroyd has made a career out of making you believe things that were unbelievable, so when you hear that he’s the entrepreneur behind Crystal Head Vodka, you kind of wonder, "For real?"

Yes, for real. Crystal Head Vodka is an award-winning Canadian vodka, that is quadruple-distilled, triple-filtered and then triple filtered again through Herkimer diamonds. For real? Apparently - because this naturally pure vodka is completely free of any additives, thanks to the use of glacial aquifer water of Newfoundland, Canada.

As for the crystal head bottle, apparently that has something to do with an archeological mystery concerning 13 crystal heads that were found around the world, from Tibet to the American Southwest, which have powers of enlightenment for those who possess them. For real? Hmm.

Regardless of whether or not you buy into the mythology, the bottle is a keeper. And so are a pair of skull-tini martini glasses that feature glass skulls on the stem with "Crystal Head Vodka" imprinted on the base. Packaged in a reusable gift box, the 7.5 ounce glasses stand 6.5 inches tall and are dishwasher safe - and guaranteed to enlighten you for eternity.

PRICE: $30.00 / 2-pack
LINK: Crystal Head Vodka Skull-Tini Glasses

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Attems: Pinot Grigio Venezia Giulia IGT 2011

Some people find something they like to drink - and refuse to budge. Some people we know love Pinot Grigio with the same fervency that some children cling to a belief in Santa Claus. Why fight it? If they’re happy with Pinot Grigio, then make them happy with one of the best Pinot Grigios from the Friuli Venezia-Giulia region of Italy.

With more than 1,000 years of viticulture, the Attems winery can trace its roots to the year 1106 and the picturesque vineyards are a testament to Pinot Grigio’s place in the pantheon of oenophiles.

A copper-tinged straw yellow in color, Attems Pinot Grigio Venezia Giulia 2011 has a bouquet of ripe tropical fruit with notes of apple and pear. A clean mineral edge with a crisp acidity makes this Pinot Grigio a lovely complement to poultry and perhaps even a Christmas goose.

There’s a reason that Pinot Grigio is, arguably, the most well-known wine in the world - and the freshness and fruitiness of this beloved wine is given a contemporary profile in the hands of Attems.

PRICE: $19.00
LINK: Attems Pinot Grigio Venezia Giulia IGT 2011

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Mackenzie Limited: Sticky Toffee Pudding

Henry James once famously said that the most beautiful words in the English language were "summer afternoon."

Not to argue with the Master, but we might make a case for "sticky toffee pudding." Merely saying those three words is enough to make us swoon the way some people do to hear "I love you."

A classic British dessert, sticky toffee pudding is not so much a pudding as it is a dense and moist sponge cake served with an intensely delicious and decadent buttery toffee sauce. This is the sort of Victorian dessert that revives your faith in English cuisine and makes you want to shout, "God bless us, everyone."

Founded by a Scottish national in 1984, Mackenzie Limited offers more than 275 gourmet foods in eight different categories. Their version of sticky toffee pudding is rich and satisfying - and if you’re thinking about serving it for a holiday party, you might think about stashing another one in the pantry for personal consumption.

One pudding serves 6-8 people - that is, if they’re polite guests and not greedy for seconds.

PRICE: $26.95
LINK: Mackenzie Limited Sticky Toffee Pudding

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Teroforma: Ekke Shot Glasses

You know that feeling when your eyes alight upon a thing of beauty, an objet d’art - something that you feel the need to touch and pick up and hold in your hand. Something that you want to take home and claim as your own.

The husband and wife team behind Teroforma created their company in order to meet interesting artisans in new places - and the result is a line of hand-picked designers who create some of the most imaginative objects in the world.

Whisky Stones, for example, which keep drinks cold without dilution are milled in Vermont by the oldest soapstone workshop in the US - and are the perfect addition to a high-end scotch that you don’t want diluted by ice cubes.

A set of soapstone shot glasses by Norwegian designer Thea Mehl is equally effective. The soapstone is non-porous, which means that no flavors or odors linger after usage. The Ekke Shot Glasses are milled at Amit Stoneworks in India, not far from the Taj Mahal, which makes them even more romantic as a gift for your beloved.

PRICE: $40.00 / set of four
LINK: Teroforma Ekke Shot Glasses

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Luce della Vite Lucente 2009

Some wines are so elegant, so silky smooth, that they seem the very personification of an Italian gentlemen attired in a bespoke velvet suit. Someone like Alain Delon or Burt Lancaster in Visconti’s "The Leopard."

For more than 700 years, thirty generations of the Florentine Frescobaldi family have utilized their family’s winemaking expertise to produce some of Tuscany’s most outstanding wines. Lucente 2009 is a beautifully balanced blend of 75% Merlot and 25% Sangiovese. From the moment this purplish ruby wine with violet highlights hits the glass, you’re in the company of a true Tuscan gem.

On the nose, Lucente 2009 is fragrant with blackberry, plum, and deep red cherries. A hint of licorice and graphite in the long, dry finish makes this sophisticated wine a fitting complement to holiday roasts and post-prandial cheeses.

Take a case of Lucente 2009 home for the holidays - and you’ll be toasting to la dolce vita right into the new year.

PRICE: $29.99
LINK: Luce della Vite Lucente 2009

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Pearson Farm: 3-Way Pecan Gift Tin

Pecans might well be the Queen Bee of mixed nuts, with all other nuts paying obeisance to the royal pecan.

Face it, nothing makes a person smile like a warm pecan pie. And there’s something dangerously addictive about pecans when they’re toasted and salted or sweetened.

For over a hundred years, the Pearson family of Crawford County, Georgia has been cultivating the rich red clay soil of the South for peaches and pecans. If you’re a pecan aficionado, then you’re going to want to eat the best.

Pearson Farm harvests more than 2300 acres of pecans and their 3-Way Gift Tin includes three of their favorite flavors: Toasted & Sea Salted are pecans toasted in butter and sea salt; Cinnamon Roasted Pecans are coated with cinnamon and oven roasted; and Southern Praline are praline-coated pecan halves - and yes, decadently indulgent. Which is exactly what you want during the holiday mayhem - all wrapped up in a festive holiday tin.

PRICE: $27.00 / 20-ounce tin
LINK: Pearson Farm 3-Way Pecan Gift Tin

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Sandeman Port: Founders Reserve

Some gourmands believe that no meal is complete without a post-prandial port. There’s a protocol about port: about the passing of the bottle and who gets served first - and all that ritual can be either entertaining or off-putting, but if Sandeman’s Founders Reserve is at your table this year, there’s certain to be no shortage of interest.

Just in time for the holidays, Sandeman is offering its famed Founders Reserve encased in a collector’s tin decorated with its iconic vintage poster imagery of the black-caped caballero, the Don.

The world’s leading port and sherry company, Sandeman produces a number of high-end, aged tawny ports. The signature Sandeman Founders Reserve is a versatile port, with fresh, red fruit notes, perfect for a host/ess gift. Six cocktail recipes are included, along with the collector’s tin.

Pair the Don with a pound of chocolates - and see where the Don leads.

PRICE: $20.00 / 750 ml.
LINK: Sandeman Port Founders Reserve Collector Tin

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Julia Baker Confections: Holiday 16-Piece Signature Oval Box

Self-restraint is not a part of the holiday season. This is a season for willful indulgence - in excess. You and your guests and your family and friends have all checked your diets at the door, so revel in gluttony. And if you’re going for chocolate, go for the best.

A graduate of the world-renowned Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, Julia Baker is often dubbed "Chocolatier to the Stars" for her celebrity clientele, which has included Britney, Paris Hilton, Jennifer Aniston, Alicia Keys, and Bono.

Baker’s passion for chocolate is her signature; every day, she produces her renowned French caramel and her chocolate mousse. Baker’s hand-cut chocolates are crafted with the finest natural ingredients and include such delectables as coconut truffles and French caramel truffles.

The Holiday 16-piece Signature Oval Box is an immoderate assortment of caramel, hazelnut and coconut truffles, alongside a selection of hand-cut chocolates in dark chocolate ganache, raspberry, Irish crème, passion fruit, and milk chocolate ganache.

Stylish and decadently delicious, the Holiday 16-Piece Signature Oval Box makes an exemplary host/ess gift and is all but guaranteed to insure you a return invitation - and maybe even more.

PRICE: $48.00 / 16-piece signature oval cuff box
LINK: Julia Baker Confections Holiday 16-Piece Signature Oval Box

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Saladini Pilastri: Pecorino Offida DOC 2010

For many oenophiles, provenance matters - so it’s good to gift them a bottle with heritage.

Situated in a splendid 15th-century mansion in the Ascoli region in Le Marche in Italy, the family of Count Saladini Pilastri has been producing wine for 300 years on land that has produced wine for many centuries.

Since 1994, the Saladini Pilastri company has practiced sustainable, low-impact organic farming. The result is wine of character and structure, made from grapes that are organically grown and hand-harvested.

Made of 100% Pecorino grape, Saladini Pilastri Pecorino Offida DOC 2010 possesses an intensely fragrant nose redolent of citrus and tropical fruits. An intriguing minerality is complemented by hints of almond and hazelnuts and a twist of ginger.

This full-bodied white wine marries well with cheese and bread - and especially atop a ski slope in a chalet during the holidays.

PRICE: $12.99
LINK: Saladini Pilastri Pecorino Offida DOC

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Just Dessert Catered Baking: German Chocolate Cake / Coconut Cloud Cake with Pineapple Filling

Calling Oprah; Oprah to the Bronx, please.

Just as the O turned IceBox Cafe of Miami Beach into a national obsession when she uttered "Best Cake in America," so should Oprah head to the Bronx and bite into a Just Dessert Catered Baking German Chocolate Cake for a slice of homemade heaven.

Okay, so the truth is, we’re partial to German Chocolate Cake ever since our mother baked them for us for every single birthday of our childhood. "What kind of cake do you want this year, honey?" Do you even have to ask, Mother? There’s only one cake in our book.

Actually, we take that back: Just Dessert Catered Baking also does a Coconut Cloud Cake with Pineapple Filling that is as close to ambrosial as anyone on this planet is ever going to eat.

Founded by Raquel Whittaker, Just Dessert Catered Baking specializes in home baked cakes and cookies, including Lemon Cake with Lemon Filling and Lemon Butter Frosting. There’s also Red Velvet Cake with Pecan Crusted Center and White Chocolate Cream Cheese Frosting - and if that doesn’t knock Oprah off her latest diet, nothing will.

If you’re looking to score holiday points with someone, there’s nothing nicer than a homemade cake. Let Just Dessert Catered Baking do the baking for you - and tell your guest it’s an old family recipe. Then watch them swoon in delight.

PRICE: $30.00
Contact: Raquel Whittaker @ cateredbaking@msn.com

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Crave Chocolate Chili Liqueur

Amidst all the sweetness and light of the holiday season, sometimes you need a little burn. You want to feel the heat in your mouth so you don’t go into sugar shock.

Launched in October 2012, Crave Chocolate Chili Liqueur pairs the richness of chocolate with the tingling warmth of chili peppers.

You can sip this one on the rocks - or slip it into hot chocolate. The heat of the habanero gives way to a velvety chocolate caramel finish, which makes you warm all over.

Take a bottle of Crave Chocolate Chili Liqueur to your office party and let the mayhem commence. After a couple of these drinks, Santa Claus will be sitting on your lap.

PRICE: $17.99 / 750 mL
LINK: Crave Chocolate Chili Liqueur

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A long-term New Yorker and a member of New York Travel Writers Association, Mark Thompson has also lived in San Francisco, Boston, Provincetown, D.C., Miami Beach and the south of France. The author of the novels WOLFCHILD and MY HAWAIIAN PENTHOUSE, he has a PhD in American Studies and is the recipient of fellowships at MacDowell, Yaddo, and Blue Mountain Center. His work has appeared in numerous publications.

This article is part of our "2012 Holiday Gift Guide" series. Want to read more? Here's the full list»

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