Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Holiday Gift Guide: For the Host or Hostess

I'm going to preface this by saying I don't completely agree with etiquette experts who advise against bringing anything that the host or hostess may feel obligated to serve or use, such as a bottle of wine or flowers. I think it depends on how well you know the host or hostess, and whether you've arranged in advance to bring something specific.

While you don't want to compel your hostess to serve the wine you brought when she's already planned the wine pairings for the evening -- or distract her from guests with a bouquet of flowers that needs to be arranged in a vase -- I think wine and flowers are appreciated when a) you make it clear that the wine is for your hostess and it's therefore up to her to decide if and when to serve it; and b) the flowers are arranged in a small vase suitable for her kitchen or personal space (i.e., she's not compelled to find room on her already decorated table for a surprise cornucopia centerpiece).

Having said all of that, below are some ideas for what to bring to garherings, holiday and otherwise.

1. Candles
A kitchen candle is a thoughtful and practical gift to bring to a dinner party. Williams Sonoma's Lemongrass Ginger boxed candle ($20) is a great for neutralizing kitchen odors after the party.

Voluspa's luxurious candles are beautifully packaged for gift giving. My favorite is the three wick candle in a glass metallic bowl (about $30) from the Seasons collection. It comes in a beautiful velvet box that doesn't even need to be wrapped. My scent of choice is Makassar Ebony & Peach.

2. Hand Care Set
Gentle, nourishing hand soap and moisturizing lotion are welcome gifts for hosts and hostesses whose hands are battered by dry weather and kitchen work. I love the  Pure and Good hand care duo ($34) from Anthropologie and the Lemongrass Ginger set from Williams Sonoma's Essential Oils Collection (also $34).

3. Stationery
Notepads and note cards are a stylish and practical addition to your host's or hostess's kitchen or home office. I love Mudlark's Kaley Stickable Notes and Kate Spade's All Typed Up boxed note cards, $10 each at Papyrus.

4. Wine Accessories
Wine coasters, drip collars and stoppers are always appreciated and are a nice complement to the wine you might be bringing to the party.

5. Wine
I think that a nice, versatile bottle of wine makes a fantastic host or hostess gift, provided you've been asked to bring a bottle or know the recipient well enough that there's no obligation on their part to serve it. My wine picks are generally available at your local wine shop or BevMo, although the South African wines are more difficult to find and may need to be ordered from K&L Wine Merchants (see links, below).

2007 The Chocolate Block (Boekenhoutskloof), Franschhoek, South Africa ($34). This wine is perfect for a dinner party because it's neither wimpy nor overpowering and pairs well with vegetarian fare, meat and dessert. It's also delicious on its own.

2009 Ataraxia Sauvignon Blanc, Western Cape, South Africa ($19). This versatile wine is so good, I bought a case of it last year. But don't take my word for it. Wine Spectator gave it 90 points, stating, "This has subtle weight, with lemon verbena, wet straw and chamomile notes offset by lingering gooseberry notes. Nice buried minerality stretches out the finish. Very solid. Drink now."

Roederer Estate Brut NV, Anderson Valley, California ($20). This is my favorite sparkling wine of all time, and it tastes far more luxurious than the moderate price point suggests. It's crisp but not too dry and is flavorful enough to be enjoyed by itself, but not so much so that it doesn't complement any appetizer or dinner course. In other words, it's perfectly balanced.

2010 Francis Coppola Sofia Blanc de Blancs, Monterey County, California ($15-$20). This is my other favorite sparkling wine because it's so drinkable and so beautifully designed and packaged. We served it at our wedding reception and it has always been a hit when given as a gift.

6. Ornaments
Many people will be putting up and decorating their Christmas trees this weekend, so don't be shy about gifting an ornament to your Thanksgiving hosts and hostesses. Many people, myself included, collect ornaments and your contribution to their collection will surely be appreciated. Below are my picks, all of which are available at Anthropologie.

Missoni for Target, eat your heart out.

I'm not sure what I like more, the delicately carved ornaments or the birch box.

Pretty, pretty, pretty, and neutral enough for any tree.

Of course, the best gift to bring to any gathering is good cheer. Happy Thanksgiving!

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