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Presents for the Palate


Once upon a time, long before children could just text their lists to Santa, they would hang their stockings on the mantelpiece in hopes that St. Nicolas would leave behind a little extra stash—some candy canes, small toys, a few “Hamiltons”—before he scarfed the plate of proffered cookies and inched his way back up the chimney.

Today, most of us still give and get a few stocking stuffers at holiday time, those small gifts that serve as the final bow atop our portfolio of more-significant presents. Additionally, we often buy a few small gifts in advance to take as last-minute host presents for holiday parties or set out on the hall table for neighbors who show up with gifts for us when we hadn’t planned to give any to them.

Some of the best of these stocking stuffers involve food and wine, especially if the person you are giving them to might decide to share these gifts with you; something to keep in mind when you’re racing through stores on the last shopping day. 

Here are some thoughts about your last-minute Santa’s list:

Champagne straight from the vineyard. Wine merchant Linda Collier likes to say you can’t start a celebration without bubbles. And everyone’s favorite sparklers these days are grower champagnes, so-called because a few small grape farmers, the backbone of champagne, make some bottles of their own rather than sell everything to the large champagne houses for blending. Good selections are available at Collier’s of Centreville and Frank’s Wine in Wilmington

Pearls on the palate. And can you have Champagne without caviar? We’ve always ordered our ounces of beluga or sevruga in their little glass jars with the pry-off lids from Janssen’s. They come swathed in dry ice and wrapping paper to keep them fresh, and look delightfully like lumps of coal when slipped into a stocking at the last minute. Surprise! Surprise! At Janssen’s Market in Greenville and specialty food stores.

Salts of the earth—and sea. Not all salt tastes the same, and not all salt is used simply for seasoning. Salt comes in all colors and tangy tastes, depending on the sea or the underground mine from which it came. And a few grains of a potent salt can add a great accent to a dish. Start your collection with a range of salts available at Williams-Sonoma in Christiana Mall or the Shoppes at Brinton Lake.

Bottles of chilled perfection. Local wineries are becoming adept at making ice wine from frozen grapes, which creates the perfect sweet nectar to sip while opening presents on Christmas morning. Buy your bottle at Galer Estate near Longwood or at Kreutz Creek Vineyards in West Grove.

Light up the dinner table. Candles are perhaps the quintessential holiday stocking stuffer, the perfect little add-ons that fit snuggly into any toe. Those for the dinner table, whether in formal white or pink or gaily colored, will reflect that twinkle in everyone’s eye and in the crystal wine glasses. Check out the Ana and Root brand candles at Apropos in Greenville.

Wine knowledge in your pocket. Hugh Johnson’s Pocket Wine Guide has been providing wine lovers with instant knowledge since 1977, and the new, updated 2017 edition has been published just in time for the holidays. At your local booksellers.

Dinner is on the house. OK, so gift certificates to restaurants are not romantic and not particularly imaginative. So why do we give so many of them each year? Can it be we know we will share the spoils once the reservations are made in the coming months? Most area restaurants sell them, and some restaurant collections, such as those of the Platinum Group, have more than one venue to serve you. Available at your favorite restaurants.

One stem at a time. Want to start a great holiday tradition? Slip an elegant stem of crystal, a Champagne flute, into her stocking and one in your own to get things started. Then expand the collection by adding another one each season. It beats drinking bubbly out of her shoes. Try the Simon Pearce flutes or other brands at The Enchanted Owl in Greenville. 

This year’s must-have food & wine gadgets. Each year, some inventor comes up with a new way to slice and dice, chop and shred, measure and prep food better than ever before. Same with wine—something to measure its temperature before it gets feverish, pour it so it tastes like a mature 15-year-old or save the remains of the day for a week or two. (Our favorite recent gadget is a small pipette for dispensing just the right number of drops of water into a glass of Scotch while “nosing” it —a fairly useless contraption in actual practice, yet fun to try a time or two.) Everything but the Kitchen Sink in Hockessin always has enough bar and kitchen gadgets to warrant at least 15 minutes of interesting browsing.

What’s life without a box of chocolates? Bring out your inner Gump by buying bars, mendiants and truffles made by the half-dozen or so local confectioners specializing in the art of the cocoa bean. They will be one gift that will have disappeared by New Year’s Eve. Some candy makers have their own shops, but their products are also often available in local winery tasting rooms.

If some of these stocking stuffers are too large for the traditional stocking, be safe and hang a pair of extra-large Spandex tights.