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EDGE Holiday Gift Guide: Spirits and Comestibles

by Mark Thompson
EDGE Style & Travel Editor
Wednesday Nov 30, 2011

You heard the news; you saw the footage: Black Friday was a riot of shoppers run amok. Let’s face it; the holiday shopping season can take a toll on one’s equilibrium. We heard about one Thanksgiving dinner where the son stomped on his mother’s basket of rolls. Things can get out of hand.

Sometimes what you need is a little something to take the edge off, a little something that you can offer to a harried hostess. "Here, have a sip of this. Better yet, take a good long shot."

We’ve rounded up a number of our favorite elixirs and festive comestibles that are guaranteed to make you smile again and see the holidays through a gauzy blur. Take a bottle or two to your family, along with a box of cupcakes - and you’ll soon be in a sugar coma, singing, "It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year."


Van Gogh Vodka: Rich Dark Chocolate and Cool Peach

Two things our father loved - maybe even more than us - when we were growing up: chocolate-covered cherries and a fresh peach in summer.

We hadn’t thought about that until we tasted the two new flavors from Van Gogh Vodka: Rich Dark Chocolate and Cool Peach. While their simultaneous debut might seem a little unusual (given that peaches and chocolate aren’t the most likely combination), each one deserves a spotlight.

For those for whom chocolate means something infinitely darker than milk, Van Gogh Vodka’s Rich Dark Chocolate connotes the pre-Columbian elixir enjoyed by the Aztecs, back in the days when chocolate was a drink - rather than a candy. Compared to Van Gogh’s Dutch Chocolate, this new Rich Dark Chocolate contains twice the amount of cocoa.

Every winter, Murray Rubin of City Bakery in New York outdoes himself with a new hot chocolate flavor each day of February. Van Gogh Vodka’s Rich Dark Chocolate possesses some of Rubin’s culinary dexterity, with a heady combination of coffee, chili pepper, caramel, and nutmeg. Sipped on the rocks, the vodka is its own Black Russian - and the addition of any kind of milk or cream (including almond and coconut) makes this vodka nearly ambrosial. Watch yourself; the vodka goes down very smooth and still packs a wallop at 70 proof.

As for the Cool Peach, one inhalation and you’re amidst an orchard of peach trees heavy with ripe fruit. The essence of deep summer in a bottle, Van Gogh’s Cool Peach is the best of the stone fruit without the pit. Fortified with a touch of mint and a hint of almond, Van Gogh’s Cool Peach keeps summer a sip away.

Crafted in small batches at a 132-year-old distillery in Schiedam, Holland, Van Gogh Vodka was granted a "Royal Appointment" in 2005 by Netherland’s Queen Beatrix. The 21-flavor Van Gogh Vodka portfolio includes more 4- and 5-star rated vodkas than any other super-premium brand.

No question, we’re sending these to our father.

PRICE: $27.00 / 750 ml
LINK: Van Gogh Vodka Rich Dark Chocolate and Cool Peach


Nudo: Adopt-An-Olive-Tree w/Olive Oils

If you want to give a gift that does something for the environment - and gives you something in return, then you might think about adopting an olive tree.

Nudo is a co-operative of nine local olive-farming artisans in a small hilltop village in the Marche region of Italy - and its Adopt-An-Olive-Tree program enables you to adopt a tree of your choice, in the region of your choice, in the grove of your choice (seriously: you get to pick the exact tree you want to adopt).

Then, for an entire year, you receive all the produce from that tree. With each adoption, you’ll receive an adoption certificate - and in the spring, a package containing all the extra virgin olive oil from your tree. Later, in the autumn, you’ll receive a set of three flavored extra virgin olive oils. And also - an open invitation to come water (or hug) your olive tree whenever you want.

Best of all, by adopting a tree, you’ll enable small farmers the certainty of knowing that their olive oil (and their efforts) will receive a fair price and reliable payment.

Okay, so you need a celebrity endorsement too? How about Gwyneth Paltrow, who wrote glowingly on Nudo’s website about this family-run cooperative and how the adopt-a-tree program helps to save artisanal farmers’ businesses. Furthermore, Nudo was also anointed one of "Oprah’s Favorite Things."

Of course, with all olive oil, the real truth is in the taste - and after tasting Nudo, you’ll believe that it’s possible to live on olive oil alone. Choose from a variety of limited edition oils, including extra virgin olive oil stone ground with lemons or mandarins - or garlic, chiles, basil, or thyme - or an exemplary extra virgin olive oil, which you can drizzle on everything.

This year’s gift items include a three-piece Olive Oil & Vinegar Dipping Set, which comes with Nudo’s first cold press extra virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar from Modena, and a dipping bowl, all in a recyclable presentation box, complete with handle.

Or try the Three Tenors Gift Set, a trio of 250 ml. tins, including extra virgin olive oil stone ground with lemons, extra virgin oil with Sicilian chiles, and extra virgin olive oil. All of Nudo’s artisanal oils come in tastefully-designed, black-and-green 250 ml. tins (because tin protects oil from light, which compromises the oil’s flavor), which are 57% recycled.

Still need convincing? Think about this historical fact: naked Spartans rubbed themselves with olive oil while exercising at the gym, thereby eroticizing the male form.

Enough said. Order already.

PRICE: $7.99 / 250 ml. tin Extra Virgin First Cold Press Olive Oil
$38 / Three Tenors Gift Box
$45.00 / Italian Olive Oil & Vinegar Dipping Set
$105 (+ shipping) / Nudo Adopt-A-Tree Program
LINK: Nudo-Italia


Knob Creek: Single Barrel Reserve

What with the popularity of "Boardwalk Empire," Prohibition is fashionable all over again. Gangsters and molls - and bootleg liquor: it’s American history.

With a bottle evocative of a bootlegger’s flask (complete with newsprint on the label, a reference to the distillery’s habit of wrapping bottles in newspaper), Knob Creek Single Barrel Reserve is a single barrel bourbon that’s as smooth and nuanced as "Nucky" Thompson. Naturally aged for a full nine years in charred white oak barrels and bottled at 120 proof, this is exceptional bourbon, handcrafted in limited quantities by a master distiller and great-grandson of James Beam.

Whether you’re sipping it neat post-prandial or on the rocks in your lover’s boudoir, you’ll be mesmerized by the smoky caramel aroma and the sweet, nutty vanilla taste. The finish is long - just the way you like it.

Named for a little creek that ran by Abe Lincoln’s childhood home, Knob Creek is an homage to American heroes and villains, united by a taste for the best. Give a bottle to the renegade in your life.

PRICE: $39.99 / 750 ml
LINK: Knob Creek Single Barrel Reserve


Grana Padano D.O.P.

One recent early autumn evening, we served small chunks of Grana Padano D.O.P. alongside a bottle of Chilean Carmenere - and, to our surprise, the cheese disappeared faster than the wine. We kept bringing out more little plates with chunks of the the world’s best-selling P.D.O. (Protected Designation of Origin) cheese - much to our guests’ delight. With its intoxicating aroma and lightly nutty taste, Grana Padano D.O.P. is as perfect with a glass of wine as it is shaved over salads or grated into soups or risotto.

Produced in the Po Valley of Northern Italy since its discovery by Cistercian monks nearly a thousand years ago, Grana Padano D.O.P. was the world’s first hard cheese. Named for its grainy texture, Grana Padano comes from cows who are fed a strict diet of grasses and grains and milked twice a day. The resultant cheese with its sweet-nutty flavor is a perfect accompaniment for everything from antipasti to dessert.

Lactose- and gluten-free, Grana Padano is a rich source of calcium, protein, and vitamins - and its enzymes mimic the body’s own digestive process, making it ideal for temperamental tummies.

Serve this with a bottle of Veuve Clicquot during the holidays - and don’t be surprised when your guests ask for more.

PRICE: $13.99 / 1 lb.
LINK: Grana Padano D.O.P.


(Gift guide continues on next pages...)


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