Over the next few weeks, you'll probably head to your share of holiday parties and meals. You're probably asking the same eternal question that puzzles many others: To gift or not to gift? According to the sage etiquette experts at EmilyPost.com, bringing a hostess gift is a good move: "A gift for your host or hostess is a lovely way to thank them for their hospitality and is always appreciated. It doesn't have to be elaborate or expensive; simply consider the nature of the occasion and local custom when making your choice."
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Makes sense. But don't forget to check the invitation to see whether the party giver has indicated not to bring a gift. A Consumer Reports colleague who's been invited to a college classmate's annual holiday party since the 1980s notes that the invitation has long read: "The party is about Christmas. With that in mind, please, no gifts." That request certainly makes things easy.
As for what to bring, a Web search for hostess—or host—gifts will present all manner of ideas. We think you can't go wrong with a bottle of wine or some special chocolate, so check these and a couple of other recommendations below.
And if you're looking for a gift for a close friend who loves to cook, see our list of top small appliances for under $80.
Consider a cabernet sauvignon or sauvignon blanc. You'll find very good wines in both these categories in our Ratings at a very reasonable $15 or less.
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Most of our recommended cabernets are medium-bodied with black-fruit notes and hints of wood. Crios ($12) and 14 Hands ($12) taste very good and are both Consumer Reports Best Buys. Both have hints of cherry and black currant.
For a truly fun, festive bottle that's also a little bit different, go for a sparkling rosé. De Bortoli Emeri Pink Moscato and Korbel Brut Rosé both topped our tast test in this category, and you can find either for just $12.
Check our Holiday & Gift Guide for more present ideas. For the person who has everything—apologies for the shameless self-promotion—consider a subscription to ConsumerReports.org.
If you want to give something finer than the chocolates you'll find in supermarkets or at the local CVS, opt for one of the tasty boxed chocolates we've tested. They're not cheap, but they're worth the splurge. If you're lucky, your hosts will put them out at the party for you to enjoy. Among the best are Theo Chocolate Confection Collection (12 pieces, $26), Christopher Elbow (21 pieces, $40), and Vosges Exotic Truffle Collection (16 pieces, $40).
Boxed chocolates can vary widely when it comes to flavors, so keep in mind the recipient's tastes. Adventurous eaters will really enjoy the Christopher Elbow or Vosges chocolates.
Sweet treats from Tate's Bake Shop were the clear winners in our chocolate chip cookie tests. The large, crispy cookies had big butter and chocolate flavors. If you can't find Tate's in the store, buy them at www.tatesbakeshop.com.
If you'd prefer to bake the cookies on your own, try our chocolate-chip cookie recipe. Anyone with a sweet tooth will appreciate these baked treats.
Invigorating coffee blends
If your hosts are into coffee, think about making a gift basket with some of the best blends from out tests (and maybe those Tate's cookies). Choices for $10 or less a pound include Allegro Coffee Blend Light Roast, Green Mountain Coffee Signature Nantucket Blend Medium Roast, Peet's Coffee Decaf House, and Starbucks House Blend.
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