For the person who appreciates good food and drink, a box of drugstore chocolates or a bottle of 7-Eleven wine aren’t on the wish list. But here’s what is: scrumptious chocolates in beautiful boxes, spiral hams ready for the oven, craft beers, and fine wines. The taste testers at Consumer Reports have the enviable job of sampling all of these foods and beverages. Here are some of their recommendations.
Ham for the holidays
A spiral-cut ham arrives dressed for the occasion and in our ham taste tests, the HoneyBaked hams were best of all, according to our experts who tasted six brands, including Applewood Farms and Smithfield Brown Sugar Cured. The HoneyBaked hams were consistently moist and tender with balanced tastes of clove, fruit, and brown sugar that complemented the ham’s natural flavors. And it reheats well without drying out. We paid $74 plus shipping for a 9-pound ham. HoneyBaked is sold in more than 400 company stores and online.
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That’s how our expert tasters described some of the excellent chocolates in our boxed chocolate tests. The Woodhouse Chocolate 48-piece assortment (pictured) was the best of the 32 reviewed and at $90, the most expensive. These ultra-smooth milk, dark, and white chocolates were paired with flavors such as cinnamon toast, buttery pecan pie, and fresh mint. See the Woodhouse website for 12- and 24-piece assortments and holiday specials. The Christopher Elbow 21-piece collection, $40, scored nearly as high and is for the adventurous eater. These artistic chocolates offer bold, unusual flavor combos such as buttery caramels that taste of mango with chipotle chili or balsamic vinegar. Other recommended chocolates include the Candinas 36-piece box, $49, Jacques Torres Jacques’ Choice 50-piece box, $66, John & Kira’s Every Flavor Collection 56-piece—all are CR Best Buys—and the Theo Chocolate Confection Collection 12-piece box, $26. Prices do not include shipping and many top chocolates must be ordered online or by phone since they're not widely available in stores. So check their websites and order soon.
Wine for gifts or parties
Giving a bottle of really good wine that you selected is an invitation to try something new, something different. Our judges are two wine-industry experts who have collectively spent more than 60 years professionally tasting a wide range of wines. That said, when it comes to sparkling white wines, GH Mumm Cordon Rouge NV, $40, offers classic Champagne-style bubbly and was intense and complex with ripe apple and yeasty/toasty notes. In other words, it’s delicious. Other recommended sparkling whites include Gruet Blanc de Noirs NV, $16, and Roederer Estate Anderson Valley Brut NV, $21. Among reds the Patz & Hall 2010 pinot noir, $43, from California offers rich, ripe, red and black fruit. Not in the classic, leaner more structured Burgundy style, but very tasty nevertheless.
Bold craft beers
Put together a basket of craft beer with some great cheeses for your favorite hipster. Craft ales typically have more intense flavors and their pronounced bitterness and malt, fruity, and floral flavors go well with hearty ripened cheeses such as Stilton or aged Gouda. For lagers choose milder cheeses. Our blind taste tests of 23 craft ales and lagers found three ales that were excellent. The top-rated Stone IPA was very fragrant, with floral, fruity and juniper notes from the added hops. Next was Dogfish Head 60-minute IPA, a great mix of malt and hop notes and more intense than most. Third was Samuel Adams Hopology Collection Latitude 48 IPA, with fruity and malty notes. The best lagers were very tasty but not as complex or intense enough to be rated excellent by our tasters. Five are recommended, including the top-rated Brooklyn Lager and Samuel Adams Boston Lager.
Restaurant gift certificates
For the person who enjoys a good meal, how about a gift certificate from a favorite restaurant or a new place that gets good reviews on Chowhound or Zagat’s? And then there are the high-end chains. Capital Grille, Ruth’s Chris Steak House, Morton’s, and Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar are the steakhouses that left respondents to our restaurant survey most satisfied. Bonefish Grill was tops of the seafood chains and for more unusual fare try Bahama Breeze and P.F. Chang’s China Bistro .
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