Holiday Gifts for Awkward Occasions

PHOTO: Harry & David Tower of TreatsHarry & David
Harry & David Tower of Treats

The holiday party circuit brings a classic dilemma: What's the perfect gift to bring as a guest, when every situation is different? Rather than relying on whatever's in the front rack of your local wine shop, here's our 2012 pick list of gifts for every holiday scenario.

Dinner With the In-Laws

It's customary to bring a bottle of wine, and you pretty much can't go wrong with a good Napa red. Since post-recession mentality appreciates value and an interesting label rather than a show-off splurge, opt for an interesting proprietary red blend rather than a cabernet. If you don't know where to find one, start at Bounty Hunter Rare Wines, a Napa wine merchant that specializes in lesser-known California producers.

Suggestions: 2009 Alpha "Omega II" Proprietary Red; 2011 Orin Swift "The Prisoner"

A Hybrid Celebration (Christmukkah) With No Formal Meal

While one school of thought says you're good just bringing little bags of Hanukkah gelt, or a box of cookies, you'll be the popular one at the party if you bring a jumbo-size snacky gift basket or a popcorn sampler. People of all religions and creeds love to munch.

Suggestion: Harry & David Deluxe Tower of Treats

Brunch With Family of All Ages

Sparkling seltzers in flavors like blueberry and cucumber feel grown-up and festive, and if you can find berries to muddle and a pretty garnish, you're got a "mock-tail" for all ages to enjoy. (Of course, adults may want to add a splash or two of Prosecco.)

Suggestion: R.W. Knudsen Sparkling Essence TM

A Little Something Special for the Host

If you want to bring a gift that the host will get permanent pleasure from but the guests will enjoy on the spot, a diffuser is a thoughtful and unusual gesture. Get a gift collection with multiple fragrances if you're not sure what scent will please the crowd.

Suggestion: Nest Holiday Reed Diffuser

Dressed-Up Dinner Party at Your Boss's Place

If there's ever an occasion for a statement wine, this is probably it. Instead of something ostentatious, go for a bottle with an interesting back story that you can relate to the table, thereby showing you're a savvy connoisseur who pays attention to detail.

Suggestion: Trapiche Malbec Single Vineyard – a special annual release showcasing the three best grape growers from this Argentine winemaker's 200-plus vineyards. Each of the three has the grower's name on it, and is unique to the year.

Holidays Plus: A Holiday Get-Together That Also Celebrates Another Occasion

Splash out on a couple bottles of sparkling wine, but depending on how momentous the occasion is and how many people are celebrating with you, it may be wise to avoid French Champagne. California, Italy and Spain (and other regions of France) all produce sparkling wines that can stand up in taste comparisons and cost a fraction of Champagne prices.

Suggestions: Ferrari Perle; Gerard Bertrand Cremant de Limoux Rose

A Not-So-Casual House Party With Colleagues

If it's a foodie-minded function, show your trend-forwardness by bringing a sampler of infused gourmet olive oils. It's a classy contribution that everyone can have fun tasting, in much the same manner as you'd run a wine tasting at a house party. Don't forget the fresh baguettes!

Suggestions: Saratoga Olive Oils infused organic tarragon, whole fruit blood orange, and wild mushroom and sage.

A Children's Holiday 'Do With Plenty of Grownups Too

It's the one time of the year where absolutely everyone is allowed to go all-out on sugary, rich, unhealthy treats. Homemade is always nice, but in a pinch, something adorable, delicious and professionally decorated will go over just as well.

Suggestions: Harry and David Peppermint Cake Pops; Godiva Cake Truffles

A Casual House Party With Friends

It's got to be booze. Buy something fun and value-conscious, because in these casual/rowdy settings, bottles will be disappearing fast. Bubbles are always nice, and low-priced quirky label bottles will get laughs as the night progresses.

Suggestions: Jacob's Creek sparkling Moscato; Wicked Red From HobNob; Bonny Doon, Querry, Sparkling Hard Cider

Family Dinner Where the Host Is Cooking but You're Expected to "Bring Something"

This all depends on the family member who's doing the actual cooking: How much do you like them, and how much does he or she expect you to spend? Depending on your answers, you can go from as minor a purchase as mulling spices and cheap red wine all the way on up the scale to an overnight shipment of live Maine lobsters. Probably best you don't cheapskate this one though. Next year, you may be hosting.

Suggestions: World Market mulling spices; Bee Raw single varietal honey flights; Get Maine Lobster gourmet seafood packages