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A gift that says thank you to your host

Share your holiday joy with a gift of wine, a candle, sweets or olive oil. By Teri Goldberg

Wherever you’re heading this holiday season, a housewarming gift is a must. A gift for the host or hostess should be something for the home or food-related but that won’t end up in the recycle or “re-gifting” bin, like the bottle of fine French wine that’s been around the world twice. (Fruitcake is passé, now wine is re-gifted.)

What’s truly trendy these days is bringing the gift of olive oil. Not any old olive oil but fresh olive oil from specialty stores, such as Oliviers & Co. Provence native Olivier Baussan, the company’s founder, may have put fine olive oil on the U.S. map, or at least, America’s gift list. Since the first Oliviers & Co. store opened in 1998 in Paris, more than 50 “boutiques” have sprung up around the world, including 11 shops in the United States. If you’re lucky enough to live in New York City, Boston, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Seattle or Denver, you can sample the olive oils at tasting bars in the stores.

Olive oil from Oliviers & Co. is harvested annually from olive grooves in the Mediterranean. This year’s harvest was dominated by “fresh” and “green” blends. Green blends feature “hints of fresh grass, artichoke, green apple, laurel leaf or green pepper.” Some even taste like fresh-cut glass. Fresh olive oils have a hint of almond, flowers, citrus fruit, pear, milk, tea or hazelnut.

The oils are not for those with timid palettes. A few drops on a green salad add more flavor than several spoons of store-bought salad dressing. The oils will also set you back more than a few francs. Fresh blends run from $29 to $35 for a 16.8 ounce tin. Green varieties cost $30 to $35.

Just the right light

You can’t eat them but candles made of soy are also this season's sizzler. Soy candles are everywhere. Why soy? Art Hernandez, founder and president of soy candle company Bluewick, rattled off several reasons: soy is a natural material (as opposed to petroleum-based paraffin), soy burns longer and soy burns cleaner by emitting less smoke and soot — “the black material you find on your walls and drapes at home.”

Alhambra, Calif.-based Bluewick makes some of the most powerful natural-smelling scents this season. The holiday fragrance this year is a rosemary geranium blend, available in 2, 8 or 12 ounces for $5, $12 and $22 respectively. Another festive collection, introduced this year, is the Suko SoyGlass series. The all-white candles come in six spectacular scents — ginger nectarine, scented vanilla, cedar oakmoss, vanilla lime, white rose tea or orange clove. The candles come in 3, 8 or 20 ounces for $6, $20 and $45. Use the store locator online to find a store near you.

Er’go in Dallas, Texas offers several candle collections just for the holidays. Most candles have a strong perfumed scent rather than a natural one. Seasonal scents in the holiday collection include Jack Frost, Mistletoe, Cinnamon Bark and Winter Wreath. The vintage collection offers festive-themed scents, such as Oh Christmas Tree, Ginger Bread, Cranberry Spice and Spiced Cider. Candles retail for $18 to $30.

Other soy candle makers include Shreveport, La.-based Essencia and Mad Gabs based in Westbrook, Maine. Essencia candles come in small, square crystal containers, which range in price from $17 to $34. More is less at Mad Gabs, where the 8½ ounce candles sell for $12, and come in a simple clear glass. This season’s scents include ylang ylang, lavender and clove orange almond.

Cider solutions

Prefer to bring alcoholic tidings? Consider a bottle of “ice cider” or “apple ice wine,” a rich dessert wine produced from the chilly apple orchards in Quebec. How  apple ice wine differs from an apple wine or cider is the juice is frozen before it is fermented, says Francois M. Pouliot, founder of La Face Cachée de la Pomme, the company that makes the apple wine.

The recipe is simple: 80 percent Canadian Macintosh apples and 20 percent sweet Spartan apples. It’s the process that separates this wine from most American wines. The apples are picked in September to October; pressed into juice in mid-December; and then left outside in the cold for about 1 ½ months. It then takes about 6-7 months to ferment the “slush puppy” like juice.

“It’s 200 percent apple,” says Pouliot and then laughs. What he means is it takes many apples to make a small batch — about 15 pounds for each ½ liter.

Named Neige — snow in French — the ice cider retails for $23.99 and $25 at Park Avenue Liquor Shop and Sam's Wines & Spirits. Once opened, the ice wine lasts for about a month. Unopened, the wine only gets better with age, says Pouliot.

Tea-riffic giftsThanksgiving is not only a time to feast and be merry but also a time to “kick back” as they say on the East Coast or “mellow out” as they say on the West Coast. So what’s red, white and hot this season? Red and white teas, of course. Red tea is the name coined by Republic of Tea for any tea containing the African herb rooibos (pronounced ROY-boss). Fans of rooibos say it has healing powers. The deep red herb is said to not only alleviate the holiday blues but also slow down the aging process. Republic of Tea red teas come in five varieties. In its purest form, there’s Cedarberg Organic — 36 teabags for $8.75. The most popular variety is a blend flavored with sweet vanilla beans called Good Hope Vanilla, says Marideth Post, a Republic of Tea company spokesperson.

White tea, sold in tins of 50 bags for $14, costs slightly more than the red tea. But the white bud of the tea plant is only harvested for two days each spring. The mellow, light tea comes in seven varieties.

Republic of Tea also stocks some seasonal favorites. Limited-edition teas include Tea of Good Tidings, a tradition since 1996, Comfort and Joy Tea, a new blend this year and Harvest Moon Tea, first introduced in 2000.

Both the Tea of Good Tiding, which is only available in loose leaves, and the Comfort and Joy Tea, only available in tea bags, are black tea blends spiced with winter fruits and other seasonal spices. Harvest Moon Tea, a mix of fruits, spices, carob and chicory, makes a nice alternative to coffee at the end of a heavy Thanksgiving meal.

Republic of Tea teas are sold at the company Web site, at national retailers — for example, Cost Plus, Whole Foods Market and Wegman's — and select stores, such as Borders Books and Books A Million.

Sweet treats

For hosts with a sweet tooth, think beyond truffles and boxed chocolates. How about something to rival MarieBelle’s hot chocolate, last season’s must-have hot chocolate featured in Oprah and other women’s magazines? (Ten-ounce tins of MarieBelle’s hot chocolate, priced at $17, are still sold at the small Manhattan shop’s Web site.) 

This season, consider hot chocolate a la Jacques Torres, a veteran of Le Cirque, who just opened an 8,000-square foot chocolate factory in Manhattan. The chocolate haven, located in trendy Greenwich Village, has a manufacturing plant, where visitors can watch chocolate in the making.

Like MarieBelle’s, there’s no cocoa powder in Torres’ hot chocolate — just real bits of dark chocolate. The classic variety is a simple but oh-so-sweet mix of dark chocolate and milk powder. The wicked blend is spiced with allspice, cinnamon and chili peppers. An 18-ounce tin costs $16 and makes about 6-9 cups. Remember to drink slowly. That’s about $1.75 to $2.50 a cup.