Looking for that perfect gift from Italy? Even though I'm always a fan of tracking down artisanal gifts in person, these days, you can find some pretty great Italian gifts online, too. And I don't mean gift baskets where the "parmesan cheese" hails from Wisconsin.
Because it's that time of year again, I spent some time scouring the interwebs to find the best gifts from Italy — as in, the finer things: from perfume to leather journals to olive oil.
Along with this gift guide, I'll also be publishing an upcoming post on the best gifts for travellers to Italy. (Can't wait? Here's the 2012 post I did on the best gifts for travel to Italy; all of my Italophile gift guides can be found here).
Here are just a few of the finer Italian experiences you can give — no airplane required!
An Italian wine tour
Got someone on your list who loves Italy, loves wine — but isn't necessarily a wine expert? Introduce them to some of Italy's most popular (and characteristic) wines with a six-bottle collection (above) that tours the peninsula, from a full-bodied Barbera d'Asti from Piedmont to a crisp white Vermentino from Sardinia. Each bottle retails in the US for $10 to $15 or so, so this might not be for the super-picky sommelier on your list, but personally, I'd be happy to drink any of these. Give it with this fun, informative wine map of Italy for the whole experience.
If you've got a serious wine-lover, on the other hand, they'll definitely know Barbaresco, one of Italy's most famous wines. While it's easy to find a great one, finding a great one, abroad, at a good price, is pretty difficult. Enter the Produttori del Barbaresco 2010 Barbaresco, at $34, this is one of the best-value Barbarescos out there (and made by a group of Barbaresco winemakers that got their start as a 19th-century co-op). Of course, if you want, you also can impress the vinophile in your life with something just a bit costlier.
Food from every region
Give a man a fish, and he'll eat for a day. Teach a man... well, you know the rest of the saying. Which is why any foodie or aspiring chef deserves to have The Food Of Italy (left), a collection of essays by food journalist Claudia Roden, on their bookshelf.
One of the few books out there that covers Italian cuisine region by region — which you already know is key — each chapter comes both with recipes and a section on each region's wines. Bonus: It's got my last name on the cover! (Just in case you, you know, forgot who recommended it).
The fragrances of Florence
The lovely soaps by Florence-based artisan Alighiero Campostrini are free of EDTA, dyes and titanium, but come with pretty packaging and yummy, Tuscan-inspired scents (like iris and cypress pine, rose, or even silk). The handmade soaps by La Florentina, another artisanal, Florentine soap-maker, also look, and smell, luscious; this set of three soaps (right) comes up with such a gorgeous box, you won't even need to wrap it. La Florentina makes candles (like this one in Tuscan violet), too.
Or go for a perfume. The Terenzi family has been making scents in their workshop on the Adriatic coast of Italy for 40 years. Maremma Extrait de Parfum (left), which they created to be sold exclusively at British department store Fortnum & Mason, smells like the wild, Tuscan stretch of coastline for which it's named; top notes include bergamot, jasmine, black currant and oak.
But for Florence- or Tuscan-inspired fragrances, there's nothing like those by I Profumi di Firenze: the apothecary's hand-blended perfumes are all inspired by original, 16th-century formulas that were commissioned by Catherine di Medici herself (the Caterina dè Medici perfume, ordered by the benefactress, is the original, with rose, iris and lily).
And speaking of perfume...