So it's that time of year again, when the country's department stores unveil their wintry windows for the Christmas season. It also signals the launch of Christmas hamper ranges.
Most department stores have teams of people compiling a selection of Christmas hampers to cater for all budgets. One thing you can be sure of each year is variety.
The other thing you can count on is the race to curate the most lavish, most luxurious, and the most over-the-top Christmas hamper. These big ticket items feature the best of the best, and are the gift of choice for the rich and famous.
These festive hampers also serve a dual purpose. While some choose to give them as gifts, others choose to buy them as a convenient way to get a variety of luxury food and tipples delivered ahead of entertaining friends and family over the Christmas period. Think about it - someone else has spent plenty of time curating an elaborate product list of the finest foods and wines available this year. All you need to do is order one and invite in your friends and family.
So what's the best on offer this year from the country's well known department stores?
Harrods' The Ultimate Hamper
So much is included in this Harrods Christmas hamper that it arrives in three baskets - yes, three! Expect 15 bottles of wines and spirits, six boxes of teas and coffees, 17 fresh food items, 22 luxury pantry staples, half a dozen sweet treats, and a trio of accessories on top of the three wicker baskets.
Noteworthy tipples include the 1988 Chateau Palmer Margaux, the Macallan Rare Cask Single Malt Whisky, and the Bosco Drago Brunello Di Montalcino which has matured for 24 months in French oak.
The fresh foods reads like the definitive list of the most luxurious treats known to man. Rich pearls of plump Beluga Caviar - just one of three varieties included in this hamper - pair perfectly with the Blinis and the Wild Smoked Salmon. For a savoury treat look no further than the Foie Gras D'oie or Duck Foie Gras with Truffles. Fennel & Coriander Salami sounds delicious as does the range of flavourful cheeses such as the Welsh Golden Cenarth or the Katherine Goat Cheese.
If you're like me, you'll spend January working through the pantry favourites. Beetroot and Carraway Chutney sounds like it's made for ham and chutney sandwiches on thick cut fresh bread. If you crave a cheese sandwich then the Fennel, Cucumber and Gin Relish would make a great alternative to piccalilli. Fancy posh cheese on toast? Slather a thick slice of freshly toasted bread with a thick layer of Wholegrain Mustard With Wildflower Honey, topping it with a generous grating of Dorset Cave Aged Cheddar. Pop it under the grill until the cheese bubbles and chars.
Christmas dessert is taken care of with the Luxury Fruit & Nut Christmas Pudding - just pair it with some extra thick double cream or indulgent brand butter. Don't forget to pull the traditional Christmas Crackers revealing the luxury surprises inside.
As for sweet treats, you'll have four boxes of chocolates to chomp through, plus a box of delicious Cocoa Dusted Pistachios and a very ornate Grand-Cru Chocolate Wreath which looks almost too pretty to eat (I did say 'almost'!).
You'll want to refill the Wooden Tea Caddy once you've brewed your way through the selection of Harrods' finest teas. High tea is made even more delicious with the addition of a slice of the Ultimate Christmas Cake or one of the Organic Mince Pies made with Brandy. Alternatively, pair an espresso made with the Wallenford Estate Jamaican Blue Mountain Coffee with the two or three pieces of the moorish La Cucina Italiana Almond Amaretti.
When all is done you'll be left with a trio of wicker baskets which are fabulous for using as storage around the home. They're also great for regifting. The pair of large cool bags (used for keeping the fresh produce in tip top condition) are perfect for future shopping trips or for summer picnics.
Fortnum & Mason's The Imperial Hamper
The Imperial Hamper is appropriately named, and is bigger and better than the other hampers that carry the iconic 'F&M' marque.
Unusually, there's relatively little in the way of alcohol when compared to the other hampers in this list. It contains a reasonable amount instead of something that resembles the entire contents of a wine cellar. The £270 bottle of Dom Ruinart Rosé is a highlight. Thoughtfully, Fortnum & Mason has even included a Champagne Stopper and a Double Corkscrew.
Fresh produce includes Scottish Smoked Salmon, a tasty Game Pie, Iranian Beluga XX Fresh Caviar, and a Christmas Ham. There's also a Glenarm Salt Aged 3 Bone Rib of Beef which would be lovely on Boxing Day.
Christmas dinner is rescued with the Magnificent Christmas Pudding studded with gold dusted apple rings.
You'll find a trio of Ceramic Pots of Herbs, Salt, and Pepper which will take pride of place in your kitchen. There's also a box of Traditional Christmas Crackers to help with table decoration. You can also look the part with a Fornum-branded oven glove, an apron, a tea towel, and a chef's hat.
In a move that sets this hamper apart from the others, it includes a range of beauty products, including Pomegranate Rose Body Souffle and Pomegranate Rose Eau de Parfum amongst others. These additions are perfect for some well-deserved pampering after the hectic rush of Christmas Day.
Speaking of winding down, enjoy a mug of Ultimate Dark Hot Chocolate and a treat or two from the massive Christmas Chocolate Nut Selection box. There's plenty of biscuits, nuts, and chocolates to pick through if you prefer.
Boxing day treats begin with a cup of Christmas Spiced Tea or Christmas Coffee, served using the included Camellia Tea for Two Gift Set. Pair with either Strawberry Preserve & Champagne Amphora or Christmas Jewelled Clementine Marmalade on toast. In fact, there's plenty of jams, marmalades, and butters to tickle your fancy.
Selfridges' The Connoisseur's Hamper
At £10k, you'd expect a lot of bang for your buck, so it's a very good thing that Selfridges delivers this in a rather large hamper load. The top-of-the-range hamper curates the best of the Selfridges Selection range.
Of the wines and spirits, the 17 year old Glenfarclas is perhaps the standout item, along with the Macallan 12 Year Old Fine Oak. The Dom Perignon 06 and the La Rioja Alta Gran Reserva 904 05 are also worthy of a mention. Expect to find port and cognac in the box too.
Sweet treats include the irresistible Chocolate Coated Honeycomb, Pecan Nut Brittle, and Cacao Dusted Almonds. It is probably best to squirrel the Dark, Milk, and Salted Caramel Chocolate Bars away so the kids don't see them. You never know when emergency chocolate is desperately required.
Christmas dessert of Vintage Christmas Pudding is complimented by the Brandy Butter. As an alternative, gently warm the Mince Pies and serve these instead. Boxing day leftovers are vastly improved with the Boxing Day Chutney or the Cranberry Port Orange Chutney. For a kick, pair the Mango Lime Chilli Pickle with the York Ham. The Christmas Mustard With Whiskey adds a festive twist to ham sandwiches while the indulgent Christmas Jam, laced with strawberries and Champagne, is perfect for breakfast along with the Cinnamon Spiced Coffee. A selection of fine teas are also included to cover all bases.
The whopping 8kg of Colston Bassett Stilton is much easier to work through with the Parmesan Olive & Almond Savours and the Sweet And Spicy Savours.
Besides the enormous wicker hamper, you'll also get a cool bag which is great for reusing after Christmas. You'll also get a Tom Dixon Ice Bucket and Tank Glass Decanter which will come in very handy for entertaining over the holidays and beyond. Luxury Champagne Glitter Crackers help jazz up your Christmas dinner party.
John Lewis' Christmas Treasure Chest Hamper
Your treasure hunt begins with a dozen Red & Green Premium Crackers with nice surprises inside. As you dive deeper into this Christmas hamper from John Lewis you'll find plenty more delights.
Like all of the big ticket hampers, the alcohol selection accounts for much of price. And you've got plenty of choice in this hamper. A couple of bottles of Champagne Bollinger Special Cuvee NV ensure Christmas Dinner goes down well. You've also got a bottle of Ca'Bolani Prosecco Spumante Brut (ideal for New Year's Eve), a couple of bottles of Domaine Dampt Chablis Vieilles Vignes France, and two bottles of Victor Berard Chateauneuf-du-Pape. The bottles of Stanton & Killeen Rutherglen Muscat, Warre's Otima 10 Tawny Port, Martell VSOP cognac, and Sipsmith Sloe Gin will go down a treat with your guests this Christmas.
The booze doesn't stop there. The Smith and Sinclair Gin Selection Cocktail Pastilles are a sweet treat where each pastille holds a subtle kick at 6% ABV!
Other treats include a House of Dorchester Maharaja Gold Chocolate Box, Joe & Seph's Salted Caramel Popcorn, Farrah's of Harrogate Olde English Creamy Caramels, and Hazer Baba Assorted Turkish Delight to name but a few.
Don't suffer a boring Christmas pudding this year thanks to the Carved Angel White Chocolate and Cranberry Christmas Pudding. I'm not sure you'd want to pair this with Cole's Brandy Butter but it's included in case you do. You could always pair it with the Gold Crown 9" Round Jewelled Cake instead. Teoni's Cookies Winter Edition Dipped Cranberry Oat Cookies wouldn't last long here.
A standout condiment is the Wild Island Spiced Fig Balsamic Dressing & Dip which would go well with the Nibnibs Classic Big Minis Breadsticks for Dipping. I'd nibble my way through the Butter Cheese Palmiers Handmade by Van Strien pretty quickly I reckon. Other store cupboard staples include the fiery Wild Island Chilli Oil and Olives Et Al Moorish Cumin & Coriander Olives.
Hot drinks come in the form of Le Piantagioni Del Caffe Lagoa Do Morro Roasted Ground Coffee or Williamson Tea Large Elephant Kenyan Earth English Breakfast Teabags. Pair these with a slice of John Lewis Panettone or one of the Walkers Glenfiddich Luxury Mincemeat Tarts.
Harvey Nichols' Festive Feast Hamper
Harvey Nichols' most lavish Christmas hamper smaller and more budget friendly than the competition, but it still features a dizzying range of festive delights.
The tipples selection includes bottles of French Champagne Brut NV and Champagne Brut Rosé NV. The Damson Gin makes and interesting addition that sits alongside the Late Bottled Vintage Port from the Douro Valley in Portugal, and Germany's Mulled Wine. An English Vodka and The Pickle House Bloody Mary Mix are great for festive cocktails. Harvey Nichols hasn't just focused on the wines and spirits, and it is nice to see a six-pack of Session IPA as well as a Non-Alcoholic Sparkling Chardonnay NV from Australia for the oft forgotten non-drinkers.
The remainder of the hamper includes pantry staples and sweet treats. And an apron starring priests on a scooter. Why? because it's Christmas!
Christmas dinner is made so much better with the addition of Cranberry Sauce and Christmas Pudding served with Brandy Butter. Boxing Day breakfast benefits from a selection of English Breakfast Teabags, Green Peppermint Teabags, or Breakfast Coffee. Top some warm toast with Christmas Jam or Seville Orange Marmalade. For a hearty lunch, look no further than the Smokehouse Nibbles, or pair the Qunice Fruits with a punchy cheese, or the Christmas Chutney or Christmas Mustard with slices of thickly cut ham.
If you have a sweet tooth then there's a range of treats too. The Turkish Delight wouldn't last long in my house, not would the Panettone. The Chocolate Selection Box is made for sharing while binging on classic festive films as is the Traditional Toffee.
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