People who know me only through the written word are unaware that I am freakishly tall.
Towering almost 6 feet has a few benefits. I have been recruited — talent untested — for volleyball and basketball teams, Olive Oyl look-alike contests and the occasional theatrical adaptation of a well-known fairy tale in which I evoke the hidden emotions of a beanstalk.
But life hasn't always been so jolly for this giant. During winter breaks in high school, my stature made me a laughingstock, and it came perilously close to destroying a beloved icon. Yes, for four Christmases, I was a Santa's elf at South Coast Plaza, a Southern California shopping mall just a reindeer-hop away from Disneyland.
The detailed story about how I was hired over the phone to be a Santa's helper will have to wait until my highly anticipated memoirs. But it is important for you to know that when I arrived on the faux-snowy scene, Santa smiled, and my new employer looked stricken.
Nonetheless, I wriggled into the regulation red skirt with the white, fur hem and got right to work making little kids cry for the camera and proving, once again, that I have long navigated life without even a fleck of self-respect.
Since those fantasy days, I occasionally dust off my elf skirt to patrol tasting rooms for gift ideas.
Being a loco locavore, I like to fill my holiday gift baskets with regional wines, artisan foods and only-in-Oregon surprises, like RoxyAnn Winery's "pleasure pack" of Comice pears paired with pear wine (say that three times).
My waif wanderings were responsible for me recently stumbling upon an item I didn't even know existed and yet now seems critical to my future well-being: a wine diaper. Stop. It's not what you think. The padding is for the glass bottle, not lackadaisical wine drinkers. Grizzly Peak Winery sells the diaper alongside a black mama grizzly T-shirt, wine-infused jams and savories, and a bottle of rare, white tempranillo ($28). (Clarification: A sentence has been modified for clarity.)
Continuing my long-legged gnome roam, I found wine bottles of contrasting sizes in the Applegate: Valley View Winery's winemaker John Guerrero is releasing a jeroboam of 2009 Tempranillo ($100) while Troon Vineyard's winemaker Herb Quady has tucked what he calls Holiday Cheers into a half-bottle ($12). The dessert rose was fortified to 18 percent and mulled with cinnamon, clove and orange peel.
My wine treasures will be cloaked in burlap bags with recipients' names sewn on the front by Tesha Lopez. Clearly wanting my repeat business, the owner of Southern Oregon Embroidery added a red heart applique to the backs of the bags for no extra charge.
My shopping list nearly complete, I — a proud, gangling word nerd — just needed to pack at least one book into my baskets. Last year, I gave copies of "Dishing Up Oregon: 145 Recipes That Celebrate Farm-to-Table Flavors" by Ashley Gartland. The Hillsboro food journalist interviewed chefs, winemakers and other culinary mavericks across the state to reveal such delicious curiosities as black-currant barbecue sauce, fresh nettle pappardelle and — ready for this? — elk tartare.
This year, I sorted through a stack of new books, all $25 or less, with George Rice, who lives in Talent and describes himself as a snobless drinker of first-rate wines. We met at Boulevard Coffee in Ashland in early November, clearly way before anyone else thought it was appropriate to don a decades-old elf outfit. But no matter.
We agreed that Mike DeSimone and Jeff Jenssen's chapters on Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Chile, New Zealand, South Africa and Uruguay in "Wines of the Southern Hemisphere" are perfect for, as George colorfully describes, the loved one who wants to "ride through the pampas with the gauchos, bota bags yearning for a refill; tango through the night with a lusty, confident bonarda or a soft and yielding sauvignon blanc; and spend every afternoon at a bodega."
For broader appeal, I know I can't go wrong with "Windows on the World Complete Wine Course" by Kevin Zraly. This update of a classic is informative for beginners who need to know to enjoy a lesser vintage when it's young and a great vintage after it has aged; and yet challenging for those who have memorized the 1855 classification of the great red wines of Bordeaux. Trivia tacked into the margins and easy-to-cheat-on quizzes will help any reader be more conversant about winemaking, tasting and buying.
My review copy of "The New York Times Book of Wine" is now George's copy because it was impossible to pry it from his fingers. "You must have read about wines, tasted wines, visited wineries and wined and dined to be able to fully enjoy this lusty and mirthful romp, and also be able to see the insight and wisdom, the clarity and depth, the feel, but, I digress," he said, inching his way toward the door.
Before disappearing, he took a parting shot at my cobwebbed costume and concluded: "I would not buy this book to give to someone who drinks wine without loving it, who doesn't care to delve into its mysteries, who seeks no intimacy with the enchantment of the grape. Nor, would I recommend it to a beginning hiker on the wine trail. It can only be enjoyed by someone who has had many disappointments poured from the bottle as well as knowing the bliss of a masterful creation from man's partnership with nature."
If George has intimidated you as he did me, and you don't know whether to pack a tempranillo or viognier in a basket, tuck in a gift certificate for a wine experience, from private tastings and personal tours of vineyards to multicourse winemaker dinners or anything else your favorite wine producer has to offer.
EVENT: Jefferson Public Radio's 32nd annual Wine Tasting is your opportunity to unabashedly sample hundreds of local wines while scouring all levels of Ashland Springs Hotel, 212 E. Main St., from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 13. You also will feast on hors d'oeuvres and confections, and elbow around fellow wine appreciators, all while raising money for National Public Radio programming. Tickets are $45 to $50 and can be purchased at Ashland Food Co-op, Medford Food Co-op and www.ijpr.org or by calling 877-646-4TIX.
TASTED: Right now, malbec master Gus Janeway is rooting around in his Ashland wine library, looking for older vintages of his Velocity Cellars to prove once again that the Rogue Valley is good at making ageworthy, food-friendly wines. He has donated a vertical collection of his wine to JPR's Wine Tasting auction because, he asks, "What would life be without public radio?" Surely, it would be as dull as living without an elf suit.
Reach columnist Janet Eastman at 541-776-4465 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.