ASK THE EXPERTS: The best gifts this holiday season

Kerrie Kennedy, Contributing writer

“Unwrap” gift recommendations from local experts.

WiG contacted seven local businesses and organizations, each of which offered their insight into what you should look for this holiday season.


Where: The Exclusive Company, locations in West Bend, Oshkosh, Appleton, Green Bay, Milwaukee, Greenfield and Janesville

In-house expert: Milwaukee store manager Brian Kirk

Best new LP: Adele’s 25 is the record to buy this season and available at the Exclusive Company starting on Nov. 20. $22 in vinyl.

Best classic rock LP: The Rolling Stones’ Sticky Fingers, whose Andy Warhol-designed cover has become as classic as the album. A real collector’s item. $25 in vinyl.

Classic jazz: John Coltrane’s My Favorite Things, which will jazz up any holiday party. $15–25 in vinyl.

Best local CD: Milwaukee band Testa Rosa’s new CD, Testa Rosa III, showcasing Betty Blexud-Strigens’ striking voice. $11.


Where: Thief Wines

In-house expert: Owner Phil Bilodeau 

Best Chardonnay: Desparada 2013. From Edna Valley, California, this chardonnay is well balanced with lots of creamy butteriness and a nice acidity. $35.

Best Pinot Noir: Failla 2013. This classic pinot from the Sonoma Coast offers savory earthy notes and cherry/strawberry fruits. A nice wine to accompany dinner. $48.

Best Champagne: Michel Rocourt Blanc de Blancs Premier Cru. A grower Champagne (meaning they grow all their own grapes), this 100 percent chardonnay Champagne is a great value. $43.

Splurge wine: Pahlmeyer Jayson 2013. This red blend from Napa Valley is lush, hedonistic, full-bodied and offers a smooth finish. $54.


Where: Milwaukee Art Museum Store, 700 N. Art Museum Drive. 

In-house expert: Donele Pettit-Mieding, marketing and web store manager

Outstanding ornament: “Snowy Afternoon,” hand-painted by local artist Christiane Grauert, celebrates the winter season in Milwaukee at twilight and features the museum’s newly renovated lakefront galleries. Meet the artist and have her personalize your ornament on Dec. 3 11 a.m.-3 p.m. $24.

Best house guest gift: A set of Walking Milwaukee Cards, 10 mapped, self-guided walking tours of downtown Milwaukee that highlight the city’s iconic architecture. $20.

Clever colleague gift: The “Orbanizer,” a handcrafted wire ball, holds pens, utensils, craft tools and even flowers. $28.

Haute hostess gift: Midwest artist Laurie Freivogel’s handmade glass collection — silk screened images of vintage cameras on fused glass — celebrates the museum’s new exhibition, Larry Sultan: Here and Home, which runs through Jan. 24. Coasters, cheeseboards and trays run $18–$120. 


In-house expert: Dave Fantle, chief marketing officer for United Performing Arts Fund.

Best way to give back: Talk about the gift that keeps on giving — make a tax-deductible donation of $100 or more to UPAF and get a smart card offering two-for-one value on performances for each of UPAF’s 15 member groups, as well as discounts at local restaurants. $100.

Best holiday ballet: Milwaukee Ballet’s holiday chestnut, The Nutcracker, is truly a group effort, with featured performances from the Milwaukee Ballet Orchestra, the Milwaukee Children’s Choir, 150 students from the Milwaukee Ballet School & Academy, and of course, the Milwaukee Ballet company. Through Dec. 27 at the Uihlein Hall Marcus Center. $25–$105.

Best holiday play: This season, Milwaukee Repertory Theater celebrates 40 years of staging Charles Dickens’ beloved classic, A Christmas Carol, on Dec. 24. Wisconsin actor Jonathan Smoots will return for his second year as Scrooge, along with a cast of Carol-ers old and new. Tickets are $35–$85.

Best after-the-holidays show to look forward to: The Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra celebrates the work of multi-Tony Award-winning composer Jerry Herman, with a one-night-only performance featuring songs from Hello, Dolly!, Mame and La Cage Aux Folles, among others. Jan. 13 at the Marcus Center. $20-$110.


Where: WELL Salon + Spa, Pfister Hotel, 424 E. Wisconsin Ave., Milwaukee.

In-house expert: Lisa Brandt, esthetician at Well Salon + Spa at the Pfister Hotel.

Best pampering package: The Pure Decadence package, featuring a hydrotherapy bath, an aroma glow body scrub and an hour-long massage or a facial, is the perfect way to eliminate holiday stress. $190.

Best pre-party prep: Airbrush makeup and a set of must-have party lashes create a flawless look for your party pics and selfies. Makeup, $85; lashes, $20.

Best me-too package: Give to you, your partner and your relationship with the You Plus Me package, which includes a luxurious couple’s massage and a couple’s hydrotherapy bath. $295.

Best treatment on the run: The Express Yourself package, featuring a 30-minute massage, an express facial and an express mani-pedi, is a welcome gift for the busy people in your life. $210.


Where: Boswell Books, 2559 N. Downer Ave., Milwaukee.

In-house Experts: Book buyers Jason Kennedy and Anne Mechler-Hickson.

Best coffee table book of 2015: Milwaukee, City of Neighborhoods by local historian John Gurda and published by Historic Milwaukee, Inc. looks at 37 Milwaukee neighborhoods, from past to present. $45.

Best children’s book: With its gorgeous illustrations of homes of every kind — from an artist’s home to a bee’s home, a shoe home to a tree home, Home, by Car
son Ellis, offers insight into the meaning of “home sweet home.” $17.

Best cookbook: The Food Lab: Better Cooking Through Science, by J. Kenji Lopez-Alt, teaches how to make the perfect pan-fried steak, homemade mac ‘n’ cheese, moist turkey and much more by using science as a guide. $50.

Best new series for teens: Set in a high-fantasy world similar to ancient Rome, Sabaa Tahir’s An Ember in the Ashes, the first in a series, tells the story of a slave fighting for her family and a young soldier fighting for his freedom. $20.


Where: Little Monsters, 2445 N. Farwell Ave., Milwaukee.

In-house expert: Owner Andie Zacher.

Best craft toys: Make-your-own snow globe/totebag/friendship bracelets/tiaras/swords and superhero masks are just the thing to conquer holiday break boredom. $21–$42.

Best musical toys: Encourage a love of music with a simple harmonica, an old-fashioned accordion or a microphone that comes with its own stand — not to mention background rhythms. $10–$55.

Best old school toys: All the stuff you grew up with is back, from the Simon game to Ross Across, plus record players, telephones, View-Masters, clocks from the ’60s and ’70s and all the old Fisher Price stuff. Let’s hope the kids get a chance to play too. $22–$40.

Best stocking stuffers: Sometimes the best gifts come in small sizes. Stuff their stockings with miniature toys, games, pretend play objects and a range of holiday candies. $5 and up.