Smart Buying

Expert Picks: Eight Great Gifts

We have a bag full of great suggestions to make your holiday shopping a breeze.

There are two big scores in holiday gift giving. One is when you get something that is unexpected but exactly what you wanted. It's the kind of gift that says the giver knows you, gets you and doesn't mind dropping a little coin to let you know how special you are. We can't help you there. But, we can help you give such a gift.

Over the past few years, Kiplinger's has tracked down dozens of specialists who know their respective fields like Santa knows who's been naughty and nice. We chose our eight favorites from the "Shopping With the Expert" series from Kiplinger's Personal Finance magazine and asked the experts to update their picks (if they needed updating) for the 2006 holiday season. See the Holiday Buying Guide slide show.

For example, one expert is Richard Johnston of Gryphon String Instruments, a store in Palo Alto, Cal., that's one of the icons on the acoustic guitar scene. Johnston has both the guitar industry, and the guitarist's psyche, down pat. He knows when a new guitar comes on the scene that represents a combination of the latest in craftsmanship, value and musical perfection. And given the guitar is the most popular musical instrument sold in the U.S. these days, Johnston's a good man to listen to.

And then there's Carlos Rovelo. We caught up with him just before he was about to lead another tequila tasting tour in Mexico. He is what is called a tequila catador, or a certified tequila expert who has passed a rigorous series of tests to get that designation. Rovelo has been to the distilleries that use the best blue agave (the plant from which tequila is made), and the one that plays classical music among the vats wherein the raw tequila ages.

Our sheet expert picks the best fabrics for luxury hotels; our luggage expert travels hundreds of thousands of miles to find the perfect carry-on; and our Scotch expert ... well ... it's nice work if you can get it.

Our experts' mission: Come up with two top recommendations. One choice could be at any price, as long as it was a good value -- meaning you get more than your money's worth. The other choice was to be at a price on the lower end of the range for great stuff in the respective category.

We think our experts didn't disappoint. These are gifts that will get you invited back to the party next year and keep you off of the "Oh-we'll-give-them-fruitcake" gift list for the rest of your life (now that's priceless). At the very least, these picks will provide inspiration.

Come to think of it, maybe we can help you get a great gift. If one of these suggestions strikes a chord with you, print out the slide show page and subtly tape it to someone's bathroom mirror or steering wheel. He or she may just get the hint.

SEE THE SLIDE SHOW

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