March 2013
A glass of Malbec wine (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Malbec (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
French Origins
Malbec is a purple grape variety that originated in France. It is one of the six grapes allowed to make up a Bordeaux blend, though its presence in Bordeaux is declining. After a frost in 1956 killed off 75% of the Malbec crop in France, popularity of the grape has fallen there. The grape is delicate and thin-skinned. Very susceptible to frost and several grape diseases, the variety must often be grafted onto non-native rootstocks in France, making it ever less popular there.

Argentina's Main Squeeze
In Argentina, however, the grape has found a home. Argentinian Malbec wines are becoming increasingly popular, and the grape has become the most widely planted grape variety in the country. The grape benefits from the warm climate, and grafting is not often necessary so the grape can grow from its own roots to preserve the natural integrity of the grape. There is even a Malbec World Day celebrated on April 17th to help Argentina broadcast its Malbec wines to the world. Events and tastings are held around the globe in celebration of Argentinian Malbec and its increasing share in the global wine marketplace.

Flavor Profile and Pairings
Malbec wines are a deep red color and medium to full bodied. The wine boasts a strong tannic structure, high acidity and high alcohol content. Dominant flavors include plum, black cherry, blackberry and  a host of spicy aromas and flavors including pepper, smoke, earth, leather, wild game and tobacco. The strong flavor of Malbec pairs well with red meats, red sauces, sausage and spicy dishes. Many Malbec wines can be successfully aged to a decade or more.

My Taste of Malbec
I was lucky enough to locate a bottle of Malbec this past weekend for a little extra-curricular research. I found a bottle of 2011 Bodega Belgrano Malbec made in Mendoza, Argentina. As I have admitted in the past, I have no wine tasting experience and I tend to dislike red wines. I must say, however, that the Malbec was the best red wine I have tried. My palette is still extremely unrefined, and I struggle with describing why I like it better than the others. It wasn’t as harsh as some of the other wines I have tasted, such as the Cabernet Sauvignon or the Meritage. It smelled deliciously of leather and spices, and tasted very spicy, especially the longer it was allowed to breathe and open up. I would suggest trying it for those of you who find typical red wines too strong.

This completes my exploration of Malbec. Join me next time for a discussion about Merlot, one of the best known and most widely planted red grape varieties in the world.

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Amethyst (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Traditional: No traditional 33rd anniversary gift
Contemporary: Amethyst
Flower: No 33rd anniversary flower

The 33rd anniversary is the Amethyst Anniversary. The amethyst is a gemstone that has significant roots in ancient cultures around the world. The Greeks used amethyst as a means to ward off drunkenness and promote a sober mind. Egyptians believed that the stone could be used to ward off guilty and fearful feelings.

The stone symbolizes piety, sincerity and spiritual wisdom. It supposedly promotes a clear mind and is used to aid in meditation. It is believed that if placed in the light of the sun during the day and the moon at night, an amethyst crystal will promote positivity and calm in the home.

With so many good feelings and positive meanings associated with this gem, it makes a great gift for an anniversary. Amethyst jewelry is the standard 33rd anniversary gift, though if you like to think outside the box, simply sticking to the amethyst's purple color opens up a large number of gift possibilities. The Pink to Amethyst Gold Trimmed Rose at makes a unique gift. A real rose is preserved and painted in pink and amethyst hues and then trimmed in gold for a stunning piece of artwork that can be enjoyed for years to come.

Congratulations on 33 years. I hope that your anniversary celebration is filled with good vibes and positive feelings! Join me next time for year 34.
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New Zealand Lagrein
New Zealand Lagrein (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Lagrein is a red grape variety native to Northern Italy. Thick, vigorous growth and large yields makes proper care essential. Pruning is important, especially in cooler areas where sunlight is limited.

The wine is quite astringent; so long periods of barrel maturation (up to two years) are typical. For vintners hoping to create younger, fresher wines, a fining agent is added before fermentation to induce molecules to bond. The larger molecules are then filtered out, including tannins. This allows a young wine to be less harsh without aging.

Lagrein wines are typically deep red to purple in color with decent levels of acidity and tannins. The wine exhibits the flavors of berry-fruit and plums with a finish that tastes of tobacco, leather, mushrooms and sour cherries. Younger Lagrein is fresh and fruity, and with age, the wine’s youthful flavors become more complex. Lagrein is best aged only to about five years, after this the wine begins to lose some of its character. The wine has medium body and a minerally nose.

In blends it is usually paired with less tannic grapes to add flavor structure and it is also used to make rosès. Pair Lagrein with red or white meats and aged cheeses. This finishes off my exploration of Lagrein. Join me next time for a discussion about Malbec.

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(Photo credit: Tax Credits)
Congratulations on 32 years. This year, anniversary gifts revolve around modes of transportation. This could be an expensive year! Fear not. I have come up with plenty of ideas for budgets of all sizes, so you can relax.

Traditional: No traditional 32nd anniversary gift
Contemporary: Conveyances (e.g. automobiles)
Flower: No 32nd anniversary flower

The planes, trains and automobiles have it this year! Conveyances can include a wide range of fun toys including cars, boats, jet skis, motorcycles and ATV’s. For couples with a larger budget, this may be the year to purchase that recreational vehicle you have been wanting. For smaller budgets, gifts such as skis, surfboards or running shoes make excellent gifts for an active spouse. If your anniversary falls in winter, take the day to go snowshoeing, skiing or snowmobiling. For summer anniversaries, try sailing or hiking. This is the year to do something fun and active. Participate in a brand new activity together for an unforgettable experience!

Here’s hoping your 32nd anniversary is a memory that you can treasure for the rest of your lives. Join me next time for year 33.
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Grenache is a widely planted red-grape variety thought to have originated in Spain. Its main producers include France, Spain, Australia and the United States, with some of the most popular Grenache wines coming from the Rhone wine region of France. The grape is slow to ripen and one of the last varieties to be harvested making it ideal for hot, dry climates such as those found in South France, Spain, Australia, and the San Joaquin Valley in California.
Grenache Vineyard of Barossa Valley, Australia
Grenache vineyard of Barossa Valley, Australia (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Grenache was one of the first grape varieties to be introduced to Australia, and its high sugar content makes it perfect for sweetening up Australian fortified wines. It was also one of the first grape varieties successfully cultivated and vinified in Washington during the early development of the wine industry there. In California, it is a popular component in sweet jug wines, which are inexpensive table wines typically bottled in large glass jugs.

Grenache’s long ripening season allows sugars to reach high levels, producing sweet wines high in alcohol. A typical Grenache varietal has alcohol content around 15%. Grenache grapes have light, thin skins resulting in wines that are pale and generally low in tannins. Yield size and processing technique determine the ultimate outcome, but tannin and acid levels are typically medium to low.

Grenache Grapes in Santa Barbara, California
Grenache- Santa Barbara, California. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Grenache grapes grow on thick, woody vines, making them difficult to prune and harvest. The difficulty in processing has led to a decrease in popularity in some regions where wine harvesting is highly dependent on machines such as Australia and California. The grapes grow in very tight bunches, making them susceptible to rot, especially in wetter climates. Despite these difficulties, Grenache is drought resistant and produces a wine perfect for rounding out blends and creating delightful rosés, making it one of the world’s most widely planted red grape varieties.

Processing the grapes can be difficult for producers. The grape produces wines that are low in tannin, so to compensate for this lack in flavor structure, growers often use harsh pressing techniques and hot fermentation to try and extract as much tannin and color as possible. These harsh techniques can result in wines that are herbaceous, course and astringent. The best Grenache is made when fermentation is slow and cool, followed by a period of maceration. Oak barrel aging can help Grenache retain some color and prevent overly quick oxidation.

Grenache is most typically used in blends, though a few varietals are produced. It is often blended with harsher, more tannic wines to add sweetness and body. On its own, Grenache produces a varietal that is full in the mouth and exhibits the flavors of blackberry, black currants, allspice, cinnamon and orange blossom. Due to quick oxidation, the wine is not meant to be aged, though certain cultivation and vinification processes can produce bottles appropriate for some aging.

Glass of Grenache Rosé wine
Grenache Rosé wine. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Pair Grenache varietals with poultry and mild cheeses. Grenache blended with harsher, more tannic wines pairs well with steaks and rich meats such as duck as well as tomato-based dishes. Sweet and delicious rosés go nicely with seafood dishes and would do well on a summer picnic!

This completes my exploration of Grenache. Join me next time for a discussion about Lagrein, an Italian red grape variety.
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Spring is just around the corner and Peter Cottontail is making his way down the bunny trail with all kinds of Easter treats! Here at we offer a large selection of Easter and Springtime Gifts for all ages. Find sweet gifts for the sweet tooth on your list and tons of fun activity baskets for kids filled with toys and games.

For those of you who love baked goods, we offer spring cupcakes, chocolate dipped Oreos, giant fortune cookies and more all decorated in adorable pastel sprinkles and edible decorations such as bunnies, eggs, lady bugs, flowers and more. The Spring Sweets Gourmet Gift Basket features a mouthwatering collection of brownies, Oreos and fortune cookies dipped and decorated in the colors and symbols of springtime for a tasteful way to send the best of the season to someone special.

Spring Sweets Gourmet Gift Basket
Arttowngifts also offers a variety of Easter gift baskets for adults and children featuring candies, chocolates and bunnies arranged in adorable boxes and baskets. The Easter Sweets N Treats Gift Basket would make a sweet gift for an adult, teen or child. The basket is all tied up in springtime colors and filled with Easter favorites like Marshmallow Peeps, foil-wrapped chocolate Easter eggs and a solid milk chocolate bunny just to name a few.

Easter Sweets and Treats Gift Basket
Kids’ activity baskets make wonderful Easter and spring gifts for children. These baskets feature games, toys, treats and puzzle books perfect for entertaining an active child. Baskets like this Easter Sunshine Gift Basket include all kinds of fun activities for children such as card games, crayons, silly string, bubbles and much more. Make their day and bring on the smiles with baskets designed to delight the little ones.

Easter Sunshine Gift Basket
Send Easter and springtime wishes to the special people on your gift list to celebrate the season of renewal. Find delicious and entertaining gifts of all sorts at for making the season sweet and memorable. Spring into action now and order gifts for Easter early to avoid shipping hassles and take advantage of low ground shipping rates.  Here’s wishing you the season’s best as the sunshine and warmer weather begin to shed a little light and life into our days. Enjoy and be sure to share the joys of the season with friends and family.
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Congratulations on year 31. This particular anniversary is all about celebrating the time that you have put into your relationship.

Traditional: No traditional 31st anniversary gift
Contemporary: Timepieces
Flower: No 31st anniversary flower

Brushed Silver Custom Pocket Watch
This year, find a nice watch for your spouse or a beautiful wall clock for your home. The timepiece that you choose is meant to symbolize the time that you have spent building your relationship and enjoying each others' company. A be-jeweled wrist watch for the wife makes a nice gift. A classic wrist watch or pocket watch is a great way to keep the hubby on time during his work day. Personalize his pocket watch with an anniversary message for a unique gift with an extra-special meaning to the two of you.

Take a minute or two to reflect on your 31 years of companionship. Congratulate yourselves on an accomplishment that not many achieve. The time that you have spent together is a testament to the hard work and dedication put into your commitment. Celebrate and have the time of your lives! Join me next time for year 32.
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Dolcetto is a black grape variety produced primarily in the Piedmont region of Italy. It is an everyday table wine that pairs nicely with many dishes.  Interestingly, Dolcetto in Italian means “little sweet one”, though this grape variety is known to produce very dry wines.

A typical bottle of Dolcetto offers a wine that is very tannic, low in acidity and fruity. High tannin levels make the wine rather bitter. Longer contact between juice and skins makes for high tannin levels, so vintners usually aim for shorter maceration periods to limit tannins as much as possible. The skins are very dark and even with a shorter maceration stage; Dolcetto wines are a lovely dark red color.

The wine exhibits black cherry, licorice and prune flavors. The bitter finish of Dolcetto often tastes of almonds. Dolcetto can be consumed within months of release and it is often an “early to market” wine because of its short ripening season. It is not meant to be aged longer than four years as it loses its fruitiness.

Dolcetto is nice to have at the table on an everyday basis because it pairs so well with many dishes. It typically has soft tannins and a fruitiness that can complement many foods. Try it with pastas and pizza for starters. Dolcetto is usually fairly inexpensive, with bottles under $25 being easy to come by.

This concludes my exploration of Dolcetto. Join me next time for a discussion about Grenache, a widely planted grape variety thought to have originated in Spain.

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Congratulations on 30 years together. This milestone anniversary is all about the jewels. Prepare to deck your spouse out in some bling this year if you are planning on sticking to traditional guidelines!

Traditional: Pearls
Contemporary: Diamonds
Flower: Lily and Sweet Pea

White Pearl and Crystal Necklace and Earring SetThe traditional anniversary gift is pearls. Pearl necklaces and earrings like these by artist Marie Archuleta are beautiful examples of pearl gifts for a woman. Hubbies aren’t generally too interested in jewelry, especially not pearls, so the ladies will have to get creative. If he enjoys a nice button-up shirt, find him a pearl snap shirt for your night out on the town. If you are interested in thinking outside the box, pearls come from the ocean, so this year is the perfect year to escape to the coast if you can. Spend some time reacquainting yourselves with nature and romance on the beaches of someplace exotic.

The contemporary 30th anniversary gift is the diamond. Diamonds are definitely a girl’s best friend, though not necessarily the wallet’s best friend. If it fits in the budget, definitely get her a stunning diamond necklace, bracelet, earrings or watch. If not, there are tons of synthetic gems out there that can still dress up date night without breaking the bank. Check out the selection of Jewelry at We have a variety of different types of jewelry for both men and women.

Stargazer Lily
Stargazer Lily (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Traditional 30th anniversary flowers include the Lily and the Sweet Pea. Each have their own symbolic meaning, so you can choose the perfect flower based on the message that you are hoping to send to your wife. The lily represents devotion, beauty, majesty, honor, purity, pride and innocence. Sweet Peas represent lasting pleasure, “thinking of you”, “thank you for the lovely time”, or “goodbye”.

Enjoy your day as you celebrate 30 years of marriage and memories. Quite impressive in this day and age! Join me next time for year 31.
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