April 2013
Red Wine Basics: Pinot Noir
An Expressive and Popular Choice
Pinot Noir Cluster in Burgundy
Pinot Noir (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Pinot Noir is a black grape variety most strongly associated with the Burgundy region of France. The grape’s popularity has exploded throughout the world in recent years despite the difficulty in cultivating and vinifying this finicky grape. Pinot Noir wines are very expressive and represent their growth regions well, being very sensitive to terrain. Pinot Noirs are also very reflective of the method by which they were created, with traditional methods creating very different wines from those produced by modern methods often employed by many New World regions such as California, Oregon and New Zealand.

Varying Styles
The wine expresses a wide range of bouquets, flavors and textures, testing the ability of wine tasters everywhere. The wine also appeals to a very wide range of wine drinkers, with some styles, especially Burgundy styles, appealing to those who prefer more tannic structure. Other styles appeal to the palette that enjoys a light fruitiness, with more modern vinification methods leaning toward this style.

Supply and Demand
The very broad appeal of Pinot Noir has created a demand somewhat in excess of its supply, making a bottle of Pinot Noir a bit more expensive, typically. The grape is very difficult to grow, and is not as widely cultivated as some other varieties, but this hasn’t stopped wine collectors and enthusiasts from enjoying as much of it as possible! The thin-skinned grape is susceptible to disease in both the bunch and vine, extremely sensitive to wind, frost, crop yield, soil types, pruning techniques and fermentation method. Despite the many adversities faced by growers, the grape continues to gain popularity among vintners and wine enthusiasts alike.

Flavor Profile
Testarossa Pinot Noir
Testarossa Pinot Noir (Photo credit: ilmungo)
In a very general sense, Pinot Noirs exhibit the flavors of red and black berries, with stronger, more traditional styles offering earthy qualities such as herbs, mushrooms, leather, game and warm spices including cinnamon, clove and smoky tobacco. The lighter tannic structure of more modern Pinot Noir wines lessens their aging potential, though top-notch Burgundies can be aged up to several decades. For most, between five and ten years is what one can expect to get out of Pinot Noir.

Varietals and More
Pinot Noir is also used in the production of champagne, rosès and vin gris, which are white wines made from red grapes. The skins of the grape have very little color producing matter in them, so the juice is basically colorless, making it a good candidate for a light blush or champagne. Varietals are typically described as garnet-colored, and are generally much lighter in color as compared to other red wines.

Pinot Noir is among the most versatile food wines out there, with silky tannins and light fruitiness that makes pairing easy. Enjoy with just about any meat from Pork to wild game, cheese, chocolate, mushrooms and fresh herbs. You can find a Pinot Noir in many different styles from stronger styles suited to those who prefer harsher red wines to fruitier styles, so choose a style to match your meal!

This completes my exploration of Pinot Noir. Join me next time for a look at Sangiovese, an Italian red grape variety.
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Duke University Architectural Elements Print
Arttowngifts.com is proud to introduce our newest product, the Framed Collegiate Architectural Elements Print. Collegiate prints feature the names of schools throughout the country, with over 100 universities and colleges to offer! Each school name is spelled out with photo prints of actual iconic structures from around each individual campus. The prints are personalized with a name, graduation date and phrase of your choosing and framed with a wooden frame and glass inset for a classy presentation.

Framed Duke University Architectural Elements Print
Duke University Architectural Elements PrintOur Collegiate Prints make an ideal graduation gift for college grads and make a professional and eye-catching addition to an office, study or den. Also perfect for a boss, teacher or the recipient of a promotion, these attractive prints are sure to be enjoyed by all who receive them. Hang some school spirit on the wall with an Architectural Elements Collegiate Print. Click to view our entire collection of Collegiate Framed Prints.
Traditional: No traditional 37th anniversary gift
Contemporary: Alabaster
Flower: No 37th anniversary flower

Alabaster bowls from ancient Egypt
Alabaster bowls from ancient Egypt (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Alabaster is a smooth, white or cream colored stone that has long been used to create beautiful ornamental items. The stone is soft and easy to carve, making it a popular medium for artists seeking to make unique and decorative pieces of art. The stone also has ancient ties. Alabaster creations have been discovered which date back as far as 3500 B.C.! For those of you with a spouse that loves to fill your home with stone artwork and other interesting creations, this year is sure to put you on their good side.

Another option, as always, is to travel; and alabaster gives you plenty of options. Alabaster is deposited and quarried throughout the world. England, Belgium, India, Turkey, Egypt the U.S., Italy and Spain each have alabaster deposits, among many others. Egypt has very strong ancient connections to alabaster. The stone was used by the pharaohs for household items, ritual objects, sarcophagi and the canopic jars and chests that were designed to hold their removed internal organs upon mummification! Needless to say, you will have plenty of interesting places to choose from if you decide to plan a trip to a place with connections to alabaster.

Whether staying at home or traveling the world, I hope that you enjoy your 37th anniversary. Congratulations on 37 years of memories! Join me next time for year 38.
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Close up of the Piedmont grape variety Nebbiolo
Nebbiolo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The Nebbiolo Namesake
Nebbiolo is a red grape variety most often associated with the Piedmont region of Italy. There are several theories on the grape’s name. Many think that it is derived from the Italian Nebbia, meaning fog, because of the heavy mist that settles over the region in early October during the Nebbiolo harvest. It may also refer to the fog-like film that coats Nebbiolo skins as the grapes mature. Nebbiolo may also be derived from the word nobile, meaning noble in Italian. By whatever means its namesake was bestowed, Nebbiolo is certainly a noble grape, requiring a skilled vintner, very particular growing conditions and a lot of patience.

Nebbiolo began to gain notoriety during the 18th century as the British looked for alternatives to Bordeaux due to ongoing political disagreements with France. However, no simple transport route could be established between Piedmont and London, making it less popular than the already well-established favorites such as Bordeaux. The 19th century phylloxera outbreak nearly wiped out Nebbiolo plantings in Italy, and Barbera was more widely replanted afterwards, being more hardy and resistant than the fickle Nebbiolo. Today, it is very sparingly planted, even in Piedmont.

A Finicky Grape
In the Italian wine region of Piedmont
Italian wine region of Piedmont (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Nebbiolo is extremely picky about its growing conditions, preferring good drainage and a long growing season. Plenty of sunshine and warmth is necessary for the grape to develop enough sugar and fruit flavors to balance its high acidity and tannin levels. The grape is first to flower and last to ripen, requiring a very dry autumn. Nebbiolo particularly suited to the Piedmont region, especially the Barolo and Barbaresco zones, where the growing conditions are prime. Many New World vintners struggle with growing Nebbiolo because of its very particular requirements, though it is experimented with in California, Oregon, Washington, Argentina, Mexico and Australia, among others.

Varietals and Blends
Each region produces very distinctive wines, and even the slight difference in elevation between the Barolo and Barbaresco zones produces different flavors and aromas. In these zones, wine regulations require only 100% Nebbiolo varietals, though the variety can benefit from blending because of its very tough tannins. Some regions permit blending with certain varieties such as Barbera and even some white varieties.

Traditional vs Modern Vinification Processes
Due to the distinctive growing conditions and high astringency of the grapes, Nebbiolo winemaking is a careful process. More traditional vinification processes lead to heavier, stronger wines requiring much more aging time. The more traditional method requires fermentation during cooler temperatures, leading to a longer maceration period and higher temperatures early on in the fermentation process, which can reduce aroma and flavor potential. Tough tannins must be softened with at least five years of oak aging. The more modern approach is to shorten maceration and cool down fermentation to preserve flavors and aromas. During the end of fermentation, temperatures are raised to soften the tannins creating wines that need only a couple of years of aging. More modern vintners often choose to age the wine in new oak barrels which impart the wine with the flavor of vanilla, though this method may mask the hints of rose that are typical of Nebbiolo wines.

A photo showing the characteristic coloring of...
Barolo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The Nebbiolo Profile
Aromas and flavors associated with Nebbiolo wines include dried fruit, damson, leather, licorice, spice, herbs and tar. Younger wines exhibit the aromas of tar and roses, while more mature wines demonstrate a more complex profile of roses, violets, tar, herbs, cherries, raspberries, truffles, tobacco and prunes. A stout bottle of Nebbiolo may be aged upwards of 30 years. Young wines are ruby red, while aged Nebbiolo turns to a brick orange.

Pair a Nebbiolo with strong, flavor-rich meats and cheeses. Spicy foods and well-aged cheeses such as parmesan and asiago are perfect. The strong flavors associated with this wine require foods that pack a flavor punch, so pairing with heavier, well-seasoned meals is ideal.

This concludes my exploration of Nebbiolo. Join me next time for a look at Pinot Noir.
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Traditional: No traditional 36th anniversary gift
Contemporary: Bone China
Flower: No 36th anniversary flower

The term china typically refers to quality porcelain dishes or dishware. Bone china was developed during the 1700’s in England. It became a popular alternative form of china due to the imposition of heavy import duties on Chinese porcelain during this time. Bone china is made by mixing bone ash into porcelain clay, resulting in china that is lighter, stronger and whiter than normal porcelain.

Bone China
Bone China (Photo credit: ex.libris)
Bone china appears almost translucent, and is quite beautiful. Dishes and kitchenware made from bone china make elegant anniversary gifts that can be put on display or shown off at fancy dinner parties. If you already have enough dishware, consider a trip to England, the birthplace of bone china. Vacations are always expensive, but getting away just may be worth it this year!

Congratulations on 36 years together. May your celebration be both meaningful and enjoyable. Join me next time for year 37.
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Mourvedre (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Mourvèdre (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Mourvedre (more-VEH-dra) is a red wine grape variety thought to have originated in Spain. The grape is believed to have been named after the Spanish town Murviedro, though in Spain, the grape is known as Monastrell. In Australia, Portugal and other parts of the New World it is called Mataro. The U.S. officially recognizes the name Mourvedre, though in California, Mataro is often associated with the grape. No matter the name, Mourvedre is difficult to mistake with strong gamy flavors that many find off-turning.

A Bit of History
Let’s start with the history. The variety most likely originated in Spain and was introduced to France before the Phylloxera louse outbreak of the late 19th century. After the outbreak, many grape varieties were saved by grafting onto Phylloxera resistant rootstocks, however a suitable rootstock for Mourvedre could not be found. The grape’s popularity in France fell dramatically, and plantings were sparse. After World War II, resistant rootstocks were finally discovered, making the vine more popular to grow in France. Mourvedre is often associated with the Rhone wine region.

Varietals and Blends
Though currently gaining popularity in the marketplace, Mourvedre varietals aren’t widely produced due to a very distinctive flavor that not all wine drinkers are fond of. Its meaty, herbaceous flavors and very strong tannins are best suited to blending. One of its most popular blending partners, Grenache, with its light color, low tannin and low acidity benefits from the darker, highly tannic and highly acidic Mourvedre. Syrah, with its mineral spiciness is also a popular Mourvedre blending partner. Other flavors and aromas associated with Mourvedre are red fruit, chocolate, mint, leather and earth.

Its high tannin levels make Mourvedre suitable for aging, though it is more approachable at a young age than Grenache or Syrah. Mourvedre has an interesting aging pattern. At middle-age, which is about 2 to 5 years, the wine closes down and becomes harsh and tight, but once the wine ages past this period, it re-opens, losing some of its gamy, animal flavor and exhibiting the flavors of earth, leather and chocolate. A strong Mourvedre will need to be aged for quite a while before maturing into a top-notch wine, but the longer the process takes, the better the result.

Mourvedre pairs well with flavorful dishes and rich meats such as pork, lamb and rabbit. The wine is outstanding with grilled meats as well as charred vegetables. Spicy dishes are superb with Mourvedre, as well as those dishes with a red sauce base. Pair with mushrooms, dark chocolate and cheeses to pick up on the lighter flavors which accent a good Mourvedre.

This completes my exploration of Mourvedre. Join me next time for a look at Nebbiolo, an Italian red grape variety.

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Something that all new parents need, especially first-timers, is a little help! If you will be attending an up-coming baby shower, or know a brand new parent, we can help you help them. Arttowngifts.com has a large selection of gifts for babies and new moms and dads that help make the exciting and, some might say overwhelming, experience of becoming a parent a little easier.

Baby Shower Gifts
Winnie the Pooh Pink New Baby Basket
Clothes, diapers, new toys and new mommy gifts are some of the staples of early parenthood. The baby gift basket combines all of these gifts in once convenient package, usually dressed to impress. Arttowngifts.com offers a collection of Baby Gift Baskets with various themes for both boys and girls. These adorable baskets are filled with baby toys, clothes and lots of other items to help make life a little easier for the new parents.

Arttowngifts.com also offers Diaper Cakes perfect for Mom and her new bundle of joy. A tier of diapers is topped off with a plush toy and wrapped in ribbon and tulle for a stunning presentation. Also included are small gifts for Mom to help soothe and pamper during the first weeks with her new little one.

Personalized Baby Carriage Sign for a BoyGifts for Newborns
Help Mom and Dad celebrate the birth of their bundle of joy with personalized gifts to commemorate this very special occasion. Arttowngifts.com has a large selection of picture frames, nursery room signs, toy boxes and crosses that feature personalization with name and date of birth. Customized items like these make wonderful keepsakes that can be treasured for a lifetime.

Help a new or expecting set of parents get started on their new life with Baby with gifts that make this special time both memorable and just a bit easier. Few if any of us are completely prepared for the ups and downs of parenting, and the help and support of friends and loved ones is a welcome and necessary part of these new beginnings! Take part in this joyous time with a helping hand sure to be welcomed and appreciated.
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Traditional: Coral
Contemporary: Jade
Flower: No 35th anniversary flower

This sounds like the perfect anniversary for an exotic getaway! Coral and jade are both associated with faraway places, so if it’s in the budget, visit a tropical island. Go scuba diving on a reef to get close-up and personal with coral. Not interested in an island paradise? Jade has strong historical ties to China, so take a visit to the Orient to enjoy something new and exciting together.

Bali Jade Bracelet by Gail de Luca If a trip doesn’t fit into your budget or schedule, there are plenty of unique gift ideas that stem from coral and jade. Choose a hobby, interest or item your spouse loves and search for coral or jade inlaid gifts. For instance, I have an uncle who is a musician. For their 35th anniversary, my aunt found a gorgeous guitar inlaid with coral. I’m not sure whether the coral was real or just made to resemble coral, but it was a truly terrific gift idea. Both coral and jade are such unique substances that you are sure to find something lovely for your spouse. Jewelry is always a favorite gift from husband to wife and coral and jade make very interesting and beautiful pieces of jewelry, so get on her good side with something stunning this year!

Good luck on your gift hunting and congratulations on 35 years! Join me next time for year 36.

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California Merlot from Provence
California Merlot from Provence (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Merlot is one of the most widely planted red wine grape varieties in the world, second only to Cabernet Sauvignon. It is strongly associated with the Bordeaux wine region in France, and is one of the six grape varieties used in red Bordeaux blends. Merlot makes an excellent varietal, but also makes for superb blends. Its versatility has helped it to become one of the most planted and popular varieties on Earth. The grape is planted all over the world, becoming increasing popular in the U.S. since the 1980’s. Plantings in California have grown from 4,000 acres in 1988 to over 50,000 today. Merlot is softer and less tannic, making it a great choice for beginning red wine drinkers and for those who enjoy a more velvety, less harsh profile.

Merlot is an early ripening grape. Its thin skin, though giving it its softer, less tannic taste also makes it more susceptible to some grape diseases. Merlot produces fleshy wines that blend perfectly with the later-ripening Cabernet Sauvignon. Cab is more tannic, and the blend of the two varieties makes for a wine that is well rounded with a great flavor structure. The higher tannin content of Cabernet Sauvignon also lends the Merlot blend greater ageability.

Merlot varietals tend to be medium-bodied with flavors of plum, currents, blackberry, blueberry and mulberry. Its earthier flavors include olive, eucalyptus, mint, oregano, thyme and rosemary. A Merlot that has been aged in oak exhibits the delicious flavors of caramel, chocolate, coconut, coffee bean, vanilla and walnut.

There are several styles of Merlot. Softer, less tannic Merlot is fruity and soft, pairing well with salmon, mushroom-based dishes, shellfish and leafy greens. More tannic, medium-fruit Merlot pairs nicely with lamb and pork dishes. The harshest style is made to resemble Cabernet Sauvignon with maximum exposure to skins to get the most tannic structure of any form of Merlot. Pair these Merlots with charred or grilled meats.

A white Merlot is also produced, first hitting the market in the 1990’s. When making white Merlot, the juice is made to contact the skin of the grape very sparingly, releasing a pink juice that is then fermented. Hints of raspberry can be detected in this form of Merlot.

This completes my exploration of Merlot. Join me next time to get the facts on Mourvedre, a red grape variety known to produce flavorfully complex, interesting wines.

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