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    Wine Ratings: A Beginner’s Guide

    February 13th, 2014 admin

    Valentine’s Day and wine go hand-in-hand. While you’re browsing the aisles tonight at your local wine shop or grocery store trying to find the perfect wine for Valentine’s dinner tomorrow, you may see something like what you see to the right.

    Wine Ratings Example

             (Photo credit: Wikipedia Commons)

    But what does it mean? Who decides if a bottle is rated 90 points or 5 points? We’ll start with that question and continue with more questions about the wine rating process.

    First of all, the lowest wine rating you’ll ever see is 50. And even then, most stores don’t sell anything rated below 85 so you’ll probably never actually even see anything lower than that.

    Where do the ratings come from?

    Enter now the wild and wonderful world of the wine critic!

    There are many publications such as Wine Spectator (shown above), Wine Enthusiast, Wine Advocate, Wine & Spirits, or International Wine Cellar that are independent of the wineries that create the wine. They cultivate relationships with the wineries to get bottles before they’re distributed to the public at large. Without knowing which wineries the wines come from, these expert wine tasters (often blindfolded) try several wines in one sitting. With each one they assess the aroma, appearance, mouthfeel, flavor, and finish of each wine, and assign numerical ratings based on their wealth of knowledge and culinary experiences. They then write articles and reviews in the publications for which they work, praising or panning the wines of that year’s vintage.

    Who came up with this system? When did it start?

    A notable wine connoisseur named Robert Parker developed the 50-100 point scale system in the mid-1970s as a way to make wines easily comparable. For ease of use he based his system upon the popular notion of a school’s grading scale where A+ is 100 and F is 59 or below.

    What do the numbers represent in terms of quality?

    A wine rating of 85 or above is generally considered good, and ratings of 90 and above signify outstanding wine quality (just like getting an A on a test in school.) A wine may receive a high rating for superior complexity of flavor, powerful or specific aromas, an appearance or texture that is a perfect representation of what the wine’s style is meant to be, or a exceptionally well-balanced wine. Honestly all of those things will probably have to come together to earn the 90+ points.

    Wines will receive lower scores if they did not age well, or not long enough, are too sweet or too dry (bitter/rough), if the soil the grapes grew in resulted in a scorched flavor, or if the composite experience of the wine (appearance, aroma, mouthfeel, taste, finish) was completely uncharacteristic of what the wine is supposed to be (eg a Pinot Grigio tastes like Moscato, or Cabernet tastes like Shiraz).

    Are there any perfect scores?

    Yes! Every year a small handful of wines will receive the rare 100-point rating from critics. This includes the 2006 Cardinale Cabernet Sauvignon (Wine Enthusiast) and the 2010 Fortuna Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon (Wine Advocate).

    So there you have it – an introduction to the world of wine tasting and ratings. See our Premium Wine Cellar and Wine Gift Basket pages for an extraordinary selection of 90-point rated wines and exquisite pairings. Happy Valentine’s Day!

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    Valentine’s Day Colors, Flowers and Their Meanings

    February 11th, 2014 admin

    Valentine’s Day is immediately upon us – and if you haven’t noticed every retail store in America turning a distinctive shade of pinkish red since mid-January, you still have a few days to come out of hiding and buy a gift or two for your special someone.

    Companies know that our brains are conditioned to make us feel a certain way when we view certain colors. Deep red stirs up passion, obsession, intrigue, and devotion – this is why the hottest muscle cars are red, and why the most elegant evening gowns are red. Also, bright yellows, especially in the dead of winter, remind us of the sun, trigger a release of endorphins, and cheer us up, which is why we love to see daffodils poking through the snow come spring. The feelings that colors evoke are very real, and symbolism does matter.

    The study of how flowers and their colors help us communicate feelings is called floriography, or the language of flowers. Ever since flowers have been given as gifts, there has been speculation (even suspicion!) about what certain flower colors mean and the intention behind them. Below is a list of the traditional meanings for each flower color, popular flowers that often come in these colors and suggested occasions for each one.


    Here's To You Flower Arrangement

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    Red – Passion, devotion, heat, energy – roses, tulips, carnations.  Universally communicates romantic love.

    Orange – Warmth, enthusiasm, confidence – tulips, tiger lilies, roses. Give these to wish someone good luck before an interview or major performance.

    Yellow – Friendship, friendliness, good cheer, joy – daffodils, tulips, roses. The best choice for “just because,” the anniversary of a friendship, or when a friend is down.

    Green – Health, resilience, renewal – ivy, ferns, button poms, lily grass. An ideal “get well” gift.

    Blue – Calmness, openness, peace – hydrangeas and stock. Send to someone in a stressful situation or recovering from trauma.

    Pink – “Like” instead of love, playfulness, innocence – roses, tulips, and carnations. For your newest crush! Also great for kids.

    White – Peace, serenity, purity – lilies, tulips, roses, and chrysanthemums. Most often used for funerals and sympathetic gestures.

    Purple – Royalty, pride, success – roses, lavender, tulips. Very common for graduations, retirements, and major celebrations.

    Lavender – Femininity, grace, elegance – roses, carnations, lavender, stock. Perfect for Mother’s day or a wife’s birthday.


    See our new and improved Flowers by Color page for the next time you’d like to use flowers to send a heartfelt message to someone special.

    Happy Valentine’s Day! What’s your favorite color?

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    Gifts for Beer Lovers: A Beer Gift Guide

    February 6th, 2014 admin

    Beer is the next big thing. Especially here in the Pacific Northwest, it seems that new microbrews, craft beers, independent brewpubs and even marketable homebrews are popping up all over the place. There are many reasons for the recent beer boom, but no matter what, it’s safe to say that the more beers there are, the more beer lovers there will be. And the more beer lovers are there, the more we will all need to find gifts for beer lovers! In addition to our beer gift baskets you already know and love, I am pleased to highlight two of GiftTree’s brand new beer companion gifts. Recommendations for beer and cheese pairings follow as well.

    Personalized Hopside Down® Beer Glass

    This is my personal favorite of all of our excellent beer gifts. My brother-in-law and I have already pledged to add more pint glasses to our at-home collection, and this will be the perfect start. The heavy double-walled glass keeps the beer cold while keeping the outside of the glass warm and without condensation. The unique design of the personalized Hopside Down® beer glass makes your glass look uniquely stunning after the pour, and a complimentary personalized initial is the icing on the cake.

    Personalized Beer Growler for Beer LoversPersonalized Stainless Steel Beer Growler

    The old-fashioned moonshine jug is growing in popularity now for beer, with tons of practical uses: parties, trips to the beach, picnics, or just to fill at the pub and bring back home to share. This stainless steel growler (most are glass or ceramic) features an ergonomic handhold, a gasket ring sealer lid to prevent carbonation leakage (no flat beers here!) and a large 64 oz capacity. More than that though, with the personalization feature, you get include their name in an exclusively-designed vintage beer logo for a final result that says “[their name here] Brewing Co.” It’s a seriously impressive novelty beer gift they’re sure to love.

    Cheese Pairings

    To go along with our exciting new beer gifts, here are some unique ideas for beer and cheese pairings. Traditionally cheese is paired with wine, but notice the similar aromatic qualities and complexities of gourmet cheeses and craft beers. (And think about the richness and wonder of beer cheese soup!) Beer and cheese can be paired together exquisitely well. These suggestions came with the help of several esteemed sources such as Esquire Magazine, NPR.org, and BeerAdvocate.com.

    Sharp Aged Cheddar and IPA

    IPAs bring the hop factor – that pleasant bitterness that’s not sour, but thoroughly enjoyable. They’ll also bring citrus, fruit, and a piney character. To complement that brightness and zip on your palette you’ll want the deep smokiness and big punch of well-aged cheddar. I’d suggest Beecher’s Smoked Flagship with Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA for well-layered pairing.

    Muenster and Pilsner

    Muenster is basically the wise grandfather of American cheese – it’s soft, creamy and versatile, but it stands alone much better than the inexpensive processed American cheese we’re used to. Most groceries will have several good brands of Muenster (Tillamook, Organic Valley) – just pick one and pair it with any of your favorite Pilsners. The drinkability of the Pilsner matches the versatility of the Muenster, but both retain gourmet character. The best comfort lunch I know is a Muenster Grilled Cheese on Artisan Bread with a light Pilsner such as Stella Artois.

    Gruyere and Kolsch

    The Kolsch is an extremely intriguing tasting experience that sometimes defies explanation. It’s a traditional German golden-style ale with a medium body, usually copper color, sometimes a muted citrus aroma and adequate level of hoppiness. They tend to be a little more drinkable than IPAs while remaining very complex. Kolsch pairs well Gruyere, the meaty, nut-like Swiss cheese. Especially when the cheese is liberally included in rich, salty French Onion Soup, it’s another great comfort lunch on a wintry weekend. Go for the Double Mountain Kolsch with Trader Joe’s Gruyere.

    Cheers to new gifts, cheese, and beer! What’s your favorite pairing?

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    6 Creative, Budget-Friendly Valentine’s Gift Ideas

    February 4th, 2014 admin

    Let’s face it: flowers, chocolates, diamonds, movies in a theater, and five-star dinners are sometimes just too darn expensive and can leave even the most well-intentioned person with a serious case of buyer’s remorse on the morning of the 15th. But often we go ahead and fork over the cash just because we don’t have any other good ideas and we don’t want to drop the ball on such a special day. Here are some “outside of the box” ideas for Valentine’s Gifts that are just as meaningful, and won’t stress your wallet.

    The Mix CD

    This one has evolved over the years from the classic mix tape, to the mix CD and now the ease of the drag-and-drop digital playlist. But going just a little bit retro and having something physical that they can hold and cherish on Valentine’s Day is still very special. This was the first Valentine’s gift I ever gave my wife when we were still dating, and we still pull it out sometimes and listen to it. To get you started, here are my Top 5 Romantic Tunes from my mix: “Better Together” – Jack Johnson, “Moondance” – Van Morrison, “Crush” – Dave Matthews Band, “The Luckiest” – Ben Folds Five, “When the Stars Go Blue” – The Corrs w/ Bono.

     Art Paper Valentine 

    This was the first Valentine’s gift I got FROM my wife, on our first Valentine’s day. She very neatly cut out a white paper heart with intricate geometric designs in the middle (similar to how you make paper snowflakes), glued it onto red card stock and wrote a nice love note on the inside. It’s easy enough to add glitter, ribbons, whatever else makes it special without being tacky, and it can be as large or small as you see fit. The only important thing is just to show you put in the time and thoughtfulness to make something special. To show your additional thoughtfulness, make it a few days ahead and mail it from work so it arrives at home or at their office for a nice Valentine’s surprise.

    Elegant Dinner Date at Home 

    Pick a time to sit down together and scour the cookbook or the Internet for a fun new recipe that you’ll both love. If you live in an urban area, go on a quick date to one of the specialty stores you’ve never been to, but always wanted to see.  If you’re not in or near a major city, buy the ingredients together where you usually shop, but buy it from the organic/local/specialty section – live a little! With either option, even though you will spend a little more than you usually would on groceries for one meal, it will cost significantly less than a fancy dinner for two at a restaurant. And you’ll get to pick what time you eat, with no waiting for a table, and you’ll set the mood however you like it.  Just make sure the kids are with the babysitter. My favorite fancy dinner at home: Honey Cardamom Chicken with Arugula Salad, Mashed Potatoes and Asparagus Spears. Crème Brulee for dessert. On your shopping date, be sure to pick up a decent bottle of wine and couple of nice taper candles as well.

    Write a Poem 

    Yes, it’s a little old fashioned, and yes, it may be a little intimidating at first, but remember that a poem can be funny, doesn’t have to rhyme, and makes a great impression just so long as you are you! When you pour your own thoughts and emotions into a gift, no matter how small, it will always count. Don’t be afraid to really express yourself. Just like with the paper valentine, a little effort goes a long way.

    IOU Coupons

    This usually works better for couples who are married or in a longterm relationship, but with this you can extend romance throughout the year with the gift of quality time and acts of service. Let your partner “cash-in” on things they love to do, but don’t always have time to do. Or it could be a way for you to volunteer to do the chore that they usually do (think of the one they dislike the most).  This could include hand-made tickets or coupons that say “I’ll watch the kids while you get a pedicure/manicure/go to the driving range/enjoy happy hour with a friend” or “IOU $10 more dollars from the budget every month for Starbucks” or “IOU a night of making dinner/doing the dishes/laundry/dusting/yard work/bills” – anything to show your appreciation for what they do and to share the load a bit. Each coupon could be written on a 1/2-page of white or red paper and bound into a neat, creative booklet or just stapled together with a simple cover page. 6 Creative, Budget-Friendly Valentine’s Gift Ideas

    Custom Photo Book

    There are so many options online now that allow you to upload your own photos for a durable, hardback photo book and then have it shipped it to your door (Snapfish and Shutterfly are the two that come to mind). This has been one of the ways that our family creates meaningful keepsakes. I’ve witnessed many a happy tear when we’ve given or received a photo book as a gift. Most of the services allow you to include your own text on each page, select your formatting, and can be done for usually less than $30.  You could include wedding photos, a trip you took, or if you’re in a new relationship, think about this: plan ahead for a special outing a week or so before Valentine’s (ice skating, night on the town, trip to the zoo, whatever). Take plenty of pictures together, and then secretly assemble those pictures in the photo book as a special token from the day.  It could even be an original way to pop the question!

    Whatever your plans are this year, if you usually go the traditional route, take this opportunity to create a unique, memorable and personal Valentine’s Day gift for your special someone. Your time, effort, and originality will certainly be rewarded down the road.  Happy Valentine’s Day!

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    Top 5 Valentine’s Gifts for Guys

    January 31st, 2014 admin

    Valentine’s Day tends to present itself as a holiday for the ladies. Red and pink flowers, dainty chocolates, and heart necklaces are all wonderful gifts (all of which you’ll find at GiftTree) – but for guys that work hard and play hard, they need a little less Tiffany and a lot more Tonka.

    Luckily at GiftTree we’ve thought of that too.  Here are our Top 5 Valentine’s Day Gifts for Guys.

    1. The Man Can – $49.95

    While he gets all spruced up for the romantic Valentine’s evening, present him with this chance for some quality, light-hearted self-care. Licorice Fisherman’s Scrub Soap, Spicy Shave Gel, Bay Rum After Shave Oil, Fisherman’s Hand Butter, and a scruffy Body Sponge all come in a reusable paint can with a sturdy bottle opener. The messaging on the paint can reminds us that “there’s nothing tougher than a man (except maybe a woman).”

    2. For The Love of Coffee – $49.95

    A caffeine addict’s dream, he’s sure to appreciate this collection of coffees and coffee-themed treats including International Arabica, Molokai Hawaiian Espresso, Tortuga Caribbean Rum Cake, Cappuccino Jelly Beans, Mocha Shortbread, and more. The reusable tote becomes useful as a mail sorter, magazine holder, or closet organizer. He’ll thank you on Valentine’s Day and each morning as he completes his coffee routine.

    3. Monogrammed Lewis & Clark Compass – $39.95

    Perfect for history buffs or anyone who loves to proudly show off an interesting keepsake, this authentic mahogany compass is an exact replica of the one used by Lewis & Clark in their pioneering journey to the West. Features a period-accurate paper dial face, aged bronze and a durable wooden encasement. The distinctive monogrammed engraving with his initials will guarantee it’s a gift he’s sure to cherish and display.

    4. Filet Feast & Maine Lobster Tails Dinner – $144.95

    What self-respecting man doesn’t love Surf and Turf? Deliver the five-star dinner of a lifetime right to his door. Two Grade A Maine Lobster Tails with Clarified Butter, two 6 oz Filet Mignon Steaks, New England Clam Chowder and Maryland Crab Cakes arrive with all the instructions to prepare a gourmet meal that he’ll never forget.

    5. Silver Oak Private Cellar Gift Set – $329.95

    For a man who takes himself and his relationships seriously, you’re sure to impress him with this one-of-a-kind luxury wine set. The Silver Oak is a time-tested Cabernet – exquisite and well-layered, with extraordinary aging potential. Riedel Vinum XL wine glasses, Belgian Artisan Chocolates, a pewter Dachshund cork keeper, and a set of sturdy wine tools in a custom-made wooden gift box join the fine wine. Your personal message affixed with a wax seal shows that you respect his prowess, discernment, and class.  It’s truly a Valentine’s gift worthy of his smarts and inimitable debonair.

    Just like the ladies, every guy deserves a good Valentine’s Day gift that will help him relax, smile, and remember the day. You’ll find all of this more at GiftTree – time to get shopping!

    Posted in Gift Baskets, Gift Ideas, Gourmet Gifts, Holidays | Permalink | 53 Comments »

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    Who’s Your #Tweetheart?!

    January 28th, 2014 Alicia

    LOVE is in the air, and we’re giving away this SWEET Valentine’s Day Gourmet Gift Basket!! “LIKE” us on our Facebook page, and leave a comment describing your #Tweetheart in 5 words or less (must use #tweetheart to be entered). Want more chances to win? Tweet us @gifttree or leave a comment on our Google Plus page. Three ways to enter, three ways to win! Contest ends Monday, Feb. 3rd at Midnight PST. For contest rules click here. Good luck!

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    The Real St Valentine and His Loyal Minions (Us)

    January 24th, 2014 admin

    Dear GiftTree Blogger Extraordinaire, please tell us the true story of St Valentine and why we celebrate this lovely day (apart from the fact that we totally love getting chocolate and flowers and gourmet gift baskets from our sweeties.)

    Of  course! The heart-stopping story of St. Valentine begins way back in Ancient Rome: Gladiators! Caesars! Chariot races!

    ….*crickets*….*puzzled, skeptical glances*…

    OK, OK it’s not really that exciting. In reality, all historians know about the real St. Valentine is that he lived during the Roman empire in the 3rd century, and died in Italy, close to a bridge, on February 14.

    Bo-ring! So why is one of the most lucrative and popular American holidays attributed to this dead Italian guy?

    Well, there is one story about how he refused to worship Roman Emperor Claudius -which in the Christian tradition meant he was brave and important – so the Pope gave him a feast day, commemorating his death and life. Valentine’s death also coincided with the mid-February pagan Roman holiday of Lupercalia, a day that involved sacrificing goats and dogs and running around the city naked, wearing the skins of the newly-sacrificed animals over your head and whipping young vestal virgins to encourage fertility. (Really.)

    So when the Catholic Church rose to power, celebrating St Valentine’s Feast instead of Lupercalia was a way to elevate Christianity above the perceived worldliness of Rome and encourage wholesome living. The day became what you might call a Big Deal and people throughout Christendom acknowledged it by eating together and praying to the Saint.

    But what about the love, the romance, the cards, the flowers, the chocolate, all that?

    Aha! Good question. About a thousand years after St Valentine kicked the bucket there lived this famous English writer named Geoffrey Chaucer.  He wrote The Canterbury Tales and popularized many things about medieval life, the most important of which was courtly love.  Fair maidens, chivalry, knights, all that.

    During this time it was also believed that birds were most likely to mate together mainly in mid-February – giving rise to “the birds and the bees” and “love birds” clichés. And so with the combination of mid-February bird mating rituals, Chaucher’s poems, the maidens and noblemen falling in love at court, and the already established Feast Day, you have the makings of a modern romantic holiday.

    OK, but flowers and chocolate?

    Oh yes, that.  Basically as society progressed throughout the Industrial Revolution in England, people had more money to spend, businesses opened for specialty purposes and people had more money to create and buy fancy consumable things like chocolate confections and large collections of roses. Eventually Valentine’s greeting cards became mass-produced by the millions, allowing people to buy cards instead of writing poems or letters. All of these traditions came “across the pond” when America was settled.

    A couple of centuries later, companies like FTD, Hallmark and eventually online companies (GiftTree included!) have helped make Valentine’s Day a household consumer holiday to the tune of $20 billion dollars in nationwide retail spending just last year.

    Yep, billion with a B. Even brave St Valentine couldn’t have imagined that.

    So have a happy Valentine’s Day! (And no whipping of vestal virgins, please.)



    Posted in Gift Baskets, Gift Ideas, Gourmet Gifts, Holidays | Permalink | 2 Comments »

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    Happy New Year!

    January 23rd, 2014 Alicia

    2014 is upon us! It’s amazing how quickly time flies. Every time a new year comes around, I like to take some time and reflect on the past year and everything that happened in it. It’s always good to take some time and review what is going on in your life. What did you accomplish? What were your setbacks? What did you do to improve yourself?

    Setting new goals for the year is something I always like to do in January. Unfortunately, I don’t always stick to my goals. ;) This year I’m trying something new. I’ve bought myself this lovely Fine Leather Journal, and I’m keeping a plan of action. Did you know that you’re 60% more likely to follow through with your plan if you write it down, rather than rely on motivation alone? It’s true! While motivation is GREAT, it’s often times short-lived. Writing down your plan of action, including how you’re going to execute your plan leads to consistent action! Write down your new behaviors or goals… the Who, What, When, Where and Why’s. Be consistent in reviewing and updating your plan of action, and then rely on your motivation to inspire you.  Here’s to a great 2014!

    Posted in Corporate Gifts, Gift Ideas, Holidays | Permalink | No Comments »

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    Confectionately Gourds

    October 28th, 2013 admin

    Guest Blogger: Dustin Lawrentz

    Your senses may suspect something otherworldly about the pale pepos you’re sure to spot among the Halloween decorations this holiday season. You won’t be able to put your finger on it; could it be the shimmer of iridescence on the writhing vines, is it the milky smoothness of its’ colorless flesh? You step closer, eyes wide, cautiously. Is that the sugary scent of confectionary sleight of hand?

    You suddenly realize, much to your chagrined delight, that witch craft had no hand in this work of alchemy. The immaculate jack o lantern before you is in fact a sculpted cheese cake of the absolute highest caliber, crafted by master San Franciscan artisans, whose virtuosity does indeed approach the supernatural.

    You won’t be the only one bewitched by such a curiosity. Among the mesmerized are Good Morning America, Bon Appetit, and Oprah’s Wedding Issue. This little ball of white magic will certainly cast a spell on any entity, paranormal or earth-bound. It’s hypothesized to be a usable vampire repellant and an excellent ghost trap, but field studies are still being conducted to prove this conclusively.

    Whether you’re hunting ghosts or hoping to be a distinctive host: This All-Hallows Eve, our Whimsical White Pumpkin Cheesecake is the best way to trick and entreat your local spirits.

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    Trick or Treat!

    October 21st, 2013 admin

    Guest Blogger: Aubry Peters

    Halloween is not typically thought of as a gift-giving holiday. My mother, however, has made an effort to send me a little care package every year on Halloween. It’s never anything big and flashy but it’s always something nice and thoughtful. She knows that I love the Monster Cereals like Boo Berry and Frankenberry, so she usually sends me a box of those and some candy. Even though I’ve long outgrown trick or treating, it’s still kind of nice to get some candy on Halloween.

    This care package was always very nice and it made me smile. I think of how that little bit of extra effort on a holiday where you don’t expect anything made me happy and how it brightened my day. It made me want to do the same for those people that I care about so I decided to send a little something this year to someone and pass on the tradition of gift giving on Halloween. This year I am sending the Halloween Tower of Treats  to someone special to remind them that whether or not you view yourself as too old to trick or treat, you’re never too old for treats on All Hallow’s Eve.

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