Best Winter Wines and Special Valentines Day Wines – Under $25

It’s always a fun time when I pair up with Ray Ilse from Food & Wine and we pick wines for the Today Show. With Valentine’s Day fast approaching and spring nowhere in sight (except at my house in California), we chose a few winter wines to enjoy for the rest of the cold season, and a few Valentine’s Day wines to snuggle up to your honey with. All of these wines are under $25 and watch the video following to see what delicious food to pair with some of them as well!

Winter Wines and the Perfect Valentines Day Wines

 

Winter Whites

 

Ray

2016 E. Guigal Côtes du Rhône Blanc, France, $17, Guigal

An affordable French white crafted with a blend of primarily Viognier with Roussanne and other Rhone white grapes, this is a top value from a storied Rhône Valley producer. With melon and citrus notes, it’s a winter white wine to serve with anything gracing the table.

Leslie

2016 Ponzi Pinot Gris, Willamette Valley, Oregon, $19, Ponzi Vineyards

If this luscious yet crisp wine was an item of clothing, it would be a sleek winter-white dress that pairs with any occasion. The same is true for Ponzi’s Pinot Gris, which matches dishes from squash soup to grilled fish. The Ponzi sisters, Maria and Luisa, are wine mavens in charge of this classic Oregon winery. Their vibrant personalities are reflected in this joy-to-sip white.

Winter Reds

Ray

Medici Ermete I Quercioli “Secco” Lambrusco, Italy, $14, Kobrand Wine & Spirits

Yes, it’s deeply, intensely red in color, and it’s sparkling. But Medici’s I Quercioli Lambrusco isn’t sweet at all, and it’s a superb match for rich winter dishes. Pasta bolognese and this…you’re talking perfection.

Leslie

2015 Peachy Canyon “Incredible Red” blend, California, $15, Peachy Canyon

When winter weather is whirling outside, stay inside with a hearty dish and a big glass of something incredible. This juicy Zinfandel-based blend sports full-bodied flair, dark fruit flavors, and a peppery kick. Serve alongside braised meat dishes, mushroom risotto, or pulled pork.

The Perfect Valentine’s Day Wines

 

Ray

NV Mionetto “Cuvee Anniversario” Valdobiadenne Prosecco, Italy, $24, Mionetto USA

Kick off the romantic evening with this limited-release sparkler from one of the most well-known Prosecco producers in Italy. It’s history in a glass. Dry, crisp and lively, it’s great for a romantic toast. The bottle is stunning, too, making it the perfect gift for your Valentine.

Leslie

2016 Sanford Rosé, Sta. Rita Hills, California, $22, Sanford Winery

Not only is this rosé a delicious partner for most meals, it’s elegant and beautiful to look at…just like your Valentine. Crafted by one of California’s legendary producers with Pinot Noir from two estate vineyards, including the historic Sanford & Benedict Vineyard, this is a serious pink but also seriously fun to sip.

 

Romantic Dinner Wines

Ray

2015 Charles Smith Wines “Velvet Devil” Merlot, Washington, $14, Charles Smith Wines

When you want to walk on the wild side, look for wines from Charles Smith. This whimsical Washington red is a rich, luscious Merlot with dark berry fleshiness. Come on, who doesn’t want to get a little devilish on Valentine’s Day?

Leslie

Graham’s “Six Grapes” Reserve Port, Portugal, $24, Premium Port

End the evening in sultry style with this opulent yet elegant dessert sipper from one of the famed producers of Port. W. & J. Graham’s dates to 1820 and is a producer that marries tradition with innovation. I adore their Six Grapes Port for its high quality and affordable price. It’s a decadently smooth and lightly sweet wine to finish a meal in sexy style.

 

New Year's Even Sparkling Wine

New Year’s Eve Sparkling Wine and Champagne for Under $20

Any time is a great time to drink champagne or sparkling wine, but there’s no more festive way to celebrate the New Year than with a beautiful bottle of bubbles. Check out my latest spot on the Today Show where I talk about the best sparklers under $20 from around the world and my favorite splurge champagnes for that extra special New Year’s Eve celebration. Scroll down after the piece for the list.

 

 

 

 

Codorniu “Anna” Blanc de Blancs, Cava, Spain, $10, codorniu.comToday Show Sparklers New Years Eve Rotari

This crisp, juicy winter-white wine makes a stylish statement. While it might be priced like cotton, it drinks like cashmere. The Codorniu family traces its winemaking origins to 1551, but is on the leading edge of creating distinctly modern sparklers.

Mezza di Mezzacorona, Italy, $15, mezzacorona.it

I call this wine “glacial bubbles,” as the juicy, succulent sparkler hails from high altitude vineyards planted in the shadow of the snow-capped Italian Dolomite mountains. A blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Bianco and Muller-Thurgau, this wine is as fun to drink as swishing down the slopes.

Enza Prosecco Extra-Dry, DOC, Italy, $15, enzaprosecco.com

 

Pull out the punch bowl — it’s party time. Enza’s festive fizz is an ideal choice to use as a base for a punch cocktail. The traditional pairing with Prosecco is peach puree, creating a drink called the Bellini. I pay homage to that classic combination with my Bellini Bowl:

Bellini Bowl

Ingredients:

  • 2 parts Prosecco
  • 1 part peach juice
  • 1 part ginger ale or ginger beer
  • Sliced peaches or oranges for decoration

Preparation:

Pour peach juice in a punch bowl with ice, sliced peaches and orange slices. Add ginger ale and top with Prosecco.

2013 Rotari Brut, TrentoDOC, Italy, $19, rotari.it

TrentoDOC (pronounced dock) is a world-class bubbly from Northern Italy made in the classic method with the second fermentation happening in bottle. Rotari is a leader in TrentoDOC production and their dry-styled sparkler showcases the purity of Chardonnay. It’s crisp, classy and a tremendous value worth seeking out.

Gratien & Meyer, Brut Rosé, Crémant de Loire, France, $15, gratienmeyer.com

Another sparkling category that is garnering attention for value and quality is Cremant de Loire. This is NOT Champagne, which is bubbly only made in the Champagne region of France. Rather, it’s a delicate sparkling wine from France’s Loire Valley. The historic producer, Gratien & Meyer, has been making wine since 1864. Crafted from the red Cabernet Franc grape, this pretty-in-pink bubbly is a wine you’ll want to buy by the case.

McBride Sisters Collection, Brut Rosé, Marlborough, New Zealand, $19, mcbridesisters.com

Made with primarily Pinot Noir grown in certified sustainable vineyards, this unique Kiwi bubbly is a wine to pour all year long. Rose-petal and red-fruit scented, it’s a refreshingly elegant bubbly that complements savory and sweet fare. As we say in the food and wine pairing business, pork and Pinot are a match made in culinary heaven.

Martini & Rossi Asti DOCG, Italy, $13, martini.com

Hailing from the Piedmont region of Italy and made with Moscato Bianco grapes, Asti is a low-alcohol, slightly sweet and delicately fizzy wine. Martini & Rossi is a producer known for Vermouth, but they have set the standard for delicious Asti. I call it a “magic” wine — it’s so appealingly light and fresh, everyone falls under its spell.


Worth the splurge: Stunners for up to $50

These two superstar sparklers — one from Champagne and the other California — are worth the splurge if you want to part with a bit more cash. They’re great for small gatherings or a romantic evening.

Champagne Taittinger, Brut La Française, Champagne, France, $48, taittinger.com

A classic blend of the three grapes of Champagne, this Chardonnay-led sparkler is aged almost four years in the bottle before release. This gives the La Française the signature creamy smoothness that I look for in a great Champagne. Drink a glass as a holiday gift to yourself.

2011 Roederer Estate, L’Ermitage Brut, California, $48, roedererestate.com

An American icon in the sparkling wine business, Roederer Estate is nestled among towering redwoods in Mendocino’s Anderson Valley. Though California-born, this refined bubbly has a French heritage. Its parent property is the famed house of Louis Roederer Champagne. L’Ermitage is a world-class wine only made in special years and is truly a treat to sip.

Happy New Year!

 

Ho, Ho, Holiday Gift Ideas sure to please : 2017 Gift Guide

‘Twas just days before Christmas and shopping’s not done?

Alas, these suggestions are second to none

 

From online to retail, you can spend all your cash

And make others happy with gifts full of flash

 

Whatever you choose – books, whisky or wine

Your holiday season is sure to shine!

 

WHITE WINES

These two wines are ideal whites for your holiday sipping.

2015 Flora Springs Dashaway Chardonnay $45

Flora Springs has fun with holidays. Whether Halloween or Christmas, their creative labels and etched bottles always make me smile. The wine inside is delicious, as well. This full-bodied Chardonnay with a wintery potpourri of brown spice aromas, is a white to uncork this holiday season.

 

2016 Vietti – Roero Arneis $23

Not only are Vietti’s wines world-class, this unique white evokes a feeling of holiday spirit just from looking at the beautiful label. Arneis is a star grape in northern Italy and this crisp white sports savory complexity.

white wines holiday gift guide

 

WHISKY GIFTS

Like the perfect novel, the Bowmore Vintner’s Trilogy has the perfect beginning, middle and end.

For that discerning whisky drinker in your life, try the Bowmore Vintner’s Trilogy, a new series of limited edition whiskies that have been aged in a variety of ex-wine, sherry and port casks at Bowmore’s famed No. 1 Vaults. Just in time for holiday gifting season, they are launching two of the three in the trilogy, with the third and final 27 Years Old bottling to be released in Fall 2018.

Bowmore 18 Years Old Double Matured Manzanilla which is matured in both ex-bourbon barrels and ex-manzanilla sherry barrels. It has a suggested price of $127 for 750ml.

Bowmore 26 Years Old Wine Barriques Matured which spent its first 13 years in ex-bourbon barrels before a second maturation of 13 years in wine barriques. This full-bodied whisky has a suggested retail price of $540 for 750ml.

Bowmore 27 Years Old will be released in fall of 2018 and will complete the collection.

 

 

Suntory Whisky Toki $35

This beautiful Japanese Whisky is elegant and stylish. With a slightly sweet and peppery finish, this whisky is a perfect gift for that libation lover in your life.

RED AND GREEN

Taylor Fladgate 325 $35

If sipping a smooth Port fireside is your thing, then drinking Taylor Fladgate’s “325” Port is right up your alley. A blend of aged tawny ports, “325” celebrates the 325 years since Jon Bearsely sailed to Portugal to begin his wine business. The rest, as they say, is history.

i Quercioli Lambrusco Secco $11

i Quercioli Lambrusco Dolce  $11

These two Lambruscos from the house of Medici Ermete come in both dry (secco) and sweet (dolce) styles. The slightly fizzy nature of the ruby-hued Lambrusco adds a festive sparkle to any holiday party or gift!

 

SUPPORT NAPA AND SONOMA

With the tragedies of the Wine Country Wildfires this year, it’s important to continue to support the local Napa and Sonoma wineries. Their success depends on your business and support. Try out these holiday wines and gift sets from some of the best.

 

Flora Springs – Joy to the World Red Blend $65

This blend from the ever-festive Flora Springs, is part of a holiday tradition that began as an exclusive offering to wine club members and has since become a staple of their holiday celebrations. Each year they create new holiday artwork to provide unique, limited-edition Napa Valley wines to use as gifts, share with friends or add to your collection. This red blend is features the Joyful Angel, herald of the holidays.

 

B.R.Cohn 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon Olive Hill Estate Vineyard $58

Celebrate the bounty of Sonoma County with this delicious Cabernet Sauvignon. A ripe, dark fruit and deep flavored Cab, it pairs remarkably well with another one of B.R. Cohn’s finest, their estate olive oil. Get the oil and vinegar set to create the perfect Sonoma County gift basket.

 

 

 

SILVER AND GOLD

Nothing says the holidays like bubbles. But where many think exclusively sparkling wine, I’ve included an decadent beer in this category, as well. And with all of them wrapped in holiday decor, you can’t go wrong.

 

Martini & Rossi Prosecco  $12

An affordable option for holiday gift giving, wrapped up in gorgeous packaging.

 

Moet Imperial $50

A slightly higher price point but Moët Impérial is the House’s iconic champagne. Created in 1869, it embodies Moët & Chandon’s style.

 

Le Grand Courtage Blanc de Blanc – Brut $50

Want some bling with your bubbles? Le Grand Courtage comes bedazzled, just for the holiday season.

 

Rodenbach Grand Cru Red Ale 2015 $11

This Rodenbach Red Ale is a unique Flemish red-brown ale that is matured for 2 years in oak casks.

 

READING FROM THE VINE

Why not get a bottle and a book for the wine lover in your life? Here are some of my favorite releases of 2017

 

 

Red Wine – The Comprehensive Guide to the 50 Essential Varieties and Style- Kevin Zraly, Mike DeSimone and Jeff Jennsen $20

Rosé All Day – The Essential Guide to your New Favorite Wine $18 – Katherine Cole

Cork Dork: A Wine-Fueled Adventure Among the Obsessive Sommeliers, Big Bottle Hunters, and Rogue Scientists Who Taught Me to Live for Taste – Bianca Bosker $30

The Vineyard Years – A Memoir with Recipes – Susan Sokol Blosser $30

Drink Pink – A Celebration of Rosé – Victoria James and Lyle Railsback $12 

 

FREEBIES

Buying for the holidays can get exhausting, and expensive! So one last little gift that will cost you absolutely nothing. Grab this app, some colored pencils and a bottle of wine!

 

 

Wines for Your Thanksgiving Day Table

Every year I get so many people asking me what wines they should serve for Thanksgiving. After all, with so many dishes, from sweet to savory, appetizers and desserts, there’s obviously not one single wine to fit an entire meal. But who said you only have to serve one wine????

Bubbles

Sparkling wine or champagne is my go to apertif for Thanksgiving as there’s nothing more inviting when you walk in the door than to be handed a glass of bubbles. I’m a huge fan of sparkling rosé, which actually pairs well with the Thanksgiving meal. Be sure to have a few bottles on hand for those people who want to keep on sipping!

Montenisa Brut Rosé, Franciacorta, Italy $39

This elegantly-styled dry rosé qualifies as distinctive AND delicious. Hailing from the Lombardy region of Italy, Franciacorta is an area designated to make top-quality sparkling wine in the traditional method. It ranks alongside top California sparklers as well as those from the French region of Champagne.

 

Loimer Brut Rosé, Niederosterriech, Austria $30

If you’re an adventurous fizz fanatic like I am, you are always seeking out new sparklers to enjoy. This unique bubbly crafted by iconic winemaker, Fred Loimer, is made in the traditional method of ageing in bottle. Floral aromas and red berry freshness make this stylishly dry rosé one to sip as an aperitif or with lighter dishes.

 

 

Barone Pizzini “Animante” Brut, Franciacorta DOCG, Italy$37

Barone Pizzini has been producing wine since 1870 and this classically crisp, dry bubbly is crafted with Chardonnay, Pinot Nero (Pinot Noir), and Pinot Bianco (Pinot Blanc). With a streak of refreshing minerality and citrusy freshness, it’s sparkling wine that will impress.

 

Aromatic Whites

Thanksgiving is the day to set aside your typical Chardonnay in favor of lighter, more aromatic whites. With a mix of dishes, the buttery, oaky quality of Chardonnay overpowers the meal and doesn’t do the wine justice. Instead, look for wines like a medium-dry Riesling or Gewurztraminer (an excellent Turkey day choice), a Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon or Viognier. If you’re hell bent on Chardonnay though, look for an un-oaked version to complement the varied dishes on the Thanksgiving table.

 

2015 Ritual Sauvignon Blanc, Casablanca Valley, Chile $15

This version of Sauvignon hails from the cool climate Casablanca Valley, which is home to many of the country’s top whites and Pinot Noirs. Ritual’s version of Sauvignon Blanc is crisp and fresh with a ping of vibrant acidity and marries layers of complexity with affordability and versatility. Stock up as it will become a household favorite.

2015 Amavi Semillon, Walla Walla Valley, Washington $24

I have long adored the wines of Amavi Cellars in Washington’s Walla Walla Valley. Their focus on sustainability and quality is unmatched. This Semillon – a white variety known in the Bordeaux region of France – showcases how well the grape has taken to Washington’s sunny yet cool climate. Like its European brethren, Amavi blends a touch of Sauvignon Blanc with Semillon to balance its richness. Flashing a generous amount of ripe melon and citrus fruit character on the nose and palate, it also teases with minerality and brightness. A white with class and style.

 

2015 Wittmann Riesling Troken, Rheinhessen, Germany$20

As a Riesling lover, I’m constantly searching for bottles that showcase the best of the variety. This mineral-laden, citrus-scented, dry-styled beauty is one to seek out. Pick up a few bottles to pair with your variety of Thanksgiving dishes. You, too, will fall under the spell of Riesling.

2015 Acquiesce Viognier, Lodi, California $24

This Viognier captures ginger and orange peel aromas with a supple texture, much like the classic examples from Condrieu. It’s beauty in a bottle. You can join the mailing list at their website or visit the property and indulge in their wine and food pairings. *Current release is 2016

 

2016 Emiliana “Natura” Un-Oaked Chardonnay, Valle del Bio-Bio, Chile $11

On several of my trips to Chile’s wine country, I’ve had the pleasure of visiting Emiliana. It’s a stunning, but low-key property devoted to creating wines focused on the principles of organics and biodynamics. Their label “Natura” is one I recommend frequently for its affordability and drinkability. Sure, it’s made with organically grown grapes, but the wines are just plain delicious. This oak-free style of Chardonnay is crisp with bright citrus and green apple notes and a smack of mouthwatering acidity.

 

Elegant Reds

Just like avoiding the boldness of a Chardonnay, try to avoid any “BIG” reds as the oak and the tannin in these wines will overpower your Thanksgiving meal. Instead, look for more well-rounded wines, like a Pinot Noir, or Merlot.

2014 Buty “Conner Lee Vineyard” Merlot/Cabernet Franc, Columbia Valley, Washington $45

When I first tasted the wines from Buty (pronounced beauty) I called them one of Washington state’s best producers. Being lucky enough to sample their wines year after year, that declaration still holds true. This supple, elegant red is two-thirds Merlot and one third Cabernet Franc grown in the famed Conner Lee Vineyard. It’s a wine to age for up to a decade or drink alongside rosemary-infused turkey and mashed potatoes.

2104 Viña Maquis Cabernet Franc Gran Reserva, Colchagua Valley, Chile $20

Cabernet Franc is a red grape variety known as in France’s Bordeaux and Loire regions. There are spots around the globe where small pockets are planted (Napa Valley, for example), but it’s rare to find versions from Chile. This elegant, floral red hails from a winery that just celebrated its 100 year anniversary. Maquis’s Cab Franc is what I call a “twice the price” wine as it delivers quality and character worth double its price tag. Grab a bottle to serve or a case to savor later.

 

2013 Reata “Three County” Pinot Noir, California$35

Reata’s full-bodied Pinot Noir is a blend of grapes from Monterey, San Benito and Sonoma counties. It’s a Pinot with suppleness and ripe fruit notes. Enjoy it as a perfect wine pairing with any of your Thanksgiving dishes.

2015 Martin Ray, Pinot Noir, Green Valley of Russian River Valley, Sonoma County, California $40

This fleshy yet perfumed Pinot Noir showcases the effects of growing grapes in the rich Gold Ridge soil of Russian River Valley’s special Green Valley. Here the fog lingers keeping temperatures cool, which ultimately creates wines of elegance and style. A beautiful red that will surprise and impress.

 

 

 

Dessert and After

Don’t be afraid of dessert wines! Whether you’re serving pumpkin or pecan pie, chocolate mousse or just more wine, a slightly sweet sipper is the best end of the meal choice.

Pizzolato Moscato 2015 ($15)

These bubbles are an excellent way to end the meal or festivities. Served best with dessert, this organically grown sparkling Moscato smells of custard and finishes with a spiced apple finish. Look in the aisles of your local Whole Foods to grab a bottle.

Broadbent Madeira Malmsey 10 Years Old, Portugal $45

Madeira is one of the most famed wines and is undergoing a renaissance in the United States. This Malmsey (name of a grape variety) is an aged, sweet style with toasted almond and toffee aromas layered with bright acidity and lusciously sweet yet balanced flavors. Pour as a perfect complement to an après-dinner cheese platter or dark chocolate dessert.

 

 

 

 

There are so many delicious options for your Thanksgiving table. Give everyone two glasses and let them take their pick, from bubbles to white, reds to dessert wine and ENJOY!

HAPPY THANKSGIVING!!

 

Mother’s Day Wine – What are You Serving?

Let’s be honest, there are a lot of wines in the world and a lot of moms out there that drink them. And as I always like to say,

After all, its really only my job to show you all the amazing wine in the world… it’s up to you whether you like it or not.

With that in mind, to all of the different women in the world that are mothers, I’ve compiled some of my favorites wines. For the red drinker, the rosé drinker, the white wine drinker and those that love sweet, dry or somewhere in between.

This is for you.

Happy Mother’s Day!

*****

Bubbles – What better way to celebrate your mom than with something, light and fizzy? From pink, to sweet, to dry and toasty. Check out some of my favoriteschampagne

Spring Wine– Mother’s Day is the epitome of a spring celebration – check out my selections to go with some of the delicious brunch options you might want to serve!

Ruby Reds – Yup, plenty of moms out there love a beautiful glass of red wine. There are some lovely options for gifts, OR for serving.

Gifts for Mom – Ok, so not everyone wants alcohol (I know, I don’t get it either). Check out this wonderful gift guide for ideas on what to get mom… whether she drinks or not.