Summer Sipping with Hoda Kotb and The Today Show

You know I always love a trip to NYC and the Today Show to hang with my ladies, Kathie Lee and Hoda Kotb. This time, I was with my old partner in crime, Ray Isle from Food and Wine, and we showcased our favorite summertime wines. From sparkling wine in a can and day drinking whites to sultry summer night reds and even wine in a box, we have something for everyone when the temperatures soar.

 

Day Drinking

Ray’s pick: Wente Morning Fog Chardonnay, Livermore Valley, California, $18, Wente Vineyards

This peachy, full-bodied Chardonnay from America’s oldest, continuously operated family-owned winery (founded in 1883) stays crisp thanks to the cool growing season in California’s Livermore Valley.

 

Leslie’s pick: 2017 Mar de Frades ‘Albarino Atlantico’, Rias Baixas, Spain, $20, Mar de Frades

This is one of my top summer whites because it’s the epitome of refreshing. Made with northwestern Spain’s famed Albariño grape variety and features floral aromas and a crisp citrusy flavor. An alluring ocean-blue bottle makes it as attractive to look at, as it is delicious to drink. Pair it with fresh fish to capture the feel of being alongside the water.

 

Night Sipper

Ray’s pick: Cosentino ‘The Dark’ red blend, Lodi, California, $20, Cosentino Winery

A rich red from Lodi, this peppery, plummy blend of Petite Sarah, Petit Verdot and Cabernet is dark (appropriate, given the name) and luscious, ideal for a date-night dinner.

 

Leslie’s pick: 2015 Shooting Star Zinfandel, Lake County, California, $14, Steele Wines

Winemaker Jed Steele has been crafting top Golden State wines for nearly 50 years and his experience shows in this affordable yet complex red. Hearty and full-bodied with a spicy kick, it’s the wine to ease into night when served alongside grilled meats and rich pasta dishes.

Beach Refresher

Ray’s pick: Ah-So Rosé, Spain, $19 for 4 cans, Ah-So Wines

Spain’s Navarra region produces the Garnacha grapes for this vibrant, refreshing rosé. Chill down a few four-packs of these cheeky pink cans for your next beach party — or for anywhere that glass bottles aren’t welcome.

Leslie’s pick: House Wine Brut Bubbles, American wine, $6 per can, House Wine

How often do you take bubbles to the beach? Now you can with House Wines sparkling in a can. Easy to quaff with juicy flavors that are crafted in a dry-style, this fizz is pure fun.

BBQ Pairing

Ray’s pick: Beso de Sol Sangria, Spain, $20 for a 3-liter box, Beso Del Sol Sangria

Sangria in the summer is one of Spain’s great contributions to the world! Made from Tempranillo together with the flavors of Spanish oranges, lemons and a touch of cinnamon, this juicy, all-natural sangria — delicious over ice — is also low in alcohol than regular wine (about 8.5 percent) and in calories, too (only 74 per serving).

Leslie’s pick: Bota Box Dry Rosé, California $25 for a 3-liter box, Bota Box

M. J. Wickham

This is the first boxed wine that I’ve truly fallen in love with sipping. Usually, I drink wines-in-box for the convenience, but this wine is simply succulent. Dry yet fruity with pink grapefruit and strawberry notes, it’s a wine to pair with everything … or nothing at all. The 3-liter box size stays fresh for up to a month and containing the equivalent of four bottles per box, it’s a value at around $6 per bottle. You’ll want a box in your refrigerator the whole summer long.

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!

 

 

Calistoga Wine Growers – Winemakers Roundtable with Bo Barrett

Quite often working in the wine industry, I get a chance to lead discussions about wine with some fascinating people. This year, at the 2nd annual celebration of the Calistoga Winegrowers, I’ll be conducting what I’m sure will be a lively discussion with Chateau Montelena’s Bo Barrett, Brian Graham of Canard Vineyard, Bertus Van Zyl from T-Vine, Tom Eddy of eponymous winery Tom Eddy and Rob Hunter of Bennett Lane.

We will talk about their own wines as well as Calistoga’s unique growing qualities, and guests attending the event will be privy to a complete tasting experience. With each winery and winemaker, our guests will taste the wine and get a first-hand account of the history of the winery as well as the story behind each particular vintage. I’ll hold the usual question and answer session afterwards but the true treat will be the ability to mix and mingle with all of our roundtable participants… even me!

The Winemakers Roundtable will be held Friday, September 8th from 2-4:30pm and seats to this intimate event are extremely limited. Get your tickets here!

Stick around for the second day, the 2017 Calistoga Wine Experience, to have a one of a kind opportunity to taste rare boutique wines, eat small bites fresh off the grill and rock out to the tunes of Lavay Smith and her Red Hot Skillet Lickers. Held in Pioneer Park along the edge of the Napa River, it promises to be a gorgeous way to end your summer.

Hurry and get your tickets to both these events, as they are selling out fast. See you there!

 

 

 

Must-try Summer Wines: Bubbles, Rosé and More!

Looking for an amazing addition to your pool party, backyard bbq or summertime soiree? Check out my favorite picks then watch my time in the 8 o’clock hour at the Today Show!

Rosé All Day:

Americans have finally discovered the joy of rosé. Drinking pink is one of the hottest trends in wine with double-digit growth. These garnet-hued beauties can be made in myriad styles resulting in wines with a whisper of color or those more intensely pink. Most rosés are dry and crisp, while blush wines and those dubbed ‘white’ (as in white zinfandel) tend to be sweeter. With flavors ranging from delicate strawberry and citrus, to juicy red berry and spice, there’s a pink for everyone to drink.

2016 Minuty ‘M’ Rosé, Cotes du Provence, France $20

Packaged in a curvaceous, sexy bottle, this classic rosé hails from southern France’s Provence area. One of the top producers in the region with a rich history dating to the 19th century, Chateau Minuty is known for elegance, quality, and class. A pale-hued pink with floral aromas and peachy flavors, the ‘M’ is a Marvelous summer sip.

2016 Forty Ounce Rosé, France $16 (one liter)

A bang-for-your-buck bottling, this Gamay-based wine captures the essence of a sunny day in the French countryside, but with an American twist. New York-based sommelier, Patrick Cappiello, joined forces with French vintner, Julien Braud, to create this light-hearted pink that’s high on tongue-in-cheek style.

2016 Summer Water, Central Coast, California $19

A collaboration of Yes Way Rosé and Winc, the Summer Water is an easy-drinking pink that says it all with the name. I prefer to drink rosé over water on most summer afternoons anyway, and this wine pairs with dishes from grilled salmon to fruit salads. (If you join their wine club, the price goes to $15.)

2016 Tablas Creek ‘Patelin de Tablas’ Rosé, Paso Robles, California $24

Who said rosé can’t be a serious sipper? This one most certainly is. Primarily Grenache grapes blended with other Rhone varieties such as Mourvèdre and Syrah, it’s an aromatic, mineral-laden pink. Though Californian in birth, Tablas Creek is French at heart with the famed Perrin family of Chateau de Beaucastel involved.

 

Beach Bound or Poolside?

These selections are lower in alcohol than other wines offering quaffable fun in the sun.

 

Barefoot White Wine Spritzer, California $9 (four pack)

Barefoot Wine is among the top selling wine brands in the world. The reason? Good wine at great prices wrapped in a feel-good vibe.

Everyone wants to dump the shoes and walk barefoot in the sand. Now, you can do it with can in hand. This slightly fizzy tin-of-fun is a blend of Chenin Blanc and Symphony grapes topped with carbonated water, making it an ideal beach companion.

La Grande Courtâge Rosé and Brut, Sparkling Wine, France $7 (per 187 ml)

Want to upscale your outdoor imbibing? Reach for a mini from La Grande Courtâge. A French sparkler made by a Californian, Tawnya Falkner, the brand is an ode to the marriage of French and American culture. It’s a unique option for those wanting to indulge al fresco. Just add a straw, then sit back and relax.

Eppa Red Sangria, California $10

Ringing in at a mere 9 percent alcohol, this super-Sangria is organically-grown red wine blended with organic juices including pomegranate, blueberry, and blood orange. The refreshing red is ideal over ice with sliced fruit. Enjoy a pitcher poolside and let summer begin.

 

Global Grilling with Latin Flair:

From Spain to South America, these selections bring a little heat to dishes hot off the grill. There are no rules when it comes to pairing white wine with fish and red with meat, but if a spicy shrimp platter or Cajun-rubbed chicken breast is on the menu, reach for one of these two mouthwatering coastal whites to tame the fire.

 

2015 Ritual Sauvignon Blanc, Casablanca Valley, Chile $15

 

A classic pairing with fiery fare is Sauvignon Blanc. This citrus-scented version is made from grapes grown in cool-climate vineyards on Chile’s Pacific Coast. Made by the talented hands of Rodrigo Soto – one of the country’s acclaimed winemakers – the Ritual is a winner for not only warm-weather sipping, but year ‘round imbibing.

2015 Fillaboa Albariño, Rías Baixas, Spain $18

For an exotic take on crisp whites, head to Spain’s west coast to sample Albariño. An Iberian Peninsula grape variety, it explodes with orange blossom aromas and succulent fruit flavors. Fillaboa is one of my top-pick producers from the area of Galicia called Spain’s “land of the sea.” Don your shades and take a virtual vacation in a glass.

 

When barbecue ribs or perfectly-seared rib eye is served, think of these spicy reds to pair alongside.

2014 Clos de los Siete, Valle de Uco, Mendoza, Argentina $20

Made high in the Andes by noted French winemaker, Michel Rolland, this Malbec-driven blend combines Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon in a full-bodied, dark-fruited red that’s supple and alluring. Still sporting elegance, however, it’s an ideal match for steak, steak, and more steak.

 2008 Arinzano ‘La Casona’ Pago de Arinzano, Spain $40

Want to splurge on your next grilling red? Reach for this exceptional bottling from Arinzano. Noted as one of the top estates—or Pagos – in Spain, La Casona is made with the signature red grape Tempranillo rounded out with Merlot. A lush, age-worthy red, it’s a wine to drink with anything…or nothing at all.

 

Summer Holiday Celebrations, American Style:

From July 4th to Labor Day, these American wines with a story to tell are ones to share with a crowd.

 

2016 The Federalist Chardonnay, Mendocino County, California $17.76

With the smashing success of Broadway’s Hamilton, it’s no surprise there is a wine brand celebrating our Founding Fathers and

wine’s role in American history. This oak-kissed, smooth Chardonnay showcases Lady Liberty on the label making it fab for the 4th. The price is what else? $17.76.

2014 Purple Heart Red Wine, Napa Valley, California $20

You can do good and drink well during summer gatherings with Purple Heart. A rich red blend

that’s delicious to sip is one reason to buy the wine, but the other is that annual donations are
made to the Purple Heart Foundation in honor of American military veterans and their families.

Chandon ‘American Summer’ Brut sparkling wine, California $26

Wrapped in a seascape of red, white and blue, this limited-edition bottling from Chandon is a deliciously dry yet fruit-driven sparkling wine. Become part of the #chandonsquad and raise a glass. It’s a top way to toast summer.