Cinco de Mayo | Drinking Tequila!

It’s Cinco de Mayo, do you know what you’re drinking? Most people choose margaritas and tequila as their go-to drink for this festive holiday, but do you know how that magical elixir actually got into that bottle? Watch as I explain the nuances of tequila and which ones you’ll want to drink straight (from the bottle??) or mix into your favorite festive cocktail.


Happy Cinco de Mayo!



Holiday Picks from Bubbly to Beast and Beyond…

I had a fun chat recently with Kathy Bernard and Barbara Kline, otherwise known as 2boomerbabes.com. We ripped up the airwaves talking about some of my top affordable holiday wine picks.

 SpeakersClick here to download the Podcast

My interview is on 17 minutes into the show, but you can listen to the whole broadcast that included a talk with #1 New York Times bestselling author, Mary Higgins Clark , and Huffington Post columnist, Ann Brenoff, who gives tips on how to age more slowly. (My tip, of course, is a glass or three of wine a day.)

Here are the babes coordinates and my notes on these delicious drinks. Enjoy them in the waning days of 2014 or even to welcome 2015. Cheers!

2BoomerBabes Information: Tune in Saturdays on NPR affiliates, Sundays on commercial talk radio, and Mondays on SiriusXM Radio, Channel 141 at 11 a.m. EST. You can always visit 2boomerbabes.com  or iTunes to hear this week’s show.


Leslie’s Tasting Notes

Two of my favorite Prosecco producers include the elegant Villa Sandi and the classic sparklers of Mionetto



Gloria Ferrer, Blanc de Noirs, Sonoma, California $20-22

Gloria_Ferrar_blanc_de_noirsA beautiful sparkling wine based upon Pinot Noir, it’s a bubbly to drink all night long. Crisp enough to whet your palate as an aperitif, it has the power to pair with fish and chicken dishes. In other words…plan on a bottle per person.

2013 Franciscan Estate “Equilibrium” white blend, Napa Valley, California $20-22

FRAN_equlibrium_lowResWhether you’re pairing cheeses, spicy fare or just imbibing a glass to kick off the night, this fruit-driven white is an ideal choice. A blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and a dash of Muscat, it has a hint of sweetness, which is balanced by the brightness of the Sauvignon. A crowd-pleasing wine that satisfies lovers of dry and sweet whites.

 2011 Veramonte “Ritual” Pinot Noir, Casablanca Valley, Chile $21-23


It’s not easy to find a high-quality Pinot Noir in the $20 range, but this is hands-down my favorite of the year. Crafted from selected parcels of Veramonte’s vineyards in cool-climate Casablanca Valley on Chile’s coastline, it sports ripe berry fruit character with an underlying earthy complexity. You’ll want to stock up on this to sip throughout 2015.

2011 Beast “Wildebeest” red, Columbia Valley, Washington $23-25

Beast_WineFrom one of Washington state’s best producers, Buty (pronounced Beauty), the Beast line of wines is their whimsically-named yet seriously-crafted alter ego. This wild blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Mourvedre, Grenache and Cabernet Franc is layered and lush, but still sports vibrant acidity. A beautiful beast to be sure.

2013 Montes “Cherub” Rosé of Syrah, Colchagua Valley, Chile $14-16

I simply adore the Cherub. You can’t find a prettier bottle to look at than this baby angel from Montes. The deep garnet hue is alluring, but it’s the bing cherry and succulent fruit flavors that will make you fall in love. It has enough heft to offset food with character (braised and grilled meats, for example) but is delicate, too, allowing pairing with ceviche and salads. Forget just holidays, this is a wine to buy for spring, summer, winter, and fall sipping.


Two other resources to check out for finding and buying these wines:




For more holiday picks check out my latest appearance on the Daily Meal’s “Dish with Diane”. Happy holidays!

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Holiday Gift Guide : Part One | Fashion, Food and Fun

‘Tis the season to eat, drink, shop and make merry. What better way to do that than with some of my favorite items of 2014. From wearable wine-related fashion statements and accessories to bites to savor, these selections make ideal gifts (treat yourself to one or two, as well).

Happy Holidays!



Wine Wardrobe: Create your own style with these beautiful wine-themed wearable art items


Olive and Poppy – Cheers to the Sweet Life Necklace $74


I’m a jewelry lover and when I first saw these beautiful pieces with a northern California wine country feel, I was impressed. The quality is top notch and the designs unique. The company was founded by Napa Valley residents, Anne Siegel and Nicole Hughes, and as they tell it “The name Olive and Poppy is inspired by the vibrant, visual representations of the two parts of nature that are synonymous with wine countries throughout the world. Come spring, there are always thousands of colorful poppies growing right alongside the groves of olive trees that line winery driveways.” Cheers.


Crawford Denim for Robert Mondavi Private Selection – Vintners Shirt  $135


Everyone needs a high-quality denim piece in his or her wardrobe and this shirt fits the bill. Created by artisan producer, Crawford Denim, the richly-textured shirt can be worn belted over leggings or open in a coat style. The collar and accompanying bandana gains its deep purple hue from using Robert Mondavi Private Selection’s blend, Heritage Red, as a dye. Go ahead and splurge…you deserve it.


The Grateful Girls – Jerry Garcia-inspired Silk Scarf — $25

jerry garcia scarfWhether you know the classic band, The Grateful Dead, I bet you’ve heard of the band’s icon, Jerry Garcia. He was a musician, wine lover, and artist who made his home in northern California’s wine country (and at one point even had his own wine label). Now, two inventive ladies named, The Grateful Girls, have taken Garcia’s art to a line of scarves. They’re festive and affordable making an ideal gift for friends and family.


Delicious Bites from Sweet to Spicy: These mouthwatering treats will impress for less


Chateau Bakery – Clair de Lune Cookies

Large container $28 or 4 Small Containers for $16



I’m not a big chocolate or dessert eater, but you put some butter cookies in front of me and I melt. These are the best I’ve ever tasted. Chateau Bakery makes the Clair de Lune cookies with an original family recipe dating to their European family bakery started in 1989. Today, owner and baker Esther Buss, continues the tradition with these melt-in-your mouth bites. Only five ingredients are used to make the cookies: cane sugar, flour, butter, sea salt and vanilla. Purity pays off and you will fall in love. (You can kiss me later!)



Maille Old Style Mustard – $5.00

Dijon mustard is my go-to condiment. I put it on everything from cheese to chicken as it’s so food-friendly, adding a dash of acidity to dishes making most pair much better with wine. Maille (pronounced My) mustard is a French classic started in 1747 by Antoine Maille. He went on to supply the European Royal courts with mustard and vinegar. Though I consider the “Old Style” whole grain Dijon a staple, the company has not been stuck in the past, launching delicious new styles like the Honey Dijon and Honey Dijon with Modena Balsamic. Amazing.

Paulie’s Pickling – Spicy Green Beans $8.00

I discovered this small San Francisco spot when shooting my show, Check Please! Owners Liz and Paul Ashby are East Coast transplants that have created a pickling business and sandwich shop that will have you making pilgrimages to the city to find their fare. The spicy green beans are just that – packing a serious pickle punch. Try them in Bloody Mary’s with a dash of their homemade horseradish.

Piment d’Ville – 1.2 oz tin $15.00

Next to my stove I have four items: olive oil, sea salt, cracked pepper, and Piment d’Ville. I discovered the spicy treat while dining in Boonville, California at the Boonville Hotel’s Table 128 restaurant. Locally grown from seed and hand harvested in Boonville, it’s from a pepper known as piment d’espelette from the Basque region of southern France. It’s fiery yet sweet and oh so delicious.

Wine Whimsy: the affordable accessories add flair to any gift bag


Holiday Gift Guide (5 of 8) 

Capa Bubbles – $15.95

Capabunga is a product I use daily. What is it? As winemaker owners and inventors Máire Murphy and Walt Averill describe it, “Capabunga is a reusable silicone cap that reseals a bottle of wine after you remove the cork. Once you remove the cork and re-seal the bottle, it is liquid tight and the bottle can rest on its side or even upside down without leaking.” They have recently added a CapaBubbles topper and fun glass tags called GlassWhere by CapaBunga ($11.95) to their lineup. Stock up on all their useful items for yourself, too.

Ring for a Drink BellPier 1 Imports or Cost Plus World Market $6.00

I buy a stash of these whimsical bells with the saying “Ring for a Drink”. Given with a bottle of wine, it makes a clever and inexpensive gift.

Wine Writers

Wine Glass Writers –$9.95

The proliferation of wine charms – rings that look like jewelry and that hook on wine glass stems — has always confused me. Many of them are pretty, but as soon as you have a few glasses you tend to forget if your glass was the one with the cork charm or the cheese slice charm. Have no fear, use these pens to write your names on the glass then simply wash off with a sponge.



Love these ideas? Then stay tuned for the rest of the week as I look at my favorite wines, spirits, splurges and saves.

Happy holidays! 


Hosting a Tasting Party with a Twist | On the Today Show

wine tasting party

Fall is a fabulous time to get your friends together and host a wine tasting “Happy Hour” party. As a wine expert and judge, I taste thousands of bottles a year! You too can taste wine like a pro with my easy tips and tricks. From setting the mood with music to playing wine games to keep the tone fun, you’ll learn, laugh and discover what you like about wine in order to make smarter buying decisions. Let’s get the party started…



  • Set a theme for the night. Have everyone either bring a bottle in a certain price range ($15-20, for example) or have the guests give the host money and they buy all the wine.
    • TIP: most wine stores will give a discount on a case (12 bottles) so make sure to ask when you purchase.
  • Put out bottles for display so guests can take pictures of the labels or take notes. If you would like to taste the wines without guests knowing what they are, cover the bottles with tin foil and you can unveil them at the end of the night.
    • TIP: give the DRYNC app a try. It allows you to take a photo of the label and buy the wine. 
  • If you can’t give multiple sets of glasses to each guest to taste the wines together, have dump buckets on hand to empty glasses. You can use sand pails, pitchers, or deep bowls.
  • Don’t forget food. Cheese and crackers are standard fare for wine tasting parties. I recommend a platter with three to four types of cheese. This will allow pairings with a variety of wines from white to red and dry to sweet. Include fresh cheese such as goat/chevre, a semi-soft brie, a harder cheese such Parmigiano-Reggiano and finally, a blue cheese. Add crackers, sliced bread, almonds, grapes, and dried apricots for the perfect platter.




Most wine benefits from some interaction with air including bold whites and young reds. That’s why you open the bottle and let it “breathe.” Pulling the cork, though, is less effective than using a decanter, which allows for full expression of the wine’s aromas and flavors.

TRICK: Pour wine from a box into a decanter to show how even inexpensive wines taste better with decanting. If you don’t own a decanter, use a pitcher, or even clean flower vase!


2013 Black Box Pinot Noir, California ($20 for 3 liters/four bottles)

One of the top boxed wines, this Pinot Noir blends in a dash of Syrah for mouth-feel and structure. It’s smooth and juicy with red berry fruit flavors. The wine stays fresh for up to four weeks, too. Black Box is a crowd-pleasing, affordable pick to stock up on for the upcoming holiday season.





I recommend organizing the wines in various settings in order to learn the most. You can also enjoy the process more by making it a game.

TIP: In professional wine judging situations, we often taste red wines before white wines. Not only does it offer a refreshing end to the tasting, sampling whites last allows for those purple teeth to get a rinse before heading home.




Describing wine can be difficult for people, but it’s helpful to be able to discuss what you like when you buy or order wine. Learning to put words to wine can be fun with my Wine Words game. Use your own tasting notes or descriptions on the back label of the bottle to create note cards that can be matched with each wine.


2012 Whiplash Red Blend, California $12

This smooth, rich red blend of Syrah, Zinfandel, Petite Sirah and a host of other grapes is an easy drinker. Sip alone at the beginning of the evening or pair with a variety of hearty fare. You might even get whiplash by quickly turning to fill your glass, as you’ll definitely want more.

2012 Bolla Valpolicella Ripasso, Italy $16

Hailing from the Valpolicella Classico zone in northern Italy, this unique red is a combination of native grapes Corvina and Rondinella. Often dubbed “baby Amarone,” its singular taste and character comes from the additional step of fermenting with the Amarone skins. Spicy, earthy aromas match up with a vibrant finish to make this wine ideal for dishes from pasta to cheese. It’s a deliciously Italian treat.


TIP: It’s not necessary to cleanse your palate in between every wine, but if you’re moving from reds to whites or vice versa, you may want to nibble on something first.

TRICK: Crackers are the natural go-to palate cleanser, but in professional wine judgings, we also use slices of rare roast beef and mild olives. My favorite brand is Graber Olives.




One of the ways to identify wine is by the grape variety from which it’s made, such as Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot. Another important factor in the ultimate taste of the wine is where those grapes are planted. Does the wine come from Spain, California or France? The same grapes grown in different places can yield wines that taste very different depending on climate and soil.


This game allows you to guess where the wines come from and why they may taste unique.


2012 Hess Select Chardonnay, Monterey, California $12

Hess Collection is one of Napa Valley’s top destination wineries — a beautiful place that’s home to world-class wines. Their Select tier of wines offers tremendous value with high quality. The cooling breeze of the ocean in Monterey County gives this Chardonnay its freshness while a kiss of oak-barrel ageing offers complexity.

2011 Laroche Chardonnay, Bourgogne, France $18

As a Chardonnay fan, I love versions from the homeland of Burgundy (Bourgogne) in France. They are a pure expression of the grape showcasing minerality and a ping of vibrant fruit notes. The fruit flavors remind me of crisp citrus rather than ripe pear, for example. This wine was not aged in oak so the racy character is a direct result of where the grapes were grown. Domaine Laroche is a noted producer in Chablis and this bottling is both affordable and classy.