A Hop in the Hot Tub with Hoda for Valentine’s Day!

Happy Valentine’s Day! ❤ ❤ ❤

I swung by the Today Show on Friday and took a little hop in the hot tub with Hoda, Meredith Viera, and Ray Isles of Food & Wine Magazine. Whether you plan on hopping in the hot tub with your honey,  snuggling on the couch with Netflix, or even popping the big question, we’ve got the wine picks for every occasion.


Hop in the Hot Tub


2014 Casillero del Diablo, “Devil’s Collection” White, Chile $15casillero-del-diablo

Instead of being angelic this Valentine’s night, toast your devlish side. Pour a glass of this refreshing blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Gewürztraminer from Chile’s Casablanca Valley.  Crafted by the talented hands of winemaker Marcelo Papas of Concha y Toro, it’s crisp and juicy making it ideal to tame the heat of the hot tub…or just stoke the fires of your Valentine’s celebration.


NV Infinite Monkey Theorem White ($15/4 cans) infinite-monkey-theorem

It’s in a can! No glass in the hot tub! What the heck! Plus, it’s a lively white blend with a tiny touch of spritz, which you can chill down a lot. Ideal for hot tub sipping. Infinite Monkey Theorem is a cool urban winery that first started in Denver, and has spread to Austin, TX as well. 

On the Couch with Netflix:


Croft “Reserve” Tawny Port, Portugal $20


Get your dessert on with this luscious wine. (I call it a belly-button sipper.) A new Port from the classic house of Croft, this reserve is aged approximately seven years and captures the fresh fruit notes of a youthful tawny. A touch sweet and very smooth, this Port is ideal with a cheese platter, chocolate covered strawberries, or for cuddling on the couch with the one you love.


2013 Killibinbin Sneaky Shiraz ($14)


This is a juicy, rich Aussie Shiraz—a fun wine to relax with on the couch—plus the label looks like a movie still from a 40s Noir film, which is cool. And it’s sneaky. Which is sort of sexy. Depending on how well you know your date, you could also opt for their Seduction Cabernet Sauvignon.

Pop the question with Wine:


2014 Beso de Vino, Garnacha, Carinena, Spain $10


What better way to pop the question than with a kiss? This sexy red means “kiss of wine” and it hails from the Spanish region of Carinena. This historic area is home to old vines that produce intense reds. This one — from nearly 40 year old Garnacha vines — over-delivers for its price, which means you can spend more on the honeymoon. That deserves a big kiss.


NV Piper Heidsieck Cuvee Brut ($48)


If you’re going to pop the question, you need Champagne. What other wine says romance so clearly? Also, I love the red, removable ice jacket with its red bow on this Piper Heidsieck non-vintage brut; it adds an extra touch of fun to the occasion. This is classic Champagne, from the Champagne region in France, crisp and lively, perfectly dry. Chill it down, pop the cork, and then pop the question. 

Whatever you’re doing this Valentine’s Day – you’ll have the right wine to go with it!



Wine Wisdom | The Today Show

I was recently on NBC’s Today Show with Kathie and Hoda, answering questions from readers like YOU. Thank you for all of your curiosity and, as always, you can submit those to me here and I’m happy to answer them.



Wine Wisdom: Wine to please all palates

2014 Montes “Cherub” Rosé of Syrah, Colchagua Valley, Chile $15 

If you can only choose one wine for a crowd, make it pink. Rose wines are made with red grapes but in a white wine style, which makes them easy to please drinkers of red or white wines and sweet or dry. This appealing, garnet-hued wine is dry in style but sports succulent red berry freshness. Crafted from Syrah in Chile’s sunny Colchagua Valley, it’s a wine to stock up on for year-round sipping. 

Wine Wisdom: All-purpose wine glass

Nachtmann Vivendi, White Wine Glass (Set of 4) $30

Even though it says it’s for white wine, this 16 oz. lead crystal glass is an ideal all-purpose version to use for white, red, and even sparkling wine.  What I like about Nachtmann is the high quality at an affordable price. 

Wine Wisdom: Pairing wine and cheese

Though I’m a firm believer in the idea of drinking what you like and eating what you like, my approach to pairing wine and cheese is to either contrast or complement.

Taylor Fladgate 10 Year Old Tawny Port, Portugal $30 

One of the world’s top producers of Tawny Port this lightly sweet fortified wine sports aromas of caramel and orange zest. It’s a dessert wine with class. 

Pairing Tip: The sweetness of the Port is a counterpoint to the saltiness of an aged cheese such as Asiago. 

2013 Acquiesce “Belle Blanc” Lodi, California $23 

Hailing from the up-and-coming region of Lodi, this beautiful blend of white grapes including Grenache Blanc, Roussanne and Viognier is made by Lodi’s only winery devoted to white wine. It is compellingly creamy and smooth but with a core of freshness. The packaging is eye-catching, too, making it a gift option for the upcoming Valentine’s Day. 

Pairing Tip: Creamy cheeses like brie complement the smoothness of the wine 

Wine Wisdom: low-calorie wine 

Most dry wines have around 125 calories per 5 oz. glass with calories coming primarily from the alcohol content. These two wines are made by the same winery, Brancott, using the same grape variety and planted in the same area of New Zealand but offer two caloric versions: 

2013 Brancott “Flight Song” Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, New Zealand ($15) 

A crisp, clean, lemon-scented white that tips the scales at a mere 90 calories. Made by harvesting the grapes earlier, which leads to a lower alcohol content of only 9 percent, the wine is packs a flavor punch while still saving on calories. 

2014 Brancott Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, New Zealand ($13) 

One of New Zealand’s classic producers, Brancott is known for their signature Sauvignon Blanc. With aromatic notes of citrus fruit and fresh herbs, it showcases the uniqueness of Marlborough’s sunny yet cool growing region. A delicious value ringing in at around 125 calories a glass.

Sparkling Wines Wisdom: Champagne, Prosecco, and Cava

Sparkling wine is the overall category of wines. Champagne hails from France, Prosecco from Italy and Cava is from Spain. Champagne is made with grape varieties Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay. Prosecco is made with the grape Glera grown in northern Italy, and Cava is the unique sparkler from northeastern Spain using native grapes such as Macabeo, Xarel-lo, and Parellada. 

Pol Roger, Brut Reserve “White Foil” Champagne, France $50

Pure beauty in a bottle. Pol Roger, a family-owned winery that has been producing world-famous bubbly for more than 160 years, still crafts many of the best Champagnes. This non-vintage bottling is made from the three grapes of Champagne and reflects the elegant style Pol Roger is known for producing. Want to sip like royalty? You can since this sparkling was served at Prince William’s wedding reception. 

Villa Sandi “Vigna La Rivetta” Cartizze Prosecco, Valdobbiadene, Italy $40  

This is my favorite Prosecco on the market and ranks among the best sparkling wines in the world in my opinion. Classy and complex, it’s also so deliciously easy to sip. Made with grapes grown in a single vineyard on the steep slopes of the hill of Cartizze in the area of  Valdobbiadene, this wine reflects its birthplace. The sign of a classic. Add it to your list of must-try sparklers. 

Codorniu “Anna de Codorniu” Brut Cava, Spain $15  

This historic property dates to 1551 and the name pays homage to one of the family members, Anna, who helped create the Codorniu legend. This cuvée blends Chardonnay with the native varieties to add a modern twist to classic Cava. 

Wine Wisdom: Points 

2012 Esporao “Assobio”, Douro, Portugal $13 

A great value that you’ll want to stock up on by the case. Hearty, spicy, and full bodied, this red is made from the grape varieties that are famed for Port production including Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca and Tinta Roriz. Perfect for pairing with braised meats, soups, and rich winter dishes. 


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.