The Perfect Costume Deserves the Perfect Pairing

You do it every year, pull out that tired old punch bowl that looks like a caldron and spike it with whatever’s in your liquor cabinet.

Then, you grab a block of dried ice and hope that no one will notice you just threw anything together for your annual Halloween party. I was guilty of this for years before I realized I could actually pair treats like spider infested caramel popcorn, spaghetti with eyeballs and ghost cake pops together with wine. I came to the conclusion that if I was going to go all out on planning the perfect costume, decorations and party favors, I might as well make it an evening to remember by pouring a glass of deliciously paired vino.

My dishes, including an assortment of Halloween candies, are taken to the next level by incorporating just the right wine. And although finding the perfect wine can be a bit tricky, experimenting is the fun part!

A few Halloween inspired pairings you should try:

  • Reese’s Peanut Buttercups with Amontillado Sherry or Vintage Port
  • Twix with Cabernet Sauvignon or Syrah
  • Kit Kat with Merlot or Malbec
  • Caramel Popcorn Spider Balls with Oregon Riesling or demi-sec Champagne
  • Candy Corn with a sweet Riesling, Tawny Port or Ice Wine
  • Spaghetti and Eyeballs with Zinfandel or Nero d’ Avola
  • Garlic Sticks and Marinara Sauce with Barbera or Dolcetto
  • Caramel Apple with Riesling or Amontillado Sherry
  • Pumpkin Pancakes with sweet Riesling or Viognier

Rugby Meets Wine: When the Winners Are All Black and White

New Zealand not only rocks, it’s on a roll. The “All Blacks” won the battle on the field and the “all whites” took top accolades in the glass.

This past weekend the Kiwi national rugby team, the All Blacks, scored an emotional victory over their top rivals, France, to win the Rugby World Cup. As one of the largest sporting events on the planet, people from all over the world flocked to the small island nation to watch the six-week long series of games between nations such as Australia, Italy, South Africa, and the United States.

I was one of those who made the trek half way across the globe to attend not only a rugby match, but also to take part in a battle of the bottles. New Zealanders are obsessed by their national sport, but they’re also proud of the country’s wine culture. Winging to the land of the long white cloud – as the local Maori people call New Zealand – I was the American judge for a wine competition dubbed the First Fifteen.

Held in Nelson, one of the most picturesque spots in New Zealand, the focus of the event was to showcase aromatic white wines from countries across the world taking part in the Rugby World Cup (fifteen refers to the number of players on a rugby team). The good-natured battle I took part in was the wine counterpart to the game being played between the United States and Italy hosted in Nelson, the birthplace of rugby in New Zealand.

Aromatic is a term used to describe wines that have a uniquely fragrant personality: floral, peach-scented Riesling, juicy, tropical Pinot Gris (Pinot Grigio), and assertive, spicy Gewurztraminer are examples.

Other top Rugby countries like France and Australia could rightly lay claim to having top aromatics (Alsace in France is home to iconic Pinot Gris and Gewurztraminer while Australia’s Clare and Eden Valleys rank high in Riesling), but this battle was between titans Italy, New Zealand and the United States.

Wines were selected by the judges to represent their country. I picked fifteen top American aromatics from Oregon, Washington State, California and New York State, while the Italian judge selected his lineup from northern Italy. In a blind tasting along with a Kiwi and Australian judge, we sniffed, swirled and spat through the wines to select our winners.

Interestingly, each of the countries won one category. The United States took Pinot Gris with the sleek Etude from Carneros, California and Chehalem from Oregon, while the Italians swamped the Gewurztraminer category (Italy is the home of the variety after all). The Kiwis, however, took home the Riesling trophy and the overall win.

If you think of New Zealand as only Sauvignon Blanc, there’s much more to discover. Pick up a bottle of one of these winning Kiwi wines and raise your glass full of white in honor of the All Blacks.

Wollaston Estate Riesling, Nelson, New Zealand $19
Crafted in a delicate, lightly sweet style, this Riesling is classy. Crisp and focused, it’s an ideal partner for fresh seafood or simple grilled vegetables.

Neudorf Vineyards “Moutere” Riesling, Nelson, New Zealand $32
A rich, lush, and sweeter style of Riesling from one of the region’s iconic producers (pronounced Noy-dorf), it’s an age-worthy beauty.

Te Mania Pinot Gris, Nelson, New Zealand $15
Exotic aromas float from the glass while a mouth-filling texture wraps your palate in pleasure. Uncork alongside curried dishes for a taste sensation.

Shopping Suggestions

If you can’t locate those specific wines, try versions from some of my favorite producers. With laser-like Riesling from the South Island’s mountainous Central Otago region, juicy Pinot Gris from the famous Marlborough area, and intense Gewurztraminer from the North Island’s historic Martinborough region, there are plenty of New Zealand aromatics to explore.

Craggy Range

Villa Maria

Prophet’s Rock


Mt. Difficulty “Roaring Meg”

Pinot Gris:
Quartz Reef

Spy Valley

Kim Crawford



Dry River


Lawson’s Dry Hills

Shaky Bridge


To read the version on Today Show BITES, click here.

Could You Use a Dirty Bob?

This cocktail blends fresh fruit and root beer flavors for a fun taste and vintage presentation. Making your own infused tequila is easier than you think, it takes a few days, so start it now and you’ll be singing Monster Mash on Friday in no time.

Dirty Bob


For infused tequila:

· 1 cup fresh blackberries

· 4 slices fresh orange, rind removed and discarded

· 1 slice fresh Meyer lemon, rind removed and discarded

· 1 750mL bottle tequila (such as Corazon Reposado)

For the drink:

· 2 part infused tequila

· 1 part Grand Marnier

· 1/4 part Blackmaker Root Beer liqueur

· 1/4 part Der Lachs Goldwasser Cinammon Schnapps

· 1/2 part quality craft root beer (such as Sparky’s, Abita or Virgil’s)


1. Place tequila and fruits into an air-tight jar. Infuse fruit flavors and tequila for 4 to 5 days.

2. Once tequila is infused, mix all ingredients in a cocktail shaker.

3. Serve in a classic mason jar over ice.

Preparation time: 5 days (tequila); 1 minute (drink)

Number of servings (yield)
: 1 (750mL infused tequila bottle will supply approximately 13 drinks)

Compliments of Jordan Vineyard & Winery

20 Under $12: Tasting Red

Autumn is in the air. With the changing weather it’s time to warm up with a range of reds. These span the style scale from elegant to powerful but all fall under the $12 mark making it easy to raise a glass or three.

Light and Bright:

2009 Mark West Pinot Noir, California $12
It’s tough to make Pinot Noir that falls into the well-priced category, but Mark West has done it. With red berry zip and a hint of earthy aromas, it’s a Pinot that will please.

2009 Arrogant Frog “Lily Pad Noir” Pinot Noir, Languedoc, France $10
A beret-clad frog with a jaunty grin adorns the label of this wine that offers a bit more weight than other affordable Pinots. Juicy and easy-drinking.

2009 Louis Jadot Beaujolais Villages, France $12
One of best vintages for Beaujolais in recent history has given this wine depth and character. Made with Gamay grapes, there’s an appealing lightness and succulence.

2009 Rioja Vega, Rioja, Spain $12
Slide into fall with this lovely red. Hailing from the classic Spanish region, Rioja, it’s made from the Tempranillo variety and is vibrant and elegant.

2009 Mandolin Syrah, Central Coast, California $10
A Syrah for Pinot drinkers, this lighter, brighter style is one to pop with pork or even with fleshy fish.

2008 Finca Constancia “Altozano” Vino de la Tierra de Castilla, Spain $10
A Tempranillo and Syrah blend that captures the racy side of red. Red berry fruit notes are topped off with a hit of peppery spice on the finish.

2009 Banfi Chianti Classico, Italy $12
It’s normally a challenge to find simple Chianti that fits the $12 price point, much less one from the highly-regarded Chianti Classico zone, but Banfi has managed to produce a structured yet sleek version at a surprising price.

Smooth and Supple:

2009 Torres “Sangre de Toro” Catalunya, Spain $10
A deliciously silky red that over-delivers quality for the price. Made with Garnacha (Grenache) and Carinena in Spain’s northeastern corner. With crowd-pleasing freshness, you’ll want to stock up on this one.

2009 Kenwood “Vintage Red” California $9
Kenwood is a Sonoma winery known for top bottlings (like their Jack London label) that you may want to crack open on weekends, but the quaffable “Vintage Red” is a Zinfandel-based blend for weekday sipping.

2009 James Oatley “Tic Tok” Shiraz, Mudgee, Australia $12
The name is an ode to the family patriarch – a clockmaker and this is a red worth twice the price. From the cooler climate area of Mudgee, it’s a Shiraz with style.

2008 Waterbrook Merlot, Columba Valley, Washington $11
Located in the hot spot of Washington, Walla Walla, Waterbrook crafts pricey reds, but this supple, sippable Merlot tucks in at a cool price.

2009 Cellar No 8 Red wine California $10
A mélange of eight varieties including Petite Sirah, Merlot, and Grenache, this just may become your house red. Fruit-driven and juicy, it’s a happy-maker.

2009 Naked Earth red, South of France $12
Made with organically grown grapes, this blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Grenache is not overly serious but offers good drinking with burgers or pizza.

2009 Bota Box Cabernet Sauvignon, California $5 (500ml)
A to-go wine that can slip in a purse or pocket, this eco-friendly mini-box holds three glasses of smooth Cabernet. It’s ideal for the beach, outdoor party, or just when you want a little glass without the glass.

Full-bodied and Fleshy:

2009 Dancing Bull Zinfandel California $12
With dark berry fruit flavors underscored with a kick of smoky aromas, this hearty Zin is made for fall sipping. Try alongside a wood-fired pizza or last of the season BBQ ribs.

2009 Healdsburg Ranches Cabernet Sauvignon North Coast, California $12
This Cab over-delivers in quality. It showcases intensity of fruit and mouthwatering vibrancy. Sure it will pair with a steak, but try roast chicken or grilled eggplant.

2008 Purple Cowboy “Trail Boss” Cabernet Sauvignon, Paso Robles, California $12
Named for some rodeo dudes who enjoyed vino and showed off their purple teeth, this plush red has power. The brand also supports the “Tough Enough to Wear Pink” organization for breast cancer awareness.

2009 Concannon Cabernet Sauvignon, Central Coast, California $10
Making wince 1883 Concannon ranks among California’s most historic producers. This affordable but still fairly complex Cab is the real deal.

2010 Bodega Elena de Mendoza Malbec Argentina $11
Malbec is known for its saturated dark fruit character and this one doesn’t disappoint. It’s rich, it’s ripe yet balanced with a whack of freshness making it ideal to saddle up to the dinner table.

2009 Yarden Mount Hermon, Galilee, Isreal $12
Yes, this wine is kosher but it’s so much more. Made from Bordeaux varieties, it delivers complexity that belies the price. Lush but with an edge of tannic grip it’s one to pair with grilled meat dishes.

Why are you a Thirsty Girl?

When Thirsty Girl initially contacted me with an inquiry as to my interest in guest-blogging, I was at once intrigued and inspired at being presented with a chance to become involved in their mission to celebrate the passion for living from a feminine perspective.

The site, founded by Leslie Sbrocco, is a powerful platform for showcasing the many forms of girl power exhibited in our collective lust for life. Women know they can quench that thirst in many ways, and what struck a chord with me was TG’s explicit acknowledgment of the importance of absorbing all that life has to offer, regardless of how the choice manifests itself. Whether embodied by a group of sorority sisters getting together over cocktails to share in the latest harmless gossip, or lifelong friends coming together to offer support to each other in more difficult times, both are expressions of the thirst that are to be celebrated and acknowledged.Salsa

Since my own point of view mirrors Leslie’s concept that the opportunities to unite and bond over food and drink are endless, contributing to Thirsty Girl seemed to me a perfect fit.

Upon some small reflection, I began to ponder: What made me a “Thirsty Girl?” What resonated most about their message? Is my status reflected in my insatiable desire to share the best of my dining experiences with the world, or is it bigger than that? Does my passion for savoring every moment spent with family and friends elevate me to Thirsty Girl? Questions bred more questions.

I was born inquisitive. My earliest memories are colored by a fever to explore my surroundings. Curiosity isn’t all that unusual. Most of us arrive with the desire to scrutinize our environment; it is how we come to learn the world around us. But my questioning, tasting, experiencing — always felt bigger than others. I couldn’t seem ever to be satisfied with the answers I received. There had to be more. But what?

The toddler’s mantra of “what’s that?” often accompanied by a chubby pink finger pointed at the object of the inquiry, be it a blade of grass or the cotton candy wisp of cloud that floats serenely in the sky above, seems to have followed me into adulthood. As children, we struggle with the balance between the safety of our mother’s arms and the pull of the world around us. That childish thirst for knowledge eventually blossoms into friendships with our peers. We all long to be accepted, to be something more than alone. Soon, we begin to respond to the driving force of puberty; we sense our bodies can serve us by bonding us with the opposite sex. We experience and experiment. Eventually we learn to love those who are not our blood, and if we are really lucky, we discover what it means to have a best friend and partner on this incredible journey. As we form each new relationship, we never lose our basic appetites to explore, to be safe, and to connect. The deepest thirst in all of us is for companionship.

When I began writing about food, I wanted to explore the rituals. It seems to me that eating has never been merely about satisfying a physical hunger. Dining is for most of us rooted in our own histories and as complex an experience as the myriad flavors in a well-developed dish. Raised by a Midwestern mother and Italian father, I grew up in a culture of gatherings around food. Every meal was something to be shared with family, and eating was the central feature of every holiday or occasion. Most of my earliest memories involve dining with some portion of my large family unit, enjoying a lavish meal at the communal table. For the first two decades or so of my life, all of these meals took place in Oakland, California, so I chose to focus my blog there, where it all began.

Everyone’s relationship with food is different, but no one eats only for sustenance. Anyone who tells you otherwise is a liar or a fool. From the time we are born the things we taste are linked to a deep and primitive sensory recall. Every time we experience a remarkable flavor, we are either transported to a past memory, or actively making a new one — as the sensations of taste, smell and companionship color the moments of our lives. I see bad food more as missed opportunity to add another beautiful recollection to the life experience, than as a failed effort to create, though both views are valid. To this day, I cannot smell garlic browning in butter without thinking of my grandmother. I cannot eat a caramelized bite of succulent Easter ham without remembering my favorite aunt and the times spent around her table. When we enjoy these

experiences with others, they remain with us forever. I am of the undying opinion that in order to benefit fully, to participate completely, we must savor the love between the slices of bread broken.

It can be as simple as bonding over buttered popcorn and a movie with a friend, or as complicated as sharing a “marker meal” at a traditional once-in-a-lifetime event, like a wedding. Each of these events augments our friendships, expands our families, enhances our lives. Every time we come together to enjoy a repast, we broaden the collective memory. Weddings, birthdays — even funerals — all such occasions serve to cement in us a cognizance of all others present as we celebrate them. Years later we look back and we remember. We remember what we ate, and more importantly, with whom we ate it.

Every time we spend quality time with the people who matter to us, we are given an opportunity. Beyond the pleasure of the food shared is the chance to connect, either to maintain a treasured relationship or perhaps form a new one. Each meal, each moment of our life, can be as meaningful as we allow it to be. I think that’s the point of being a Thirsty Girl — to be open to the possibilities — to be someone who doesn’t let even the smallest droplet of life go unappreciated, because she is aware, every moment, of the monumental waste contained in even the tiniest missed opportunity.

Thirsty Girl CosmoIf we pay attention, each of us can be enriched by the human experience, coming together, united over a good meal and a glass of wine. Life should be about possibility. That’s what motivates me, maintaining the constant state of awareness necessary to capitalize on opportunity. I choose to be awake, present enough to taste everything life has to offer. Every day is an opportunity to participate in the making of new memories.

We all have a choice: to sit in the car and watch life go by, or to be aware enough to taste all that life has to offer. You gotta be a Thirsty Girl, or you’re gonna miss the ride.
Angela Lazear is the writer of East Bay Food Scene, Essays on the Ritual of Dining and a former Thursday Thirsty Girl.

Who won? New Zealand Wine and Rugby

Here’s the wrap up Leslie’s adventures in New Zealand. In case you missed the previous post check them out …

For the Nelson First Fifteeen … “the winners were chosen after a blind tasting of all 45 wines – Riesling, Pinot Gris and Gewürztraminer. The judges then selected their favourite 15 wines (the first XV) from all the wines and the country with the most wines in this selection was awarded the overall trophy.”

So who won?new zealand wine and rugby

New Zealand took award, having 7 out of the 15 selected, followed by Italy with 6 and USA with 2. Each country won a ‘best of” … New Zealand with the best Riesling, Blackenbrook Vineyard Nelson 2009, USA with best Pinot Gris, Etude Carneros 2010 and Italy with the best Gewürztraminer, Catina Tramin Alto Adige Nussbaumer 2009.

This was a fantastic international event that we hope to see again next year. As for the rugby world cup … Italy beat us, but I’m sure Leslie had fun (as all Thirsty Girls do) regardless.

Watch Leslie have fun with Craig Wilson on the water in New Zealand.

Barbeque Brawl with Leslie Sbrocco and Ray Isle

It’s “He Said, She Said” time again with Leslie Sbrocco, founder of Thirsty Girl, and Ray Isle, wine editor of Food & Wine Magazine, leading Kathie Lee and Hoda on the fourth hour of the Today Show through upcoming Labor Day weekend drinks choices. Whether it’s spicy catfish on the grill, vegetable kabobs or sizzling steak, these barbeque sip options will please everyone.

With spicy shrimp or Cajun catfish:Leslie and Ray

Leslie Pick: 2010 Elk Cove Pinot Gris Willamette Valley, Oregon $19

This fruity but dry wine expresses the fun of Pinot Gris. Its vibrant character is an ideal match for quenching your thirst after spicy fare. It’s also a top warm-weather alternative to Chardonnay.

Ray Pick: Aperol Spritz Cocktail $22

An Aperol Spritz—which is made with Aperol, an aperitif that’s like Campari but not as bitter—is the classic start-the-evening drink of Venice and Verona. It’s prosecco, Aperol, and club soda … so it’s not too high-alcohol, too. Plus it’s a touchsweet, which goes great with spicy foods.

With BBQ Chicken (spicy and sweeter sauces):

Ray’s Pick: Samuel Smith’s Nut Brown Ale $5 (for one pint)

Samuel Smith’s is a rich, caramelly, dark, English ale, which marries well with any kind of spicy barbeque sauce.

Leslie pick: Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Honey $24 (a blend of Jack Daniels famous Old No. 7 Tennessee whiskey and honey liquor) and Stone’s Original Ginger Wine $13.00 (wine infused with ginger)

Honey Drop Punch: Leslie’s original punch recipe is lightly sweet and refreshing making it a daringly delicious pairing for sweeter barbeque sauces or honey-glazed chicken. (Serves approximately 10 cocktails)

· 1 cup (8 Oz)Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Honey

· 1 cup (8 Oz)Stone’s Original Ginger Wine

· 2 cups (16 oz) Unsweetened Lemonade

· 2 cups (16 oz) Ginger Ale

Combine all liquids into glass pitcher, stir, then add ice, squeeze in fresh lime or lemon juice and garnish with mint.

With vegetable kabobs drizzled with balsamic vinegar:

Ray’s Pick: Nino Franco Prosecco, Italy $16

With vegetables, you want something light and refreshing. Prosecco, the sparkling wine of Italy, is a great choice and Nino Franco is one of the best and affordable producers.

Leslie’s Pick: 2010 Yalumba Sangiovese Rose, Australia $12

A dry-style rose from Australia, this pretty pink goes as easily with the earthy vegetable kabobs as it does with fish or meat. Made from sangoivese grapes, it’s spicy, floral and packed with fruitiness.

*Both wines were served in the GoVino Glassware, which is easy to use, unbreakable, washable and the ideal option for outdoor parties.

With steak off the grill…

Leslie’s pick: 2008 Hearst Ranch “Three Sisters” Red Cuvee, Paso Robles, California $20

A blend of Syrah, Grenache, and Mourvedre, this smooth yet hearty red complements the grass-fed Hearst Ranch steaks beautifully. For Hearst Ranch steaks.

Ray’s Pick: 2008 Chateau Ste Michelle Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley, Washington $15

An utterly classic pairing – the tannins in Cabernet cut through the fat of the meat, plus the flavors just work so well together. Chateau Ste Michelle’s Columbia Valley bottling is one of the best deals out there.

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Savvy Sipping: Summer Wine Stock Up

Summer Wine Stock Up: 20 under $12 

As seen featured on Today Show BITES on June 1, 2011. 

The kids are out of school, the beach is calling and now, more than ever, thoughts turn to indulging with a glass or three. You don’t have to spend a fortune to do it. Here are some of my favorite summer wine values. They’re nationally available, andif you buy wines by the case (12 bottles) many retailers offer discounts. So stock up and beat the heat.

On-the-Go Picks:

Everyone knows about box wines, but the latest packaging craze I’m crazy about is what I dub the “purse-o-wine.” Known as the Astrapouch, it’s an environmentally friendly container of two bottles of wine in a single, lightweight bag. With a carrying handle and 90 percent less waste than glass, it’s a no brainer to buy. It will also stayfresh for a month making beach parties, block parties or camping with wine simple.

2009 Indulge Wines Pinot Noir, Central Coast $20 (1.5 liter pouch = two bottles/$10 each)

You’re hard pressed to find a Pinot worth drinking under $15 much less one in abag. This red is light, refreshing and captures the pretty red berry character of Pinot Noir. A winner by all standards.

The Climber, Chardonnay, California $17 (1.5 liter pouch = two bottles/$8.50each)INDULGE 04

Smooth with ripe tropical flavors, this Chard showcases freshness and loads of fruitin an easy-to-carry pouch.

Light, fruity, aromatic whites:

These whites are both dry and aromatic or sport a dash of sweetness making them perfect for taming spicy hot dishes or kicking off poolside cool-downs.

Two Oceans Sauv Blanc2010 Two Oceans Sauvignon Blanc, South Africa $9

Hailing from the tip of the country between the Indian and Atlantic Oceans, this citrusy white is summer in a bottle.

2009 Tapena Verdejo, Spain $10

Pronounced ver-Day-ho, the lemony sipper zips up freshness and a hint of honeyed complexity.

2010 Santa Julia Torrontes, Mendoza, Argentina $10

Argentina’s signature white variety, Torrontes is crisp yet very floral. This wine isdry and delicious.

2010 Fetzer Moscato, California $9

Moscato is on fire these days and this easy-drinking, lightly sweet version is a top summer quaffer.

Barefoot Riesling, California $7

Bright and light with sweet fruit flavors, chill this white down, unscrew, and enjoy.

Lush whites and light-hearted Roses:

These full-bodied whites pair well with grilled chicken and salmon while the Rose category marries with any al fresco dish from Cajun shrimp to tri-tip. Rose comesfrom a variety of red grapes that are made in a white wine style so it’s the ideal warm-weather sipper.

2009 Casillero del Diablo Chardonnay, Chile $10

From the iconic Concha y Toro winery, this sun-kissed, soft white is a crowd pleaser.

2009 Hess Select Chardonnay, Monterey, California $12Bieler Rose

Worth twice the price, this stylish, classy white is one of my favorite Chardonnay values.

2010 Marques de Caceres Rose, Rioja, Spain $9

A dry, delicious pink that’s so easy to drink, you’ll want to buy it by the case.

2010 Bieler Pere et Fils “Sabine” Rose, Coteaux d’Aix-En-Provence, France $12

Elegant, zesty and oo-la-la inducing, the south of France comes alive in this dry, berry-scented rose.

Spicy, succulent Reds:

What would summer be without smoked ribs, burgers, grilled steaks or veggie kabobs? These juicy reds will help you saddle up to eating in the great outdoors.

Pine & Post Red Blend, Washington State $7

A mélange of red grapes go into this uber-affordable red. Soft and juicy.

2009 Vitiano, Umbria, Italy $8

A perennial favorite of mine made by star Italian winemaker Riccardo Cotarella, this blend of Sangiovese, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon is a superstar deal.

RT1 Carm2009 Cupcake Vineyards “Red Velvet” California $10

Cupcake cooks up Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon and other red varieties for a smooth, drinkable red (yes, you can pair it with red velvet cake).

2008 Trapiche “Oak Cask” Malbec, Mendoza, Argentina $10

Intense and sexy, Malbec is the wine equivalent of a tango and Trapiche qualifies as a tango master. A hearty and supple red for all beef dishes.

House Wine Red, Columbia Valley, Washington $11

From world class vintner Charles Smith comes a whimsical mesh of Cabernet, Merlot, Malbec, Syrah and more. Make it your house wine.

2008 Yalumba “FDR1A” Red, Barossa, Australia $11

A hidden treasure. The marriage of Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz sings when paired with rosemary-infused grilled lamb.

2009 Root: 1 Carmenere, Colchagua Valley, Chile $12

Carmenere is the hallmark of Chile and this sophisticated red is spicy, vibrant and packed with dark berry flavors. Root 1’s bottle is sleek-chic making it a top gift choice, too.

2008 Dow “Vale Do Bomfim,” Douro, Portugal $12

Portugal is offering some of the best red bargains these days and this dry, concentrated red is the perfect partner for summer grilling.

2008 Liberty School Cuvee, Central Coast, California $12

From the talented hands of vintner Austin Hope, this Rhone blend highlights the succulence of Syrah-based reds. Sip with or without your bikini.

Please check out my previous Today Show BITES about Wine on Tap and Exotic White Wines for Spring.

Cheers! Celebrate mom with wine

Leslie’s piece from Today Show Bites on May 4th, which complimented her Today Show appearance on May 4th.

She’s a cook, a cleaner, a homemaker, an executive, a chauffeur, a caretaker, and more. Above all, she’s your mom. So with Mother’s Day this weekend, it’s time to raise a glass to the amazing moms in your life.

Favorites to share

Everyone has their go-to wines that rank at the top of their sip picks. Two that appeal to many (including Kathie Lee and Hoda) are bubbly and Chardonnay. My recommendations are top-notch but not top dollar.

La Marca Prosecco, Northern Italy $16

Celebrating your mom calls for bubbles. This chic and stylishly packaged wine is new to the market and is making a splash for its quality and affordability. Crisp with a fruity edge, sip it alone or use for morning Bellinis with a dash of peach juice.

2008 Sonoma-Cutrer Chardonnay, Sonoma, California $24

Sonoma is known for its world-class Chardonnay and this wine is sure to please. Sonoma-Cutrer is widely recognized as one of the leaders of Chardonnay in this country. It’s elegant and filled with personality … just like mom.

Wine and Food suggestions

Whether you’re planning on brunch at home or taking mom out, you’ll want to look for wines that pair well with a variety of spring dishes. With these adventurous choices, it’s like a virtual worldwide wine tour in a glass.

2009 Dama De Toro Malvasia, Toro, Spain $11

Named for the “dame” of the rugged region of Toro in Spain, this light white is dry and refreshing and an ideal pairing for food. There are notes of pear and honeysuckle and it marries beautifully with fruit salads, egg frittatas and croissants with peach jam.

2009 Nobilo “Icon” Pinot Noir, Marlborough, New Zealand $22

Pinot is a food-friendly grape and the epitome of elegance. This vinous jewel, from a Kiwi Country classic producer, sports pretty perfume aromas and juicy red berry fruit flavors, which will pair well with everything from ham to roast chicken.

Chocolate Shop, Washington State $12

What’s mom’s day without a little decadence? This Merlot is not overly sweet, but has an infusion of dark chocolate. When paired with chocolate it’s pure heaven. Served alongside my discovery below, it’s an extra healthy hit for your heart (red wine, olive oil and dark chocolate, right?)

Try it with Poco Dolce Olive Oil and Sea Salt Chocolate. This dark chocolate from a small San Francisco-based chocolatier is made with sea salt and olive oil. It melts in your mouth with a creaminess I haven’t tasted before. You will fall in love.

Gift wines with a feminine twist

Splurge on mom a bit with these unique wines to make her feel special.

2006 Fall Creek “Meritus” Hill Country, Texas $34

Fall Creek is owned by the First lady of Texas wine Susan Auler and her husband. This lush, complex Cabernet blend is a world-class example at a surprisingly good price. This is available nationally, but is made in all 50 states, so seek out your local wine and treat mom to a special bottle from her hometown.

2008 Marilyn Merlot, Napa Valley, California $29

This is glamour in a glass, and celebrates the 24th vintage of the Marilyn Merlot wine and a screen icon. The supple, sexy red comes adorned with a collectible photo of the lovely lady. If your mom is a movie buff, add a Marilyn film (my favorite is “Some Like it Hot”) and even a boa for her to wear the whole day to feel like a star.

Valentine’s Day Sipping

Cupid is drawing back his arrow and it’s almost time to shoot. What will be in your glass when his bow goes? Will it be Champagne? Belgian beer? A shot of agave? Let us know what you’re pouring February 14th and we’ll share with the Thirsty Girls.

Here are my suggestions for sexy wine jewels that shimmer and shine.

Sparkling Stars under $20

What would Valentine’s Day be without bubbles? A popping cork revs up the mood meter fast. We all know about true Champagne from the Champagne region of France, but there are many other options for fabulous fizz at bargain prices. Try sparklers from other regions of France and Italy as well as those hailing from Spain and the southern hemisphere.


Secco Rose Italian Bubbles $12 secco

A newly-launched company by the beautiful Italian wife of Washington vintner Charles Smith, Ginevra and her sister Olivia began a bubbly company in honor of their Italian homeland. With two bottlings under their Gucci belts, they’re rocking it! Go girls.

Toad Hollow Vineyards “Risque” Blanquette de Limoux, France $16

This frog can-can and does-does when it comes to unique sparkling wine. Though a California based winery, Toad Hollow is bringing in sparkles from one of my favorite hidden gem areas, Limoux (lee-moo) in the south of France.

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

Made with Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes in true methode tradicional style, this alluring garnet-hued bubbly is a stellar buy. It delivers twice the quality for the price leaving you more money for your Valentine’s Day dinner.

Vigne Regali “Principessa Perlante” Gavi, Italy $17

Lightly sparkling and flatteringly fruity, this unique bubbly made from the Cortese grape is a star to seek out. I recommend pouring a glass while you’re getting dressed and another three while you’re getting undressed.

Graham Beck Brut Rose, South Africa $16principessa

From one of South Africa’s top producers, this Chardonnay/Pinot Noir based rose is a class act. Crisp and fresh, it’s a sipper with style.

Sweets for the sweet

These wines have varying levels of sweetness from delicately sweet to finger-lickingly sticky. Match up with a platter of dark chocolate, caramels with sea salt and chocolate covered strawberries then retire for the evening.

pacific rim framboisePacific Rim Framboise $14

This raspberry wine that can be sipped alone or pour a dash in your glass of bubbly kir-style for lovely pink color and dash of sex appeal. Think about drizzling over vanilla bean ice cream for a visual and taste treat.

2008 Paringa Sparkling Shiraz, South Australia $17

Deep purple and bubbly, sparkling shiraz is an Aussie export that will put you down under. What more could you ask for with dark chocolate? Good night mate.

Gonzales Byass “Nectar” Pedro Ximenez Sherry, Jerez Spain $19

Pronounced Pedro himenez named for the same grape variety, this deeply rich and sweet wine is like drinking pure chocolate. Decadent with a capital D. (tip: serve well chilled)

2009 Weingut Robert Weil Riesling Tradition, Rheingau, Germany $28

With a whisper of sweetness, this elegant, sheer white is a stunner with lightly sweet fruit tarts or soft cheeses. Even if you think you don’t like Riesling, you will fall in love with this wine when Cupid’s arrow strikes.

Taylor Fladgate 20 Year Old Tawny Porto, Portugal $50

My favorite Ports are tawny. These wood aged beauties have an amber (or tawny) color and showcase spice, caramel and orange peel aromas. Paired with just the right amount of sweetness, the Taylor Fladgate is a classic sexy sipper.