I am just about packed for the long weekend and since my kids are insisting on coming on this family outing, I am bringing my wine.  I had to take out a whole stack of diapers to make room for it, but it is very important to prioritize.  A few years ago, my girlfriend and I were driving with our kids to a ski house.  A few miles away from our destination we started to talk about how much we were craving a glass of red … so much so that we could almost smell it.  Well, as it turns out, the heat in the car had so warmed a bottle of Cabernet that was behind the passenger seat, that the cork popped out and the wine leaked all over the car.  Learn from my mistakes.  Even on a two-hour car ride, store your wine safely — priorities.  If you are going to spend time with some friends or just curl up and watch some football this weekend, it is going to be cold. Light a fire and figure out what wines you are going to open. Depending on the food you are going to be eating, you can go in a few different directions.

1 – Lets start with what most people think is taboo…Winter White.  If you can wear white in the winter, you can drink white wines. Chardonnay comes to mind as the most powerful. If you want to stick with a California wine, try Rombauer Chardonnay. It is a pretty big, buttery chardonnay that you can pick up for under $30. Good with chowders, chili, mashed potatoes…you get the idea.

2- Zinfandel is not everyone’s first choice. In fact, it usually isn’t in the top 3 but people are missing out. If you are making spaghetti with meatballs or chicken/eggplant parmesan, Zins go very well. One of my favorites is from Lambert Bridge, a place I visited the last time I was in Sonoma. We are on their mailing list and drink their Zins often. They have some expensive wines but you can pick up one of their Dry Creek Valley Zinfandels for $40. You will be glad you did.

3 – Cold weather = Cabernet Sauvignon, doesn’t it? You cannot go wrong with one of the “king of the reds”.  Perfect with a good filet mignon or even a stew you might conjure up over a long weekend. You can take Cabernet in a few different directions. Here are a few ideas. You will do just fine if you go with a 2008 Bogle Cabernet for $10. Better than your typical $10 red wine. For around $23, you can pick up a Bennett Family Reserve Cab. Usually sells for north of $30, but I found it in my local wine store for $23. Great flavor and feels like a legit Cab. Lastly, you can take it to another level. Someone just gave us a bottle of 2005 Caymus Reserve as an anniversary gift. A wine like this should age for a while, but I thought 5 years was plenty and I was right. It will probably cost you about $90, but with the right friends, family or food…it is worth it.


Nothing makes a gathering feel more like a party than a tray of filled champagne glasses. Yet, even as I grab for one, I know that I will be paying for it with a headache in the morning.  But … it is worth it at least once a year.  What will you be drinking on the 31st?  Here are some champagne suggestions to get you started and possibly finish you off.

The good bubbly – Of course you can’t go wrong with Louis Roederer’s Cristal but if you want the good stuff and you want to try something different, serve Perrier-Jouet Rose Champagne.  Both of these will set you back a little but they are the best and you should treat yourself once in a while.  Drink these early in the night while your taste buds are still able to appreciate flavor.

The perfect bubbly – To me, the best part of picking out wine is finding one that is a great value — one that tastes like a million bucks but costs a lot less.  The same goes for Champagne.  You can get a decent value with a Moet & Chandon White Star for around $40.  It won’t break the bank, is very good, and will treat you well on Jan.1.  For another great value, check out J Cuvee Brut from J Vineyards for about $22.  A daughter from the Jordan winery runs this place in Sonoma and being that the grape does not fall far from the vine, you should enjoy it.

The mixing bubbly – You do not have to use the best bottles when you are making a champagne cocktail.  Of course, to avoid a hangover, don’t use the swill either.  Try Mumm Napa Brut for about $16 a bottle. There are cheaper ones on the shelves but, in good conscience, I just can’t go to a single digit sparkling wine even for mixing.  You want to start off 2011 on the right foot, not in front of the wrong bowl.   Click here for a classic Bellini and raspberry Bellini recipe — so very festive and fun.

The not so bubbly bubbly – If you want to ring in the new year in champagne style, but can’t tolerate all those bubbles, try a mellow Prosecca.  Drusian Prosecca is an organic option for $15 a bottle and is a little fruity.  Prosecco Zeta is a little more dry and may be easier to find at $16 a bottle.

The red bubbly – Yes … you can drink red champagne — although it isn’t called that — and it is great!  Try the Mollydooker Goosebumps Sparkling Shiraz from Australia which you should  be able to get for about $40.  Of course, you lose one of the best things about normal champagne which is that spills come right out of your rug.  If you are going to serve the Mollydooker, pick up some Red Wine Away as well.

Now you can fill your flute!  Remember, when you toast someone, look them straight in the eye.  This way they know you don’t want to kill them.  It’s true.  Look it up.


‘Tis the season for giving and toasting.  It is a great time to give wine, serve wine and drink wine.  I am no expert.  I can’t even pronounce sommelier (just had to double check the spelling in fact) so when I need help in a restaurant, I just stare at the wine list with an intelligently confused look on my face until one comes over.  I am not sure of aromas and finish but I know what I like and I can appreciate a good wine at a good value.

Here are five great wines to bring with you to someone else’s party or to provide at your own.  I’ve included five different varietals and each one offers a good, basic, and uncomplicated taste that is sure to please most.

Howling Moon Pinot Noir — I just discovered this one and at $14 a bottle, am a huge fan.  It drinks like a Syrah and has a really cool name and label.

2006 Sequoia Grove Napa Vally Cabernet Sauvignon — A lot of cabs make me feel like my tongue is hairy but not this one.  My disclaimer is that my husband knows the winemaker, Michael Trujillo, but that is not why I am recommending it.  In a good steakhouse, you would pay $80 -90 but you can buy a bottle for $30.  It is a big cab but delicious and drinkable.

2007 Cantina Zaccaguini Montepulciano – It is better known in my town as “the stick wine.”  It earned this clever nickname because there is an actual stick tied to the bottle and no one can pronounce its God-given name.  It tastes really good and is only $12 a bottle.  More importantly, get this, everyone swears that you do not get a hangover from it.  I cannot confirm or deny because every time I have had it, I have mixed my alcohols.  Maybe I’ll do a real test one of these days.

2008 Ritratti Pinot Grigio – Do not get sucked into buying “Santa Margherita” at $20-25.  Ritratti tastes better and costs only $14 a bottle.  A wine guy in Manhattan turned me onto it and, second only to “drink a big glass of water before you go to bed,” I consider it to be the best piece of advice anyone has ever given me.

2008 Edna Valley Chardonnay – At $15 a bottle, it is a really good, not too oaky, not too sweet chard that any white wine drinker should like.

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