Last Thursday night I drank wine in my friend Mary’s living room. (Nothing unusual about that, right?) What was different on this particular evening, however, is this: A wine salesperson poured each wine, gave a little talk about the winery and – after we’d sipped our way through a batch – passed out order forms. If you’ve been to a Pampered Chef or Lia Sophia party you know exactly how this goes. Participants don’t pay a fee at the door. While they are encouraged to buy wine, I can tell you that this is more thrilling to me than, well, another garlic press or food-storage container, or yet another necklace. Plus, you just can’t match the comfort of someone’s living room. PRP Wine International ( is a company that’s been hosting in-home tastings for years, in just eight states (including Wisconsin). All of the wines, which are exclusive to PRP, cost under $40, with many between $20-$35. I walked out of Mary’s house with an order for a bottle of 2011 Duca d’Amalfi White Wine (Amalfi Coast, Italy, $20), an off-dry crisp and refreshing wine I can’t wait to uncork some night soon. (Bonus: it was delivered the next day.)

With the Academy Awards just around the corner, it’s only fitting that a winery owned by an Oscar-winning director (Francis Ford Coppola) be thrust into the spotlight. This week Ray’s Wine & Spirits in Wauwatosa is slashing the price on bottles of 2011 Francis Ford Coppola Winery Rosso (Lodi, Calif.), a juicy blend of Zinfandel, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petite Sirah. Normally $12, it’s now $6.99. Call 414-258-9821 to lay your claim on a bottle. (

Even if you’re happily coupled up, Valentine’s Day can feel amateurish. The Iron Horse Hotel puts a new spin on the lovers’ holiday this year. Branded, the industrial-chic bar (there are drafting chairs!) off the lobby, will host a pared-down version of Smyth’s (more on that later) “Love Bites” menu with four sassily named small plates ($6 each or two for $9) designed for singles, or groups of girlfriends, maybe even couples that want to cut out the riff-raff. For an extra fee, two wines (2011 Hanna Sauvignon Blanc, Russian River, California; and 2009 Champalou Vouvray La Cuvee des Fondraux, Loire, France) are paired with kimchee with a fried-egg sandwich (or bacon-wrapped dates) for the “Single” plate. For the “Flying Solo” option you can expect a glass of 2011 Chateau de Lamarque Rosé, St. Gilles, France and 2011 Sonoma-Cutrer Vineyards Chardonnay, Russian River Ranch, California, with either a lobster roll or hickory-smoked bacon-wrapped dates stuffed with goat cheese. Now, at Smyth, this is where it gets couples-oriented. Charging $120 per person, you get a seven-course menu with two options for each course, including a wine, beginning with “Foreplay” (oysters on the half shell or a lamb-lettuce salad). I’ve got my eye on the “Get a Room” final course: chocolate, curry and spicy nuts; or lavender custard baked brioche matched with Frangelico or Pedro Ximenez sherry (Spain).

A new year means a new wine. Folie a Deux just released its first Pinot Noir: 2011 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir (Sonoma County, California, $20) and it’s firmly in the “easy-drinking” camp. Expect lush raspberry notes; some dark, briary fruit towards the finish; and an overall softness interlaced with baking spices that lingers on the palate. I could see this being drank alongside a chocolate dessert, vegetable-rich entrée or mushrooms (to bring out Pinot Noir’s trademark earthiness, which is especially prominent in this wine). (