The Wine Goddess, my beautiful wife Mary Lee, is going all out this July 4 in honor of my 65th birthday (which occurred in May) and taking me on a Bordeaux wine river cruise.

We'll be traveling on the Viking Longboat Forseti with 190 other grape enthusiasts, cruising on the Gironde, Dordogne and Garonne rivers.

There are stops on the Right Bank (St. Emillion, Pomerol, Liborne) and Left Bank (Saint-Estephe, Saint-Julien, Pauillac) and a whole lot more.

We'll also be celebrating the arrival of a recent letter from the Wine Scholar Guild in Washington, D.C., notifying me that I've passed the Unit 1 exam of the Italian Wine Scholar program. I scored an 88 on the 100-question test (the passing score is 75), and now move on to Unit 2 classes beginning in December with five other successful candidates.

So I'm thrilled about this Bucket List trip and want to express my deepest gratitude -- and fawning love -- for the Wine Goddess for this dream come true.

Viva La France!

Of course, we're leaving the Wine Butler (Mike Pigeon) in charge of the household, where he'll contend 24/7 with the Lioness of the Lilly Gardens -- Bella the cat.

Bella, in turn, will be keeping close watch on Mike, making sure he feeds her twice a day, changes the drinking water daily, lets her nap outside on the deck, and brushes her before bedtime.

She'll also make sure the Wine Butler only polishes the bottles stashed in the wine cellar -- instead of popping the corks. (Tip: Bella's very protective of the Luigi Baudana Barolo, but is easily bribed with Frisky treats to ignore the Speri Amarone.


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It should be a fun week for the reunion of these two old pals.

I recently discovered a fascinating wine that is truly an all-American gift for Independence Day celebrations -- Robert Mondavi Private Selection Barrel-Aged Cabernet Sauvignon. The California wine captures all the freshness of black cherry and blackberry fruit, and is enhanced by the subtle layers of caramel, vanilla and candied chocolate. The complexity comes from the wine being aged in Kentucky bourbon barrels.

What could be more American than that?

Jason Dodge, Mondavi's winemaker, displays a deft hand with just the right touch of "bourbon" infused oak. It gives this inky-colored wine a lush, velvety smooth mouthfeel and long finish.

Naturally, this Mondavi Cabernet pairs spectacularly with grilled bourbon-glazed steaks and ribs, sausages and burgers. We enjoyed it with thick, juicy sirloins sprinkled with tangy barbecue sauce.

Now here's the kicker: The Robert Mondavi Bourbon-aged Cabernet Sauvignon is now on sale in New Hampshire for $12.99 a bottle. It's a holiday bargain that will surely spark up your July 4th celebration.

Several other red wines to consider for your holiday cookouts follow.

Klinker Brick Old Vine Zinfandel, $16.99: Rich, full-bodied red fruit taste with a white pepper kick.

The Federalist 1776 Zinfandel, $15.99: Ben Franklin's on the label in this spirited -- and spicy -- treat. A burger lover's favorite.

J. Lohr Falcon's Perch Pinot Noir, $14.99: J. Lohr is a great wine producer for the working guy and gal. A lot of cherry-strawberry taste at an appealing price.

Contour Pinot Noir 2014, $12.99: This easy-drinking California wine scored 91 points from Wine Enthusiast so I tried it. Needless to say, it's a superb buy.

14 Hands Winery Cabernet Sauvignon, $9.99: How does this Washington State winery do it? There's ripe Columbia Valley fruit in this bottle and it sets off fireworks on the palate. Run with it.

Purple Heart Red Wine, Napa Valley, $16.99: This is one of my favorites. It's made by Vietnam veteran and leading winemaker Ray Coursen, who began his career as a bartender on Cape Cod years ago. You get a rush of juicy plums and black currant fruit, plus it's smooth as silk. The Peter Mondavi Sr. Family produces this wine and gives a portion of the proceeds to the Purple Heart Foundation, which provides services to the families of Purple Heart recipients.