Vino 101: What happens in the vineyard?

10 Apr

Remember back in kindergarten when you went on the spring farm field trip? No? I’ll fill you in. Once upon a time when Señorita Vino was just a chiquita, a big yellow school bus drove me and my fellow little suburbanites to a working farm where we got to see baby chicks, orange trees, and a cow about to give birth. My best friend Wendy stepped in a large pile of–okay, I think you get the picture.

Spring is here, chicas y chicos, a reminder that wine begins on an agricultural farm–the vineyard. And unless that vineyard is managed by an expert, you’ll end up with wine that is mediocre at best, crappy at worst.

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How do you make sure the grapes you’re growing produce quality wine? It would take at least 10 blog posts to answer this question, but some of the big factors are vineyard location, soil, climate, aspect and vineyard management. Today we’re going to focus on the latter.

This two-and-a-half minute video on vineyard management is like a kindergarten farm field trip for grown-ups, minus the cow chips. You’ll get a basic explanation of vine management from a source who is easy to understand.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SCE2kHvJ-xM

A few points for clarity before you watch the video:

“Root stock” is the root system from which the grapevine grows. The roots of most wine grapes are vulnerable to diseases from pests, so the root stock from a resistant species of grape gets planted in the ground, and the actual wine grapevine  is grafted onto it. A super-simple example: Let’s say that an underground bug really loves to devour tangerine tree roots, but they hate lemon tree roots. To grow tangerines, you’d plant lemon tree roots in the ground, and then graft or attach the tangerine tree to the lemon tree stump and root system.

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Remember that if a vine has too many grape clusters on it, they all have to share the nutrients provided by the vine and they may not ripen very well. The fewer clusters you have, the more nutrients and concentrated flavors each cluster gets.  The more concentrated the flavors, the better the quality of wine. That’s why vine training and controlling fruit load is so important.

Now that you have a basic idea about vineyard management, celebrate spring by visiting a vineyard. I know we usually go to wineries to taste wine, but if you take a moment to walk through the vineyard (ask permission first, or better yet, take a tour), I promise you’ll have a better appreciation for what’s in your glass. ¡Salud!

 

¡Mucho Gusto! Get to know Soave

4 Apr

Feliz Friday, beautiful people! I bet you didn’t know that helping Señorita Vino ace her WSET Level III Advanced exam was on your to-do list today. I’m scrambling to learn my Italian wines this weekend, and writing this month’s ¡Mucho Gusto! post is actually helping me organize my thoughts on Soave, Italy’s most important white wine.

So sit back and pour yourself a refreshing glass of Soave tonight.  Your friends will be impressed with your knowledge, and I am eternally grateful for the opportunity to use you as my virtual study group. ¡Salud!

This grapes used in this Soave Classico were grown in 100 percent volcanic soil.

This grapes used in this Soave Classico were grown in 100 percent volcanic soil.

HOLA, ME LLAMO: Soave is an Italian white wine made from the Garganega grape.

MY ROOTS: Soave is the name of a zone in the Veneto region of northeastern Italy. In 1968, Soave was given a DOC designation, or Denominazione di Origine Controllata. A DOC means that those wines are considered high quality under European wine laws. As for the grape itself, it is mentioned as early as 1304 in the works of the Italian Petrus Crescentiis, perhaps the world’s first wine writer. Grapes grown in the hillside regions of Soave’s Classico zone are said to produce the highest quality wines.

ALL ABOUT ME: Soave DOC is a dry white wine. It should be noted that for a while, Soave was considered pretty “meh.” That changed in 2002 with various DOCG designations. In essence, DOCG grants “best of the best” status to Italian wines made in that region. So back to Soave…if you’ve got a quality Soave on the palate, you’re going to taste green plums, almonds and a touch of citrus. You’ll also pick up some lovely minerality and chamomile flowers.  Recioto di Soave is made from dried Garganega grapes, so if you’re sipping Recioto, it’s going to be decadently sweet. In a good way, of course.

FOODS I LOVE: Soave is a textbook example of pairing wine with foods from the same region. The Veneto’s eastern boundary is the Adriatic Sea, a reminder that a textbook example of an Italian city, Venice, is part of the Veneto region. Serve Soave with seafood pasta dishes, shellfish, shrimp scampi, and just about any kind of fish. It’s also great with a cheese plate. For a Latin twist, pair it with chupe de camarones (a Peruvian seafood chowder), chicken tamales or menudo.

DO TRY THIS AT HOME: Soave generally won’t break the bank. The wine pictured above sells for $13.99 but tastes like a more expensive wine. You may see some Soaves in the $30 range, but you’ll find quite a bit in the $15-$17 range. Recommended labels include Roberto Anselmi, Umberto Portinari, Fratelli Pasqua and Inama.

Is there a wine you really want to get to know? Share it in the comments and you may see it in a future ¡Mucho Gusto!

 

 

#CesarChavez and the fruit of the vine

27 Mar

Chicos y chicas, Monday is Cesar Chavez Day, and in honor of his birthday on March 31, I’m re-blogging a post about the United Farm Workers, the labor union he founded. By the way, you can catch the new Cesar Chavez movie, in theaters this weekend! And no, I’m not getting paid to promote the film (de nada, Pantelion Films). Here’s the trailer: 

 

…and here’s the blog post!

In one of my favorite scenes from the movie “Sideways,” Virginia Madsen’s character waxes rhapsodic about wine. Among the many things wine evokes for her are thoughts of the people who picked the grapes.

Image courtesy of Work Permit via Wikimedia Commons

Image courtesy of Work Permit via Wikimedia Commons

 

United Farm Workers (UFW), the labor union founded by Cesar Chavez in 1962, celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2012.

It would be disingenuous of me not to mention that the topic of labor unions is a touchy issue for some gente. Regardless of where you stand, we’re all rooted in the same vast vineyard of humanity, and this post is presented in the spirit of learning about one chapter in the history of a movement that has had an impact on the wine industry.

One historical point that many wine lovers may not be aware of is that Cesar Chavez himself was a fan of red wine. Perhaps even less known is that the UFW made its own wine six years ago to commemorate what would have been their founder’s 81st birthday. Black Eagle Wines takes its name from the stylized bird on the UFW’s logo.

Image courtesy of UFW.

Image courtesy of UFW.

Although the wine is no longer available for purchase, the union has a limited reserve that it continues to pour at its banquets and special events. A Sauvignon Blanc, a Merlot and a Cabernet Sauvignon were released under the label. At the time the wines hit the market, a spokesperson for the UFW noted that their target customers were young Latino professionals whose parents may have been farm workers.

Today, Cesar Chavez is credited by some not only for establishing better working conditions for farm laborers, but for starting a movement that would inspire hundreds of thousands of workers across various industries in the U.S. to seek better lives for themselves and their families.

So the next time you raise a toast, take a moment to think of everyone who played a role in producing the elixir in your glass, a liquid masterpiece that has been enjoyed for thousands of years by billions of people, our predecessors in the great vineyard of life. ¡Salud!

Happy #StPatricksDay – Green #wine?

17 Mar

Chicos y chicas, here’s an oldie but a goodie that’s still very relevant on St. Patrick’s Day. May the camino rise up  to meet you, and may el sol shine warm upon your face!

Poor St. Patrick. A lifetime of saintly deeds, and all he gets in return is an annual drinking holiday. Tonight, millions will don plastic leprechaun hats while bobbing in a virtual sea of green beer, all in the name of Ireland’s patron saint. Which brings us to the topic of green wine.  In the spirit of St. Patty’s Day, Señorita Vino proudly presents her official primer on ‘green’ wine.

“Green beer? Really?”

1. Vinho Verde

You guessed right, chicos y chicas. ‘Vinho Verde’ is Portuguese for ‘green wine.’ But this Portuguese wine is not green in color. ‘Green’ in this case is referring to youthfulness (see number 2 below), so the correct translation would be ‘young wine.’ Vinho Verde wines can be white, red or rosé. The key is to drink this wine soon after you buy it, because it’s not meant to be aged. A white Vinho Verde tends to be light (a lower alcohol content), crisp (high acidity) and wonderfully floral. Sip a glass as you’re painting your nails green.

2. Youthful Exhuberance

White wine gets darker in color as it ages. In a very young white wine, you may be able to detect a subtle greenish tinge. We’re not talking kelly green, but  a pale yellow with just a hint of greenness. The next time you’re drinking a white wine from an early vintage (2010, 2011), hold your glass against a white piece of paper and you’ll see what I’m talking about. Pretty cool, huh?

3. Organic Wine

This is a topic that stirs a lot of debate, so for the purposes of our ‘green’ theme, we’ll keep it simple. Generally speaking, organic wine in the U.S. is wine made from grapes grown according to organic standards established by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. In other words, no chemical pesticides or fertilizers are used, among other organic farming practices. Rules about organic winemaking–or what happens in the winery once the grapes are harvested–vary from state to state. What matters is that drinking organic wine is an individual choice only you and your tastebuds can decide.  I have tasted both organic and non-organic wines, and have had excellent and so-so wines in each category.

4. Green foods and the wines that love them

What would a green wine discussion be without a pairing of wine with verde-colored victuals? For your St. Patty’s Day dining pleasure, here are some wines you can drink with your favorite emerald-toned comidas:

Green salad with avocados: Choose a lighter white wine such as a dry Riesling. The wine’s natural acidity will ‘cut’ the fat of the avocados.

Chile verde:  Here’s where a medium-bodied Zinfandel would complement the meat (and heat!) in this dish.

Green cupcakes: A sweet dessert wine would pair much better with green cupcakes than a pint o’ green Guiness. Just sayin’. Be  sure the wine is sweeter than the dessert. Go for a Moscato or a sparkling Brachetto.

5. If you really must go there…

I believe in freedom of choice, but I also believe that friends don’t let friends put green food coloring in white wine. Yes, that’s me editorializing. However you decide to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, take this bit o’ wisdom to the pub with you on Saturday:

“Wine comes in at the mouth and love comes in at the eye; that’s all we shall know for truth…”

-William Butler Yeats, Irish playwright and poet

Meet the wine lover: Chef Ricardo Zarate

12 Mar

Darlings, it’s been a mad March, and I’m not even a basketball fan. Señorita Vino is swamped in projects this week, so here’s a re-blog of an interview from last year with Peruvian chef Ricardo Zarate, the force behind two of LA’s most hip and happening Peruvian restaurants. ¡Buen provecho! (That’s Spanish for bon apétit!)

It’s not every day that a fellow peruano gets voted “Best New Chef” by Food & Wine magazine. Lucky Angelenos are reminded how Lima-born Ricardo Zarate earned his 2011 title each time they dine at his two L.A. Peruvian restos, Picca and Mo-Chica. Chef Zarate chatted with Señorita Vino about his passion for vino and why every day is the perfect day for a special-occasion wine.

Photo courtesy of Picca.
Photo courtesy of Picca.

SENORITA VINO: What’s your favorite wine?

RICARDO ZARATE: I like ceviche, and Sauvignon Blanc is one of the best wines for this dish. I love Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc. It’s so aromatic. If I want something fancy, I’ll pick a Sancerre.

SV: Besides Malbec and Torrontés, which wines would you pair with the most popular Peruvian dishes?

RZ: In the U.S., Malbec and Torrontes are two of the most available South American wines. I like Argentine wines because they get good mileage when paired with Peruvian cuisine. Malbec is light-bodied and not too rich. South American cuisine is rich in flavor, so you don’t want a wine that’s too rich.  I would add New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, and Chilean whites are good with Peruvian food.

SV: Will we ever see the day when Peruvian wines compete on the global stage?

RZ: Peru makes some great wines, but because they’re small-vineyard wines, you rarely–if ever–see them outside Peru.  The majority of grapes grown in Peru are used in making Pisco. I think at one point wine will become bigger because Peruvian cuisine is moving toward fine dining, and fine dining needs a fine drink like wine. It may be 10 years before we see more quality wines coming out of Peru.

SV: What advice would you give someone who is not well-versed in wine and may feel intimidated by it?

RZ: I used to go to restaurants and I’d see a French wine and get instantly intimidated. I’d think, “My God, I  don’t know what I’m doing!” When you order wine in a restaurant, you have the option to taste it first. The more you taste, the more you learn what grapes you like. California is a fantastic place to live. Go wine tasting in Napa Valley with your boyfriend or girlfriend, and make it a hobby or something you do just for fun.

SV: Do you have a favorite memory associated with wine?

RZ: When I was 20 I received a really expensive bottle of wine as a gift. All I can recall is that it was worth a couple thousand dollars. I decided to save it for a special occasion.

Soon after, I moved to London for work. One night I went out drinking with a good friend, and he overdid it and asked to stay on my couch. My wine collection was out in the living room where he [would be sleeping]. My friend wanted to keep drinking, so I told him he could open any bottle except for that one, and then I said goodnight.

The next morning, I saw that he had opened the expensive bottle. I was furious! I figured it was ruined since it had been left open overnight. So I sat him down and said, “We’re going to finish this bottle.” The wine was perfect, and my anger disappeared.

A few years after I left London, I learned that my friend had died in an accident. The night we drank the wine was the last time I saw him, so it was all meant to happen. The special occasion ended up being the night I drank a great wine with a good friend.

See you in Pasadena this Sunday, March 9 @FWCTasting. Get your Señorita Vino discount before March 8!

5 Mar

This one’s short and sweet, chicas y chicos. Family Winemakers of California is comin’ to town this Sunday, March 9. Grab your BFF and get ready to taste some vino!

If you’re in the L.A. area, make your way to Pasadena for this tasting of wines made from 200-plus California winemakers. I’m happy to offer a 10 percent discount if you order your tickets online through the Family Winemakers of California website. Your magical discount code is: SENORITAVINO (all one word, not case sensitive).

It’s all happening at the Pasadena Convention Center this Sunday, March 9 from 3:30 to 6 p.m.

Make sure you register by March 8 to receive the discount. More details and a registration link are on my  Events page. ¡Salud and see you there!  

 
Photo credit: Joey Hernandez
Photo credit: Joey Hernandez

 

Drink along with the 86th annual #AcademyAwards

27 Feb

Darlings, Señorita Vino is in deadline hell. Can someone throw me a lifeline? As in a glass of wine?

Because I’m bogged down with work (a positive problem, I’m told), and because the Oscars® are this Sunday, March 2, I get to regale you with the (edited) contents of a press release that came across my wine-stained desk from the team in charge of publicizing the libations that will be poured at this year’s awards ceremony.

Add a little cinema verité to your Academy Awards party and drink along with the stars. Here are the wines and cocktails your favorite celebs will be sipping this year. Let’s hope Jennifer Lawrence doesn’t fall this time. And may the best wine–I mean, picture–win. [COMMENTS IN BRACKETS ARE MY OWN].

©A.M.P.A.S.

©A.M.P.A.S.

Sterling Vineyards will once again provide the fine wines poured at the Oscars telecast and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ Governors Ball. This year, Sterling is joined at the bar by a selection of world class spirits from the Diageo Luxury Brands portfolio in a customized experience created exclusively for the Oscars.

A selection of four Sterling Vineyards wines and a handcrafted Johnnie Walker cocktail will welcome guests of the Oscars.  Following the Awards telecast, party-goers at the Governors Ball will be dazzled by The Glamour Shot, a chic concoction featuring new Baileys Vanilla Cinnamon mixed with Goldschläger® Cinnamon Schnapps and served in a glass rimmed with edible flakes of real gold [A GREAT OPPORTUNITY TO REMIND FOLKS THAT I DO ACCEPT PRODUCT SAMPLES].

In a nod to Old Hollywood, guests can savor a Blood and Sand, a classic whisky-based cocktail originally created for the premiere of the1922 Valentino movie of the same name, or sip the supremely modern CÎROC Coco Light Martini.  The calorie-conscious  CÎROC cocktail has less than 130 calories [FINALLY--A COCKTAIL I CAN INPUT GUILT-FREE ON "MY FITNESS PAL"].

 Scotch enthusiasts attending the Governors Ball will be delighted to discover the Johnnie Walker Scotch Whisky Bar, stocked with a range of deluxe whiskies, and featuring rare blends including Johnnie Walker Platinum Label and Johnnie Walker Blue Label, poured over hand carved ice. [TO THE GUESTS ATTENDING MY OWN OSCARS PARTY--SORRY, I DON'T DO CARVED ICE, BUT THERE WILL BE CARDBOARD OSCAR STATUETTE CUT-OUTS. JUST DON'T GET THEM WET.]

 To pair with Chef Wolfgang Puck’s spectacular and varied menu of more than 50 selections of imaginative hors d’oeuvres [I'LL BE SERVING TWO IMAGINATIVE HORS D'OEUVRES. WOLFGANG'S SUCH AN OVER-ACHEIVER!], small plate entrees and desserts, Sterling Vineyards’ 2010 Reserve Chardonnay and 2008 Reserve Cabernet will be served.

SPOILER ALERT: I received this press release after my own annual Academy Awards dinner party was planned, therefore I admit that none of these wines or cocktails will be served chez Señorita Vino. But as they say in show biz, the fiesta must go on. ¡Salud!

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