Happy #TempranilloDay! Fun facts and #food pairing tips for this popular Spanish #wine

12 Nov

Chicas y chicos, today is Tempranillo Day, and in this “Mucho Gusto” post from 2014, you’ll have all the fun facts you’ll need to impress your friends–and your palate–with your knowledge of one of Spain’s most popular vinos. A shout-out to the fine folks at Rioja Wine for providing the bee-you-tee-ful graphic featured in this post. 

My favorite wine anecdote is one I could share during one of those silly business “icebreakers” where you have to tell a group of complete strangers your most embarrassing moment. I was talking vino at a party with some people I’d just met and I mentioned a Tempranillo I had tried at a new tapas bar that had opened nearby. Being a Latina, I pronounced the word “tapas” with a native Spanish accent.

I started getting uncomfortable looks from the others, and finally one of them cleared his throat and said, “Um, you go to topless bars?”

For the record, I do not, but if you ever find yourself at a Spanish-themed topless bar–or at a restaurant with an eclectic wine list–here’s all you need to know about Tempranillo.

Image courtesy of Rioja Wine.

Image courtesy of Rioja Wine.

HOLA, ME LLAMO: Tempranillo, a red wine, gets its name from the Spanish word temprano, which means early (the grape ripens early). Depending on where you are, Tempranillo goes by a host of aliases: Cencibel, Ull de Lliebre, Tinto del País or Tinto del Toro in other regions of Spain; Tinta Roriz or Tinta Aragones in Portugal; and Tempranilla in Argentina.

MY ROOTS: Tempranillo’s birthplace is the Rioja region of Spain, but some folks think that it was brought there by French monks who were making the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela. Tempranillo is the core grape of red Rioja wines, where it’s often blended with Garnacha. It’s also one of the main red grapes in Ribera del Duero, where it’s been used for more than 100 years at the prestigious Vega Sicilia winery. Today, Tempranillo is grown in Mexico, California, Italy, Argentina, Australia and South Africa.

ALL ABOUT ME: If you like cherry and plum on the palate, you’ll enjoy Tempranillo. Grapes that were grown in iron-rich soil may show some iron-mineral notes. When it’s aged, Tempranillo displays beautiful caramel, tobacco and tea leaf aromas. This is a dry wine with medium tannins, medium alcohol and medium to high acidity.

FOODS I LOVE: Break out the jamón serrano and the chorizo. Tempranillo is dreamy with a charcuterie plate, and if you happen to be at a tapas bar, it’s a great match for croquetas (ham croquettes), meatballs in tomato sauce and pinches (lamb or pork kabobs). Tempranillo is also tasty with roasted lamb and Indian food.

DO TRY THIS AT HOME: A bottle of Tempranillo can cost anywhere from $10 to $300. Some budget-friendly wines worth trying include: Luis Alegre Koden 2011, Sancho Barón 2009, Lar de Sotomayor Vendimia Seleccoinada 2010, and from Mexico, Alximia Alma 2012.

Something to ponder as you sip your next glass of Tempranillo: You can enjoy Tempranillo and still keep your top on, while getting your tapas on.


#Wine pairings for your #DiaDeLosMuertos feast (and remembering mom)

29 Oct

One of the things I adore about my culture is el Día de los Muertos, or the Day of the Dead. It’s said that each year on Nov. 1 and 2, the souls of the dead return to earth to spend 48 hours with their loved ones. I recently wrote a story for Latina Magazine’s TheLatinKitchen.com about wine pairings for traditional Día de los Muertos dishes.

I dedicate this post in loving memory of my Great Uncle Victor, whose dry wit and prankster tendencies are still alive and well in my world. Tío, que en paz descances. Siempre te recuerdo.

As some of you may recall, I lost my mother a year ago this month, and at the time I didn’t have the strength to make a Día de los Muertos altar for her; it was all too raw and too painful.

This year is different, and I will be assembling an altar for her this weekend. As I gather the sugar skulls, light the candles, place the November issue of Vanidades magazine on the altar along with Mounds candy bars (her favorite), her dragonfly pins and her vintage bottle of Chanel No. 5 perfume, I will contemplate what we’ll chat about once her soul completes the long journey from the other side to my living room.

I’ll tell her about how I thought of her each moment I was in Germany this summer, and how I imagined she could see the Rhine river through my eyes. I will ask her if it was she who made the church bells chime the “Ode to Joy” the second after I completed the transaction for the watch I bought in her memory at a tiny jewelry store in Bonn’s old town.

I’ll tell how last year, three days after her funeral as I was walking to the College of Business building at school to take an economics midterm, I was certain the dragonfly that appeared on the path ahead of me was her sending me luck and reminding me of what she always used to say when I was nervous about a test: “Ya te lo sabes,” or you already know it.

I’ll tell her not to worry about Dad, that he’s doing much better and actually took the initiative last week to find a widow and widower’s support group.

I’ll thank her for the new inner strength I’ve gained since she passed, and how I feel as if I’m channeling her no-nonsense, tough-as-nails attitude each time I handle a challenging situation at work or in life with grace and poise.

I’ll ask her if she was sad that Sábado Gigante went off the air, whether she was irked that Sweden’s prince married the girl who was a former exotic dancer, and if she is as enamored of Kate and Will’s new little princess as I am. I’ll also tell her how I miss gossiping about royals with her, an obsession that was passed along to me in her DNA.

Finally, I’ll ask her if she’s noticed how hard I’m trying to be a better person, to be generous, more understanding, more tolerant, more brave, and seizing opportunities before they evaporate into regrets.

Mom, you left a void in your wake, but you also left us with a legacy to improve ourselves, to aspire to find the good in life in the darkest of times, and to always aim for the top, because mediocrity is never an option. I love you, I miss you, I will always carry you in my heart.

Alximia Winery of Baja California #HispanicHeritageMonth

8 Oct

If you grew up in Southern California, chances are you spent at least one spring break weekend terrorizing the Baja California town of Ensenada with your frat brothers (or sorority sisters). What you may not have realized then is that Ensenada is an intellectual center and home to the Autonomous University of Baja California, Mexico, where winemaker Alvaro Alvarez studied physics.

Alvarez went on to pursue a master’s in math at UC Santa Cruz. As if studying permutations and number theory weren’t enough, he decided to do a little microbrewing on the side. Fast-forward to today, and Alvarez and his astronomer father are at the helm of Alximia (pronounced al-SHEE-mee-uh) Vino Elemental in Baja California’s Guadalupe Valley.

‘Alximia’ is inspired by the Spanish word for alchemy, and if you visit Alximia, you’ll swear some otherworldly force transported the spaceship-like winery from a galaxy far away and planted it among the vineyards.

Image courtesy of AlXimia Vino Elemental

Image courtesy of AlXimia Vino Elemental

As if by magic, Alximia came to my neck of the woods in the form of Manuel Alvarez, Alvaro’s younger brother and the man who does the marketing for the family winery here in the U.S. Manuel was kind enough to arrange a private tasting of five of Alximia’s wines.

Manuel Alvarez and his family's wines.

Manuel Alvarez and his family’s wines.

We got all Salma Hayak and chose Lebanese food to pair with Mexican wines. As evidenced by Salma, the Mexican-Lebanese combo works. All of the wines I tasted were made with red varietals, which pair beautifully with traditional Lebanese dishes including lamb kabobs, eggplant and tomato spreads, and yes, hummus.

And because the wines are literally the product of a rocket scientist, it only makes sense that each is named after an element. By design, the food pairings for each wine relate to their respective element:

Alximia wines

Aura (now Aqua): Made from a blend of Petit Verdot, Zinfandel and Grenache, this wine is aged 12 months in French oak. And because the element is water, Manuel suggests pairing it with seafood.

Libis: The element is air. A blend of Petit Verdot, Zinfandel and Syrah, this wine pairs well with airborne comestibles such as chicken and duck.

Gaia: Named for the Earth goddess, this special edition wine is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Tempranillo and Syrah. I loved the violet aromas. This earthy wine pairs well with beef, pork and lamb.

Pira: Pira represents fire, and it’s 100 percent Barbera. Manuel recommends pairing it with meat that has been barbecued over an open flame.

Magma: You science geeks will know that magma is the blend of molten rocks and solids beneath the Earth’s surface. The wine is a less searing blend of Carignan and Grenache. With jammy plum aromas and a hint of chocolate, you can enjoy it with gamier meat such as venison and goat.


Stateside, you can find Alximia Vino Elemental at Whole Foods Market. If you’d rather have the full experience, visit the winery as part of a Guadalupe Valley wine road trip. Pocket protectors optional.

Raise a glass of #vino to #HispanicHeritageMonth

2 Oct

It’s Hispanic Heritage Month darlings, and to celebrate the occasion, I invite you to experience a taste of the Hispanic influence on the wine industry. This post originally appeared three years ago when I attended my second East LA Meets Napa event, a charity-oriented celebration of the Latino community’s contributions to food and wine in Los Angeles.

So pour yourself a hearty glass of Mexican Cabernet Sauvignon from Mexico’s Guadalupe Valley, and stay tuned for more stories about Hispanics and vino in the next couple of weeks.

Wines from Mexican-American winemakers were featured at this year's East LA Meets Napa food and wine celebration.

Wines from Mexican-American winemakers were featured at this year’s East LA Meets Napa food and wine celebration.

On a balmy evening I strolled through L.A.’s Union Station to the charanga beat of José Rizo’s all-star jazz band, Monograma, a wine glass in one hand, a plate of food from the area’s finest Latin American restaurants in the other. This, chicas y chicos, is living.

Vanessa Robledo, president and managing partner of Black Coyote Wines, at this year's East LA Meets Napa.

Vanessa Robledo, president and managing partner of Black Coyote Wines, at this year’s East LA Meets Napa.

About 30 wineries were represented at this year’s East L.A. Meets Napa, some of them Latina-owned and operated. Ladies, if you’ve ever dreamed of getting into the wine business, there’s no better place to get a little inspiración. Vanessa Robledo started working in her family’s vineyard when she was 8 years old. Today, she’s president and managing partner of Black Coyote Wines.

Gustavo Brambila was on hand to talk about his wines at this year's event.

Gustavo Brambila was on hand to talk about his wines at this year’s event.

Speaking of inspiration, Gustavo Brambila of GustavoThrace attended this year’s event. Brambila is one of the first Latinos to earn a degree from the prestigious viticulture and enology program at UC Davis. In 1976, the winery where he worked put California wines on the map when its Chardonnay scored higher than a French wine at an international competition in Paris. Brambila was not directly involved in the competition, but actor Freddy Rodriguez played him in the 2008 film, Bottle Shock, based on the historic event.



To come full circle, this year’s tasting held one more reason to be proud of things hecho en México. A certain winery from Coahuila, Mexico made the journey to L.A. Established in 1597, Casa Madero is the oldest winery in the Americas. Still going strong after 415 years, the winery gives Mexico a significant place in the history of wine.

So raise a glass to Hispanic Heritage Month and to the contributions that Latinos and Latinas through the centuries have made to the wine industry, enhancing our ability to get more SABOR out of life. ¡Salud!

#Vino 101: four of Spain’s most popular #wine grapes

24 Sep

The coolest substitute teachers I can recall were the ones who showed movies during class time. Little did I realize they were doing this to preserve their sanity more than to entertain us. So today I give you a fun little  vino video that will introduce you to four of España’s most popular wine grapes–albariño, verdejo, tempranillo, garnacha. You’ll also get some food pairing suggestions. And all this in under three minutes!

As you may have guessed, part of the reason I’m sharing a video in this week’s post is to prevent a meltdown as I prepare for a midterm exam in my Financial Management class (cue horror-movie shriek sound). So sit back, pour yourself a refreshing glass of Albariño, and enjoy the video. Oh, and wish me luck on my exam!

P.S. Muchas gracias to the fine folks at Wines from Spain for making my life a little easier today. ¡Salud!

WIne of Spain Bull

#tbt Los Angeles and the history of California #wine

17 Sep

Happy Throwback Thursday, darlings! This little-known snippet of Los Angeles history is for all of you California wine lovers out there. I first posted this piece three years ago, and I was beyond thrilled to get a comment from a relative of Jean-Louis Vignes, as well as from a gent who had just finished a book about L.A.’s place in the history of California’s wine industry. Speaking of throwbacks, raise a glass and join me in an off-key rendition of “I Love L.A.” (with apologies to Randy Newman). 

For better or for worse, Los Angeles has spawned the Barbie doll, the film industry, the Cobb Salad, and yours truly. As L.A. celebrates its 231st birthday today, it’s worth noting that Los Angeles, not Napa or Sonoma, gave birth to the California wine industry.


Angelenos who have taken high school French will know that ‘vignes’ is the French word for vines. As Señorita Vino recently learned, Jean-Louis Vignes was the aptly named French immigrant who planted European grape varieties a stone’s throw from downtown Los Angeles in 1831. He called his vineyard El Aliso, and present-day Aliso and Vignes streets are named for Vignes’ contribution to Los Angeles history.

LA's first vineyards were planted a stone's throw from Union Station.

LA’s first vineyards were planted a stone’s throw from Union Station.

While Vignes was the first in California to plant a commercial vineyard, the Spanish missionaries were the first to grow grapes in California. Father Junipero Serra is credited by some sources as having planted the first vineyard in California at Mission San Diego de Alcalá around 1770. These grapes were of the Mission variety and used to make sacramental wine.

Not satisfied with the quality of wine made from Mission grapes, Vignes, a native of Bordeaux, France, imported two of his native region’s more prominent grape varieties, Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc. A barrel maker by trade, Vignes aged his wines in barrels made from trees grown in L.A.’s San Bernardino Mountains.

BARRELS By 1849, the Gold Rush had caused a population boom in Northern California, and the Napa and Sonoma Valleys became the hub of California winemaking. Which brings us (at warp speed) to today.

A toast 24 floors above L.A.'s 110 Freeway, two miles south of where Vignes planted his first vines.

A toast 24 floors above L.A.’s 110 Freeway, two miles south of where Vignes planted his first vines.

Join me in raising a glass to celebrate 231 years since the founding of the City of Angels, birthplace of the tortilla chip, the French Dip, and California’s wine industry. ¡Salud!

A little #vino with your tall skinny latte? Starbucks expands #wine offerings.

11 Sep

Wow, what a whirlwind summer it’s been, chicas y chicos! This MBA program is not for the faint of heart, which is why my little under-the-stairs wine closet is starting to look a little lean (hey, don’t judge me–all’s fair in love and graduate school).

So here’s a hot-off-the press (so to speak) tidbit – remember when we first heard that Starbucks was going to start serving wine? Well, it looks as if they’re “going grande,” according to a story posted on the Wine Spectator site two days ago. Check out this nifty pic that Starbucks provided to get the salivary juices flowing:

Image courtesy of Starbucks

Image courtesy of Starbucks

Yes, darlings, that is a Riedel glass, and those are spicy pepitas (¡ándale, Starbucks!).

And now it’s time for a two-part pop quiz. Ready? It’s easy, I promise. Part one: Do you consider yourself a Starbucks customer? Part two: Do you like wine? I know what you said for part two, but if you answered yes for part one, congratulations–Starbucks was looking at YOU, dear reader, when they decided to go big or go home with the vino. A study showed that a whopping 70 percent of Starbucks customers are wine drinkers, so hey, why not serve wine too?

Wine selection will vary by region, but Starbucks says that customers can expect “a combination of local and regional favorites that rotate over time.” Your inner gaucho (or gaucha?) will be muy feliz to know that Malbec is in rotation.

The java giant first launched its “Evenings” menu (vino, beer and small plates) in a Seattle Starbucks five years ago. Now, the company plans to roll out “Evenings” at more than 2,000 of its 12,000 stores in the U.S. through 2019.

Among the tapas-style munchies you can expect, according to the “10 Facts about Starbucks Evenings Stores” from the company’s online newsroom, are truffle mac n’ cheese, chicken sausage, bacon-wrapped dates in a balsamic glaze, and mushroom flatbread. The company says it worked with an in-house sommelier to select the wine list.

Image courtesy of Starbucks

Image courtesy of Starbucks

Señorita Vino is still forming an opinion about a coffeehouse selling wine (turn the tables around–what if wineries started selling coffee?), but I want to hear what you think. Should Starbucks stick to what it does best (global purveyor of caffeine jolts) or is it cool that a mocha monolith is dipping its toe in the wine vat?

Let the dialogue begin!


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