#DiaDeLosMuertos–a tribute to mom

30 Oct

If you’ve wondered where I’ve been lately, I have been grieving.

My beautiful, funny, wise, generous and intelligent mother left this world for a better place on October 15. She leaves behind a brokenhearted husband, a distraught son, and a devastated daughter.

I don’t even know how to express the profound sadness I feel, and in this moment I can’t form a connection between her passing and a glass of wine, except maybe that in the past two weeks, not even wine has been able to assuage the feeling of emptiness.

For those familiar with Latin American culture, this Saturday is All Saints Day, or Día de los Muertos. Traditionally, families gather at the gravesite of their lost loved ones, not to grieve but to remember the good times, to eat, drink and pray.

It was my sincere intention to set up a small Día de Los Muertos altar in my home honoring my mother, complete with a photo of her, candles, sugary candy skulls, marigold flowers, rosaries, and some of her favorite things: Chanel No. 5 perfume,  Vanidades magazine, a couple of Sudoku puzzle books, and dark-chocolate-covered raisins.

But in her final months of this life, she was unable to eat or drink due to a complicated series of medical conditions.

As a Catholic, I only hope that her heavenly new abode comes fully equipped with a nonstop supply of baklava, Turkish coffee, mangoes, and Mounds candy bars. My mother was never much of a wine lover, but I do know she enjoyed the occasional glass of Champagne.

So here’s to you, mami. Sorry I couldn’t get the Día de Los Muertos altar up this year. I promise I’ll do it next year. All of us are happy that you’re no longer suffering, but for selfish reasons, I wish you were still around to hear me vent about the petty stresses of my daily life.

You made me strong, you told me to pursue my passions, and you always believed in me. For these and so many other reasons, I love you and will always carry you in my heart. Salud.

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Señorita Vino is interviewed by the San Jose Mercury News #wine

10 Oct

Darlings, I was tossing and turning last night, trying to figure out how I would crank out a blog post this week and still meet my work deadlines AND study for my economics midterm next Wednesday.

Turns out good things come to those who can’t sleep: I woke up to find the online version of a story that will appear in this Sunday’s San Jose Mercury News as an “Eat, Drink, Play” feature. Problem solved! You can read the article here.

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I’ve said this before but I’ll say it again: MUCHAS GRACIAS for following Señorita Vino. I sincerely appreciate your comments, “Likes,” and support–your enthusiasm inspires me to keep on keepin’ on, as they say. So this weekend during breaks from analyzing marginal cost curves, I will raise a glass to YOU for being the super-fabulosa/fabuloso vino lover that you are. ¡Salud! 

P.S. If anyone lives in the San Jose, Calif. area and can score a copy of the paper, can you let me know? Or if you live in the L.A. area and know of a newsstand that sells the  Merc, give me a shout via comments or email (my email address is on the CONTACT page of this blog). ¡Gracias!

P.P.S. Wish me luck on the econ midterm!

¡Mucho Gusto! Get to know #Riesling

3 Oct

One of my favorite wine-tasting-gone-wrong stories happened a year after starting my blog when I was invited to join a group of women bloggers on a day of vino tasting in the Santa Ynez Valley.

In the tasting room of a winery whose name I won’t mention, the gentleman pouring our wine opened a bottle of Riesling and said, “You girls will love this one because it’s sweet. All Rieslings taste sweet.” True story.

Of course, not all “girls” love sweet wine, and certainly not all Rieslings are sweet. At the risk of making waves in this group I was just getting to know, I decided to very diplomatically note that some Rieslings are in fact dry.

You can guess where that led. Annoyed that I had corrected him, in a condescending tone he argued that ALL Rieslings ARE INDEED sweet. I decided not to ruin the convivial mood and dropped the matter. To prepare you in case you find yourself at the same winery with the same twit pouring your wine, it’s my pleasure–no, it’s my duty–to present the 411 on Riesling.

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HOLA, ME LLAMO: Riesling (pronounced REES-ling, not REEZ-ling)

MY ROOTS: According to the Oxford Companion to Wine, the earliest known mention of Riesling was found in Germany’s Rheingau region on an invoice dating back to 1435. The Riesling grape is believed to have originated in Germany, and DNA testing shows that it is an offspring of the grape Gouais Blanc. Noteworthy Riesling is produced in Germany, Austria and  in France’s Alsace region. Riesling  also is made in New World countries including Canada, Australia’s Clare Valley, and in the states of Oregon, Washington, California, and New York’s Finger Lakes region. Riesling vines have hard, resilient wood, which allows them to thrive in cold climates such as New York, Canada and Germany.

ALL ABOUT ME:  Riesling is a white wine that can be made in a variety of styles, from bone dry to sweet. The classic aromatic profile is a heady mix of lychee, white florals, citrus, white peaches and a distinctive petrol or kerosene smell in older wines. Rieslings have low to medium alcohol, rarely exceeding 12.5 percent ABV. This is a wine with a crisp acidity. Cool-weather Rieslings are especially zingy, and in Germany and Canada, some grapes are allowed to freeze on the vine to produce a beautifully sweet Icewine. The sweetness of German Rieslings is ranked according to a classification system that ranges from Kabinett (dry) to Trockenbeerenauslese (super-sweet). In France’s Alsace region, grapes may be harvested late (Vendage Tardive on the label), producing a rich, honeyed wine. Sometimes, but not always, American Rieslings will have “Dry Riesling” on the label if it’s, well, dry. When in doubt, ask your wine merchant or server to be sure.

FOODS I LOVE: Riesling is a versatile wine that pairs with all kinds of foods. Try a sweet or off-dry Riesling with spicy Mexican or Thai food to cool the burn. Rieslings go well with charcuterie plates, roasted duck and mildly salted cheeses. It also works with crab, shrimp or lobster. And Riesling holds the distinction of being one of the few wines that pairs nicely with eggs.

DO TRY THIS AT HOME: Riesling can cost anywhere from $16 to $60 a bottle. See last week’s post for four Finger Lakes Rieslings you may want to try. For Old World Rieslings, you can’t go wrong with Germany’s Dr. Loosen from the Mosel region. And from France’s Alsace region, I enjoyed the 2012 Hubert Meyer Riesling.

What are some of your favorite Rieslings? Don’t be shy–let me hear from you. Enjoy the weekend and as always, ¡Salud!

Riesling, New York style #FLXWine

27 Sep

If you’re verklempt about Derek Jeter’s last day as a Yankee, I’ve got something to help cheer you up. Besides being home to one of baseball’s most legendary teams, New York is also where you’ll find the Finger Lakes AVA (American Viticultural Area), billed as “North America’s premier cool-climate wine growing region” by the Finger Lakes Wine Alliance.

Riesling FLX Map

Even better, I’m about to introduce you to four rockin’ Rieslings from the Finger Lakes region. ‘Scuse the short notice, but in about 50 minutes, there’s a Twitter party to launch the 2013 vintage, with the hashtag #FLXRiesling. Can’t make it? No worries–you can read up on four of the wines here, and if you like what you see, you can always enjoy them after the fiesta.

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Before we go on, here’s El Full Disclosure: I received these four bottles as samples from the fine folks at the Finger Lakes Wine Alliance. I was not paid to write this post, and the opinions expressed below are my own. So with that said, here’s the scoop on the Finger Lakes, or FLX.

For you science geeks, the Finger Lakes were carved out by glaciers over hundreds of thousands of years. This not only affects the soil where the grapes are grown, but the large bodies of water help moderate temperature year round, protecting the grapes from extremes. Riesling grapes are grown on 848 acres, and 220,000 cases of Riesling are produced annually. Each of the 115-plus wineries produces two to three styles of Riesling.

Next week, I’ll provide more details about Riesling in “Mucho Gusto: Get to Know Riesling,” so stay tuned. In the meantime, you can get acquainted (in alphabetical order) with each of the four Finger Lakes Rieslings I tried.

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2013 Fulkerson Estate Semi-dry Riesling

Fulkerson Winery owner Sayre Fulkerson is a descendant of Caleb Fulkerson, a Revolutionary War veteran who established a farm on the west side of Seneca Lake in 1805. Grapes were first grown on the property in the 1830s, and winemaking operations formally began in 1989. The 2013 Fulkerson Estate Semi-dry Riesling displays peach and floral notes with crisp acidity and a distinct minerality. The alcohol by volume is 12 percent. Learn more at http://www.fulkersonwinery.com.

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2013 Lakewood Vineyards 3Generations Riesling

Lakewood Farm was a derelict peach and apple orchard on the west side of Seneca Lake when former dentist Frank Stamp purchased the property in 1951. He started planting grapes the next spring, and in 1989 the Stamp family opened the Lakewood Vineyards winery. With crisp minerality, a mild sweetness and delicate floral aromas, this classic Riesling has 11.6 percent alcohol by volume and retails for $19.99. For more details, visit http://www.lakewoodvineyards.com.

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2013 Red Newt Cellars Dry Riesling

Red Newt Cellars is located on the east side of Seneca Lake in the town of Hector. The property is home to the winery and a bistro. Founded in 1998, the winery produces mostly Rieslings, and the 2013 delivers aromas of pineapple and grapefruit, with apricot and lemon on the palate. Dry with a refreshing acidity, the wine has 11.7 percent alcohol by volume. If you pay attention to ratings, the 2012 vintage scored 89 points in Wine Spectator. Visit http://www.rednewt.com for deets.

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2013 Wagner Vineyards Dry Riesling

I’m all about girl power, and Wagner Vineyards’ winemaker, Ann Raffetto, has been with the winery for 30 years. She’s a graduate of UC Davis’s acclaimed viticulture and enology program, and she holds a degree in fermentation science (it’s called enology now). The  2013 dry Riesling has 11.6 percent alcohol by volume. Crisply acidic with a hint of petrol, lime and delicate florals, this is a wine that pairs with anything from roast chicken to chicken vindaloo. Get the 411 at http://www.wagnervineyards.com

Now go get your Riesling on, chicas y chicos. And see you next week with a more in-depth exploration of Riesling. ¡Salud!

 

 

¡Mucho Gusto! Get to know Lagrein

19 Sep

It’s been some time since my last “¡Mucho Gusto!,” so today I’d like you to meet Lagrein. If you’re new to Señorita Vino, ¡Mucho Gusto! is an ongoing series of posts about a specific varietal wine. And if you don’t speak the language of Cervantes, mucho gusto translates as “nice to meet you.”

I first tasted Lagrein with one of my very first wine instructors, an Italian man who very promptly won the hearts, minds and libidos of all the single ladies in the class. One student literally fell for him, as in she lost her balance while speaking to him and landed in an undignified pile at his feet. True story. And yes, it was as embarrassing to watch as it sounds. I suspect there was vino involved, but who am I to judge?

You, on the other hand, are welcome to judge the merits of Lagrein. So without further ado, heeeeeeeere’s Lagrein!

Lagrein

 

HOLA, ME LLAMO: Lagrein (pronounced la-GRINE)

MY ROOTS: Lagrein is a red wine from the predominantly German-speaking Alto Adige, the northernmost part of Italy’s Trentino-Alto Adige region and just a stone’s throw from Austria. Alto Adige is sometimes referred to as Südtirol, which is German for South Tyrol.

The name “Lagrein” is believed to have come from the Lagarina valley in Trentino. Its earliest mention dates back to the 1600s, when it was noted in the records kept by Benedictine monks from a monastery in Alto Adige. Today, Lagrein is grown on a mere 750 acres in Alto Adige. DNA testing shows that Lagrein is related to Teroldego, an ancient grape variety from Trentino.

ALL ABOUT ME: Lagrein is bold and flavorful. Young winemakers are experimenting with different styles, so you can find Lagreins with tannins that won’t tear up your palate. One of the first things you’ll notice when you pour a glass is the brilliant shade of violet. You’ll get blackberry, plum and dark chocolate aromas with earthy minerality. You’ll also detect some crisp acidity, which offsets the chewy tannins a bit.

Note that “Lagrein Scuro” or “Lagrein Dunkel,” which mean “dark Lagrein,” are the terms used to distinguish red Lagrein from the rosé version, which is called “Lagrein Rosato” or “Lagrein Kretzer.”

FOODS I LOVE: The firm tannins in Lagrein make this a great match for meaty dishes. Think New York steak, carnitas, beef stew, prosciutto, wild boar. It’s nice with aged cheeses, too.

DO TRY THIS AT HOME: You can find Lagrein for anywhere from $13-$50 a bottle. Here are some you may want to try: 2011 J. Hofstatter Lagrein Alto Adige (this one received 88 points from Wine Spectator, if you’re into ratings); 2011 Erste e Neue Lagrein; 2010 Cantina Zterlan “Gries” Lagrein.

What it’s like to be a #wine judge – part 2 #LACountyFair

13 Sep

Picking up where we left off, this past May I was invited  by Planet Bordeaux, the marketing arm for France’s Bordeaux and Bordeaux Supérieur AOC, to be a guest judge at the 75th Annual Los Angeles International Wine Competition.

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Since the Bordeaux panel wasn’t until Thursday morning, I was asked to observe a panel of judges evaluating Rhone blends on Wednesday afternoon. Here’s where it gets scary. Imagine you’re prepared to sit back and watch the panel in action. Instead, you’re asked to participate in the panel, and you have exactly 10 minutes to evaluate 15 wines. And then another flight of 15 wines arrives, and you have 10 minutes to evaluate those. And repeat. And you’ve never done this before.

Oh, and did I mention the other judges at your table include a Napa Valley winemaker, a well-known Hong Kong wine journalist, a veteran wine industry publicist, and the head chef and wine guru for The Fancy House Where The Founder of the World’s Most Recognized “Lad Magazine” Parties With “Cute Little Rabbits” (wink, wink)? I kid you not.

Photo by Ann Harrison via Wikimedia Commons.

Photo by Ann Harrison via Wikimedia Commons.

The wine publicist explained that we were to assign one of four ratings to each wine: Gold, Silver, Bronze or no medal. Easy enough, I thought. After we were finished evaluating each flight, we would go around the table and announce our rating. To my horror, each time I gave a wine a gold rating, the entire table would say bronze. When I said bronze, the table rated the wine as gold. And so it went: if I thought a wine was swoon-worthy, the rest of the table thought it was crap.

At one point, Mr. Lad Mag and the winemaker joked that wineries should come fully equipped with trapdoors to jettison annoying wine tasters. I silently wished there was a trapdoor under my chair that would swallow me whole. Oh, the humanity!

That night, the judges were treated to an al fresco dinner on the Fairplex fairgrounds. Black-tablecloth picnic benches were arranged in long rows in the Fairplex’s garden, while the sweet, smoky aroma of barbecued meat offered a tantalizing hint at what was to come.

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All around me, the judges stood in convivial circles, sipping sparkling wine. I availed myself of a glass (okay, two), fully prepared to be singled out as The Girl With the Faulty Palate.

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Thanks be to Bacchus, it didn’t happen. I sat at a table with my two Supreme-Goddesses-of-the-Vine wine instructors, Shelby Ledgerwood and Monica Marin. Seated next to me was Planet Bordeaux’s France-based, American publicist, Jana Kravitz, whose job I unapologetically envy.

It goes without saying that each course was exquisitely paired with a fine wine. A glowing full moon bathed the whole scene in the kind of light that only happens in Colin Firth movies, reassuring me that the next morning’s experience would be better.

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Moonrise at the Fairplex wine judges’ dinner.

And it was. The Bordeaux/Bordeaux Supérieur panel comprised a well-known L.A. wine importer and a bevy of wine journalists from prominent publications, including a wine critic from France’s Le Figaro newspaper. This time, I streamlined my evaluation criteria to the BLIC formula I learned from Monica Marin: Balance, Length of finish, Intensity, Complexity.

Judging - big flight

To my ecstatic relief, my ratings were in harmony with those of the other judges. And I was finally able to appreciate the experience for what it was–an opportunity to learn, a chance to taste some of Bordeaux’s best wines, and an event I hope to attend again, this time with soaring confidence in my trusty palate.

The winners of the 2014 Los Angeles International Wine Competition are listed in a 132-page PDF that you can download from the Fairplex website. I wish to extend my most sincere gratitude to Jana Kravitz at Planet Bordeaux for the opportunity, to Renee Hernandez at the Fairplex for accommodating me at the last minute, and to the unsurpassed, wine-educating dynamos Shelby Ledgerwood and Monica Marin for all of the wisdom they have so generously and enthusiastically shared over the past three years. Raising a glass to you all. ¡Salud!

What it’s like to be a #wine judge – part 1 #LACountyFair

6 Sep

September in Los Angeles means it’s time for the L.A. County Fair. Award-winning wines from this year’s Los Angeles International Wine Competition will be poured,  and let it be known that yours truly was asked to be a guest judge at this year’s Competition back in May. Trust me, no one was more surprised than I was.

Photo by Nancy Newman

Photo by Nancy Newman

My invitation came via email from a  publicist for the Bordeaux/Bordeaux Superieur panel. Before I could over-think it, I accepted. As soon as I clicked “send,” I panicked. Me? Really? Do they have any idea I’m just a chica who loves wine and doesn’t consider herself a connoisseur? Maybe they confused me with someone else, and soon I’d receive an email with an apology for the error and a gracious dis-invitation.

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No such email arrived, and after sending a frantic plea for help to the amazing Shelby Ledgerwood, my very first wine instructor at UCLA Extension’s Wine Education program, I started practicing the breathing techniques I learned  in a “Yoga for Relaxation” class. It turns out Shelby was a regular judge at the event, and after reading her reassuring response and helpful tips, I packed an overnight bag and drove to the Los Angeles County Fairgrounds.

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So here’s how a wine gets judged. All wines are tasted blind, that is, we have no idea which wine we are tasting. All you know is that the wines are from a particular region or made with a particular grape variety. Each flight could have as many as 15 wines, and there are about three flights per session. Do the math. There are usually five to six judges and a secretary who records all of the ratings. And there could be guest judges whose ratings are not counted in the official tally but whose opinions are considered by the other judges.

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If  you’ve ever seen the “I Love Lucy” chocolate factory episode, substitute me for Lucy and glasses of wine for chocolate. Gone was the luxury of 10 minutes to evaluate one wine, the standard in my WSET Level 3 classes. Instead, I had about 10 minutes to get through a flight of 15 wines. As with all professional wine tastings, I was spitting everything I tasted. And I know a thousand tiny violins will play in unison at this next line, but being a guest judge put my stress-o-meter into turbo-charge mode. Wait’ll you hear who was at my table!

How’s that for a cliff-hanger, chicas y chicos? Stay tuned for part 2 of “What it’s like to be a wine judge” next week. Until then, ¡Salud!

 

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