Happy #NationalDrinkWineDay – 5 unusual #wines to try

18 Feb

Is anyone as amused as I am that National Drink Wine Day coincides with Ash Wednesday this year? I suppose it’s a non-event unless you’re one of the self-mortifying few who gave up wine for Lent. All I can say is you’ll have a higher place in heaven than Señorita Vino.

DSC_0755Yours truly is, once again, giving up swearing for Lent, a dictum that made my husband laugh. Actually, it was a bona-fide guffaw.

But enough about me. In honor of National Drink Wine Day, and with a nod to all the good former Catholic schoolgirls out there (and former schoolboys!), I challenge you not to give up wine, but to give up everyday wine. So no Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, or Sauvignon Blanc. Merlot’s out too.

Here are five alternatives you may want to go out and taste today, or anytime during the next 40 days. And with thousands of varietals to choose from, who knows, you may find a new favorite. 

1. Ribolla Gialla [ree-BOWL-uh JA-la] – This white wine grape hails from Italy’s Friuli region in the northeast. It’s light-bodied with delicate white floral aromas and hints of Gravenstein apples on the palate. It’s nicely tart, so enjoy it with a seafood risotto or on its own as an aperitif.

2. Xinomavro [sheen-o-MAHV-ro] – The Greeks are among the earliest civilizations to have produced wine, and today you can enjoy some unique but flavorful wines made from local grapes. If you like Nebbiolo, you may enjoy Xinomavro. This red wine is pretty tannic and packs a nice acidity. It does well with aging, developing exotic spice aromas over time, along with a touch of earthiness. This pairs beautifully with roasted lamb.

3. Blaufrankisch [blau-FRANK-ish] – Considered the finest red wine varietal in Austria, Blaufrankisch will remind you of sour cherries and white pepper. The tannins are fairly tame and you’ll get a crisp acidity on the palate. Pair it with pork, chicken or game. Vegetarians can enjoy it with a lentil and root vegetable stew.

Next time you're in the mood for Argentine wines, give Bonarda a try.

Next time you’re in the mood for Argentine wines, give Bonarda a try.

4. Bonarda [bo-NAR-da] – You may have heard me rave about this red wine from Argentina in a past post. If you like violets, ripe blueberries and plum, give it a try. The tannins are firm but not overpowering, and a good Bonarda will also have some crispness to it. I love it with cheese and charcuterie, and it’s a fabulous wine to serve with carne asada.

Photo credit: Hungarian Snow via Wikimedia COmmons

Photo credit: Hungarian Snow via Wikimedia COmmons

5. Furmint [FUR-mint] – Yep, this one’s pronounced just like it’s spelled. I always think of a Thin Mint cookie wearing a tiny mink coat when I hear the name of this Hungarian white wine grape. And now you will, too! This highly acidic white wine has lovely apple aromas and flavors when it’s young. As it ages, you’ll taste honey, apricot and hazelnuts. Yum! It’s no wonder it’s one of the principal grapes used in Tokaji, Hungary’s famously sweet and decadently delicious dessert wine.

So go forth and celebrate National Drink Wine Day. While you’re at it, be sure to chine in with your favorite unusual wines.

¡Salud!

What not to do at a wine tasting

3 Feb

Psssst…you with the wineglass. Yeah, you! Don’t tell anyone, but I’m supposed to be doing statistics homework right now.

I know what you’re going to say.  “Writing a wine blog post has nothing to do with MBA coursework.” Well, yes and no. It turns out that my school not only puts on this wine-derful fundraiser, the Annual Wine Classic, but it also makes its own wine! Check it out:

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Last weekend, I got to attend the 34th annual Wine Classic, my first big wine tasting event since last fall. Boy, did I need a drink…but I digress. I often get asked what one should do at a wine tasting. The answer is: have fun. There are, however, a few things you should not do.

At the risk of being expelled from my program, I am about to share with you some faux pas I observed at the event. I’ve turned these no-no’s into guidelines that not only will enhance your own experience, but possibly the experience of your fellow wine lovers. Consider this your “Rules of the Road” for wine tasting. Are you ready? Let’s go!

1. Do not wear perfume. If you’ve learned anything from Señorita Vino all these years, it’s that most of what you “taste” when you sip wine is experienced through your sense of smell. The best way to completely mess this up is to wear fragrance of any kind. Don’t do it. Chicos, that includes you.

2. Don’t ask for a second or third pour. This is a wine tasting, not a bar. Winemakers bring just enough wine to ensure everyone gets a taste. That little booklet or handout you get at most wine tasting events is your best amigo. Circle or check off the wines you like, maybe grab a business card from the winemaker or representative, and try to find a bottle of that wine at a wine shop. If it’s a boutique winery, you may be able to buy it from their website.

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3. Don’t bring a gigantic purse. This is the sound of you with your ginormous designer bag, trying to squeeze through a sardine-like gantlet of fellow wine tasters: SPLASH. Leave the tote bag at home and opt for something smaller that will leave your hands free to hold a wineglass and small food plate–and not jostle other wine lovers as you walk by.

4. Event planners, don’t use vinyl to cover floors or tables. My only gripe about the Wine Classic itself was the noxious odor emitted by the plastic tarp covering the floor of the university’s sports complex. I get that you have to protect the expensive wood floor, but the overpowering smell of vinyl was, well, overpowering. Maybe air out the tarp a few days before, or find a covering that doesn’t give off a smell.

5. Don’t be a snob about it. Ah, the grandiose swirler, the smug connoisseur, the chummy “insider.” These textbook archetypes of Vinus Snobus can forget that they’re in a space with hundreds of other wine lovers. Once they get to the front of the line, they decide it’s a great time for a fireside chat with the winery staff. There’s nothing wrong with striking up a conversation with winery reps. Just be considerate of your fellow wine lovers and make sure there’s not a mile-long line of people waiting patiently behind you for a taste of wine.

"You're my little macaron, oh yes you are!" (image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons by Pierre Marcolini)

“You’re my little macaron, oh yes you are!” (image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons by Pierre Marcolini)

6. Don’t hoard the macarons. Or the cheese. Or the charcuterie. Like many wine tasting events, the Wine Classic featured a couple of large cheese and fruit stations, and some dessert and coffee stands. Classy! But not so classy was the lady stuffing macarons and chocolate almond bark into two ‘grande’ paper coffee cups. I kid you not. I was crushed, because I actually had a dream about macarons the night before. I couldn’t find macarons in the ol’ dream dictionary, but I suspect it means there’s a trip to Paris in my future. Or maybe not. Either way, I didn’t get my macaron. Waaah.

I think that covers it, darlings. Have I left anything out? if you have any additional tips, do share! Until next time, ¡Salud!

#Wine Resolutions for 2015. Oh, and I’m baaaaack!

8 Jan

2014 was a pretty good year: I passed the WSET Level III Advanced exam, I got to be a guest judge at this year’s Los Angeles International Wine Competition, and my blog was a finalist in the 2014 Wine Blog Awards. Then the last quarter hit, and Everything Happened. Here’s a quick recap to set the stage for this week’s post:

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October: Started a new work contract and lost my mom–on the same day. All of this during midterm exams at grad school. November: Balanced the very demanding second half of the semester and the new work contract and managed not to have a nervous breakdown. Drank lots of wine. I think it helped. December: Took two final exams, wrote a term paper, and met a dozen client deadlines. Got an A for the first semester of my MBA program. Treated myself with a bottle of 2011 Ornellaia (not the whole thing–I shared it with Señor Jim, my dad and brother on my birthday).

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Which brings us to the present moment. A year older, maybe a little wiser, and determined to focus on the good things each day brings. Because if I learned anything last year, it’s that bad stuff happens because it’s life, but if you dwell too long on the negatives, you’re going to miss the positives. So in the spirit of kicking off an optimistic 2015, here are my Wine New Year’s Resolutions. Feel free to adopt any that strike a chord:

1. Use the good glasses. Life’s too short to drink wine from crappy stemware. If you have high-end wine glasses, use ‘em! If you don’t, treat yourself to just one (it’ll cost you about $25 -$30) and make it a luxuriously rewarding ritual to sip wine from your fine wineglass at the end of a busy workday.

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2. Buy at least one high-end bottle of wine. You don’t have to break the bank, but from personal experience I can tell you that buying at least one wildly amazing bottle of wine a year will result in a delicious endorphin rush. For the first time in my life, I bought myself a $180 bottle of wine in December. It was the aforementioned Ornellaia, and I can tell you it was worth every penny. I can hear you saying, “But that’s a lot of money!” When you look at the big picture, it really isn’t.

Here’s what you do: Grab a piggy bank, mason jar, empty cigar box, or whatever will remind you that you deserve to drink a world-class wine. Then sacrifice one latte a week and put the money you’d spend on the java into your “vino bank.” Not a coffee person? Then just put $3 in your vino bank each week. By the end of the year, you’ll have around $150 to spend on your vino. Why? Because you’re worth it.

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3. Share the fancy wine with the people I love most. Let’s face it–it’s no fun drinking a bottle of vino by yourself. Sure, you can stretch it out over a few days if you properly protect it from oxygen before re-corking it, but why not share the love? Someday when you’re old and grey, I can guarantee that you won’t look back on life and wish you had enjoyed all of your good wine alone.

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So Feliz Año Nuevo and Happy New Year, chicos y chicas. May 2015 bring you much joy, amor and good fortune. And remember–the wineglass is always half-full. ¡Salud!

Happy National Repeal Day! #drinkvino

5 Dec

Darlings, if you need a reason to raise a glass tonight, December 5 is National Repeal Day. On this day in 1933, the ban on alcohol in the United States, known as Prohibition, was lifted, or repealed. Yay!

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If you missed historian Ken Burns’s successful documentary series on Prohibition a couple of years ago, here’s a little bit of background. Back in the early 1900s, the Women’s Christian Temperance Union decided that alcohol was the source of all evils in the U.S. The well-intentioned ladies rallied, and the U.S. government passed the 18th Amendment in 1919, making it illegal to drink–and produce–alcohol. Boo!

Prohibition lasted 13 years, and–shocker!–it didn’t work (see “moonshine” and “Al Capone”).  So you can imagine how deliriously happy folks were on 12/5/33 when the 21st Amendment was passed, making it legal to not only drink alcohol, but make it.

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For my newer readers, I want to be clear that I am not in any way advocating alcohol abuse. Prohibition and Repeal Day were significant moments in U.S. history and for the alcoholic beverage industry. On a personal level, I consider winemaking an art, and I also believe that drinking wine responsibly enhances a meal and life in general.

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Having said that, I think Repeal Day is an important reminder that government intervention doesn’t always work, especially when it imposes on our freedom to enjoy a glass of wine responsibly. We are all fortunate, however, to live in a nation that can not only acknowledge misguided legislation but actually do something about it. Yeah, I know, it doesn’t happen as often as we’d like, but there’s hope.

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So tonight, gather your friends, pour the vino, and count your many blessings as you raise a toast to National Repeal Day.

¡Salud!

8 #ThanksgivingWines for all budgets

26 Nov

Darlings, it’s been a hectic month, but here’s a reblog of last year’s Thanksgiving wines post. Note that prices may have changed since then, and some of these vintages may be harder to find. May you have lots to be grateful for this year. ¡Salud!

It’s the day before Thanksgiving. The day that feels as if no one has gone grocery shopping the entire year. The day that plays out like an epic flash mob at grocery stores across the nation, with armies of people seemingly synchronizing their smart phones for 3 p.m. to begin spontaneously stocking up for the apocalypse.

This is not the day you want to stress out about finding the right wine for your Thanksgiving fiesta, chicas y chicos. Because Señorita Vino loves you mucho, here’s a quick guide to help you shop for wine this week.

And in the interest of El Full Disclosure, only one of the wines listed below was received as a sample, and that would be the Mencía. Loved it, and no, they did not pay me to say that.

White Wines

1. Chateau Ste. Michelle Riesling 2011. $6.99. This wine is off-dry, so you’ll get some sweetness on the palate. You’ll also get lovely peach and citrus notes with a hint of minerality. Riesling is a wine that “plays well with others,” so you’ll be able to pair it with a variety of Thanksgiving dishes.

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2. Blue Fin Gewürztraminer 2012. $3.99 You’ll get a bouquet of white florals and some spicy peach notes, along with light sweetness on the palate. The finish is a little on the short side, but hey, it’s $3.99!

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Like your white wines dry? Here are a couple of alternatives:

2. Zocker Paragon Vineyard Gruner Veltliner 2010. $19.00 This one’s a winner; I’ve been enjoying its delicate melon and fruity aromas all year long. There’s a crisp acidity and a lovely minerality that would complement your turkey, turducken, or if you’re so inclined, tamales.

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Zocker Paragon Vineyard Riesling 2009. $20.00 This Central Coast version of a French Alsatian classic has an elegant, peachy flavor with the typical Riesling petrol aroma. It has a lingering, clean mineral note and will complement just about any Thanksgiving dish, including spicier foods that appear on multicultural Thanksgiving menus such as my own.

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Red Wines

5. Estancia Pinot Noir 2012. $12.99 This is a fruity Pinot Noir that’s easy to drink and pairs well with a variety of foods, which is why Pinot Noir is one of my favorite Thanksgiving wines. And the price is right, too.

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6. Argyle Pinot Noir 2012. $27.00 ($19.99 at Trader Joe’s). After spending last September in Oregon’s Willamette Valley for Señor Jim’s family reunion, I’m convinced that some of the best New World Pinots come from Oregon. You’ll get raspberries, red cherries and a touch of spice with mild tannins.

A-Argyle

7. A Portela Mencía 2011. $16.99. If you want to add some international flavor to your Thanksgiving feast, this Spanish blend is the ticket. Gorgeous black fruit with hints of violet and and a whisper of vanilla. You’ll enjoy granite minerality and a lingering finish.

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8. Beaujolais Nouveau. You should still be able to find Beaujolais Nouveau out there, which has become a bit of a tradition with the typical American Thanksgiving dinner. Prices vary, and if you want a quick and easy-to-understand story on Beaujolais Nouveau, check out last week’s Beaujolais Day post.

No matter what’s in your glass, may you enjoy a happy Thanksgiving in the company of those you love most.

¡Salud!

Feliz #BeaujolaisNouveauDay

20 Nov

It’s the third Thursday in November, and that can only mean one thing: time to get your Beaujolais on, chicas y chicos! Today is Beaujolais Nouveau Day, so here is the 411 on Beaujolais  before you hit the store. This post is an updated version of what I like to call an oldie but a goodie. Enjoy!

These days, Beaujolais Nouveau is everywhere but in my glass. It’s 5 p.m. and I’m dashing to get this post up before you head to the grocery store to buy your celebratory bottle of Beau’.

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You’ve probably noticed a surge of advertising space dedicated to the arrival of France’s Beaujolais Nouveau. Much like a visit from a favorite tía or cousin, the landing of this colorfully packaged wine on our shores is heralded with fanfare and buzz. Tens of thousands of dollars go into marketing campaigns and fancy grocery store displays. Why all the fuss? One word: Timing.

Unlike most wines, Beaujolais Nouveau is ready to drink almost immediately after fermentation. You may recall that fermentation is the process by which the sugar in the grape juice is gobbled up by hungry yeast organisms, resulting in…alcohol! Without fermentation, all we’d have is grape juice. A huge volume of Beaujolais is bottled weeks after fermentation, exported from France et voilà, on grocery store shelves starting, like clockwork, the third Thursday in November.

Before we go any further, I should note that red Beaujolais Nouveau is the wine that triggers all the excitement this time of year. Beaujolais (sans the Nouveau) is a red or white wine, also from the Beaujolais region of France, that you can find year-round.

Red Beaujolais wines are generally made from the Gamay grape using a technique called carbonic maceration. All you need to know about carbonic maceration for now is that it gives wine a tropical fruit aroma, which can be a blessing or a curse.

For a while, Beaujolais got a bad rap from the wine community. It was considered too fruity, too thin, too mass-produced, too unsophisticated, and on and on…In fact, some folks still feel that way.

One of the great things about Beaujolais, however, is that you can serve it with various kinds of food, especially at Thanksgiving. Since the wine is not aged in wood, there are barely any tannins to overpower your turkey (the lack of tannins, by the way, is one reason the wine won’t age well). Also, the alcohol content is light to moderate, so the wine pairs well with spicier foods (hello, Thanksgiving tamales!).

And for you budding Julia Childs and Jacques Pepins out there, you can cook with it. Use it to make anything from poached pears to chicken wings. Talk about versatility! I’ll leave you with this thought–now that you know what Beaujolais Day is, why not make it an annual tradition? Gather your friends and some bite-sized tamalitos, serve ‘em up with a bottle of Beaujolais Nouveau and start the holiday season right. It beats the heck out of standing in line at the mall at 4 a.m. on Black Friday. ¡Salud!

#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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