Get on the bus: The road to Bien Nacido Vineyards #WBC14

24 Jul

The first time I boarded a school bus, I was a five-year-old kindergartener toting a thermos full of orange juice. My biggest mistake was sitting next to a boy, not knowing that girls and boys had to sit on opposite sides of the bus. I thought he was cute. He thought I had cooties.

The last time I boarded a school bus was two weeks ago. This time, I am a wine blogger of–ahem–a certain age, toting a wineglass full of rosé.  My biggest mistake was sitting in the back–right next to the stripper pole.

Bien Nacido Bus

Yes, Virginia–that is a stripper pole.

This is how the Friday night excursion at Wine Bloggers Conference 2014 began. I and 30 other bloggers boarded the Stripper Pole School Bus with no idea where we were going until the bus engine started. Our destination: Bien Nacido Vineyards in the Santa Maria Valley AVA.


Once there, we were transferred to the “CHOOL BUS,” the official mode of transportation at Bien Nacido. We were chauffeured away in primary-school comfort to the Z Block, home to some of the finest Syrah vines in the region and voted one of the top 25 vineyards in the world.


Get on the “Chool” bus.

Nicholas Miller, vice president of sales and marketing for The Thornhill Companies, the umbrella company that owns Bien Nacido Vineyards, noted that 100- and 90-point wines come from grapes grown in Z Block (a block is a section of the vineyard). For the record, ‘bien nacido’ means well-born, and the grapes born in Bien Nacido grow up to be made into some of California’s best wines.

Don't' worry, you won't go to the principal's office for drinking on this school bus.

Don’t’ worry, you won’t go to the principal’s office for drinking on this school bus.

Bien Nacido Vineyards is not open to the public, nor do they have a tasting room. They grow grapes for clients including Hitching Post, Au Bon Climat, Qupé, Foxen and Longoria. Besides Syrah, Bien Nacido also grows Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc and Pinot Noir, among other wine grapes.

Very young Syrah grapes from Z Block.

Very young Syrah grapes from Z Block.

After winding up a gentle slope, the Chool Bus stopped on a perch with a view of some of the 600-plus acres of vines at Bien Nacido. Free to wander around the vineyards, we selfied away with the grapes, the view, and each other, while Gray Hartley, winemaker for Hitching Post Wines, poured Foxen Chardonnay, made from grapes grown on the property.

Gary Hartley poses for a close-up of Foxen Chardonnay.

Gray Hartley poses for a close-up of Foxen Chardonnay.

Traipsing through the vines at Z Block was a religious experience, and like most religious experiences, this one left me famished. We boarded the bus again, making our way to the property’s historic adobe, built by Don Juan Pacifico Ontiveros in 1857. A five-second history lesson: Ontiveros bought the ranch from his father-in-law, Tomas Olivera, who first received the property as a land grant from Spain. Fast-forward to 1969, and that’s when the Miller family bought the property.

For dinner, we were treated to a traditional, Santa Barbara-style barbecue with grilled vegetables and what felt like an endless supply of world-class wines. By the way, don’t ask me to define “traditional Santa Barbara-style barbecue.” I’m sure they explained it, but by then I was having a religious experience of the one-glass-too-many kind.


Dinner on the adobe patio.

Yes, there were dump buckets. But if you were offered a pour from a magnum of 1997 Hitching Post Highliner Pinot Noir,  not only would you drink all of it, you might be inclined to lick the inside of your glass. Don’t worry – I didn’t. I just got another pour.


Turns out sitting by the stripper pole was not a mistake after all. Out of the 30 bloggers, not a one cozied up to it on the bus ride back to our hotel. Maybe it’s because we were all in a post-vino lull. Or maybe we’re just too well-born for that kind of thing.




If you can’t drink wine, write about it. #WBC14

19 Jul

It’s Saturday night, and my wineglass is empty. Thanks to an ornery throat bug, I’m on antibiotics, so this week’s post is not about vino. Instead, I will steal this opportunity to share what I learned about the craft of writing last weekend at Wine Bloggers Conference 2014.


Among the bountiful array of topics about everything that wine blogging entails, writing tends to get short shrift. Not this year. I was fortunate to attend a special writing workshop moderated by a panel of three prominent wine writers: Steve Heimoff, James Conaway and Mike Dunn. Along with 44 other brave souls, I submitted a piece of work in advance for critique by the three journalists.

Here are five things I learned:

1 . Don’t even think about writing a wine review. Why? Because it takes years and years of tasting and writing to be able to craft a fair yet engaging assessment that, to quote Heimoff, doesn’t sound like “a Princess Cruises brochure.”  (No offense, Princess Cruises. I have yet to sail the seas on one of your majestic vessels, but I probably just blew my chances of ever getting invited on a press trip).

2. Learn how to use a comma. It sounds basic, but in Dunn’s opinion (should I have put a comma after ‘but?’), most college graduates don’t know how.

3. Avoid these words at all costs. Breathtaking, enchanting, delightful, intriguing, thrilling, fantastic. Terrific list, no?

4. Speaking of lists, don’t use them. “List-ese,” says Conaway, can cause you to lose readers. (The irony is not lost on me that this post is a list. I hope you’re still there).

5. Humor generally doesn’t work, so don’t even try. This is where I get to issue a huge apology, chicas y chicos, for all of my past feeble attempts at making wine sound funny.

Oh, one last thing. If you really want to put people off, make your wine writing all about you. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go take an antibiotic.


Road Trip: Santa Barbara for Wine Bloggers Conference 2014 #wbc14

10 Jul

There’s nothing Señorita Vino loves more than a road trip, especially if it’s to a wine region. Angelenos are lucky to live driving distance from Santa Barbara County, home to five American Viticultural Areas, or AVAs.

This year’s Wine Bloggers Conference is in Santa Barbara, and yours truly hit the road and is counting down the minutes until this evening’s welcome reception. In the meantime, I will regale you with some fun facts  and photos about Santa Barbara County wines.

But first, Santa Barbara Vinters wanted to make sure I knew where I was headed, so they sent me five maps, one of each of the five AVAs: Santa Maria Valley, Santa Ynez Valley, Santa Rita Hills, Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara County, and Ballard Canyon.

Maps of the five AVAs in Santa Barbara County.

Maps of the five AVAs in Santa Barbara County.

There are more than 50 wine grape varietals grown in Santa Barbara County, with the top three being Chardonnay, PInot Noir and Syrah. And with more than 200 wineries in Santa Barbara County, I have a feeling it’s gonna be a super-fantástico weekend.

As a teaser, I got to preview five wines during a Wine Bloggers Conference 2014 Tweet chat last month. El Full Disclosure: I received all five wines as samples from the Santa Barbara Vintners.  I was not paid to say that they rocked my world, but it just so happens they did.

Among the white wines, The 2012 Palmina Malvasia Blanca was Jasmine City. Gorgeous white floral aromas with lemon and herbs. Its crisp acidity makes it a great salad wine.


The selection of white wines from Santa Barbara County.

The selection of white wines from Santa Barbara County.

The 2013 Happy Canyon Sauvignon Blanc was crisp and grassy, with stone fruit aromas that reminded me of biting into a juicy white nectarine. Pair it with seafood or chips and guacamole.

Lemme just say that the 2012 Brewer-Clifton Hapgood Chardonnay wanted to make me channel my inner Madonna and writhe around the floor in a tacky white tulle skirt, because drinking this Chard made me feel, yeah it made me feel, like the very first time I had a Chardonnay. To attempt to describe it here would not to it justice. Take my advice–ya gotta try it.

By the way, here’s a picture of Diego Forlan. It has nothing to do with wine, but he’s part of the reason I watch the World Cup:


Gratuitous shot of Diego Forlan. Santa Barbra Vinters did not send me a free sample, but it's not too late.

Gratuitous shot of Diego Forlan. Santa Barbra Vinters did not send me a free sample, but it’s not too late.

Two red wines from Santa Barbra County were included in the samples I received for last month’s Tweet Chat.

Red wines from Santa Barbara County.

Red wines from Santa Barbara County.

If you love Pinot Noir, you’ll really like the 2010 La Fond Pinot Noir from Santa Rita Hills. Aged in French oak, you’ll get subtle vanilla to go with the raspberry and strawberry aromas. It’s 14.7 percent alcohol, which is high, but the wine is beautifully balanced, so you won’t be overwhelmed by it.

And now for the 2010 Westerly Fletcher’s Red. All I can say is, where have you been all my life? This blend of 50 percent Cabernet Sauvingon, 23 percent Merlot, 23 percent Petit Verdot and 4 percent Cabernet Franc is even better than writhing on the floor in a dirty wedding dress. It’s like writhing around naked in a vineyard on the left bank of Bordeaux. Only you’re in the Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara AVA. And for Pete’s sake, put some clothes on!

Chicos y chicas, this brings us to 30 minutes before launch for Wine Bloggers Conference 2014. I’ll be sharing more discoveries in the next four days, so stay tuned. Until then, ¡Salud!

Oh, and if you happen to be watching the World Cup, ¡VAMOS ARGENTINA!



A #FourthofJuly / #WorldCup cocktail

4 Jul

Happy Fourth of July, chicas y chicos!

This one’s short and sweet, as I figure most of you are at the playa or at a barbecue celebrating the Spirit of Independence.

As a warm-up to the big barbecue tonight, I enjoyed the Brazil-Colomba World Cup match at Día de Campo, a newish nouveau-Mexican restaurant in beautiful downtown Hermosa Beach, California.

Turns out the fine gente at Día de Campo created a special World Cup cocktail, the “Copa do Mundo.” This is what it looks like:

Copa do Mundo

Much like the World Cup–and this great nation of ours–it’s a mash-up of cultures: there’s cachaça, Brazil’s national spirit and the knock-you-on-your-butt ingredient in Brazil’s national cocktail, the caipirinha; there’s lime for a little Latin sabor; egg white to remind me of Perú’s patriotic drink, the Pisco Sour; and blueberry juice for the All-American in all of us. Oh, and the whole yummy concoction is topped with a few drops of grapefruit bitters.

So gather up the ingredients, pour them into a cocktail shaker and shake, shake, shake. If that’s too much work and you happen to be near Hermosa Beach, get yourself to Día de Campo, 1238 Hermosa Ave., Hermosa Beach, Calif.

¡Salud and Happy Fourth of July!



Diary of a mad wine blogger

27 Jun

Darlings, Señorita Vino is fried. Some of you may  know that in addition to being a wine blogger, my day job comprises freelance writing about food and wine,  and a gig as managing editor of a local magazine that’s not about wine.

The past 48 hours have been a whirlwind of deadlines and wine tasting. Consider the following a glimpse into my diary, a feel for what it’s like to walk in my stilettos  for two days.


Wednesday, June 25.

7 a.m. – Checking email and deleting a ton of pitches from PR people trying to get me to write about stuff not related to wine, like yarn.

8:30 a.m. – My final personal training session. After this, it’s up to me to drag myself to the gym three times a week and force myself into torture-chamber-like devices and pull heavy weights while trying not to look fat.

11 a.m. – Mapquest be DAMNED! Hopelessly lost and late to an interview with An Iconic Artist for an article I’m writing. Nervous as hell–this is my first-ever interview with Someone of Cultural Importance Who Used To Hang Out With The Great Rock Bands of The 1970s.

11:10 a.m. – Just hiked up Iconic Artist’s steep driveway. In heels. Trying to control heart palpitations and hoping the perspiration dries off in the gentle morning breeze.

11:12 a.m. – Wow. Iconic Artist is down-to-earth and really nice! And he likes cats!

1 p.m. – Driving  Iconic Artist to view his new studio. He’s not wearing a seatbelt. Wonder if he’ll get annoyed if I tell him to put it on. Better not risk it.

2:30 p.m.  Driving home with signed copy of Iconic Artist’s book in my backseat.

5 p.m. – Setting up for a Tweetchat about wine. I’ll be attending Wine Bloggers Conference 2014 next month in Santa Barbara, and Santa Barbara Vintners has sent me five lovely wines (stay tuned for a future post) from local winemakers.

6 p.m. – On the laptop and iPhone, with five wine bottles on my desk and five glasses of wine, tasting, tweeting, Instagramming, and trying not to spill wine all over myself while attempting to sound  clever in 140 characters or fewer.


7 p.m. Dinner with Señor Jim. Lucky to be married to someone who puts up with wine bottles all over the house.

11 p.m. Reading an academic book sent to me for review. Barely make it past page 2.

2 a.m. – 4:30 a.m. Insomnia-palooza.

Thursday, June 26.

9 a.m. Watching the U.S. – Germany World Cup match–on the elliptical machine at the gym.

11:30 a.m. Germany won. In my kitchen feeling kinda woozy and eating everything in sight.

2:30 p.m. – 6:30 p.m.  – Rewriting three articles submitted four days late by a freelancer.

7 p.m. A glass of wine and dinner with Señor Jim. Stressed about three articles I have due on Friday that I couldn’t write today because of aforementioned late articles.

10:30 p.m. – Out like a light.

Friday, June 27.

9:30 a.m. ¡MIERDA! I didn’t write a blog post this week!

11 a.m. Writing blog post.

11:30 a.m. YAY! Just found out I passed the WSET Level 3 exam!

12:06: SHOOT! Just remembered I have three articles due today. Wait – isn’t there a World Cup match going on?

Alximia Winery of Baja California – it’s rocket science

19 Jun

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.




¡Mucho Gusto! Get to know Verdejo on #VerdejoDay

10 Jun

Great news, chicas y chicos!  You don’t have to wait until July 4 for a reason to celebrate – National Verdejo Day is just around the corner! This Thursday, June 12 marks the first annual National Verdejo Day, and if you happen to be near New York, Miami, Chicago or, yes, beautiful downtown Los Angeles, you can live it up at a rooftop party in honor of this crisp white wine from Spain’s Rueda D.O. region.

L.A. folks – get your tickets by visiting my Events page and following the link provided in the “Sign Me Up!” section. Tickets are only $25, and the party includes a little taste of Spanish appetizers from Rueda that pair well with Verdejo.


And you know I wouldn’t send you off to a wine fiesta without some fun facts to tuck away in your hip pocket. Here’s all you need to know about Verdejo:

HOLA, ME LLAMO: Verdejo is a white wine grape from Spain’s Rueda D.O. region.

MY ROOTS: Don’t confuse Verdejo with Verdelho, the white grape from Portugal. DNA testing shows that they are two distinct grape varieties. It’s believed that Verdejo showed up in the Rueda region around the 11th century. Before that, it was introduced to southern Spain from North Africa.

ALL ABOUT ME: Verdejo is a dry white wine with zingy acidity and lovely fruit aromas of peach, pear, tropical fruit, and lemon. You’ll also get a touch of herbs (think fennel) and a trace of limestone minerality. It’s a medium-bodied wine with an alcohol content hovering between 11 and 12 percent. Verdejo develops honeyed, nutty flavors as it ages.

FOODS I LOVE: This is a wine that loves tapas, especially garlicky clams, grilled shrimp and bacalau (fried cod). The wine’s acidity holds up nicely with vinaigrette dressing in salads, and the same crispness “cuts” through a creamy pasta dish and Manchego cheese.

DO TRY THIS AT HOME: Verdejo is one of those wines that’s easy on the wallet. You can get a nice Verdejo for less than $15. Give these a swirl: Protos Verdejo 2013; Mocen Verdejo Fermendado en Barrica 2011; Pago traslagares Oro Pálido Organic Verdejo 2013; Castelo de Medina Castelo Vendimia Seleccionada Verdejo 2012; Pedro Escudero Fuente Elvira Verdejo 2013.

¡Salud, and see you in downtown L.A.!




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