Tag Archives: cheese

Can red wine give you six-pack abs?

3 Apr

Darlings, 

Spring is in the air, which means summer is around the corner, and bathing suit season will soon be upon us. Time to dust off this post about red wine and the waistline. Red vino seems to block fat cells from developing, according to scientists at Purdue. The way I see it, a few glasses of vino and before you know it, everyone look hot in a swimsuit. ¡Salud!

Just when you thought it was safe to get on the treadmill, a new (as in, yesterday) study by Purdue University has concluded that a compound found in red wine can block the development of fat cells. This is great news for people like me, whose fat cells haven’t seen the inside of a gym in about two weeks. Not only that, but red wine as a weight loss tool beats the South Beach Diet, hands down.

Red wine. Better than Pilates.

In all seriousness, chicas y chicos, we’ve known about the health benefits of red wine since the 1980s, when someone thought to connect red wine consumption with the reason French people have healthier corazones than we do, despite devouring triple-creme Brie and buttery croissants with a certain je ne sais quoi that looks a lot like goose liver fat.

The French Paradox: Lab rats who drank whole milk got fatter than those who ate cheese. It’s true – watch the 60 Minutes piece on YouTube.

But don’t take it from me. Go to YouTube and search for “French Paradox” to learn how drinking red wine can lead to a healthier heart.

Lest I digress and break into the Camembert, the Purdue researchers identified the fat-busting compound as piceatannol (say that 10 times fast), which, no surprise, is similar in structure to resveratrol, the red wine component that is believed to stave off cancer and heart disease.

Although Señorita Vino is a bit of a science geek, I promise not to get too technical here. In short, piceatannol prevents immature fat cells from  growing. I’ll drink to that.

Glorious. Rich. Creamy. Stinky. Delectable. Delicioso.

Now here’s El Disclaimer: I am not in any way advocating excessive red wine consumption as a weight loss program, so put down that bottle of Malbec. Gently. You might need it later. Common sense (and my husband) says that the only way to lose weight is to eat less and move more. As a matter of fact, piceatannol is found not only in red wine but in blueberries, grapes and passion fruit, proving once again that you really do need to eat your fruits and veggies.

But if a little sip here and there of my favorite Shiraz is sending the fat cells in my thighs into suspended animation, I say pass the queso, por favor!

Of Spanish Wines and Soccer Championships

6 Jul

Those of you who have followed Señorita Vino for a while know that she is an avid fan of fútbol, or soccer, as it’s known this side of the Atlantic (and the Rio Grande). In case you  were too busy watching NASCAR, last Sunday Spain secured its spot as a world class fútbol nation by slaughtering Italy 4-0 and winning the 2012 UEFA European Football Championship, known as Euro 2012. This of course follows their 2010 World Cup championship and their previous UEFA Euro victory in 2008.

“No hay 2 sin 3!

In honor of España’s recent triumph on the soccer field, it’s my pleasure to wax poetic about one of the Iberian nation’s top wine producing regions, Rioja. I attended a trade tasting of Rioja wines a couple of months ago, and these are some of the highlights. So sit back, pour yourself a glass of Tempranillo and read on…

Wines from Spain’s Rioja region.

The Rioja region is located in north central Spain and lies between mountain ranges. The river Ebro runs through it, resulting in fertile soil on its banks. Divided into three sub-regions, Rioja Alta, Rioja Baja and Rioja Alavesa, the diversity of the terrain and climate makes the region ideal for growing the versatile Tempranillo grape.

Tempranillo is the signature grape of the Rioja region.

Soils in the Rioja region are of three distinct types–chalky clay, alluvial (clay or silt carried by rivers and streams), or ferrous clay. ‘Ferrous’ comes from the Latin word for iron, and these soils are distinctive because of their reddish color from the high iron content. So why am I talking about dirt, when you came here to read about wine? Because the earth in which grapes are grown will have some influence on the flavor and style of the wine. This is one aspect of terroir, a word that comes from the French and is used in the wine world to describe the sense of place that typifies a wine. Climate, geology and farming techniques all play a role in the evolution of a wine.

Lovely Rioja (image courtesy of Vibrant Rioja)

One way you can identify a wine made from grapes grown in ferrous soil is a subtle metallic taste, not unlike the taste you get when you accidentally bite the inside of your cheek and taste a bit of blood. If I had one of those uber-cool product placement jobs, I would score points with wine geeks for placing a few bottles of Rioja in a future “Twilight” flick, maybe in a scene where Bella goes out for a drink with the girls after  finally leaving pasty, high-maintenance Edward and his erratic mood swings.

This is *not* a Spanish wine, but I thought the picture went well with the preceding sentence about moody vampires and girls’ night out. If you’re offended by profanity, just cover your eyes.

Although Rioja is best known for red wines made primarily from Tempranillo, Garnacha, Graziano and Mazuelo grapes, there’s a little something for white wine lovers, as well. White grapes grown in Rioja include Viura, Malvasia, Garnacha Blanca and Tempranillo Blanca. Now comes the timeless question, which foods go with wines from Rioja?

Hard cheese and charcuterie are a fine match for wines from the Rioja region.

My personal favorite is cheese and charcuterie. But Rioja wines pair beautifully with foods that won’t overwhelm their delicate flavors. More youthful Rioja wines, or those with the label “Crianza” or “Cosecha,” will complement a turkey dinner, pasta or roasted fish. Barrel fermented white Riojas pair well with fish, shellfish and salads. If you’re looking for something a little more robust in terms of wine and food, go with an older Rioja (look for “Reserva” or “Gran Reserva”), which will be an elegant fit for lamb, risotto, beef stews or game.

Spanish wines are an excellent value, so stock up!

And speaking of game, that brings us back to where we started, and that was Spain’s glorious Euro 2012 victory. You’ll feel victorious yourself when you pick up a bottle or two of  Spanish wine. If you remember anything at all from today’s post, it’s this: Spanish wines are an excellent value, and you won’t go broke adding a few bottles to your wine collection. You can get a quality bottle of Tempranillo for as little as $7 or $8. Of course, there are high-priced Spanish wines out there, and you trust fund babies may need to stock up.

So this weekend, my darlings, make it a point to raise a glass to España for its prowess on the pitch–and in the vineyard. ¡Salud!

Meet me at the Cathedral of Wine

8 Jun

What happens when 50 winemakers, two food trucks and a well-stocked cheese table all meet in a cathedral on a Sunday afternoon? If you’re a glass-is-half-full type, it’s an edible religious experience. If you’re not, it’s the eighth deadly sin.

Last Sunday, Señorita Vino was craving some religion, which is how she ended up in a deconsecrated Catholic cathedral with a hundred other wine lovers at a Rhone Rangers wine tasting. For those of you who may be wondering, the Rhone Rangers is an association of about 200 winemakers who make wines in the U.S. using grapes that are traditionally grown in France’s Rhone Valley region.

About 50 wineries were represented at the June 3 tasting at Vibiana in downtown Los Angeles. Most of the winemakers made the trek from Paso Robles, a California wine growing region known for its Zinfandels but very friendly to Rhone Valley grapes. Although the French government recognizes 22 official grapes in the Rhone Valley, the most common red Rhone varietals are Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre. Next time you’re out wine tasting and you hear the term “GSM,” it’s wine-geek speak for the three most widely used red Rhone grapes. For white grapes, Roussane, Marsanne, and Viognier (see last week’s post) are the most popular.

Church of Vino: Wine lovers mill about in front of the former altar.

Because wine and food go together like religion and guilt, two trendy food trucks were conveniently parked in the cathedral courtyard, serving up chicken tacos or beef sliders. I chose the chicken tacos and doused the flames of the salsa with a lovely white blend from Vines on the Marycrest, a winery whose name could easily double as the local all-girls Catholic high school in a telenovela set in a wine growing town. But I digress…

Bottles of white and rosé wines perspired in ice buckets on long picnic tables in the courtyard while the winemakers themselves sat down to answer questions about their wines in a refreshingly informal setting. The scorching L.A. sun was anything but refreshing, so we finished eating and sought shade at one of several cocktail tables on the perimeter of the courtyard.

It was here that I had the pleasure of meeting representatives from ANCO Fine Cheese, a company that exports cheeses from Europe to stores and restaurants in L.A. and beyond. Now, if there’s anything that motivates me more than a good glass of wine, it’s the promise of a cheese table the size of a school bus. Okay, maybe not that grande, but you get the idea.

Gluttony is one of the seven deadly sins.

If you want to talk about a moral dilemma, mine was how to reconcile the desire to indulge in Death by Cheese with the virtues of fitting into my jeans. Chicas y chicos, the cheese won.

Confessions of a vino lover.

Luckily for me, I spied two empty confessionals just waddling distance from the cheese table. But I got a little sidetracked by the 2008 “Lodestone” red from Hearthstone Vineyard and Winery. This was a blend of 50 percent Syrah with Grenache and Mourvedre. Wonderful black cherry aromas with a touch of pepper and anise. Just the thing to take your mind off atonement.

And while we’re on the topic of atonement (or in this case, lack thereof), the nuns at my all-girls Catholic high school reminded us daily where bad girls would end up. But I will submit that well-intentioned girls (and boys) with a weakness for cheese and vino gather at the Cathedral of Wine.

Wines of South America: Uruguay’s Wine Country

3 May

News flash: An article posted Tuesday on InternationalLiving.com states that the best quality of life in Latin America can be found in Uruguay. World Cup soccer and Diego Forlan notwithstanding, I realize some of my non-Uruguayan Latin American readers may disagree. Being of Peruvian heritage myself (and let’s not EVEN bring up futbol at this point), I was simply looking for a timely news hook besides Cinco de Mayo on which I could hang this blog post.

Kidding aside, Uruguay oozes old-world charm and pristine natural beauty, as I discovered a couple of years ago when I had the good fortune to travel there on business. Never one to miss an opportunity to sample a country’s wines, I did some exploring in Carmelo, Uruguay, which looks a lot like Tuscany minus the throngs of tourists.

Early morning in Carmelo, Uruguay’s wine country.

Carmelo, located in southwestern Uruguay, is one of the country’s lesser-known wine growing regions, and Tannat is perhaps Uruguay’s best known wine, a deep purple, full-bodied explosion of ripe blackberries and bold tannins. Uruguayan Tannat is not something you’re likely to find at the local grocery store, although more U.S. wine shops are beginning to carry it and I would say it’s worth the search.

Tannat wine, produced at Zubizarreta vineyards in Carmelo, Uruguay.

Unlike California’s Napa Valley and parts of Argentina, Carmelo’s wine country is not easy to explore on your own unless you have a local contact or you are fluent in Spanish and have a knack for finding places off the beaten path. When I was there in 2009, most of the wineries had no web presence and wine tourism was virtually nonexistent. But therein lies the charm of Carmelo’s wine country.

Kick back with a bottle of wine at bodega Irurtia in Uruguay’s Carmelo region.

Irurtia, one of the bodegas I visited, is operated by the grandchildren of founder Lorenzo Irurtia, who migrated to Uruguay from the Basque country in the early 20th century. Spread throughout the winery and grounds are mementos from the family’s past, including Lorenzo’s vintage adding machine and his son Dante’s collection of classic cars from the 1930s and 1940s.

The family’s classic car collection is on display at the winery.

Tasting wine at Irurtia is a little like hanging out in the gothic-style dining room of a good friend whose family happens to make wine. Maria Jose, who runs the winery with her brother, casually pours some of the wines while talking about the history of the vineyards and the vines’ French root stock. The Tannat grape originated in France and was brought to Uruguay in the late 19th century by Basque immigrants.

Maria gets ready to pour some of her family’s wines.

Irurtia has won awards for its wines in international competitions and produces a lovely Pinot Noir, so don’t limit yourself to the Tannat if you happen to go there. And yes, going there is the only way you can sample Irurtia wines as they are not yet available in the United States. The winery now has a website and you can use the contact form to arrange a visit.

Tannat is not the only grape in town.

Besides wine, the Carmelo region offers delights for foodies and nature lovers alike. My fellow cheese addicts will be thrilled to know you can get your fix at any of a dozen artisanal cheese makers on the road from Carmelo to Montevideo (about 165 miles). When I say ‘artisanal,’ I mean families making cheese out of their homes from milk produced by goats raised in the backyard. The epitome of farm-to-table.

A tiny cheese shop on the property of a family who makes artisanal cheeses.

You can do what I did and make stops along the cheese route as you head to Montevideo. You can also day trip it from Carmelo, but it may make for a long day. Whatever you do, be prepared for some of the best cheeses you’ll have this side of the Eiffel Tower. In fact, once you’ve tasted your cheese, pay it forward by stepping out back and personally thanking the goats who produced the milk.

Here’s looking at you, kid.

I’ve never lived in Uruguay so I can’t speak to its quality of life. However, if wine and cheese are any indicator of an ideal place to live, Uruguay is a winner in my book.

Can red wine give you six-pack abs?

5 Apr

Just when you thought it was safe to get on the treadmill, a new (as in, yesterday) study by Purdue University has concluded that a compound found in red wine can block the development of fat cells. This is great news for people like me, whose fat cells haven’t seen the inside of a gym in about two weeks. Not only that, but red wine as a weight loss tool beats the South Beach Diet, hands down.

Red wine. Better than Pilates.

In all seriousness, chicas y chicos, we’ve known about the health benefits of red wine since the 1980s, when someone thought to connect red wine consumption with the reason French people have healthier corazones than we do, despite devouring triple-creme Brie and buttery croissants with a certain je ne sais quoi that looks a lot like goose liver fat.

The French Paradox: Lab rats who drank whole milk got fatter than those who ate cheese. It's true - watch the 60 Minutes piece on YouTube.

But don’t take it from me. Go to YouTube and search for “French Paradox” to learn how drinking red wine can lead to a healthier heart.

Lest I digress and break into the Camembert, the Purdue researchers identified the fat-busting compound as piceatannol (say that 10 times fast), which, no surprise, is similar in structure to resveratrol, the red wine component that is believed to stave off cancer and heart disease.

Although Señorita Vino is a bit of a science geek, I promise not to get too technical here. In short, piceatannol prevents immature fat cells from  growing. I’ll drink to that.

Glorious. Rich. Creamy. Stinky. Delectable. Delicioso.

Now here’s El Disclaimer: I am not in any way advocating excessive red wine consumption as a weight loss program, so put down that bottle of Malbec. Gently. You might need it later. Common sense (and my husband) says that the only way to lose weight is to eat less and move more. As a matter of fact, piceatannol is found not only in red wine but in blueberries, grapes and passion fruit, proving once again that you really do need to eat your fruits and veggies.

But if a little sip here and there of my favorite Shiraz is sending the fat cells in my thighs into suspended animation, I say pass the queso, por favor!

Celebrate Leap Year with 29-cent wine

29 Feb

If you’re looking for an excuse to celebrate Leap Year, how about a glass of wine for 29 cents?

A Pasadena, California wine bar is offering Leap Year party people a second glass of wine for only 29 cents. And wine newbies are especially welcome at this snob-free wine zone. “Sometimes a wine bistro can be a little intimidating to someone who’s unfamiliar with wine,” said Manuel Mesta, general manager and wine director at Vertical Wine Bistro. “This is an opportunity for us to say, ‘Give us a try.’ And since it’s a good deal, maybe you’ll try some items you normally wouldn’t.”

Snob-free Wine Zone: The bar at Vertical Wine Bistro (photo courtesy of Vertical Wine Bistro)

Mesta credits his love for food and travel as his inspiration for getting into the wine business. His advice to people who are new to wine is to cast aside the notion that they don’t know enough about wine to enjoy it. “No one will ever know enough,” he says. Instead, he suggests focusing on what you like and what sensations and flavors you experience when sipping a glass of wine. “Sauvignon Blanc is a beautiful, classic wine. Allow yourself to taste the fruit and the minerality.” Pinot Noir, with its cherry aromas and pleasant acidity, is another wine-novice favorite, according to Mesta.

Charcuterie is part of the Leap Year deal at Vertical Wine Bistro (photo courtesy of Vertical Wine Bistro)

Since a girl can’t live by wine alone, Vertical Wine Bistro will also be offering 29-cent cheeses and charcuterie. Seven different cheeses and artisanal cured meats will be on the Leap Year specials menu.”Food is a different experience when you try it with wine,” Mesta noted. Truer words were never spoken.

Vertical Wine Bistro, 70 North Raymond Avenue (upstairs), Pasadena, Calif. (626) 795-3999. Open 5 – 11 p.m.

Four last-minute holiday gifts for vino lovers

19 Dec

Six days until Christmas! Do you know where your shopping list is?

I promised I’d be back with a few last-minute gift ideas for your favorite wine lover/foodista. Real quick, because I know you’re rushing to the mall, here are four fun ways to say Feliz Navidad:

1. Don’t you hate it when you’re at a party and your wine glass decides to go mingle with 30 other glasses? I’ve tried to identify my wayward glass by the shade of the lipstick stain on the rim, but that never works unless I’m wearing coral or some other funky hue. A cool set of wine tags will solve that dilemma and save you from the Ick Factor of drinking out of someone else’s glass. My husband and I received this set as a wedding present eight years ago. Each tag has the name of a different Latin dance on it. There are lots of fun options available online or at your favorite local wine shop. Cha-cha-cha!

2. Nothing says I love you like stinky cheese. The stinkier the better! Give your favorite foodista a little cheese with their wine with a Cheese-of-the-Month membership. In a perfect world, the nice lady I met at the Mercado San Camilo in Arequipa, Perú  would be able to import her cheeses stateside. But we have plenty of options here, including  Greenwich Village landmark Murray’s Cheese Shop, which offers four-, six- and 12-month packages of 3 cheeses per month.

3. Road trip! Yes, you can give a road trip for Christmas. I’ve gifted my husband with trips to Napa Valley and California’s Central Coast. This is the gift that gives both ways, if you manage to invite yourself along. I know these are tough times, so if the price tag of a wine and food weekend is a bit steep right now, use the power of suggestion by giving a copy of Baja Wine Country or La Ruta del Vino de Baja California. These detailed, colorful and informative guides to Baja California’s Ruta del Vino are a helpful tool to inspire your next wine tasting adventure. Available in Spanish and English, for a mere $12 per book plus shipping, your partner/friend/spouse will be so impressed by your thoughtfulness that they may just invite you on a road trip to el Valle de Guadalupe. ¡Buen viaje!

4. Tired of the same old wine scene? Want to add spice to your life or your BFF’s? Looking for something exotic with a Latin accent that will make your friends stare in wonder and awe when the wrapping comes off? Pisco is the answer. Yes, in homage to the land of the Incas (and mis padres), there’s nothing like Peruvian pisco to add a little variety and excitement to your next cocktail party. This attractive package also looks great under the Christmas tree. Bartender not included.

(El full disclosure: My husband is a great man for tolerating my camera’s roving eye. In fact, putting this photo on my blog was his idea. I swear.)

Feliz Navidad and happy shopping, chicas!

Vinos and cheeses of España – a match made in pairing heaven

26 Oct

Your friendly guides on this tour of Spanish culinary delights (l to r): Norbert Wabnig, owner of the Cheese Store of Beverly HIlls, Antonio Martínez of Antalva Imports, and the Cheese Store's Tony, who leads the educational discussions on cheese at the monthly tastings. Photo courtesy of the lovely and talented Ulla Kimmig, herself a Cheese Store alumna. View more of her exquisite images at http://www.ullakimmig.de.

“…it made him to dream that he was already arrived at the kingdom of Micomicon, and that he was then in combat with his enemy, and he had given so many blows on the wine-bags, supposing them to be giants, as all the whole chamber flowed with wine.”  – Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, Don Quixote, Part I.

You literary types may recall this scene from Don Quixote, in which our hero’s valiant quest to slay a super-sized enemy turns into a sleepwalking fiasco involving gallons of spilled red wine and a furious Spanish innkeeper. My own hunt for the perfect Spanish wine and cheese pairing ended less chaotically at the Cheese Store of Beverly Hills. I’m happy to report that not a drop of Garnacha was wasted, and unlike Quixote’s angry host, the proprietors here plied me with serrano jam and marcona almonds.

On a recent Thursday night, I and nine other lovers of Spanish wines and cheeses gathered for The Cheese Store’s monthly wine and cheese pairing. The theme: “España.” Our mission: To sample 10 cheeses and seven wines from the land that brought us flamenco, paella and Pedro Almodóvar.

Importer Antonio Martínez of Antalva Imports, the consummate caballero, started us off with the Cava Blancher Capdevila y Pujol, a sparkling wine made in the méthode champenoise style, which, simply stated, means the wine was produced according to a traditional method developed in the Champagne region of France. I tasted pears; the tasting notes said green apples. Go figure. A future post will delve into the wine novice’s conundrum, “But I Taste Pears, Not Apples,” so stay tuned. For now, suffice it to say that the delicate bubbles did a gentle zapateado on the taste buds, and at $16 a bottle, this one’s definitely fiesta-worthy.

As for the cheeses, if Manchego is as far as your Spanish cheese repertoire goes, get ready to explore new horizons. Nine of them, to be exact: Nevat, Leonara, Tetilla, Pata Cabra, Idiazábal, Valdeón, Romáo, El Porfaio, Abrigo. The barnyard was well-represented here, with cheeses made from the milk of sheep, goats and cows.

Among my personal favorites was the Leonara, which is produced in Castilla y León from goat’s milk. The rich, buttery taste was a perfect contrast to the dry sparkle of the Cava Blancher. Picture yourself with a bottle of Cava, a wedge of Leonara, Javier Bardem (or Penélope Cruz), in a tucked-away Salamanca wine bar, and you’ll understand how otherworldly this pairing is. (El Full Disclosure: In case my husband is reading, I swear I went to the tasting with Debra, not Javier Bardem).

Before launching into another Tempranillo-soaked, bodice-ripping food fantasy, I want to mention a couple of the standout wines that were poured that evening. Yes, all of the wines were A-plus, but with all due respect to Cervantes, I want this post to be a little more concise than Don Quixote, parts 1 and 2.

Three flights of wine were poured with the first plate of five cheeses. The 2010 Maria Andrea Ribeiro Blanco, a crisp white wine made from a blend of Treixadura, Albariño, Godello and Loureira grapes, was a winner. I tasted melon (and so did the tasting notes!) and I was even able to identify malolactic fermentation from the creaminess on the palate. Malolactic fermentation, in case you’re wondering, is a process by which an acid that occurs naturally in crushed grapes is converted to lactic acid, which tastes smoother and gives the finished wine a buttery, creamy taste.

Pair the Maria Andrea with the Idiazábal cheese, a semi-hard cheese made from sheep’s milk smoked with beechwood. You’ll notice a subtle, smoky flavor with the nutty sweetness typical of cheeses made with sheep’s milk. The smokiness works beautifully with the acidity of the wine. De-li-cioso.

And speaking of delicious, the second plate of cheeses paired with an additional three flights of wine saw the marriage of two Spanish classics – Manchego cheese and Tempranillo wine. Manchego, as noted by Tony Princiotta, one of the Cheese Store’s High Priests of the Palate, “lives with red wines.”

For me, the ultimate fusion of flavors was the 2009 Viña Zangarrón “El Vino del Buen Amor” Toro D.O. (Tempranillo) paired with the Valdeón blue cheese, also from Castilla y León. This melt-in-your-mouth cheese is made from a blend of cow and goat milk. Wrapped in sycamore leaves, you’ll feel a bit of a spicy kick but not to the point that it dominates the delicate flavor, which I found more subtle than your typical blue cheese. The rich texture was a perfect match for the inky, full-bodied Toro, an organically made wine which, according to el Señor Martínez, boasts triple the antioxidant content of most red wines. I’ll drink to that!

To come full circle, “El Vino del Buen Amor” happens to be a phrase coined by the great 14th century Spanish poet, Juan Ruiz, in a collection of poems on romantic themes. Pair this wine with your favorite carne asada dish or a hearty seafood paella and watch love blossom (Javier Bardem optional).

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