Tag Archives: Pinot Noir

8 #Thanksgiving #wines for all budgets

27 Nov

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, none of the wines mentioned here paid me for the illustrious privilege of being featured on this list. In fact, I purchased these wines with my own hard earned dólares.

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.


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.


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.

ZRiesling NV

Red Wines

1. 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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2. 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.

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3. 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.


4. 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 Vino 101: Beaujolais Basics.

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


At last – a wine for your Cuban sandwich

26 Nov

There’s rumba in them thar hills! One Oregon winery  owner has put some ritmo into the Willamette Valley winemaking community, and he’s all about passion for sabor.

At Cubanísimo Vineyards in Salem, neurosurgeon and Havana native Dr. Mauricio Collada named his winery for the ‘very Cuban’ flavor he brings to one of the top Pinot Noir regions in the U.S.

Forget about lame ambient music on winery sound systems. Visitors to Cubanísimo’s tasting room can enjoy a little rumba with their award-winning Pinot Noir, and if you’re lucky enough to live in the area, you can sign up for salsa lessons every third Saturday of the month.

Not a local? Then take home a souvenir guayabera with the Cubanísimo logo embroidered on the back. Low on TP? Not to worry – you can pick up a few rolls of Fidel Castro toilet paper for a revolutionary way to–ahem–take care of business.

Read the whole story (penned by yours truly) on TheLatinKitchen.com and find out how Cubanísimo is merengue-ing its way through Oregon wine country. ¡Salud!

Oregon Wine Country, Part 3: All in the Familia

19 Oct

I knew the gods were smiling on me the day I married Señor Jim. You see, his familia hails from the Pacific Northwest, land of the Pike Place Market, birthplace of Nordstrom, breeding ground for some of the world’s most delectable salmon, and home to two wine-producing states. Oh, and he’s a pretty fine hombre, too.

Oregon boasts 16 AVAs (American Viticultural Areas), or officially recognized wine grape growing regions.

So earlier this year when he told me his cousins were planning a September family reunion in Oregon’s premier wine region, the Willamette Valley, I thought it would be fun to finally get to meet some more of his family, and try some smaller label Oregon Pinot Noirs. But when I learned that two of his relatives actually made small label Oregon wines, I knew I’d hit the Spouse Super Lotto.

As it turns out, Jim’s cousin Brenda worked in the wine industry for more than 25 years, both in California and Oregon. And Brenda happens to be the proud mother of not one but two winemaking sons, Stirling and Christian.

Brenda’s son, Stirling (photo: Mad Violets Company).

Stirling Button Fox is the proprietor of  Mad Violets Wine Company, where his lovely wife, Kelly Kidneigh, is the official winemaker (Girl Power!).

Kelly, the winemaker at Mad Violets (Photo: Mad Violets Company)

Mad Violets is a family business in every sense, including its moniker, which is a mash-up of the names of Stirling’s two daughters, Madeleine and Violet. Fort-five percent of the grapes in the 2009 Pinot Noir come from the couple’s own vineyard, Buttonfield Estate (careful readers will note that Button is a family name), and 100 percent of the grapes in the 2010 Pinot Gris are also from the estate.

What’s a family reunion without family-made vino?

Both the Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris display classic characteristics. I personally loved the minerality of the Pinot Gris, and the Pinot Noir’s gorgeous strawberry notes were a hit at the reunion dinner. If you like your vino with peach and honey aromas, the 2011 Riesling is a winner. These grapes are sourced from the oldest Riesling vineyard in Yamhill county.

One of the things I adore about Jim’s family is how warm, open and genuine they are. This blog post would rival a García Márquez novel in length if I were to acknowledge each and every one of them for their hospitality and kindness during our five-day Oregon wine county odyssey.

So let me acknowledge one cousin whom I got to meet for the first time, the one whose newsy Christmas letters I’ve had the pleasure of reading in the 12 years Señor Jim and I have been together, and the one without whom today’s post literally would have been impossible.

Brenda with her fabuloso cousin, Señor Jim.

Brenda, thank you for sharing your love of wine and passion for life with us, not to mention your enormous heart.

And to the entire Button clan (I’m looking at YOU, Carolyn, Diane, Jeanie, Carlee, and your wonderful hombres), I raise a glass to you. ¡Salud!

Oregon Wine Country, Part 1: A wine newbie’s paradise

5 Oct

If I had a dollar for every story I’ve heard about an encounter with a wine know-it-all, I’d be writing this from my palazzo overlooking vineyards in Italy’s Chianti region. But alas, I sit at my desk in a Los Angeles suburb, nursing a nasty cold I caught on a trip to Oregon’s Willamette Valley two weeks ago.

I was there for a familia reunion planned by Señor Jim’s cousins. Let me say that if you could choose where your spouse or partner’s family hails from, anyplace that’s home to 15 wine-growing regions ain’t too shabby. And Oregon’s Willamette Valley, chicas y chicos, is the perfect place for vino novices. Why? Because this is not a natural habitat of the critter known in scientific circles as Winus Snobus. In fact, I didn’t encounter a single one the whole time we were there.

Oregon – A Snob-Free Wine Zone.

At this point, I’d like to take a bit of a detour and acknowledge the Coughing Wonder that sat across the aisle from me on the flight from LA to Portland: Dude, muchas gracias for sharing your influenza virus with Virgin America flight 802. You’re supposed to cover your  mouth when you cough.

Germs aside, thank you, Virgin America for ensuring my wine bottles survived baggage check. [NOTE: Virgin did not pay for my flight, but I mentioned them anyway. De nada, Sir Richard Branson.]

Thankfully, it wasn’t until the day before we had to fly home that Typhoid Larry’s germ shower finally set up shop  in my sinuses. Which means I had the ability to taste each and every delicious drop of Oregon vino for four entire days.

Sipping rosé at the Carlton Winemaker’s Studio.

Three of the wine grapes Oregon is best known for are Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris and Chardonnay. ¿Porqué? Because the soil types, relatively mild winters and cloudy summers in the Willamette Valley are ideal for these grapes, creating near-perfect conditions for the grapes to ripen and the soil to drain. If you’re a Pinot Noir kind of chica or chico, you need to add the International Pinot Noir Celebration to your bucket list. It’s held here annually in July.

Morning fog lifts over Pinot Noir vines. A typical Pacific Northwest setting of fir trees and hills provides a unique backdrop.

At 40 years and counting, Oregon is a relatively young wine producing region. Some sources describe the region’s early winemakers as renegades and visionaries who escaped Northern California’s more established winemaking industry and literally planted roots in the rich Oregon soil. The results are nothing short of excelente, as evidenced by the dizzying display of awards at several of the wineries we visited.

Oregon winemakers are (rightfully) proud of their award-winning wines.

But don’t let the flashy gold medals and crystal trophies scare you, chicas y chicos. As noted earlier, theWillamette Valley has a friendly, down-to-earth vibe. Vino newbies’ questions will be meet with answers that the average person can understand. Not only that, but some wineries have educational displays in the tasting room. One of my favorites was the little glass jar at  Elk Cove Vineyards holding a sample of the rocky soil.

Rocky soil means the earth doesn’t hold rainwater, forcing the grapevine to send roots further down into the earth for water, and allowing the vine to put more energy into growing grapes versus grape leaves.

We were told that the “Estate Soil” sign went up after a (possibly borracha*) woman mistook the rocks for biscotti and took a bite.  Take it from Señorita Vino–stick with what’s in your  wine glass and you’ll be fine. ¡Salud!

*For my non-Spanish speaking readers: Borracha means drunk. If she were a guy, she’d be borracho. 

Next week: Latinos in Oregon’s wine industry.

A take-along wine cheat sheet

17 Sep

On a recent visit to Señor Jim’s family in Seattle, I accompanied my amazing step-daughter-in-law (a.k.a. Miss Jenny) on a quick grocery store trip to buy wine for dinner. Miss J and I were  navigating the super-sized aisles of a super-grande market, where the wine section seemed to go on for miles. Miss J turned to me and said, “You should make a cheat sheet so that I’ll know how each type of wine tastes.”

Miss J, from your lips to Señorita Vino’s ears.

Here for your shopping pleasure are general aroma and flavor profiles for the eight most common wines you’re likely to see at a restaurant or in the wine section at the grocery store.

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Chardonnay - If you like buttery, oaky wine, choose Chardonnay. The wood notes come from the oak barrels used for aging Chardonnay. Keep in mind that some Chards  are aged in stainless steel and will not have the oaky notes. If the grapes were grown in a warmer growing climate, you’ll notice tropical fruit aromas. Cooler climate Chardonnays will have pear, apple and melon aromas.

Sauvignon Blanc - Grapefruit, grass and green pepper are aromas commonly associated with Sauvignon Blanc. If you buy a Sauv Blanc from France, you may notice some mineral notes such as flint. If the label says that the wine is oak-aged, you’ll get some toasty, smoky notes as well. Sauvignon Blanc has a crisp, acidic flavor profile, whereas most Chardonnays will feel more creamy.

Pinot Grigio (a.k.a. Pinot Gris) - Most Pinot Grigios are unoaked, so if you’re not a fan of  wood aromas, this is a good choice. You may notice hints of apple, peach, citrus and minerals. The acidity ranges from low to high. How to tell the difference? Pinot Grigios from cooler climates will be more acidic, while those from warmer climates less so.

Riesling - Floral aromas of jasmine and honeysuckle, with fruit notes of apricot and nectarine, characterize this wine. If you can detect a ‘petrol’ aroma, don’t worry – it’s normal! HEADS-UP: It’s a myth that all Rieslings are sweet. Sweetness depends on how the wine was fermented, when the grapes were picked, and other factors. If the bottle says ‘late harvest,’ it will taste sweet. Sometimes you’ll see ‘dry Riesling’ on the label. Remember that ‘dry’ is the word used to describe wines that are not sweet.


Cabernet Sauvignon - This wine is high in tannin, which means you’ll get an astringent, puckering sensation in the mouth. Some people are sensitive to tannins and can get headaches or symptoms similar to hay fever. Cabernet Sauvignon has black cherry aromas, black currant and blackberry. You’ll also detect dark chocolate and tobacco. Cabernets aged in new oak may display coffee and caramel notes.

Merlot – Less tannic than Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot has plum, blueberry and minty aromas. You may also get some coffee and chocolate notes. Merlot sales took a hit after the movie Sideways, but it remains one of the more popular red wines. Often you’ll see a Merlot-Cabernet Sauvignon blend, which will be less tannic than a Cabernet Sauvignon and have a broader range of flavors.

Pinot Noir - Naturally low in tannins, this is a good choice for people who don’t care for the puckering effect of tannic wines. Pinot Noir is known for its raspberry and strawberry aromas, as well as red flowers such as rose and carnation. Older Pinots will develop what are known as barnyard aromas. And yes, it smells like what you’d smell in the stall or on the floor of a barnyard. It’s nowhere near as asqueroso as it sounds. But if you’d rather avoid it, go for a younger Pinot.

Syrah (a.k.a. Shiraz) – Another highly tannic wine, but with aromas that are much different from Cabernet Sauvignon. Choose Syrah if you like hints of violets, black pepper, lavender, blackberry, anise and smoked meat.

Carmageddon Wine List – Wines Named after Highways

14 Jul

Route 246 in the Santa Ynez Valley

Carmageddon is one day away. Do you know where your GPS system is? Those of you living outside the Los Angeles area may not know that our fabled 405 freeway will close between the 10 and 101 freeways for three days starting tomorrow, an event which has caused weeping and gnashing of teeth-against-steering-wheels for the past two months.

Having spent 20-plus years on the highways and byways of this glorious metropolis, I’ve experienced my share of personal Carmageddons. Conclusion: Weekend freeway closures are for wimps. Try driving from Westwood to the South Bay on a weekday, during afternoon rush hour, in the rain, and then tell me about Carmageddon.

To my fellow Angelenas who are thinking the world will end because they’ll have to skip their nail appointment in Studio City, I have five words: Have a Glass of Wine. In fact, have a glass of wine named after a highway. That’s right chicas. Here for your sipping pleasure are five wines named after roads and highways in South America, California and Europe. The antidote to impending doom and gridlock.

1. Camino del Inca 2009 Malbec, Mendoza, Argentina

A wine after my own Peruvian-American corazón. The Camino del Inca, as you Spanish-speakers will know, refers to the Inca Road. Once the highway that connected the Inca empire, which spanned as far south as Argentina, Camino del Inca is the name of a vineyard in Salta, Argentina, whose estate vines grow on land that once formed part of the mighty kingdom.  A glass of Malbec is the perfect accompaniment to a car-free weekend.

2. D2 2008 Columbia Valley, Washington

Although this wine hails from Washington’s renowned Columbia Valley, it takes its name from the famous D2 highway in Bordeaux, France, which I fondly refer to as Appellation Highway, as it winds through world-renowned appellations such as Médoc and Saint Julien, among others. Sigh…the mere name takes me back to France, circa 2006, when crammed into a tiny Peugeot with my husband, we castle-hopped with a few stops at small tasting rooms in 500 year-old cellars. Oui, le D2. A highway I’d volunteer to be Carmegeddoned on any day.

3. Ruta 22 Reserve 2009 Malbec, Patagonia, Argentina

The Ruta 22 is the highway that runs east-west across Argentina about halfway between the Mendoza region and the town of Bariloche. Survive Carmageddon by throwing a gaucho-themed parrillada. A juicy, grilled steak will pair wonderfully with the firm tannins in this wine. Not a meat-eater? Pour yourself a glass and enjoy it with a cheese plate and olives. Ponchos optional!

4. Highway 12 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon, Sonoma County

If you’d planned ahead, you could have spent Carmageddon on California State Route 12, the highway that travels east-west through Sonoma County.  Highway 12 is dotted with world-class wineries and surrounded by some of the most stunning scenery in Northern California. Notice how I’ve selected wines that go swimmingly with casual, summer foods. Hey, if you’re not going to be stuck in traffic, you might as well get outside and actually use your backyard or rooftop deck.

5. Ramal Road  2007 Pinot Noir Carneros, Sonoma County

Smack dab in the heart of Sonoma, Ramal Road is home to some world-class wineries and exactly 398 miles north of Carmageddon ground zero. My reason for choosing this wine, besides the fact that it’s named after a road? It’s a five-minute drive on surface streets to a wine retailer that sells it. 405? We don’t need no stinkin’ 405!

El disclaimer: Señorita Vino does not  – repeat – does not, advocate drinking alcohol and driving on highways or any other surface, closed or not. The goal here is to enjoy a full weekend of not having to get in your car but instead chill at home with your hombre and amigas.



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