Tag Archives: Wine tasting

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:

IMG_1695

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.

IMG_1698

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!

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.

DSC_1726

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.

DSC_1698

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.

DSC_1728

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.

DSC_1754

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.

 

DSC_1708

 

¡Mucho Gusto! Get to know #SauvBlanc

16 May

Feliz Friday everyone ! Today is World Sauvignon Blanc Day, and I’m re-blogging this post from my ¡Mucho Gusto! series in honor of the occasion. Raise a glass of #SauvBlanc today!

For those of you who don’t speak Spanish, mucho gusto is what you say when you first meet someone. It’s like “nice to meet you,” but it would translate more directly as “with great pleasure.”

Gusto has many meanings, including “taste” and “flavor,” so consider ¡Mucho Gusto! a delectable play on words and a way to familiarize yourself with wine. So here we go…

Intipalka Sauvignon Blanc is made by Santiago Queirolo, one of Peru's longest-standing wineries.

Intipalka Sauvignon Blanc is made by Santiago Queirolo, one of Peru’s longest-standing wineries.

HOLA, ME LLAMO: Sauvignon Blanc is a white wine.

MY ROOTS: Sauvignon Blanc was born in France’s Bordeaux region. A bit of trivia – the grape variety hooked up with Cabernet Franc sometime in the 1700s and the result was Cabernet Sauvignon. Today, Sauvignon Blanc continues to thrive in Bordeaux. Because French wines are geographically labeled and not named for the actual grape, “Sancerre” and “Pouilly-Fumé” are 100 percent Sauvignon Blanc wines. Sauvignon Blanc was planted in other countries including New Zealand, the U.S. (California), Chile, Australia and Italy. Robert Mondavi coined the name Fumé Blanc, so if you see this on the grocery store shelf, it’s Sauvignon Blanc.

ALL ABOUT ME: Sauvignon Blanc is a dry wine made from an aromatic grape, hence its distinctive aroma. You may get nectarines, white peach, grapefruit, grass and herbs, gooseberries, and believe it or not, kitty pee. French Sauvignon Blanc may also display a flinty, gravelly minerality. Most Sauvignon Blanc is stainless-steel fermented, so you won’t get the woodsy, oaky notes you’d find in Chardonnay. It’s also known for its refreshing, crisp acidity.

FOODS I LOVE: You can’t go wrong with Sauvignon Blanc and seafood. The wine’s crispness complements the buttery texture of white fish and scallops. I’ve had it with oysters and it’s to-die-for amazing. Sauvignon Blanc is the ideal wine for vegetarian dishes. This is a great wine for salads, since the herb notes of the wine will match the crisp greens in the salad and the acidity matches vinaigrette dressing. For some Latin flair, pair Sauvingon Blanc with guacamole (the acidity of the wine “cuts” the creaminess of the guac) and spicy dishes like enchiladas and chile relleno. I love Sauvignon Blanc with Peruvian arroz con pollo (chicken in a cilantro sauce).

DO TRY THIS AT HOME: The beauty of Sauvignon Blanc is that you don’t have to break the bank to enjoy it. You can get a good bottle for $10 – $20. Of course, you can pay upwards of $150 for a classified Bordeaux blend. Some well-regarded labels include: Cloudy Bay, Kim Crawford and Matua Valley from New Zealand; Laville Haut-Brion, Alphonse Mellot and Pascal Jolivet from France; St. Supéry, Kunde and Matanzas Creek from California; Montes, Concha y Toro and Viña Leyda from Chile.

So here’s wishing you ¡Mucho Gusto! as you get to know Sauvignon Blanc. Until next time…

¡Salud!

 

 

Meet the wine lover: Chef Ricardo Zarate

12 Mar

Darlings, it’s been a mad March, and I’m not even a basketball fan. Señorita Vino is swamped in projects this week, so here’s a re-blog of an interview from last year with Peruvian chef Ricardo Zarate, the force behind two of LA’s most hip and happening Peruvian restaurants. ¡Buen provecho! (That’s Spanish for bon apétit!)

It’s not every day that a fellow peruano gets voted “Best New Chef” by Food & Wine magazine. Lucky Angelenos are reminded how Lima-born Ricardo Zarate earned his 2011 title each time they dine at his two L.A. Peruvian restos, Picca and Mo-Chica. Chef Zarate chatted with Señorita Vino about his passion for vino and why every day is the perfect day for a special-occasion wine.

Photo courtesy of Picca.
Photo courtesy of Picca.

SENORITA VINO: What’s your favorite wine?

RICARDO ZARATE: I like ceviche, and Sauvignon Blanc is one of the best wines for this dish. I love Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc. It’s so aromatic. If I want something fancy, I’ll pick a Sancerre.

SV: Besides Malbec and Torrontés, which wines would you pair with the most popular Peruvian dishes?

RZ: In the U.S., Malbec and Torrontes are two of the most available South American wines. I like Argentine wines because they get good mileage when paired with Peruvian cuisine. Malbec is light-bodied and not too rich. South American cuisine is rich in flavor, so you don’t want a wine that’s too rich.  I would add New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, and Chilean whites are good with Peruvian food.

SV: Will we ever see the day when Peruvian wines compete on the global stage?

RZ: Peru makes some great wines, but because they’re small-vineyard wines, you rarely–if ever–see them outside Peru.  The majority of grapes grown in Peru are used in making Pisco. I think at one point wine will become bigger because Peruvian cuisine is moving toward fine dining, and fine dining needs a fine drink like wine. It may be 10 years before we see more quality wines coming out of Peru.

SV: What advice would you give someone who is not well-versed in wine and may feel intimidated by it?

RZ: I used to go to restaurants and I’d see a French wine and get instantly intimidated. I’d think, “My God, I  don’t know what I’m doing!” When you order wine in a restaurant, you have the option to taste it first. The more you taste, the more you learn what grapes you like. California is a fantastic place to live. Go wine tasting in Napa Valley with your boyfriend or girlfriend, and make it a hobby or something you do just for fun.

SV: Do you have a favorite memory associated with wine?

RZ: When I was 20 I received a really expensive bottle of wine as a gift. All I can recall is that it was worth a couple thousand dollars. I decided to save it for a special occasion.

Soon after, I moved to London for work. One night I went out drinking with a good friend, and he overdid it and asked to stay on my couch. My wine collection was out in the living room where he [would be sleeping]. My friend wanted to keep drinking, so I told him he could open any bottle except for that one, and then I said goodnight.

The next morning, I saw that he had opened the expensive bottle. I was furious! I figured it was ruined since it had been left open overnight. So I sat him down and said, “We’re going to finish this bottle.” The wine was perfect, and my anger disappeared.

A few years after I left London, I learned that my friend had died in an accident. The night we drank the wine was the last time I saw him, so it was all meant to happen. The special occasion ended up being the night I drank a great wine with a good friend.

#Vino 101: How to get the most out of a #wine tasting event

6 Feb

Remember when you learned to ride a bike? Once the training wheels came off, the only way to gain confidence and feel less wobbly was to practice, practice, practice.

It’s kind of like that when you’re learning about wine. Not the wobbly part, though. That usually happens when you’ve “practiced” a bit too much , but I digress. In recent years, I’ve made it a point to attend as many wine tasting events as possible. Where else could you choose from 70-plus wines to taste in just a few hours?

Photo credit: Joey Hernandez

Photo credit: Joey Hernandez

If you want to train your palate (minus training wheels and crash helmet), get thee to a tasting!  Here are six ways you can improve your wine knowledge at a tasting event. And if you read to the end, there’s a little incentive to get you started.

1. Ask questions. Wine reps at tasting events are generous with their knowledge, so fire away. Ask about food pairing suggestions, the region where the grapes were grown, whether you can find the wine at your favorite bar, and what the wine sells for.

2. Take notes. Keep a small notebook in you purse or pocket to jot down names, flavors, likes and dislikes. This will serve as your handbook the next time you’re buying wine at a store or restaurant.

Photo credit: Joey Hernandez

Photo credit: Joey Hernandez

3. Taste wines you’ve never tried before. At an Italian wine tasting last year,  I got to try a premium Sassicaia for the very first time. My palate will never be the same. If you keep an open mind and are willing to try something that’s totally unfamiliar, you may find a new favorite. Or, as in my Sassicaia epiphany, you can sample a high-end wine that may otherwise be out of your budget.

4. Discover your dislikes. The flip side of the above tip is discovering you don’t care for a particular varietal or wine style. If this happens, don’t just rush off to the next tasting station. Pay attention to what turned you off about the wine. Knowing what you don’t like saves you from buying a similar style of wine in the future.

Photo credit: Joey Hernandez

Photo credit: Joey Hernandez

5. Make full use of the dump bucket. It’s not rude to pour an unfinished serving into a bucket. That’s why they’re there. And the more you drink, the less you’ll be able to distinguish flavors and aromas. So pace yourself–and eat before you go. Tasting events are all about the wine, and often there’s little to no food.

6. Have a plan. You won’t be able to sample each and every wine at a large-scale tasting, so be strategic. Larger tasting events will provide a booklet listing all the wineries, and sometimes even the wines. Flip through it and target wineries you like, or ones you may not know. Or you may decide to focus on a particular varietal or region.

Photo credit: Joey Hernandez

Photo credit: Joey Hernandez

Want to put these tips into practice? If you’re in the area, check out the Family Winemakers of California tasting at the Pasadena Convention Center on Sunday, March 9 from 3:30 to 6 p.m. Buy your tickets online by March 8 and take advantage of an exclusive 10 percent discount for Señorita Vino readers. Full details and the discount code are on my Events page. ¡Salud!  

¡Mucho Gusto! Get to know Barbaresco

22 Jan

Happy Wednesday, chicas y chicos!

I’m still reveling in the newness of 2014, and in my never-ending quest to bring you snob-free wine knowledge, I’d like to introduce you to ¡Mucho Gusto!, a brand-new feature on Señorita Vino. Well, it’s not literally on me, but you get the picture.

Once or twice a month, I’ll be focusing on a different wine, with a bit of history, flavor and aroma characteristics, pairing ideas and maybe even a recommended label or two. The purpose of this new department is to inspire you to learn about and taste wines you may not typically drink. Some you may have heard of, others not, but I promise you’ll learn something new, even about wines you already drink.

So without further ado, heeeeeeeere’s Barbaresco!

Image

HOLA, ME LLAMO: Barbaresco is a red wine made from the Nebbiolo grape.

MY ROOTS: Barbaresco hails from the Piedmont region in northwest Italy. It’s a DOCG wine (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita), the highest quality ranking for Italian wines. Bear in mind that California, Chile and Mexico also make wine from the Nebbiolo grape, but the wine can only be called Barbaresco if it’s produced in designated districts in Italy’s Piedmont region.

ALL ABOUT ME: Barbaresco is a dry wine known for having softer tannins than its “cousin,” Barolo, an Italian wine also made from Nebbiolo grapes. For this reason, Barbaresco is considered by some to be easier to drink than Barolo. Because the wine is aged in wood for a maximum of two years, you may smell cedar or oak. Barbaresco has lush berry and plum aromas, along with floral notes of violet and spices such as vanilla and licorice. This is a full-bodied wine, which means it will feel heavier on the palate and have a higher alcohol content.

FOODS I LOVE: Because of the tannins and body, Barbaresco pairs nicely with the traditional meat and game stews of northwestern Italy. Want a little Latin sabor? Pair it with carne asada, seco de cordero (Peruvian lamb stew), carnitas or roast pork. If you love a good charcuterie plate as much as I do, try it with salami,  mortadella, and if your arteries can handle it, lardo di Colonnata.

DO TRY THIS AT HOME: Expect to pay anywhere from $14 to $400 or more for a bottle of Barbaresco. You can get a good one for $30-$60. Some respected labels include: Ceretto, Gaja, Pio Cesare, Bruno Rocca and Tenute Cisa Asinari dei Marchesi di Gresy.

Now that you’ve met Barbaresco, what do you think? Is it a wine you think you’ll try? Are there other wines you’d like to see in a future ¡Mucho Gusto!? Share your comments – I’d love to hear from you.

¡Salud!

#Vino 101: Five #wine tasting basics

9 Jan

So how ’bout those New Year’s resolutions?

Wait! Come back! This isn’t about guilt trips.

It’s about the trips you take to your favorite wine bar or winery. One of my New Year’s resolutions for 2014 is to taste more wine. If that sounds more doable than dragging yourself to the gym each morning at 5, here’s a five-step wine tasting formula that just may inspire you to join me.

DSC_0513

The five S’s: See. Swirl. Sniff. Sip. Spit.

1. See. How a wine looks can tell you a lot about what’s in your glass. For example, the younger a white wine is, the paler it looks. Conversely, the older a red wine is, the lighter in color it will appear. More advanced tasters may be able to tell what type of grape the wine is made from by how it looks, e.g., a Cabernet Sauvignon will look inky, while a Pinot Noir will appear more clear.

DSC_0729

2. Swirl. When you swirl wine around in your glass, you’re releasing the little odor molecules that give wine its flavor and aroma. The only wine you don’t want to swirl is a sparkling wine. Exposure to air will cause the wine to lose its fizziness and some of its  flavor characteristics.

DSC_0122

3. Sniff. Smelling a wine can give you more clues about its origins and how it was made. If you’re smelling vanilla, cedar or tobacco, it’s an indicator that the wine was aged in oak barrels. If you’re smelling a lot of fruit, it’s possible the wine comes from the New World, or a winemaking region outside of Europe. Mineral aromas like gravel, flint or wet stone may mean the wine is made in the Old World or European style.

Wine_Sniff

4. Sip. Notice I said sip and not gulp. A smaller sip allows you to discreetly swirl the wine around in your mouth so that you can pick up more aromas, and thus  get a better sense for the wine’s flavor.

5. Spit. You’re probably wondering why anyone would want to waste perfectly good wine. I’ll drink to that! But if you overdo it, your ability to distinguish flavor characteristics plummets. It’s like meeting a chulo guy (or hot señorita) in a bar. The more you drink, the less likely you’ll be able to tell a winner from a stalker/TV Guide hoarder. Save the ambitious drinking for dinner. And make sure you have a ride home. Preferably not from aforementioned serial killer/Beanie Babies doll collector.

DSCN1783

Now go forth and taste, chicas y chicos. And if you need a motivational group to help you achieve this most grueling of New Year’s resolutions, you know where to find me. ¡Salud!

 

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,129 other followers

%d bloggers like this: