Mexican Independence Day, L.A. style (and #vino, of course)

16 Sep

Gimme a ¡Salud! if you think Mexican Independence Day is on May 5.

(Cue sound of crickets chirping).

That’s right, chicas y chicos–contrary to what certain beer companies that shall remain nameless will tell you, September 16 (not Cinco de Mayo), marks 206 years since the famous grito, or cry,  uttered from a church in the little Mexican town of Dolores Hidalgo sowed the seeds for a revolution.

I can’t think of a better way to celebrate a revolution than with a big glass of vino. And I can’t think of a better place this side of the Rio Grande to enjoy a unique blend of Mexican heritage and wine than in Los Angeles’s own San Antonio Winery.

mariachis-and-wine

 

Yours truly had the distinct honor of being a guest at a recent wine and cheese pairing at L.A.’s oldest producing winery [El Full Disclosure: I was invited to attend a tasting event as a guest of San Antonio’s, however the opinions expressed are 100% mine, all mine!].

For you history buffs, San Antonio Winery was established near downtown Los Angeles in 1917 by Italian immigrant Santo Cambianica. Santo’s nephew, Stefano Riboli, came to the U.S. at age 15 to learn how to make wine from his uncle. Ten years later in 1946, Stefano married Italian hottie Maddalena Satragni.

founders

L to R: Stefano and Maddalena Riboli, Uncle Santo (photo credit: San Antonio Winery)

Today, the Riboli family continues to produce a diverse portfolio of wines, including sparkling, white, rosé and red, as well as classic and chocolate (yes, chocolate!) port. Ay, ay, ay

But back to the wine and cheese pairing. Let me start by saying wine and cheese pairings at San Antonio Winery are a far cry from the ones we’ve all suffered through at some point (we’ve all been there–a plate of jack, cheddar and some weird amalgamation of the two cut into little cubes, air-drying on paper plates). After just one San Antonio wine and cheese event, my pairing bar was set irreversibly high.

And it’s not just cheese (not that there’s anything wrong with just cheese). We’re talking Manchego quesadilla with Pinot Noir. Havarti and smoked andouille sausage on a hot dog bun with Petite Syrah. Danish blue with apricot preserves on a scone and a glass of Pinot Grigio.

havarti

Helloooo, Havarti! (…and hola, andouille sausage!)

Speaking of glasses, wine and cheese pairings a la San Antonio Winery mean you get…wait for it…a full pour. I speak the truth, darlings. No silly splashes here and there. Heck, they even come around and offer you another hearty round.

img_3729

Now that’s what I call a glass of wine!

These think-outside-the-box pairings come from Wonder-Somm Corey Arballo, wine steward at San Antonio Winery. Oh, and there’s a restaurant onsite at the winery, which means anytime you visit, you can get abbondanza Italian fare to go with your vino and not have to stumble around town looking for a hunka hunka hot lasagne. But that’s the topic of a future post.

Vino lovers at the pairing I attended got lucky–we all were serenaded by Mariachis as we savored our wine and cheese. I’ll drink to that!

Wine and cheese pairings at San Antonio Winery are offered a few times year. The next one is Sunday, Oct. 9 from 1 to 3:3o p.m. Whether or not you can make it, remember that you can visit the winery year-round and have a traditional wine tasting (save some room for lasagne afterwards!).  Bring an appetite, a thirst for award-winning wine and tell ’em Señorita Vino sent you.

¡Salud!

 

#NationalDrinkWineDay: Your 5-step #wine tasting guide

18 Feb

 

Drink up, darlings! It’s National Drink Wine Day. For your sipping pleasure, here’s an easy-peasy primer on how to enjoy vino. Can I get a ¡Salud! for the Five S’s: See. Swirl. Sniff. Sip. Spit.

Glasses

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.

Swirl

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.

spin

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.

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.

Pouring

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.

Now go forth and taste, chicas y chicos.  ¡Salud!

This #ValentinesDay: #Champagne, #caviar, and beauty tips from a burlesque queen

12 Feb

There’s a black leather Betsey Johnson moto jacket hanging in my closet. It’s a smidge too tight, and the leather has seen better days. But I cannot, will not, flat-out refuse to hand it over to Goodwill. The reason: the jacket was a Valentine’s Day gift from 25 years ago.

It wasn’t from my husband (we didn’t know each other then), nor was it from an ex. The giver was me. I was single at the time, and while not quite ecstatic about my solo state, I decided go shopping that Valentine’s Day. While 99.9 percent of the U.S. population sat in pairs swilling cheap sparkling wine at the neighborhood Romantic Restaurant, I was falling crazy in love with a minimalist but cool leather jacket that purred, “I’m single. Got a problem with that?”

Betsey

Which brings us–at warp speed–to today. Two days shy of V-Day.  I dedicate this post to all the single chicas out there. And hey, why not single chicos, too.  This Valentine’s Day, it does not take two to tango. It just takes you, a splash of sparkling wine, some caviar, and a little help from the delectable Dita Von Teese (ah, now I have the guys’ attention!).

Start your sublime solo celebration with some bubbles. Here are some recommendations to get you on the road to blissful:

Salton Intenso Sparkling Brut. Did you know Brazil produces some kick-ass sparkling wines? This is one of them. This dry white sparkler is made from a blend of Chardonnay (70%) and Riesling (30%) grapes. You’ll get beautiful yellow apple aromas with pear and pineapple on the finish. Best of all, it sells for about $15.

Salton

 

Freixenet Cordon Negro Cava. Cava is Spain’s signature sparkling wine, and this one retails for about $10. And I commend the folks at Freixenet for coming up with a Valentine’s cocktail recipe that’s fitting for today’s post. It’s called..wait for it…the Heartbreaker. Put a hibiscus flower in a wine glass, add two teaspoons of hibiscus syrup, and fill the glass with some chilled Freixenet Cordon Negro. Watch the flower bloom (oooooh, pretty!). Sip daintily. Repeat.

FX_Valentine'sCocktail

Champagne Taittinger Brut La Francaise NV. Why not have French Champagne on your Sublime Single Valentine’s Day? You deserve it. Made  from 40% Chardonnay grapes, 35% Pinot Noir and 25% Pinot Meunier, Taittinger Brut La Francaise displays mouthwatering traces of honey and peach, with vanilla, white flower and fresh white peaches on the nose. Suggested retail price is $59.99.

Taittinger

And speaking of Champagne, Taittinger teamed up with “burlesque super heroine” Dita Von Teese to launch her new book, Your Beauty Mark: The Ultimate Guide to Eccentric Glamour (Dita Von Teese with Rose Apodaca, Dey St., 2015). This bible of self-love is 400 sumptuous pages of exercise, skin care, makeup and hair styling tips from the muchacha who brought back the Naked-in-a-Martini-Glass form of self-esteem building. Me, I’d rather buy a leather jacket. But who am I to judge anyone for inspiring us all to shimmy into a gargantuan cocktail glass au naturel and revel in the decadence of it all. And a big, bodacious ¡ándale pues! to Rose Apodaca, the accomplished journalist and East L.A. denizen who wrote the book with Ms. Von Teese.

Beauty Mark

What’s a little self-love without some caviar? To round out your Sensational Solo Valentine’s Day extravaganza, I hereby empower you to order yourself some Khavyar, a new caviar brand that professes to take the snobbery out of this dreamy delicacy. For anywhere from $12 to $99 an ounce, you can indulge in local varieties. If you wake up feeling particularly royal (happens to me all the time!), treat yourself to an imported variety, which will cost $50 to $150 an ounce. As I said earlier, don’t ask why – you are worth it. In all, Khavyar offers 15 different caviar varieties from around the world. Um, yes please!

KHAVYAR-GALILEE_PRIME

Et voila. You can see that you don’t need anyone to tell you what you can and cannot do when it comes to celebrating el día de San Valentín. Love is far too complex; it’s not something that follows rules or conventions. The most important rule of all is to love yourself before you love someone else. Amen, and salud, to that.

 

 

 

El full disclosure: I received samples of the Salton and Taittinger wines, as well as a copy of the book for review. The opinions expressed here are entirely my own.

 

Five fab reads to boost your #wine knowledge

2 Feb

Baby, it’s cold outside! And what better way to weather a storm than by curling up with a glass of wine and a good book. Heck, why not curl up with a glass of wine and five good books–about wine.

These tomes have something for everyone, from the wine newbie to the cheese lover and the history buff. There’s even one for vino geeks on branding and terroir. Check ’em out. And happy reading! [El Full Disclosure: I received review copies of these books from the publishers, however the views expressed here are entirely my own.]

TastingWineCheese_CoverTasting Wine and Cheese: An Insider’s Guide to Mastering the Principles of Pairing by Adam Centamore (Quarry Books, 2015)

My name is Señorita Vino, and I am a cheese-a-holic. [Can I get an “Hola, Señorita Vino?”]. Kidding aside, a recent scientific study presented evidence that cheese is as addicting as crack. True story. To help you master your addiction, cheese guru extraordinaire Adam Centamore has put together this user-friendly wine and cheese pairing guide. Start with easy-to-grasp pointers on tasting wine and cheese separately, then explore how the characteristics of different cheeses work with particular wines. After that, it’s pairing time! Concise and engaging, this could become one of your favorite go-to party planning guides.

The History of Wine in 100 Bottles by Oz Clarke (Sterling Epicure, 2015)Oz

Can I just say, I love Oz Clarke. His books have made my wine education a delicious journey filled with tantalizing tidbits that make me sound reeeeally interesting at dinner parties. Just ask my friends. Clarke’s latest work takes you on a time-travel adventure of the vino kind, starting in 6000 BC and ending in 2014. You’ll visit one of the first wine bars ever (Pompeii), learn about the highest vineyard in the world (Salta, Argentina), witness the end of Prohibition  (yay!), explore how the Nazis absconded with prized French wine (boo!), and get a glimpse of a convincing fake bottle of 1947 Chateau Petrus, courtesy of fraudster Rudy Kurniawan (boo again!).

TangledVInesTangled Vines: Greed, Murder, Obsession and an Arsonist in the Vineyards of California by Frances Dinkelspiel (St. Martin’s Press, 2015)

Murder! Intrigue! Quirky characters! Wine! If this sounds like the makings of a juicy, wine-soaked fiction novel, guess again. Tangled Vines is the true story of Mark Anderson, a whack-job grifter with a palate for fine wine who intentionally set fire to a wine storage facility in Northern California. The blaze obliterated more than a quarter of a billion dollars’ worth of wine, including 175 bottles of Port Angelica, a wine made by the author’s great-great grandfather in 1870s Southern California. Dinkelspiel sets out to trace the history of the Rancho Cucamonga property where her ancestor’s vines once grew. Along the way, she paints an enthralling portrait of California’s early wine industry.

Wine and IdentityWine and Identity: Branding, Heritage, Terrior edited by Matt Harvey, Leanne White and Warwick Frost (Routledge, 2014)

I’m not gonna lie–this exploration of wine branding and tourism is not exactly a beach read. Think of it as the difference between drinking a gossamer-light sparkling wine and a big, bold, badass Cabernet Sauvignon. And I mean that in a good way. If, like me, you dream of making wine your business (or if you’re a hardcore wine geek with an insatiable appetite for wine knowledge), Wine and Identity offers a deep-dive analysis of global wine markets and wine regions as destinations. The scope of the essays in the book comprises Old and New Worlds, established and emerging wine regions. Dive in. You’ll emerge enlightened and inspired.

FollyWine Folly: The Essential Guide to Wine by Madeline Puckette and Justin Hammack (Avery, 2015)

Cool wine diagrams – check. Fun, useful wine facts – check. A snob-free wine primer – check. This is the first book from the people who brought us winefolly.com, an award-winning website with easy-to-understand wine information, enticing visuals and a down-to-earth tone. The book is a helpful resource for people who are just learning about wine and for those who have some wine knowledge but want to have a quick reference guide on hand. My favorite part: the flavor profiles for more than 50 different grape varietals.

Happy #TempranilloDay! Fun facts and #food pairing tips for this popular Spanish #wine

12 Nov

Chicas y chicos, today is Tempranillo Day, and in this “Mucho Gusto” post from 2014, you’ll have all the fun facts you’ll need to impress your friends–and your palate–with your knowledge of one of Spain’s most popular vinos. A shout-out to the fine folks at Rioja Wine for providing the bee-you-tee-ful graphic featured in this post. 

My favorite wine anecdote is one I could share during one of those silly business “icebreakers” where you have to tell a group of complete strangers your most embarrassing moment. I was talking vino at a party with some people I’d just met and I mentioned a Tempranillo I had tried at a new tapas bar that had opened nearby. Being a Latina, I pronounced the word “tapas” with a native Spanish accent.

I started getting uncomfortable looks from the others, and finally one of them cleared his throat and said, “Um, you go to topless bars?”

For the record, I do not, but if you ever find yourself at a Spanish-themed topless bar–or at a restaurant with an eclectic wine list–here’s all you need to know about Tempranillo.

Image courtesy of Rioja Wine.

Image courtesy of Rioja Wine.

HOLA, ME LLAMO: Tempranillo, a red wine, gets its name from the Spanish word temprano, which means early (the grape ripens early). Depending on where you are, Tempranillo goes by a host of aliases: Cencibel, Ull de Lliebre, Tinto del País or Tinto del Toro in other regions of Spain; Tinta Roriz or Tinta Aragones in Portugal; and Tempranilla in Argentina.

MY ROOTS: Tempranillo’s birthplace is the Rioja region of Spain, but some folks think that it was brought there by French monks who were making the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela. Tempranillo is the core grape of red Rioja wines, where it’s often blended with Garnacha. It’s also one of the main red grapes in Ribera del Duero, where it’s been used for more than 100 years at the prestigious Vega Sicilia winery. Today, Tempranillo is grown in Mexico, California, Italy, Argentina, Australia and South Africa.

ALL ABOUT ME: If you like cherry and plum on the palate, you’ll enjoy Tempranillo. Grapes that were grown in iron-rich soil may show some iron-mineral notes. When it’s aged, Tempranillo displays beautiful caramel, tobacco and tea leaf aromas. This is a dry wine with medium tannins, medium alcohol and medium to high acidity.

FOODS I LOVE: Break out the jamón serrano and the chorizo. Tempranillo is dreamy with a charcuterie plate, and if you happen to be at a tapas bar, it’s a great match for croquetas (ham croquettes), meatballs in tomato sauce and pinches (lamb or pork kabobs). Tempranillo is also tasty with roasted lamb and Indian food.

DO TRY THIS AT HOME: A bottle of Tempranillo can cost anywhere from $10 to $300. Some budget-friendly wines worth trying include: Luis Alegre Koden 2011, Sancho Barón 2009, Lar de Sotomayor Vendimia Seleccoinada 2010, and from Mexico, Alximia Alma 2012.

Something to ponder as you sip your next glass of Tempranillo: You can enjoy Tempranillo and still keep your top on, while getting your tapas on.

¡Salud!

#Wine pairings for your #DiaDeLosMuertos feast (and remembering mom)

29 Oct

One of the things I adore about my culture is el Día de los Muertos, or the Day of the Dead. It’s said that each year on Nov. 1 and 2, the souls of the dead return to earth to spend 48 hours with their loved ones. I recently wrote a story for Latina Magazine’s TheLatinKitchen.com about wine pairings for traditional Día de los Muertos dishes.

I dedicate this post in loving memory of my Great Uncle Victor, whose dry wit and prankster tendencies are still alive and well in my world. Tío, que en paz descances. Siempre te recuerdo.

As some of you may recall, I lost my mother a year ago this month, and at the time I didn’t have the strength to make a Día de los Muertos altar for her; it was all too raw and too painful.

This year is different, and I will be assembling an altar for her this weekend. As I gather the sugar skulls, light the candles, place the November issue of Vanidades magazine on the altar along with Mounds candy bars (her favorite), her dragonfly pins and her vintage bottle of Chanel No. 5 perfume, I will contemplate what we’ll chat about once her soul completes the long journey from the other side to my living room.

I’ll tell her about how I thought of her each moment I was in Germany this summer, and how I imagined she could see the Rhine river through my eyes. I will ask her if it was she who made the church bells chime the “Ode to Joy” the second after I completed the transaction for the watch I bought in her memory at a tiny jewelry store in Bonn’s old town.

I’ll tell how last year, three days after her funeral as I was walking to the College of Business building at school to take an economics midterm, I was certain the dragonfly that appeared on the path ahead of me was her sending me luck and reminding me of what she always used to say when I was nervous about a test: “Ya te lo sabes,” or you already know it.

I’ll tell her not to worry about Dad, that he’s doing much better and actually took the initiative last week to find a widow and widower’s support group.

I’ll thank her for the new inner strength I’ve gained since she passed, and how I feel as if I’m channeling her no-nonsense, tough-as-nails attitude each time I handle a challenging situation at work or in life with grace and poise.

I’ll ask her if she was sad that Sábado Gigante went off the air, whether she was irked that Sweden’s prince married the girl who was a former exotic dancer, and if she is as enamored of Kate and Will’s new little princess as I am. I’ll also tell her how I miss gossiping about royals with her, an obsession that was passed along to me in her DNA.

Finally, I’ll ask her if she’s noticed how hard I’m trying to be a better person, to be generous, more understanding, more tolerant, more brave, and seizing opportunities before they evaporate into regrets.

Mom, you left a void in your wake, but you also left us with a legacy to improve ourselves, to aspire to find the good in life in the darkest of times, and to always aim for the top, because mediocrity is never an option. I love you, I miss you, I will always carry you in my heart.

Alximia Winery of Baja California #HispanicHeritageMonth

8 Oct

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.

Alximia-Pouring

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.

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