Archive | July, 2012

Happy Peruvian Independence Day–July 28

27 Jul

Yes, it’s a day early, but tomorrow is 28 de julio, or Perú’s Independence Day. It was on this day in 1821 that Perú broke away from Spanish rule, and ever since then, Peruvians around the world celebrate with plenty of pisco and pollo a la brasa. In honor of my ancestral nation’s independence (and because I’m too frantic studying for a Bordeaux exam to write an original post), I give you an oldie but a goodie – a previously published post about my first foray into mixology: The Caipirinka. Try it – I think you’ll enjoy it. And, ¡Que viva el Perú, carajo!

Variety, chicas y chicos, is the spice of life, so to add a little sabor to your weekend, it is my supreme pleasure to introduce my latest invention…the Caipirinka. It’s a refreshingly  exotic blend of mangoes, lime and pisco.

My latest brainchild: A pisco cocktail featuring mangos. Ooooh….aaaahhh!

Yep, it’s like the Brazilian Caipirinha but with a two-fold Peruvian twist: 1). Pisco is the national drink of Perú*, and 2). Mangos grow happily in Perú. And of course, there’s 2a: Señorita Vino’s parents hail from the land of the Incas.

If you’re not familiar with pisco, it’s a clear alcoholic spirit made from grapes. Some say it’s comparable to Italy’s grappa and Greece’s ouzo. And  like grappa and ouzo, pisco can knock you flat on your asti spumante, so be forewarned: un poquito goes a long way.

This Peruvian pisco is made from the quebranta grape.

Adding to the Caipirinka’s uniquely Peruvian flair is the mango. Perú is one of six countries that exports mangos to the U.S.  The mangos I used to make the Caipirinka were generously provided by the Mango Board, which probably had no idea I’d use them to make an alcoholic beverage.

But if anyone’s keeping track, this is arguably the world’s most nutrient-rich cocktail. Mangos contain more than 20 different types of nutrients and vitamins, and just one cup of mangos is 100 calories and provides 100% of your recommended vitamin C allowance. See? Señorita Vino cares muchísimo about the health (and girlish figures) of her readers.

Six varieties of mangos are available in the U.S.

I used fresh, pureed ataulfo mangos, the oblong, bright yellow fruit in the photo above. ¿Porqué ataulfo? Because this variety has no fibers and is as smooth as butter, making it a great option to blend in cocktails or fruit smoothies. Not only that, but the flesh is gloriously golden, calling to mind the gold treasure of the Inca empire. Now there’s a culture that literally worshipped its bling. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

So without further ado, here’s how you can add a little Inca gold to your Peruvian Independence Day celebration. Because we all have different palates (See “Vino 101”), you may want to adjust the amount of sugar, lime or pisco. If you do up the pisco content, Señorita Vino takes no responsabilidad if you wake up in an exotic land, covered in gold sequins and tropical bird feathers. ¡Salud!

*There is some debate between Perú and Chile as to which country ‘invented’ pisco. It was Perú, of course (see 2a above).

Señorita Vino’s Caipirinka 

(Serves 4)

Ingredients:

1 cup of ripe Ataulfo mangos (about 2), cubed

6 tablespoons of  sugar syrup (make ahead: Dissolve 8 tablespoons of baker’s sugar into 8 tablespoons of water in a pan over low heat. Bring to a boil, then boil for 1-2 minutes. Refrigerate. Keeps for about 2 weeks in the fridge).

8 ice cubes, cracked

4 key limes (or 2 regular limes), cut into small wedges. Save a few slices as a garnish, if desired.

4 teaspoons raw cane sugar, divided

4 ounces of pisco

3 additional ice cubes, cracked

In a blender, place the 8 cracked ice cubes, the mango and the sugar syrup. Blend until the mango is completely liquefied. Set aside. Place an equal amount of lime wedges into four small glasses. Add a teaspoon of raw cane sugar to each glass. With a muddler (see photo) or wooden spoon, crush the lime and sugar until it forms a paste.

A wooden muddler is used to crush the limes at the bottom of each glass.

Place the remaining three cracked cubes in a cocktail shaker. Add 2/3 cup of the mango puree and the pisco and shake until condensation forms on the shaker.

Shake it, chica!

Pour immediately into the cocktail glasses. Garnish with lime wedge if desired.

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Vino 101: What makes a wine taste sweet?

19 Jul

There’s a perception that people who like sweet wines are somehow lesser beings than those who like their wines bone dry. Chicas y chicos, Señorita Vino thinks this notion is a bunch of estiércol (That’s polite español for B.S., and we’re not talking about the B.S. for which you paid exorbitant tuition).

Pairing tip: Your wine should be sweeter than your dessert.

If you like your wine sweet, you’re still a rock star in Señorita Vino’s world. And because you rock, I am about to arm you with a very basic, easy-to-digest explanation of what makes some wines taste sweet.

First, a quick primer on the terms we use to describe the sweet (or not sweet) taste of wine. From least sweet to sweetest, a wine is either dry, medium dry, medium (sometimes called medium-sweet), or sweet. En español, the terms are seco, semiseco, semidulce, and dulce. There are standards to determine which category a wine falls into, but we won’t get into that today.

Dessert wines are known as ‘stickies’ in Australia.

Wine can taste sweet for a variety of reasons including alcohol and winemaking techniques, but we’re gong to focus on something known as residual sugar, which, simply stated, is the grape sugar left over after fermentation. Remember–wine, in extremely basic terms, is fermented grape juice. And fermentation is what happens when yeast is added to the juice squeezed from grapes. The hungry little yeasties eat the natural sugar from the grape juice, and the result is carbon dioxide, heat, and…(drumroll)…alcohol! Generally speaking, the sweeter a wine tastes, the higher the alcohol content.

Because Señorita Vino loves you so much, here’s some extra ammo to protect yourself if a wine bully disses you for enjoying sweet wine: Some of the world’s finest wines are sweet. Yep, they’re known as dessert wines, and they go by the name of Sauternes, Tokaji (pronounced TOAK-eye), or ice wine. There are others, of course, but you may hear about these more often.

Dessert wines are extra-sweet because the sugar in the grape is more concentrated at the time the grapes are picked. If you see the words “late harvest” on a wine bottle, chances are that wine will taste honey-sweet. If you’re wondering how the sugar in the grapes gets concentrated in the first place, here are the three most common ways:

1. Noble rot. This is layman’s terms for botrytis, the Glinda the Good of the fungus world. This gray, ash-like mold grows on grapes from vines located in certain climates and causes fluid to slowly evaporate out of the grape, leaving behind more sugar. Grapes with noble rot are used in making Sauternes, one of France’s best known dessert wines. If a guy treats you to a bottle of Chateau d’Yquem Sauternes, he’s a keeper. And if you toss him, I want his number. Kidding. Señorita Vino is happily married. And Señor Jim, if you want to make me happier, a half-bottle of Chateau d’Yquem should do the job.

A classic pairing: Blue cheese and Sauternes dessert wine.

2. Cryoextraction. Cryo-whaaat? All this means is juice extracted from frozen grapes. Ice crystals are separated from the crushed frozen grapes, leaving the good stuff (sugar) in the juice. Canada and Germany produce some of the world’s finest ice wines (eiswein in German). Just remember that if someone orders ice wine on a first date, you definitely want to consider a second date.

3. Dried grapes. That’s right, chicas y chicos–raisins! Not the kind you buy at the grocery store, though. To make certain dessert wines, grapes are either picked late and dried out on straw mats, or they’re left on the vine until they shrivel. An easy way to remember this if you’re bilingual: The Italian word for dried grape wine is passito. Sounds like ‘pasita,’ or ‘little raisin’ in Spanish, ¿no?

And that, my darlings, is the skinny on sweet wine. Where do you land on the sweetness scale? Do you prefer the taste of honey, or do you like your wine dry? Is one better than the other? Do tell–I’m all ears!

Chilean wine – poetry in a bottle

13 Jul

Chicas y chicos, did you know that Chile’s national treasure, the great poet Pablo Neruda, waxed rhapsodic about Chile’s other great national treasure, wine?  To set the mood for today’s post on Chilean vino, here’s an excerpt from his aptly named poem, Ode to Wine:

ODA AL VINO

Amo sobre una mesa,
cuando se habla,
la luz de una botella
de inteligente vino.
Que lo beban,
que recuerden en cada
gota de oro
o copa de topacio
o cuchara de púrpura
que trabajó el otoño
hasta llenar de vino las vasijas
y aprenda el hombre oscuro,
en el ceremonial de su negocio,
a recordar la tierra y sus deberes,
a propagar el cántico del fruto.

-Pablo Neruda

Don’t speak español? Ningún problema! Here’s the English translation:
ODE TO WINE

I like on the table,
when we’re speaking,
the light of a bottle
of intelligent wine.
Drink it,
and remember in every
drop of gold,
in every topaz glass,
in every purple ladle,
that autumn labored
to fill the vessel with wine;
and in the ritual of his office,
let the simple man remember
to think of the soil and of his duty,
to propagate the canticle of the wine.

– Pablo Neruda

Señorita Vino had the recent honor of dining at Boa in West Hollywood with one of Chile’s premier winemakers, Aurelio Montes, who was in Los Angeles to promote Montes Wine’s newest project, Outer Limits, featuring wines made in vineyards on the more remote boundaries of some of Chile’s most renowned wine growing regions.

Señor Aurelio Montes, the legendary winemaker behind Chile’s Montes Wines.

Outer Limits is designed to appeal to a new generation of wine drinkers who are open to new expressions of classic grape blends. Case in point: Wines made from the Montes vineyard located in Zapallar, a beach resort about 112 miles north of Santiago on the Pacific coast. Montes was the first to plant vines here, and one of the resulting wines is made from a classic blend of Carignan, Grenache and Mourvedre, but with an intensity and a slight salinity that hint at the vines’ seaside soil and climate.

Cabernet Sauvignon and Carmenere are among Chile’s signature red wine grapes.

In last week’s post, we talked about terroir, or how climate, geography and soil affect the aromas and flavors of a wine. Another significant influence are winemaking techniques. We could spend half a year talking about the various decisions a vintner makes that will impact the flavor, texture and aroma of a  finished wine. For now, I want to mention one of Montes’ more esoteric techniques. Gregorian chant music is piped into the barrel room of his winery, because, as he puts it, “Happy people make good wine.” Amen to that!

Twin angels grace the label of Montes Twins wine, a 50-50 blend of Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon. Hallelujah!

Music by monks is not the only divine element playing into Montes Wines. Angels are ever present on nearly all Montes wine labels and in quite a few of the names. Montes tells the story of a recently deceased winemaking partner whose love of motorcycles and penchant for risk-taking resulted in some close calls. He believed his guardian angel saved him from near-lethal scrapes, and the two decided to incorporate angels into their fledgling winery back in 1989. The company has since enjoyed stratospheric success, and Montes is a firm believer in paying it forward. In September, the company will launch its “Angels in Action” campaign, through which 5 percent of total sales will be donated to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.

Montes Alpha M wines have consistently received ratings in the 90s from renowned wine critics.

And speaking of things celestial and sublime, a post about Montes Wines would not be complete without mentioning the Montes Alpha M wines. I tasted the 2009 vintage and was impressed by the silky tannins and bold fruit aromas. This is an elegant wine that can be aged about 20 years and is a harmonious blend of 80 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 10 percent Merlot, 5 percent Cabernet Franc and 5 percent Petit Verdot. Though definitely not a bargain wine at about $90 a bottle, it’s worth the investment if you’re starting a wine collection and are looking for some bottles you can hold onto for a special occasion.

Filet mignon and herbed butter pairs divinely with Chilean red wines.

Food and wine together are edible poetry, in my book. Chile makes some refreshing white wines that pair well with poultry, seafood or veggie dishes.  I was able to taste some Montes Outer Limits Sauvignon Blanc. Crisp, refreshing and ripe with aromas of gooseberry and grapefruit, this is a perfect complement to a fish dish or, as part of our tasting menu at Boa, a Caesar salad.

One of the appealing features of Chilean wines is the value, and Montes Wines are no exception. Many of the wines I tasted at the Montes luncheon retail for $15 or less. Some of the Outer Limits wines are in this general price point, and can be found at Whole Foods, but I suggest searching online if you don’t have a Whole Foods store near you.

Neruda’s epic poem, Canto General, is an homage to nature and the Americas. At nearly 500 pages, it’s an undertaking to read it, especially if you have a crazy-busy life. If you should stumble across a copy and have time to read only a few lines, may I suggest the brief section entitled, El Vino. I leave you with an  excerpt:

“Sing with me until the glasses spill over, leaving purple spread out over the table. This nectar comes to your mouth from the earth, from its dark roots.”

– Pablo Neruda, Canto General

[El full disclosure: The luncheon I attended was a press event sponsored by Montes Wines. The opinions expressed in this post are my own. ¡Salud!]

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!

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