Archive | September, 2012

A wine list for #Carmageddon 2012

27 Sep

Carmageddon II starts this weekend. Do you know where your GPS system is? Those of you living outside the Los Angeles area may not know that a portion of our fabled 405 freeway will close late Friday evening, reopening early Monday morning. In the months before last year’s closure, Carmageddon caused weeping and gnashing of teeth-against-steering-wheels, only to end up being ho-hum. This year, the word on the street is that we’re not taking it seriously enough.

A view of the Santa Ynez Valley

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 Monday through Friday. During rush hour. In the rain. [Cue bloodcurdling scream].

In Señorita Vino’s world, the antidote to impending doom and gridlock can be summed up in five words: Have a glass of wine. In fact, have a glass of wine named after a highway. That’s right chicas y chicos. Here for your sipping pleasure are five wines named after roads and highways in South America, California and Europe.

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.

Señor Duckie hits the highway.

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 advocate drinking alcohol and driving on highways or any other surface, closed or not. Enjoy a full weekend of not having to get in your car and chill at home with your hombre and amigas. ¡Salud!

Celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month with a Pisco Cocktail

26 Sep

Chicos y chicas, Señorita Vino is celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month by participating in “All Around Latin America,” the brainchild of the lovely and muy talented Bren Herrera at Flanboyant Eats. Read on!

What I love about Hispanic Heritage Month is the opportunity to share the rich diversity of our culture, whether it’s through literature, music, history, or food. In my case, I am an American-born Latina whose parents are from Perú and whose mother was born in the Peruvian city of Arequipa to two Syrian immigrants. My Syrian grandmother’s brother landed in Sao Paulo, Brazil, where my party-til-you-drop Brazilian cousins live. I owe them a huge obrigada for introducing me to Brazil’s national cocktail, the Caipirinha.

Read the rest of the story here…

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.

——————————————CLIP ‘N SAVE!-———————————————



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.

Foolproof food and wine pairing

14 Sep

Last fall, a winemaker in a Los Olivos tasting room gave me the best food and wine pairing advice I’ve ever heard: Drink what you like with food that you love.

Señorita Vino believes that no one should feel confined by rules when it comes to food and vino. However, there are a few no-nos to remember. Certain types of fish will taste metallic when combined with a full-bodied red wine, and a too-sugary cupcake, flan or pastel will make a sweet dessert wine taste bland. Last but not least, unless you want a five-alarm fire in your mouth, avoid pairing spicy food with high-alcohol wines.

Wine cork wisdom.

Okay, got all that? If not, don’t worry, because I am about to introduce you to the smartest food and wine pairing tool ever invented: The wine label. Specifically, the label on a bottle of Entwine, a collaboration between the Food Network and California’s Wente Vineyards. Each bottle of Entwine features pairing suggestions on the back label, which I put to the test with the intrepid Señor Jim last weekend.

Preparing to test-drive label pairing suggestions.

[EL FULL DISCLOSURE: Wente Vineyards sent me one bottle each of their Entwine wines. Muchas gracias, Wente! The opinions (and pairing taste test) are entirely my own. But I’m willing to share].

Food and wine pairing doesn’t get any easier.

On the menu: A cheese and olive plate, cumin chicken in a creamy cilantro yogurt sauce, breaded veal scaloppina with prosciutto, and seared sea bass in a red wine reduction with shiitake mushrooms and mashed potatoes.

Because we had Manchego and Romano cheeses and a jar of savory kalamata olives on hand, we decided to start with the Pinot Grigio, a crisp white wine. The label suggested pairing it with salty cheese, hors d’oeuvres or guacamole, among other delicacies.  The natural acidity of the wine worked with the richness of the cheeses. Too easy!

Next, we paired the Chardonnay with the chicken in cilantro yogurt sauce. Some of the recommended combinations on the label included roast chicken, cream sauces, grilled cheese sandwiches, potato chips and shellfish. No guesswork here, and the buttery taste of the Chardonnay was a nice match with the cilantro sauce.

Cumin chicken and yogurt cilantro sauce paired well with Entwine Chardonnay.

We chose the more complex dinners to test the red wine pairing tips. The breaded veal and prosciutto seemed a fairly close match to the Merlot label recommendations of salami, grilled pork and meatloaf. No complaints from Señor Jim, whose sensitivity to tannins (remember, tannins give wine an astringent, mouth-puckering feeling and come from grape skins and seeds or oak barrels) was not triggered by the less tannic Merlot.

Merlot is a great match for prosciutto-wrapped veal.

I saved the Cabernet Sauvignon to prove my earlier point about rules made to be broken. My sea bass was happily floating in a reduction of Sangoivese, an Italian red wine. Two meaty shiitake mushrooms and some garlicky mashed potatoes kept it company. The Entwine Cabernet Sauvignon is aged in oak and, generally speaking, is not considered a good match for fish.

At this point, any wine snobs who sneaked under the Señorita Vino Snob-Free Wine Zone radar are twitching and muttering, “Oh, no she DIDN’T!”

Reader, I did.

Now, the wine label recommendations did include potatoes and sautéed mushrooms, and there happened to be a velvety red wine sauce slathered all over my fish. So while I broke the ‘no-fish-with-bold-red-wine’ rule, I bent the ‘match-the-sauce-with-the-wine’ rule to satisfy my insatiable curiosidad.

It worked for me. May not work for others, but that’s the beauty of the vino world. Sometimes what’s good for the goose is also good for the fish, the veal and the chicken.

[Psst…still there? You can buy Wente’s Entwine line of wines online (dontcha love that assonance?), or you can find them at your local supermarket. Here in L.A., Entwine is sold at Albertson’s and Total Wine and Spirits, among others. And the price is nice at about $12 a bottle. Salud, and happy pairing!]

Los Angeles: Birthplace of California’s wine industry

4 Sep

For better or for worse, Los Angeles has spawned the Barbie doll, the film industry, the Cobb Salad, and yours truly. As L.A. celebrates its 231st birthday today, it’s worth noting that Los Angeles, not Napa or Sonoma, gave birth to the California wine industry.

Vignes, glorious vignes!

Angelenos who have taken high school French will know that ‘vignes’ is the French word for vines. As Señorita Vino recently learned, Jean-Louis Vignes was the aptly named French immigrant who planted European grape varieties a stone’s throw from downtown Los Angeles in 1831. He called his vineyard El Aliso, and present-day Aliso and Vignes streets are named for Vignes’ contribution to Los Angeles history.

California’s first commercial vineyard was planted in 1831, near L.A.’s Union Station.

While Vignes was the first in California to plant a commercial vineyard, the Spanish missionaries were the first to grow grapes in California. Father Junipero Serra is credited by some sources as having planted the first vineyard in California at Mission San Diego de Alcalá around 1770. These grapes  were of the Mission variety and used to make sacramental wine.

Not satisfied with the quality of wine made from Mission grapes, Vignes, a native of Bordeaux, France, imported two of his native region’s more prominent grape varieties, Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc. A barrel maker by trade, Vignes aged his wines in barrels made from trees grown in L.A.’s San Bernardino Mountains.

Today, wine can be aged in oak barrels or stainless steel tanks. Each method has a different effect on the aroma and flavor of the wine.

By 1849, the Gold Rush had caused a population boom in Northern California, and the Napa and Sonoma Valleys became the hub of California winemaking. Which brings us (at warp speed) to today.

Enjoying a glass of wine 24 floors above LA’s 110 Freeway, about a mile south of where Vignes planted his vineyard.

Join me in raising a glass to celebrate 231 years since the founding of the City of Angels, birthplace of the tortilla chip, the French Dip, and California’s wine industry. ¡Salud!

%d bloggers like this: