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Happy #NationalDrinkWineDay – 5 unusual #wines to try

18 Feb

Is anyone as amused as I am that National Drink Wine Day coincides with Ash Wednesday this year? I suppose it’s a non-event unless you’re one of the self-mortifying few who gave up wine for Lent. All I can say is you’ll have a higher place in heaven than Señorita Vino.

DSC_0755Yours truly is, once again, giving up swearing for Lent, a dictum that made my husband laugh. Actually, it was a bona-fide guffaw.

But enough about me. In honor of National Drink Wine Day, and with a nod to all the good former Catholic schoolgirls out there (and former schoolboys!), I challenge you not to give up wine, but to give up everyday wine. So no Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, or Sauvignon Blanc. Merlot’s out too.

Here are five alternatives you may want to go out and taste today, or anytime during the next 40 days. And with thousands of varietals to choose from, who knows, you may find a new favorite. 

1. Ribolla Gialla [ree-BOWL-uh JA-la] – This white wine grape hails from Italy’s Friuli region in the northeast. It’s light-bodied with delicate white floral aromas and hints of Gravenstein apples on the palate. It’s nicely tart, so enjoy it with a seafood risotto or on its own as an aperitif.

2. Xinomavro [sheen-o-MAHV-ro] – The Greeks are among the earliest civilizations to have produced wine, and today you can enjoy some unique but flavorful wines made from local grapes. If you like Nebbiolo, you may enjoy Xinomavro. This red wine is pretty tannic and packs a nice acidity. It does well with aging, developing exotic spice aromas over time, along with a touch of earthiness. This pairs beautifully with roasted lamb.

3. Blaufrankisch [blau-FRANK-ish] – Considered the finest red wine varietal in Austria, Blaufrankisch will remind you of sour cherries and white pepper. The tannins are fairly tame and you’ll get a crisp acidity on the palate. Pair it with pork, chicken or game. Vegetarians can enjoy it with a lentil and root vegetable stew.

Next time you're in the mood for Argentine wines, give Bonarda a try.

Next time you’re in the mood for Argentine wines, give Bonarda a try.

4. Bonarda [bo-NAR-da] – You may have heard me rave about this red wine from Argentina in a past post. If you like violets, ripe blueberries and plum, give it a try. The tannins are firm but not overpowering, and a good Bonarda will also have some crispness to it. I love it with cheese and charcuterie, and it’s a fabulous wine to serve with carne asada.

Photo credit: Hungarian Snow via Wikimedia COmmons

Photo credit: Hungarian Snow via Wikimedia COmmons

5. Furmint [FUR-mint] – Yep, this one’s pronounced just like it’s spelled. I always think of a Thin Mint cookie wearing a tiny mink coat when I hear the name of this Hungarian white wine grape. And now you will, too! This highly acidic white wine has lovely apple aromas and flavors when it’s young. As it ages, you’ll taste honey, apricot and hazelnuts. Yum! It’s no wonder it’s one of the principal grapes used in Tokaji, Hungary’s famously sweet and decadently delicious dessert wine.

So go forth and celebrate National Drink Wine Day. While you’re at it, be sure to chine in with your favorite unusual wines.



Popes and Bonarda: Argentina’s newest exports

14 Mar

I almost fell off the pew at the news that our new pope was from Argentina, home of tango, soccer stars and Evita. Of course my thoughts turned to wine, and whether Torrontés and Malbec would see a surge in sales thanks to Pope Francis I’s new stint at the Vatican.

Scenes from a Cathedral: The main cathedral in Buenos Aires, former home of Pope Francis I.

Scenes from a Cathedral: The main cathedral in Buenos Aires, former home of Pope Francis I.

One Argentine grape I’d love to see more of at my friendly neighborhood wine shop is Bonarda. Depending on who you talk to, this luscious red grape originated in France or Italy, and it’s fast becoming a rising star in the Argentine vino world (look out, Malbec!).

Earth First is an organic Bonarda produced in Argentina and available in the U.S.

Earth First is an organic Bonarda produced in Argentina and available in the U.S.

Bonarda is slowly making its way into the U.S. market, where I predict it will gain a following thanks to its exotic, spicy profile and food-friendly pairings. Want to know more about Bonarda? Read my article, published yesterday by, Latina magazine’s fab foodie website.

Oh, and say a prayer that one of Pope Francis’s first reforms is to serve late-harvest Torrontés at Communion.

Amen y ¡salud!

A taste of Buenos Aires in Los Angeles

7 Mar

Señorita Vino left her heart in Buenos Aires three years ago. To be precise, she left her entire person at Ezeiza International Airport after missing a connecting flight to Lima en route to Los Angeles. Her excuse: Perfume shopping in the duty-free section. Lame, I know. Or as my Buenos Aires cousins might have said after I boarded a rescheduled flight the next day, “¡Qué boluda!”

Argentina didn’t cry for me, but I certainly cried after realizing I couldn’t bring home any of the beautiful bottles of Malbec I bought in a hip little airport bodega, all because my bags had the good sense to make the flight and were, at that moment, Lima-bound without me. I’m sure by now my Argentine cousins have put those bottles to good use, their prize for rescuing me from the prospect of spending the night on the floor of International Terminal A.

Imagine my nostalgia-ridden joy when I stumbled across a gem of an Argentinian eatery in Los Angeles. Carlitos Gardel Restaurant sits on a nondescript stretch of the tourist mecca that is Melrose Avenue, about halfway between the stuck-in-the-the-80s boutiques and the posh Beverly Hills end. For those of you who may not be familiar with Carlos Gardel, you’ll certainly know who he is about five minutes after stepping into the restaurant’s retro-elegant interior. Framed reprints of newspaper clippings and old photographs line the walls, telling the story of one of Argentina’s most beloved musical figures, known to some as the godfather of tango music.

Tango Bar: An image of Carlos Gardel taken in a Buenos Aires milonga, or neighborhood tango hall.

Sultry tango rhythms drifting in from the audio system serve as a fitting soundtrack for a menu of traditional Argentinian dishes: Empanadas, melted provolone and steak classics including milanesa, entraña a la parilla and churrasco. Signature Italian influenced-plates feature gnocchi, ravioli and seafood pasta.

The wine list is curated by the restaurant’s Buenos Aires-born sommelier, who is at the ready with helpful advice and pairing suggestions. I decided to take a break from Malbec and try what in my opinion is Argentina’s true wine star, Bonarda. This is a red grape with a wonderfully fruity character and a smooth feel on the palate. I chose a 2007 Lamadrid Reserva Bonarda. Gorgeous violet aromas, a hint of chocolate and lots of ripe red fruit. In a word, ¡Fantástico!

Next time you're in the mood for Argentine wines, give Bonarda a try.

Bonarda was the perfect match for my Italian-influenced appetizer of burrata and prosciutto. The wine’s flavor and structure also complemented the main course, entraña (grilled skirt steak) served with pumpkin-infused mashed potatoes and steamed vegetables.

Mamma mia! An influx of Italian immigrants to Argentina starting in the mid-1800s gives the nation's cuisine a decidedly Italian flair.

During my first trip to Buenos Aires, my cousins took me to a tango dinner theater where I proceeded to consume a juicy steak about the size of a coffee table. This, of course, while watching lithe dancers flit about the stage in spangled, form-fitting dresses. It’s a good thing my gym doesn’t have a branch in Buenos Aires, because I probably would have spent the next 24 hours on the treadmill. The portions at Carlitos Gardel are more than generous, much like every restaurant I tried in Argentina. This time, I showed some restraint and had enough leftovers for two more meals.

Dessert at Carlitos Gardel is the best incentive not to go loca on your main course. The peach layer cake with dulce de leche and whipped frosting is like nothing I had in Buenos Aires. The great thing about that is knowing I can enjoy it without having to board a plane  – and risk missing another connection.

Carlitos Gardel Restaurant. 7963 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90046. 323.655.0891 Dinner M-Sat, 6 – 11 p.m.; Sun, 5 – 10 p.m.  Lunch M-F, 11:30 – 2:30.

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