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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.



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.


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.


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.


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.



Bordeaux Basics for Wine Novices

23 Apr

Wanna learn about France’s fabled Bordeaux region? How about over lunch at the Peninsula Beverly Hills with 32 of  Bordeaux’s most prestigious  winemakers? If  “anxiety attack” was the first thing that came to mind, fabulous! I’m not alone.


Moments after I RSVPd for a sit-down trade luncheon featuring Le Cercle Rive Droite, a French society that represents 143 vineyards from the Right Bank of Bordeaux (more on that later),  my top three wine tasting insecurities materialized: How early would I dribble red wine all over my chin while using the spit bucket? Would I be able to keep up with the wine lingo? And would I drown in a sea of old guys wearing tweed jackets and silk cravats?

Chicas y chicos, yesterday’s luncheon offered more proof that wine anxiety is très passé, and I managed not to get a single drop of wine on myself (wish I could say the same for my notebook).

Best of all, I was happily swimming in a sea of  hip, young winemakers, some of whom were women, and one of whom encouraged me to unleash my très broken français on her. We chatted about weddings, food and her childhood growing up in a chateau. C’est cool!


Before I describe some of the highlights of the lunch, here are six things you should know about Bordeaux:

  • The Bordeaux region is near the southwestern coast of France, and its vineyards are located in three distinct areas: the Left Bank, the Right Bank, and the Entre-Deux-Mers area, which is between the two banks.
  • Bordeaux wines are made with the primary grapes of the Bordeaux region. There are several approved varieties, but the most widely used are Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Malbec for the reds; and Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon for the whites.
  • Wines made in the Left Bank of Bordeaux typically feature Cabernet Sauvignon as the primary grape.
  • Wines from the Right Bank will be made mostly with Merlot.
  • Wines from the Entre-Deux-Mers region are generally white and feature Sauvignon Blanc.
  • Three of the world’s most expensive wines come from the Bordeaux region: Chateau d’Yquem, Chateau Cheval Blanc, and Chateau Pétrus. But don’t worry – you can find a great Bordeaux wine for anywhere from $15 – $70.

Wasn’t that stress-free?


Because Le Cerlcle Rive Droite represents winemakers from the Right Bank (rive droite, pronounced reev dwat, is français for right bank), the wines served  at the lunch were a blend of 70 percent or more Merlot with some Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon or other approved grapes. So if you dig Merlot, chances are you’ll enjoy a Right Bank Bordeaux.

Merlot is not as tannic as Cabernet Sauvignon, so it pairs well with chicken. No surprise, lunch was a chicken breast with mascarpone polenta, tomatoes, sweet corn and chicken jus. Délicieux!


Merlot also pairs well with cheese. Perfect, since dessert featured a cheese plate and an assortment of cookies and macarons. Apologies to you sweets lovers–I bypassed the cookies and went straight for the cheese.


Careful readers are probably wondering about the old guys in tweed jackets. I saw none.  In fact, a jacket-less French winemaker at my table reported that the only jacket he brought “was an alcoholic.” Egged on by his peers, he described how a bottle of wine had broken in his suitcase, thereby giving his jacket “plenty of time between New York and Los Angeles to drink the entire bottle.” And that, mes amis, is living proof that Bordeaux wine–and winemakers–are nothing to fear. Santé!

When a wine bottle breaks in your suitcase, pour yourself a glass of wine.

A glass of Bordeaux is the best cure for a broken wine bottle in your suitcase.

Can red wine give you six-pack abs?

3 Apr


Spring is in the air, which means summer is around the corner, and bathing suit season will soon be upon us. Time to dust off this post about red wine and the waistline. Red vino seems to block fat cells from developing, according to scientists at Purdue. The way I see it, a few glasses of vino and before you know it, everyone look hot in a swimsuit. ¡Salud!

Just when you thought it was safe to get on the treadmill, a new (as in, yesterday) study by Purdue University has concluded that a compound found in red wine can block the development of fat cells. This is great news for people like me, whose fat cells haven’t seen the inside of a gym in about two weeks. Not only that, but red wine as a weight loss tool beats the South Beach Diet, hands down.

Red wine. Better than Pilates.

In all seriousness, chicas y chicos, we’ve known about the health benefits of red wine since the 1980s, when someone thought to connect red wine consumption with the reason French people have healthier corazones than we do, despite devouring triple-creme Brie and buttery croissants with a certain je ne sais quoi that looks a lot like goose liver fat.

The French Paradox: Lab rats who drank whole milk got fatter than those who ate cheese. It’s true – watch the 60 Minutes piece on YouTube.

But don’t take it from me. Go to YouTube and search for “French Paradox” to learn how drinking red wine can lead to a healthier heart.

Lest I digress and break into the Camembert, the Purdue researchers identified the fat-busting compound as piceatannol (say that 10 times fast), which, no surprise, is similar in structure to resveratrol, the red wine component that is believed to stave off cancer and heart disease.

Although Señorita Vino is a bit of a science geek, I promise not to get too technical here. In short, piceatannol prevents immature fat cells from  growing. I’ll drink to that.

Glorious. Rich. Creamy. Stinky. Delectable. Delicioso.

Now here’s El Disclaimer: I am not in any way advocating excessive red wine consumption as a weight loss program, so put down that bottle of Malbec. Gently. You might need it later. Common sense (and my husband) says that the only way to lose weight is to eat less and move more. As a matter of fact, piceatannol is found not only in red wine but in blueberries, grapes and passion fruit, proving once again that you really do need to eat your fruits and veggies.

But if a little sip here and there of my favorite Shiraz is sending the fat cells in my thighs into suspended animation, I say pass the queso, por favor!

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!]

Wines of South America: Uruguay’s Wine Country

3 May

News flash: An article posted Tuesday on states that the best quality of life in Latin America can be found in Uruguay. World Cup soccer and Diego Forlan notwithstanding, I realize some of my non-Uruguayan Latin American readers may disagree. Being of Peruvian heritage myself (and let’s not EVEN bring up futbol at this point), I was simply looking for a timely news hook besides Cinco de Mayo on which I could hang this blog post.

Kidding aside, Uruguay oozes old-world charm and pristine natural beauty, as I discovered a couple of years ago when I had the good fortune to travel there on business. Never one to miss an opportunity to sample a country’s wines, I did some exploring in Carmelo, Uruguay, which looks a lot like Tuscany minus the throngs of tourists.

Early morning in Carmelo, Uruguay’s wine country.

Carmelo, located in southwestern Uruguay, is one of the country’s lesser-known wine growing regions, and Tannat is perhaps Uruguay’s best known wine, a deep purple, full-bodied explosion of ripe blackberries and bold tannins. Uruguayan Tannat is not something you’re likely to find at the local grocery store, although more U.S. wine shops are beginning to carry it and I would say it’s worth the search.

Tannat wine, produced at Zubizarreta vineyards in Carmelo, Uruguay.

Unlike California’s Napa Valley and parts of Argentina, Carmelo’s wine country is not easy to explore on your own unless you have a local contact or you are fluent in Spanish and have a knack for finding places off the beaten path. When I was there in 2009, most of the wineries had no web presence and wine tourism was virtually nonexistent. But therein lies the charm of Carmelo’s wine country.

Kick back with a bottle of wine at bodega Irurtia in Uruguay’s Carmelo region.

Irurtia, one of the bodegas I visited, is operated by the grandchildren of founder Lorenzo Irurtia, who migrated to Uruguay from the Basque country in the early 20th century. Spread throughout the winery and grounds are mementos from the family’s past, including Lorenzo’s vintage adding machine and his son Dante’s collection of classic cars from the 1930s and 1940s.

The family’s classic car collection is on display at the winery.

Tasting wine at Irurtia is a little like hanging out in the gothic-style dining room of a good friend whose family happens to make wine. Maria Jose, who runs the winery with her brother, casually pours some of the wines while talking about the history of the vineyards and the vines’ French root stock. The Tannat grape originated in France and was brought to Uruguay in the late 19th century by Basque immigrants.

Maria gets ready to pour some of her family’s wines.

Irurtia has won awards for its wines in international competitions and produces a lovely Pinot Noir, so don’t limit yourself to the Tannat if you happen to go there. And yes, going there is the only way you can sample Irurtia wines as they are not yet available in the United States. The winery now has a website and you can use the contact form to arrange a visit.

Tannat is not the only grape in town.

Besides wine, the Carmelo region offers delights for foodies and nature lovers alike. My fellow cheese addicts will be thrilled to know you can get your fix at any of a dozen artisanal cheese makers on the road from Carmelo to Montevideo (about 165 miles). When I say ‘artisanal,’ I mean families making cheese out of their homes from milk produced by goats raised in the backyard. The epitome of farm-to-table.

A tiny cheese shop on the property of a family who makes artisanal cheeses.

You can do what I did and make stops along the cheese route as you head to Montevideo. You can also day trip it from Carmelo, but it may make for a long day. Whatever you do, be prepared for some of the best cheeses you’ll have this side of the Eiffel Tower. In fact, once you’ve tasted your cheese, pay it forward by stepping out back and personally thanking the goats who produced the milk.

Here’s looking at you, kid.

I’ve never lived in Uruguay so I can’t speak to its quality of life. However, if wine and cheese are any indicator of an ideal place to live, Uruguay is a winner in my book.

Wine Lover’s Delight: db Bistro Moderne in Miami

26 Apr

Early in my career, meals at conferences were at best forgettable. But for some reason I still remember a dinner I had during my very first conference many moons ago. It was a chile relleno dish at a San Francisco Mexican restaurant that was renowned for its Margaritas. Permanently seared in my brain is the expression on our Japanese clients’ faces as they tasted their first-ever Cadillac Margaritas.

Thankfully, things change. Never was this more apparent than two weeks ago, when I had the sublime pleasure of dining at db Bistro Moderne, located on the ground level of the JW Marriott Marquis hotel in Miami, where I stayed during a week-long conference.

The db stands for Daniel Boulud, the French chef whose New York City Michelin 3-star restaurant, Daniel, forever placed him on the map of celebrity chef-dom. Miami’s db Bistro Moderne upholds his reputation with elegance and culinary artistry, and a well-curated wine list that, although heavily French, also includes some outstanding Argentine and Chilean picks in a nod to Miami’s cosmopolitan vibe.

A booth in the dining room at db Bistro Moderne in Miami. Photo courtesy of JW Marriott Marquis Miamil.

Wine lovers who want an experience beyond flipping through the wine list can dine in the restaurant’s wine cellar. Unlike the prototypical candle-lit subterranean room, the aptly named ‘wine tower’ boasts soaring glass walls that are equipped to house wine bottles in a well-lit and airy yet intimate space.

The restaurant's wine cellar, or 'wine tower,' is available for private dining. Wine lovers can request a tailored, wine-themed dinner.

I enjoyed my dinner in the restaurant’s well-appointed main dining room, where the evening’s amuse-bouche was a cup of carrot soup with chorizo, avocado and a dab of creme fraiche.

One of the more refined renditions I've tasted of a chorizo and avocado garnish.

Although I generally don’t zero in on oysters if there are other options, that evening’s appetizer special of oysters gratinée proved too tempting to resist. Poached and served in a light hollandaise sauce and topped with crisp little ribbons of seaweed, the creamy, saltwater earthiness was a beyond-perfect match for my glass of 2009 Domaine Lafffourcade Savennieres Chenin Blanc. Limestone mineral notes, apple blossom aromas and a crisp acidity made this a perfect complement for the main course.

A crisp Chenin Blanc from France's Loire Valley paired nicely with oysters gratinée.

Once again I chose one of the evening’s specials, a pan-roasted turbot in an asparagus artichoke coulis with beurre blanc. The fish was cooked to perfection, light and flaky and practically dissolving in the mouth.

Because I am an unapologetic cheese addict, I opted for a cheese plate to cap off my dinner. The selections: Tomme de Savoie, Epoisses, and an aged Gouda. Chef sommelier Chris Lindemann’s pairing recommendation was spot-on. The 2009 Domaine Gauby ‘Les Calcinaires’ Cotes du Roussillon Villages blend, an inky red with meaty aromas that opened up into ripe dark fruit and dried roses, harmonized particularly well with the rich Epoisses.

Impulsive wine lovers who can’t get enough of the evening’s picks can request to be escorted to the restaurant’s wine shop, located on the second floor of the hotel. Sommelier Lindemann, the sole keeper of the keys, will unlock the shop and assist customers with their purchase. The store also is available for private tastings and parties.

The restaurant's wine shop offers a wide array of selections. Photo courtesy of JW Marriott Marquis Miami.

Lindemann notes that among the shop’s best-selling wines are three from regions outside of France: A sparkling rosé from Austria, a La Follette Pinot Noir from Northern California, and a Napa Valley Cuvée Daniel Cabernet Sauvignon.

Speaking of California, I’m probably not alone in wishing Boulud would open a restaurant in Los Angeles. Until then, I’m happy to travel for business – or pleasure – to Miami, if db Bistro Moderne is on the agenda.

db Bistro Moderne, 255 Biscayne Blvd. Way, Miami, FL. 305.421.8800.

Which wines go with comfort food?

12 Apr

Señorita Vino is scoping out the Miami wine scene this week, so here’s an earlier post with a timeless subject: Wines that go with your favorite comfort food. ¡Salud!

Your suegra just made another snide remark about the messy kitchen, you have a pile  of work projects due like, yesterday, and your angelito is squealing with delight after dumping the contents of his sippy cup on your keyboard. Ay, ay, ay…

Before you reach for that can of diet cola (or run screaming from the house), consider this: Wine (consumed in moderation, of course!) has been shown to have some heart-healthy benefits, thanks to a few of its natural components. Diet soda? Nada, baby. In fact, a recent study showed that diet colas can actually raise blood pressure – just what you need when you’re stressed out.

Putting on my Suave Disclaimer Voice, the following is not medical advice but a tongue-in-cheek perspective on how to slow down when la vida gets loca. Drink responsibly, as in no more than one glass a day, and make sure your health history allows it. Oh, and do not try this at home if you’re under 21.

Now that we’ve got that out of the way… Who doesn’t feel like a drink after a crazy day? A glass of wine helps me chill with a pre-dinner snack, a homemade meal, or while I’m cooking. If you’re like me, stress ups the snacking ante, so here are some suggestions on how to make that [insert comfort snack food here] go down smooth as seda:

1.    Chocolate 

Nothing tames the Stress Monster like cacao. The Mayas were on to something when they named chocolate a sacred food. Make your chocolate binge a religious experience by pouring yourself a glass of Pinot Noir to go with it. The strawberry and raspberry aromas that characterize this wine will complement the sweetness of the chocolate without being over the top.

You don’t have to break the bank to enjoy a good Pinot Noir. Trader Joe’s and your local grocery store have some quality selections for under $10. A worthwhile investment when we’re talking about our sanity.

2.    Queso

Ah, cheese…my number one go-to comfort food when I want to make the world go away (or hurl my laptop out the window). Cheddar and Pepper Jack go really well with a sassy Shiraz. The spicy notes and rich character of this wine complement the kick in spicier foods, and the richness of the cheese tames any rough edges in the wine. A match made in stress-free heaven.

I’ve written about this one before, but one of the best deals I’ve found is the Luchador Shiraz, available at Cost Plus World Market for the insanely low price of $6.99.

3.     Chips

Maybe it’s the calming taste of corn tortillas or potato chips, maybe it’s the texture and rhythm of the crunch, crunch, crunch. Or maybe it’s just the salt. Either way, a bag of chips is my edible blankie when things get a little wacky.  I like a crisp Sauvignon Blanc with my salty chips. Heck, even a buttery Chardonnay works well with the vegetable oils in fried tortilla chips or in the Peruvian version of the classic bag of Lay’s, pictured here. Once again, you can find great white wines for under $10 at your favorite grocery store or deli.

If you didn’t see it here, let me know what your favorite stress-relieving snack food is, and I’ll suggest a vino that would work with it. Salud, and happy stress-busting!

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