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Happy National Repeal Day! #drinkvino

5 Dec

Darlings, if you need a reason to raise a glass tonight, December 5 is National Repeal Day. On this day in 1933, the ban on alcohol in the United States, known as Prohibition, was lifted, or repealed. Yay!


If you missed historian Ken Burns’s successful documentary series on Prohibition a couple of years ago, here’s a little bit of background. Back in the early 1900s, the Women’s Christian Temperance Union decided that alcohol was the source of all evils in the U.S. The well-intentioned ladies rallied, and the U.S. government passed the 18th Amendment in 1919, making it illegal to drink–and produce–alcohol. Boo!

Prohibition lasted 13 years, and–shocker!–it didn’t work (see “moonshine” and “Al Capone”).  So you can imagine how deliriously happy folks were on 12/5/33 when the 21st Amendment was passed, making it legal to not only drink alcohol, but make it.


For my newer readers, I want to be clear that I am not in any way advocating alcohol abuse. Prohibition and Repeal Day were significant moments in U.S. history and for the alcoholic beverage industry. On a personal level, I consider winemaking an art, and I also believe that drinking wine responsibly enhances a meal and life in general.


Having said that, I think Repeal Day is an important reminder that government intervention doesn’t always work, especially when it imposes on our freedom to enjoy a glass of wine responsibly. We are all fortunate, however, to live in a nation that can not only acknowledge misguided legislation but actually do something about it. Yeah, I know, it doesn’t happen as often as we’d like, but there’s hope.


So tonight, gather your friends, pour the vino, and count your many blessings as you raise a toast to National Repeal Day.


#DiaDeLosMuertos–a tribute to mom

30 Oct

If you’ve wondered where I’ve been lately, I have been grieving.

My beautiful, funny, wise, generous and intelligent mother left this world for a better place on October 15. She leaves behind a brokenhearted husband, a distraught son, and a devastated daughter.

I don’t even know how to express the profound sadness I feel, and in this moment I can’t form a connection between her passing and a glass of wine, except maybe that in the past two weeks, not even wine has been able to assuage the feeling of emptiness.

For those familiar with Latin American culture, this Saturday is All Saints Day, or Día de los Muertos. Traditionally, families gather at the gravesite of their lost loved ones, not to grieve but to remember the good times, to eat, drink and pray.

It was my sincere intention to set up a small Día de Los Muertos altar in my home honoring my mother, complete with a photo of her, candles, sugary candy skulls, marigold flowers, rosaries, and some of her favorite things: Chanel No. 5 perfume,  Vanidades magazine, a couple of Sudoku puzzle books, and dark-chocolate-covered raisins.

But in her final months of this life, she was unable to eat or drink due to a complicated series of medical conditions.

As a Catholic, I only hope that her heavenly new abode comes fully equipped with a nonstop supply of baklava, Turkish coffee, mangoes, and Mounds candy bars. My mother was never much of a wine lover, but I do know she enjoyed the occasional glass of Champagne.

So here’s to you, mami. Sorry I couldn’t get the Día de Los Muertos altar up this year. I promise I’ll do it next year. All of us are happy that you’re no longer suffering, but for selfish reasons, I wish you were still around to hear me vent about the petty stresses of my daily life.

You made me strong, you told me to pursue my passions, and you always believed in me. For these and so many other reasons, I love you and will always carry you in my heart. Salud.


Humor is the best medicine. RIP Robin Williams.

12 Aug

This post is a departure from my usual wine-related content, and I hope you’ll bear with me. As you know, yesterday the world lost one of its most brilliant comedic minds.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Robin Williams first beamed into my family’s living room on the “Mork and Mindy” show. At the time, I was an awkward sixth grader, trying to establish a sense of identity in the not-always-kind world of middle school.  For my brother and me, the Mork character was the embodiment of our own quirky sense of humor, a fellow geek trying to find where he fit in his surroundings.

As I grew, so did Williams’ influence. His portrayal of John Irving’s character, Garp, brought a high school reading assignment, “The World According to Garp,” to life. In college, his role in “Good Morning Vietnam” shed a little light on the war that, for decades, was brushed under the rug. As a writer and literature major, “Dead Poet’s Society” struck a chord. In my early thirties, seemingly stuck on the dating merry-go-round, Williams seemed to be speaking to me, as well as Matt Damon, on how to find that ever-elusive love in “Good Will Hunting.”

I leave you with a quote that I hope touches your heart as much as it does mine. A toast to the man who could make me laugh, even in the darkest times.

“You’re only given one little spark of madness. You mustn’t lose it.”

– Robin Williams (1951-2014)


East LA Meets Napa. ¡Vámonos!

3 Aug

Uh, yeah. About that final installment in the Canada wine series…

Well,  this cheap-o file cabinet in my office is self-destructing:


And I can’t open the drawer with my passport in it.  Seriously. Which is a major problema, because without a passport, I can’t travel. I mean, it’s not like you need a passport to go to Napa  if you’re already a U.S. citizen, but still. It’s the principle (muchas gracias, Big-Office-Supply-Company-That-Sells-Cheap-Crap-Whose-Name-I-Won’t-Mention-Here).

So while I spend the rest of my Saturday afternoon emptying the file cabinet and sorting through old paperwork to extricate my passport, you can take a journey that doesn’t require you to leave the comfort of your sofa.


Learn about vinos fabulosos, made by Mexican-American winemakers.  Score a recipe for the most beautiful tortillas you’ve ever seen, courtesy of uber-famoso chef John Rivera.  And find out how sipping wine and noshing on Latin American food can help people in the Los Angeles area gain access to much-needed healthcare.


It all came together at this year’s East LA Meets Napa, one of my favorite wine tasting events in the vino universe. Read about it in this article I wrote for Latina magazine’s mouthwatering food and wine website, No passport required.


Put a Little Passion in Your Pisco

12 Apr

I’m baaaaaaaack! From vacation, that is.

Two weeks in Perú have left me jonesin’ for the latest spin on the Andean nation’s  cocktail of choice, the Pisco Sour. This popular new version features an intoxicating splash of passionfruit for an exotically fruity twist and can be found in trendy restaurants or bars from Lima to Cuzco and points beyond.

Passionfruit Pisco Sours, as enjoyed at Ache restaurant in Lima's Miraflores neighborhood.

Passionfruit Pisco Sours, as enjoyed at Ache restaurant in Lima’s Miraflores neighborhood.

Here’s Señorita Vino’s own take on a drink that will leave you longing for Llama Land. This cocktail is the perfect aperitif, or you can do what I’m doing and use it to cure a case of post-vacation blues.

Señorita Vino’s Passionfruit Pisco Sour


2 cups pisco

1 cup sugar

1 cup freshly squeezed lime juice, no seeds or pulp

1 cup passionfruit juice (you should be able to find this in an ethnic grocery store)

Angostura bitters (just a few drops’ll do ya!)

12 ice cubes, crushed

2 egg whites


Pour pisco, sugar, lime juice, passionfruit juice and a couple of drops of Angostura bitters into a blender and blend on medium speed until thoroughly mixed (two to five minutes). Next, add the crushed ice and the egg whites and blend again for about three minutes. Pour the mixture into small shot glasses and top with a drop of Angostura bitters.


Serves about 8 (or four if no one has to drive!)

Most Romantic Wineries

14 Feb

There’s more to Valentine’s Day than sappy cards and waxy chocolate. And if you’re reading this, something tells me you know what that would be: Vino!

Yes, darlings, if you want to really score some points this Valentine’s Day (or to paraphrase the late, great Donna Summer, anytime you feel love), get thee to a winery. Here, in no particular order, are Señorita Vino’s top three romantic winery picks. Mmmmuuahhhh!

1. St. Supéry Estate Vineyards and Winery, Napa Valley

Do you remember your first time? The exhilaration, the butterflies in your stomach, the thought that this could be The One? Ah yes…I’ll never forget the first time I joined a wine club without telling my husband. It was St. Supéry.

The Atkinson House at St. Supéry Vineyards. Photo courtesy of St. Supéry.

The Atkinson House at St. Supéry Vineyards. Photo courtesy of St. Supéry.

My idea of the perfect date - a private barrel tasting. Photo courtesy of St. Supéry.

My idea of the perfect date – a private barrel tasting. Photo courtesy of St. Supéry.

Pétanque, s'il vous plait! Photo courtesy of St. Supéry.

Pétanque, s’il vous plait! Photo courtesy of St. Supéry.

And Señor Jim was so accepting of my impulsive streak that we celebrated one of his Big Birthdays here with a private barrel tasting. Sip some of their sublime Sauvignon Blanc, then indulge your inner francophile with a game of pétanque. That’s French for bocce. Santé!

2. Bodega y Granja Narbona, Carmelo, Uruguay

The only depressing part of my visit to Bodega Narbona was that I was on business and thus traveling without my better half, the sensational Señor Jim. This is the kind of place that will make even the most die-hard cynic break out the red wine and roses. Not only can you taste a selection of fine Uruguayan wines, including the country’s signature Tannat, but you can dine here and stay the night. ¡Excelente!

A tasting room at Bodega Narbona. Photo courtesy of Bodega Narbona.

A tasting room at Bodega Narbona. Photo courtesy of Bodega Narbona.

Old-world charm in a new-world winery. A guest room at Bodega Narbona (image courtesy o Bodega Narbona).

Old-world charm in a new-world winery. A guest room at Bodega Narbona (image courtesy of Bodega Narbona).

An al fresco lunch at Bodega Narbona.

An al fresco lunch at Bodega Narbona.

Carmelo is in the heart of Uruguay’s wine country. It’s fairly easy to get there from Buenos Aires. Take the ferry to Colonia del Sacramento and then take a bus or taxi to Carmelo.

3. Castello di Amorosa, Napa Valley

¿Qué cosa? A medieval castle in the middle of a California vineyard? Winemaker Dario Sattui was so taken with medieval architecture and a particular castle he visited in Beaune, France that he decided to build one of his own back home. Besides the well-known international varietals like Pinot Noir, Merlot and Chardonnay, Castello di Amorosa produces Italian classics such as Pinot Grigio, Barbera and Sangiovese.

A view of the castle from the vineyard. Photo courtesy of Liza Gershman Photography.

A view of the castle from the vineyard. Photo courtesy of Liza Gershman Photography.

And here’s the super-romántico, almost-too-good-for-a-telenovela part: The winery offers two different proposal packages! Yes, chicas y chicos, you can pop the question in the castle tower or in a “hidden” room. You get 30 minutes of privacy, a  bottle of wine and a fruit and cheese platter. You even get to keep the glasses! That’s what I call romance.

Señorita Vino wishes you all a Champagne-toast-worthy Valentine’s Day. I’ll leave you with a sentimental quote you can memorize and casually tell your  main squeeze as you’re uncorking a bottle of bubbly tonight:

“May our love be like good wine–grow stronger as it grows older.”  (Old English toast)


Peruvian restaurants expand their wine lists

11 Jan

Pan pipe music, tarnished brass tumis and fuzzy little llama dolls are standard fare at Peruvian restaurants in the U.S., but donde está el wine list?

Look! A tarnished tumi! (No restaurants were dissed in the making of this photo. This guy happens to hang in  Casa de Señorita Vino)

Look! A tarnished tumi! (No restaurants were dissed in the captioning of this photo. This tumi lives in Casa de Señorita Vino)

Here’s a summary of my wine experience at Peruvian restaurants over the past couple of decades:

SERVER: Can I get you anything to drink?

ME: Do you have a wine list?

SERVER: There’s red and white.

ME: Yes, the Peruvian flag is elegant in its simplicity. And I ADORE that little vicuña on the crest!

SERVER: Mujer, you could use a pisco sour.

ME: Actually, I’d like a glass of wine. Do you have any Sauvignon Blanc?

SERVER: No. There’s just red or white.

ME:  About that pisco sour…

So now you know why I’m blogging and not writing for Letterman. The good news is that this scary scenario is starting to fade. More and more Southern California Peruvian restaurants are adding wine lists, and it’s not just the fancy novo-andino joints with the minimalist decor, hipster bar scene and ear-splitting decibel level.

The wine list at Casa Inka in Fountain Valley, Calif. features Malbecs and New Zealand Pinot Noirs, among other choices.

The wine list at Casa Inka features Malbecs and New Zealand Pinot Noirs, among other choices.

Case in point: Last night I met up with the familia at Casa Inka in Fountain Valley, Calif. (and no, this is not a sponsored post. Casa Inka, if you’re reading this, de nada. Maybe we could get a papa rellena on the house next time we’re there?). We were seeing my brother off before he headed back east after coming home for the holidays.

Located in a nondescript Orange County strip mall, Casa Inka stands out for its Jimmy-Buffet-esque facade: A glass-enclosed bamboo loft housing a couple of stuffed parrots and faux jungle flora. Inside, the decor is a blend of Peruvian kitsch–grinning llamas, serranita dolls, and a looming, oversized photo of Machu Picchu)–sprinkled with some artistic photos of Lima’s trendier neighborhoods and the city of Cusco.

Casa Inka's facade stands out in an otherwise ordinary strip mall.

Casa Inka’s facade stands out in an otherwise ordinary strip mall.

On the menu are popular dishes you’d see at most Peruvian eateries, and–holy cau-cau!–a new wine list!

Here’s a sampling of what we ordered and the wines we paired them with:


Anticuchos are skewered, marinated chunks of beef heart. Yummy!

Anticuchos are served with a side of chimichurri sauce. Yummy!

Authentic anticuchos are skewered morsels of marinated beef heart. I paired these with the Ampakama Malbec 2009. The wine’s bold fruit contrasted nicely with the saltiness of the marinade.

Yuca a la huancaína:

Yuca a la huancaína: Fried cassava in a spicy cheese sauce

Yuca, or cassava, is popular throughout Latin America. At Casa Inka, it’s prepared in the huancaína style, smothered in a rich sauce of fresh cheese and ají amarillo, served with slices of hard-boiled egg and black olives. The zingy acidity of the Rata Sauvignon Blanc 2011 from New Zealand was a perfect match for this creamy dish.


Arroz con pollo is ideal for cilantro lovers.

Arroz con pollo, a cilantro lover’s dream.

Señor Jim ordered his standby dish, arroz con pollo, with his standby wine, Sauvignon Blanc. The New Zealand Rata’s grassy notes complement the cilantro in this traditional chicken dish. The wine list features the Rata Pinot Noir 2008, which also works.

Lomo saltado appears on just about every Peruvian restaurant menu.

Lomo saltado appears on every Peruvian restaurant menu in the galaxy.

Ask my brother how he judges the quality of a Peruvian restaurant, and he’ll answer in two words: Lomo saltado. The  classic Peruvian stir-fry pairs beautifully with Chile’s Torreón de Paredes Carmenere 2009, a red wine with elegant tannins [NOTE: The wine list spells the name as “Torreón Parpois,” but since I actually  fact-check my material, I found it as Torreón de Paredes, so that’s what I’m sticking with].

Tacu-tacu, a dish that's not commonly found on the menu in U.S. Peruvian eateries.

Tacu-tacu, a dish you won’t see on too many U.S. Peruvian menus.

This, my friends, is what you want to eat before you set out to hike the Inca Trail. Otherwise, you’ll gain about 10 pounds approximately 30 minutes after you scrape the last remnants from your plate. Tacu-tacu consists of stir-fried beans and rice topped with a steak and an egg over-easy, with a little bit of fried plantain for the heft–I mean heck of it. One of the classic pairing rules is to match the weight of your meal with the weight of your wine. A robust Zin, California’s Dancing Bull Zinfandel 2009, is the ideal choice.


The Machu Picchu of alfajores towers...

The Machu Picchu of alfajores towers.

A South American version of a dessert from Moorish Spain, the alfajor is a shortbread and dulce de leche sandwich sprinkled with powdered sugar. Damn, I think my thighs just grew an inch after writing that. Here’s where I channel my inner Señor Jim and pair this with an espresso. Oh, and I cannot tell a lie, so  I confess I don’t remember whether there were dessert wines on the wine list. It’s probably because I was too busy chismeando with my dad (NOTE TO NON-SPANISH-SPEAKING READERS: “Chismear” is to gossip).

My brother models a mini-alfajor.

My brother offers up a mini-alfajor.

Wait–I’m not finished! I’m pushing 900 words here, but no one ever said Peruvians were succinct. I dedicate this post to my super-fantástico brother, whose visits to California are always much too short. Nino darling, may the road be paved with lomo saltado, and be wary of strangers bearing cans of peanut brittle. Besos, P.

Casa Inka, 8610 Warner Ave., Fountain Valley, CA. (714) 847-7555. Open 7 days a week for lunch and dinner.

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