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Meet the wine lover: Chef Ricardo Zarate

12 Mar

Darlings, it’s been a mad March, and I’m not even a basketball fan. Señorita Vino is swamped in projects this week, so here’s a re-blog of an interview from last year with Peruvian chef Ricardo Zarate, the force behind two of LA’s most hip and happening Peruvian restaurants. ¡Buen provecho! (That’s Spanish for bon apétit!)

It’s not every day that a fellow peruano gets voted “Best New Chef” by Food & Wine magazine. Lucky Angelenos are reminded how Lima-born Ricardo Zarate earned his 2011 title each time they dine at his two L.A. Peruvian restos, Picca and Mo-Chica. Chef Zarate chatted with Señorita Vino about his passion for vino and why every day is the perfect day for a special-occasion wine.

Photo courtesy of Picca.
Photo courtesy of Picca.

SENORITA VINO: What’s your favorite wine?

RICARDO ZARATE: I like ceviche, and Sauvignon Blanc is one of the best wines for this dish. I love Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc. It’s so aromatic. If I want something fancy, I’ll pick a Sancerre.

SV: Besides Malbec and Torrontés, which wines would you pair with the most popular Peruvian dishes?

RZ: In the U.S., Malbec and Torrontes are two of the most available South American wines. I like Argentine wines because they get good mileage when paired with Peruvian cuisine. Malbec is light-bodied and not too rich. South American cuisine is rich in flavor, so you don’t want a wine that’s too rich.  I would add New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, and Chilean whites are good with Peruvian food.

SV: Will we ever see the day when Peruvian wines compete on the global stage?

RZ: Peru makes some great wines, but because they’re small-vineyard wines, you rarely–if ever–see them outside Peru.  The majority of grapes grown in Peru are used in making Pisco. I think at one point wine will become bigger because Peruvian cuisine is moving toward fine dining, and fine dining needs a fine drink like wine. It may be 10 years before we see more quality wines coming out of Peru.

SV: What advice would you give someone who is not well-versed in wine and may feel intimidated by it?

RZ: I used to go to restaurants and I’d see a French wine and get instantly intimidated. I’d think, “My God, I  don’t know what I’m doing!” When you order wine in a restaurant, you have the option to taste it first. The more you taste, the more you learn what grapes you like. California is a fantastic place to live. Go wine tasting in Napa Valley with your boyfriend or girlfriend, and make it a hobby or something you do just for fun.

SV: Do you have a favorite memory associated with wine?

RZ: When I was 20 I received a really expensive bottle of wine as a gift. All I can recall is that it was worth a couple thousand dollars. I decided to save it for a special occasion.

Soon after, I moved to London for work. One night I went out drinking with a good friend, and he overdid it and asked to stay on my couch. My wine collection was out in the living room where he [would be sleeping]. My friend wanted to keep drinking, so I told him he could open any bottle except for that one, and then I said goodnight.

The next morning, I saw that he had opened the expensive bottle. I was furious! I figured it was ruined since it had been left open overnight. So I sat him down and said, “We’re going to finish this bottle.” The wine was perfect, and my anger disappeared.

A few years after I left London, I learned that my friend had died in an accident. The night we drank the wine was the last time I saw him, so it was all meant to happen. The special occasion ended up being the night I drank a great wine with a good friend.

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Wine bars we love: Barsha

5 Sep

Great news, chicas y chicos – Manhattan Beach is not just for surfers and overpriced real estate: It’s home to a wine bar that’s a globe-trotting mash-up of  exotic North African bazaar and eclectic wine shop, its soundtrack emitting a cool, world-beat groove. Welcome to Barsha, where the wine is delectable and the ceramics covetable.

I want.

I want.

It took a girls’ night out with fellow wine blogger Vinoista to finally get me here after a year of driving by and making a silent pledge to try it each time.  Located in a mini strip mall anchored by a Baskin Robbins and a Mexican restaurant, Barsha may not be dripping with curb appeal, but stepping inside is like broaching a magic portal into the tricked-out lair of an über-hip, vino-loving nomad with a cosmopolitan palate and a wicked world music rotation on the iPod.

Bring it.

Truer words were never printed on a cocktail napkin.

Owner Adnen Marouani hails from Tunisia, brining international experience as a restauranteur and sommelier. He prides himself on a well-curated collection of small-production wines from around the globe, some of which are available in a four-wine flight at a reasonable $12 per flight. If you’re just looking to buy wine for dinner or as a gift, you can stock up on a robust offering of wines rarely seen at big-box retailers or in supermarkets. Can I get a salud?

Viva la California!

¡Viva la California!

Vinoista and I shared the “Viva la California” flight, featuring two Albariños and two Tempranillos from California’s Central Coast and Paso Robles wine regions. ¡Olé!  Wine newbies will love the tasting notes listed for each wine in the flight, a great tool for training or testing your palate.  And speaking of palates, wine can get lonely without its BFF, food, but that won’t happen here with a fab selection of Mediterranean-style appetizers.

¡Que rico!

Cheese and charcuterie plate. ¡Que rico!

Start with Marouani’s Bread and Butter, a hot-out-of-the-oven bread basket served with preserved Tunisian olives, olive oil for dipping and an assortment of house-made “butters” including hummus, date almond tapenade, artichoke basil pesto and the night we were there, a special spread made with harissa, a spicy paste used in North African cuisine. Oh, and don’t get me started on the ceramic plate the spreads are served in (see first photo in this post). I had to fight the urge to stash it in my purse when no one was looking.

The cheese and charcuterie plate paired nicely with our wine flight. The star of this appetizer was a truffled ham, sliced belly-dancer-veil thin. The other highlight: Tunisian spiced almonds, which our server told us were made fresh that day.

Owner Adnen Marouani explains the philosophy behind his wine selections.

Owner Adnen Marouani explains the philosophy behind his wine selections.

Barsha,  named for the Tunisian word meaning plenty, has mucho to be happy about these days, as it’s gearing up for its one-year anniversary bash on Saturday, September 14. From 6 to 9 p.m., you can enjoy vino, craft beer and a tasting menu of beef sirloin sliders, ahi tuna tartare with Asian guacamole, tomato bisque shooters with avocado oil, and mushrooms stuffed with spicy sausage, walnuts and herbs, all for $35.

Image 9

So if you happen to be in the Manhattan Beach area, stop in and tell ’em Señorita Vino sent you. Oh, and if you see a señorita wrestling a ceramic hand of Fatima plate into her purse, it’s our little secret, okay?

Barsha Wine and Spirits. 917 N. Sepulveda Blvd. Manhattan Beach, CA 90266. (310) 318-9080. 

Meet the Wine Lover: Chef Ricardo Zarate

31 Jan

It’s not every day that a fellow peruano gets voted “Best New Chef” by Food & Wine magazine. Lucky Angelenos are reminded how Lima-born Ricardo Zarate earned his 2011 title each time they dine at his two L.A. Peruvian restos, Picca and Mo-Chica. Chef Zarate stepped away from his busy kitchen to chat with Señorita Vino about his passion for vino and why every day is the perfect day for a special-occasion wine.

Photo courtesy of Picca.

Photo courtesy of Picca.

SENORITA VINO: What’s your favorite wine?

RICARDO ZARATE: I like ceviche, and Sauvignon Blanc is one of the best wines for this dish. I love Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc. It’s so aromatic. If I want something fancy, I’ll pick a Sancerre.

SV: Besides Malbec and Torrontés, which wines would you pair with the most popular Peruvian dishes?

RZ: In the U.S., Malbec and Torrontes are two of the most available South American wines. I like Argentine wines because they get good mileage when paired with Peruvian cuisine. Malbec is light-bodied and not too rich. South American cuisine is rich in flavor, so you don’t want a wine that’s too rich.  I would add New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, and Chilean whites are good with Peruvian food.

SV: Will we ever see the day when Peruvian wines compete on the global stage?

RZ: Peru makes some great wines, but because they’re small-vineyard wines, you rarely–if ever–see them outside Peru.  The majority of grapes grown in Peru are used in making Pisco. I think at one point wine will become bigger because Peruvian cuisine is moving toward fine dining, and fine dining needs a fine drink like wine. It may be 10 years before we see more quality wines coming out of Peru.

SV: What advice would you give someone who is not well-versed in wine and may feel intimidated by it?

RZ: I used to go to restaurants and I’d see a French wine and get instantly intimidated. I’d think, “My God, I  don’t know what I’m doing!” When you order wine in a restaurant, you have the option to taste it first. The more you taste, the more you learn what grapes you like. California is a fantastic place to live. Go wine tasting in Napa Valley with your boyfriend or girlfriend, and make it a hobby or something you do just for fun.

SV: Do you have a favorite memory associated with wine?

RZ: When I was 20 I received a really expensive bottle of wine as a gift. Don’t ask me the name; all I know is that it was worth a couple thousand dollars. I decided to save it for a special occasion.

Soon after, I moved to London for work. One night I went out drinking with a good friend, and he overdid it and asked to stay on my couch. My wine collection was out in the living room where he [would be sleeping]. I had about 30 bottles, and I separated the expensive one from the others. My friend wanted to keep drinking, so I told him he could open any bottle except for that one, and then I said goodnight.

The next morning, I saw that he had opened the expensive bottle. I was furious! I figured it was ruined since it had been left open overnight. So I sat him down and said, “We’re going to finish this bottle.” The wine was perfect, and my anger disappeared.

A few years after I left London, I learned that my friend had died in an accident. The night we drank the wine was the last time I saw him, so it was all meant to happen. The special occasion was enjoying a great wine with a good friend.

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!

Latinas y vino: An interview with the president of Nevarez Vineyard

9 Aug

She’s smart, she’s passionate, and she’s the president of the first Mexican-owned vineyard in Paso Robles, California. Señorita Vino had the honor of meeting Dena Marquez, head of Nevarez Vineyard, at East L.A. Meets Napa, an annual fund raising event held at Los Angeles’ Union Station. Ms. Marquez took time to share her thoughts on the intersection of work, wine and how wine knowledge can be a career asset.

Dena Marquez answers a question about Nevarez Vineyard at East LA Meets Napa on July 20.

Señorita Vino:  How did you get into the wine business?

Dena Marquez: I was in retail management for 13 years and I just got worn out. After some some soul-searching, I decided I’d quit and go to law school. I love helping people, and I was starting on this new path when I learned through my mom that Mr. Nevarez [the owner of Nevarez Vineyard] needed some help. She had been his bookkeeper for 16 years, so he knew me and it went from there. I was a beer kind of gal before, but now I’ve really gotten to love wine. It’s such a different experience from a casual beer–the romance attached to it, the stories you hear about the bottles.

SV: Tell me a bit about Juan Nevarez’s vision.

DM: He migrated to the U.S. from Mexico with barely a third-grade education, but he’s accomplished so much. He created the first Mexican-owned vineyard in the county, and he’s quite the entrepreneur. He was once an organizer for Cesar Chavez and today he has a labor contracting business in addition to selling his grapes to some of the local vineyards. He also does consulting work on vineyard management. He’s been in the business for over 30 years, and people are always asking him how he gets his vineyard to look so beautiful.

SV: Latinos have always played a role in California’s wine industry, and today, more and more Latinos are consuming wine. What are your observations?

DM: The thing I love about wine and Latinos is that we’re coming into our own and getting higher positions in the business world–lawyers, politicians, corporate leaders. You go to events and dinners and everyone is into wine; it’s important to know about it because you can join the conversation. If you’re invited to your boss’s house, wine makes a nice gift and you can talk about the history and the region. Wine enters so many people’s conversations, regardless of  their position. Knowing about wine and being able to talk about it can help you professionally.

SV: How do you suggest Latinas, or anyone new to wine, begin to learn about it?

Start with the smaller wineries. Paso Robles is a great place to learn; we’re not as commercialized as Napa Valley. It can be intimidating to go to Napa and Sonoma and feel like you don’t know what people are talking about. Paso is more intimate, people are more willing to teach you about wine. Be open minded and experiment with your palate. Our wines are easy to drink and go great with food. I like that they’re not too complex, which is good if you’re not that familiar with wine.

SV: Do you have a favorite memory related to wine that you’d like to share?

DM: [Laughs] I have a lot! My favorite thing is going to charity events and seeing people drink our wines for the first time and love them. I still hold my breath every time they taste. I’ll watch their faces and I’ll be thinking, I hope they like it, I hope it’s good. If they do, I’m ecstatic! It’s been so many years but I still get that.

Meet me at the Cathedral of Wine

8 Jun

What happens when 50 winemakers, two food trucks and a well-stocked cheese table all meet in a cathedral on a Sunday afternoon? If you’re a glass-is-half-full type, it’s an edible religious experience. If you’re not, it’s the eighth deadly sin.

Last Sunday, Señorita Vino was craving some religion, which is how she ended up in a deconsecrated Catholic cathedral with a hundred other wine lovers at a Rhone Rangers wine tasting. For those of you who may be wondering, the Rhone Rangers is an association of about 200 winemakers who make wines in the U.S. using grapes that are traditionally grown in France’s Rhone Valley region.

About 50 wineries were represented at the June 3 tasting at Vibiana in downtown Los Angeles. Most of the winemakers made the trek from Paso Robles, a California wine growing region known for its Zinfandels but very friendly to Rhone Valley grapes. Although the French government recognizes 22 official grapes in the Rhone Valley, the most common red Rhone varietals are Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre. Next time you’re out wine tasting and you hear the term “GSM,” it’s wine-geek speak for the three most widely used red Rhone grapes. For white grapes, Roussane, Marsanne, and Viognier (see last week’s post) are the most popular.

Church of Vino: Wine lovers mill about in front of the former altar.

Because wine and food go together like religion and guilt, two trendy food trucks were conveniently parked in the cathedral courtyard, serving up chicken tacos or beef sliders. I chose the chicken tacos and doused the flames of the salsa with a lovely white blend from Vines on the Marycrest, a winery whose name could easily double as the local all-girls Catholic high school in a telenovela set in a wine growing town. But I digress…

Bottles of white and rosé wines perspired in ice buckets on long picnic tables in the courtyard while the winemakers themselves sat down to answer questions about their wines in a refreshingly informal setting. The scorching L.A. sun was anything but refreshing, so we finished eating and sought shade at one of several cocktail tables on the perimeter of the courtyard.

It was here that I had the pleasure of meeting representatives from ANCO Fine Cheese, a company that exports cheeses from Europe to stores and restaurants in L.A. and beyond. Now, if there’s anything that motivates me more than a good glass of wine, it’s the promise of a cheese table the size of a school bus. Okay, maybe not that grande, but you get the idea.

Gluttony is one of the seven deadly sins.

If you want to talk about a moral dilemma, mine was how to reconcile the desire to indulge in Death by Cheese with the virtues of fitting into my jeans. Chicas y chicos, the cheese won.

Confessions of a vino lover.

Luckily for me, I spied two empty confessionals just waddling distance from the cheese table. But I got a little sidetracked by the 2008 “Lodestone” red from Hearthstone Vineyard and Winery. This was a blend of 50 percent Syrah with Grenache and Mourvedre. Wonderful black cherry aromas with a touch of pepper and anise. Just the thing to take your mind off atonement.

And while we’re on the topic of atonement (or in this case, lack thereof), the nuns at my all-girls Catholic high school reminded us daily where bad girls would end up. But I will submit that well-intentioned girls (and boys) with a weakness for cheese and vino gather at the Cathedral of Wine.

A wine bar for all palates

23 Mar

In a perfect world, cheese would have no calories, stilettos would be comfortable, and by-the-glass wine lists would be as long as a García Márquez novel. In reality, I’ve gained about 10 pounds since last week’s cheese-shopping bender, and  three hours in four-inch heels have pushed my pain threshold to the limit.

Now for some good news: 3Twenty South Wine Lounge, a wine bar and restaurant on La Brea Avenue in Los Angeles, caters to wine lovers who not only want to try it all, but have a hankering for something beyond Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon.

Forty-plus wines are available by the glass each day. The best part is you don’t have to comb through a textbook-sized wine list  to make your selections (apologies to all you Cien Años de Soledad fans). Instead, you are handed a credit-card-like key that gives you access to three automatic wine dispensing machines, each of which holds several bottles of wines from around the world. Sample as many wines as you like, and the card keeps track of your tab.

Automatic wine dispensing machines allow you to taste wines from the world's great winemaking regions.

“The beauty of these machines is that they demystify the wine buying experience,” explains 3Twenty South general manager Edgar Poureshagh, a certified sommelier. “You are empowered to try what you like.” For people who are relatively new to wine, Poureshagh adds that “it’s a great place to learn because you can read about the wine [on an informational card], then try it for about $5 instead of  $60 for the whole bottle.”

A self-proclaimed ‘wine geek,’ Poureshagh hand-selects wines that aren’t always available at the typical wine bar. In addition to rarer wines like Amarone, Sauternes and 30-year old Sherries, mainstream palates will be pleased to find a generous selection of the more popular varietals such as Pinot Noir and Merlot.

While food is almost an afterthought at many wine bars, the menu here is on par with anything you’d find at a high-end bistro. Small-plate selections are created to pair well with a broad spectrum of wines. If you aren’t sure what food goes with which wine, Poureshagh and his easygoing yet well-informed staff are on hand with ideas and suggestions. On a recent night, our  group sampled the crispy chickpeas with warm olives and gruyere crackers, which paired nicely with a French Chablis.

Because the portions are tapas-sized, we were able to indulge in a variety of offerings ranging  from the cheese plate and the halibut with olive and parsley pesto, to bacon-wrapped tiger prawns and a skillet steak dripping with roquefort butter.  Our wine card keys gave us the freedom to choose whichever wine we wanted for each course, versus having to share one or two bottles through the entire meal.

Between the four of us, we must have collectively tasted more than 20 different wines. And in case you’re wondering how we managed to drive home afterwards, the wine machines automatically dispense a 2-ounce pour, so it’s tough to go overboard. The real challenge, if you must know, was driving in stilettos.

3Twenty South Wine Lounge. 320 S. La Brea Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90036. 323.932.9500. Open for lunch and dinner. Reservations recommended. Monday Tastings is a weekly event during which Poureshagh leads a curated wine tasting. Call for details.

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