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¡Mucho Gusto! Get to know Barbaresco

22 Jan

Happy Wednesday, chicas y chicos!

I’m still reveling in the newness of 2014, and in my never-ending quest to bring you snob-free wine knowledge, I’d like to introduce you to ¡Mucho Gusto!, a brand-new feature on Señorita Vino. Well, it’s not literally on me, but you get the picture.

Once or twice a month, I’ll be focusing on a different wine, with a bit of history, flavor and aroma characteristics, pairing ideas and maybe even a recommended label or two. The purpose of this new department is to inspire you to learn about and taste wines you may not typically drink. Some you may have heard of, others not, but I promise you’ll learn something new, even about wines you already drink.

So without further ado, heeeeeeeere’s Barbaresco!


HOLA, ME LLAMO: Barbaresco is a red wine made from the Nebbiolo grape.

MY ROOTS: Barbaresco hails from the Piedmont region in northwest Italy. It’s a DOCG wine (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita), the highest quality ranking for Italian wines. Bear in mind that California, Chile and Mexico also make wine from the Nebbiolo grape, but the wine can only be called Barbaresco if it’s produced in designated districts in Italy’s Piedmont region.

ALL ABOUT ME: Barbaresco is a dry wine known for having softer tannins than its “cousin,” Barolo, an Italian wine also made from Nebbiolo grapes. For this reason, Barbaresco is considered by some to be easier to drink than Barolo. Because the wine is aged in wood for a maximum of two years, you may smell cedar or oak. Barbaresco has lush berry and plum aromas, along with floral notes of violet and spices such as vanilla and licorice. This is a full-bodied wine, which means it will feel heavier on the palate and have a higher alcohol content.

FOODS I LOVE: Because of the tannins and body, Barbaresco pairs nicely with the traditional meat and game stews of northwestern Italy. Want a little Latin sabor? Pair it with carne asada, seco de cordero (Peruvian lamb stew), carnitas or roast pork. If you love a good charcuterie plate as much as I do, try it with salami,  mortadella, and if your arteries can handle it, lardo di Colonnata.

DO TRY THIS AT HOME: Expect to pay anywhere from $14 to $400 or more for a bottle of Barbaresco. You can get a good one for $30-$60. Some respected labels include: Ceretto, Gaja, Pio Cesare, Bruno Rocca and Tenute Cisa Asinari dei Marchesi di Gresy.

Now that you’ve met Barbaresco, what do you think? Is it a wine you think you’ll try? Are there other wines you’d like to see in a future ¡Mucho Gusto!? Share your comments – I’d love to hear from you.


Wines of Lake Chelan, Washington – Part 2

26 Jun

A miner’s life can be lonely. But for the hombres who worked at a 1930s Lake Chelan-area mine, companionship was just a boat ride away.  Enterprising ladies of the night had set up shop on the appropriately named Point Lovely, and a local entrepreneur quickly established a water taxi service that spirited randy miners in need of a li’l sump’n-sump’n to the point of ill repute.

Image courtesy of Hard Row to Hoe Vineyards

Image by Hard Row to Hoe Vineyards

This racy bit of Lake Chelan history inspired Hard Row to Hoe Winery’s unforgettable wines: Afternoon Delight muscat, Shameless Hussy rosé, Good in Bed sparkling wine, and my personal fave, Nauti Buoy white wine. Hard Row’s were just a few of the many wines I discovered during Wine Bloggers Conference 2013. But first, El Full Disclosure: Lake Chelan wineries generously poured their finest for wine bloggers attending this optional excursion. I hereby declare that I received free wine tastings. Lots of ’em. Regardless, the opinions and content in this blog post are mine.

Our first stop was Rio Vista Wines, which, if you speak español, you’ll know has a view of the river. This is where Señorita Vino conquered her fear of flying in small craft by boarding an itty-bitty orange seaplane for a 15-minute flight over the lake. I confess I downed about three pours of Rio Vista’s luscious wines–a Chardonnay, a Riesling, and the beguiling “Sunset on the River” Estate blend of Gewürztraminer, Pinot Gris and Chardonnay–before boarding right in front of the winery. It was all blue skies after that.

The seaplane that carried us over Lake Chelan.

The seaplane that carried us over Lake Chelan.

Skies of another color marked the end of our first day exploring the Lake Chelan wine region. Tsillan Cellars is located on a hill overlooking the lake. We were treated to a four-course dinner at Sorrento’s Restaurant in the winery.  Tsillan’s 2010 Estate Chardonnay was a harmonious pairing with our first course of Oysters Rockefeller. Somewhere between the first two courses, this stunning sunset sent dozens of wine bloggers running outside, cameras at the ready:


The next morning got off to an auspicious start at Karma. No, this is not a yoga studio (although Lake Chelan does have one). Karma Vineyards prides itself on its sparkling wine, which is made in the Methode Champenoise style developed by French monks, a method used by very few Washington State winemakers.


Sparkling wine goes great with brunch, and our brunch at Karma was followed by a tour of the cellar and vineyards. What better way to get around than by trolley…


…and who better to ask about Karma Vineyards’ wines than winemaker Craig Mitrakul.

Winemaker Craig is 41 but I don't believe him. And sorry chicas--Craig is happily married.

Craig says he’s 41 but I don’t believe him. And sorry chicas–he’s happily married.

...but just because he's married doesn't mean he can't answer your questions about vino.

…but just because he’s married doesn’t mean he can’t answer your questions about vino.

As if brunch weren’t filling enough, we were treated to lunch at Vin du Lac Winery, which, if you speak francais, you’ll know means “Wine of the Lake.” On a picnic bench overlooking the lac, we savored–among other delicacies–smoked duck breast in a cherry dressing paired with Vin du Lac’s 2010 Lehm Pinot Noir.

Le dejeuner chez Vin du Lac.

Le dejeuner chez Vin du Lac.

After lunch, we were whisked back to Campbell’s Resort for the  3-hour bus ride to British Columbia for Wine Bloggers Conference 2013. The only thing that kept me from slipping into a food-and-wine coma was the sobering news that our bus was still sans air conditioning.

So I did what any sensible chica wearing too-warm clothes would do–I dashed across the street to the nearest clothing shop and in 15 minutes flat, emerged in a sundress and sandals, my jeans and tennies stowed in a shopping bag. A shout-out to Melanie at Posh Boutique in Lake Chelan for helping this wine blogger reach Canada in comfort and style . ¡Salud!

NEXT WEEK: British Columbia’s Okanagan Wine Region

Vino 101: Wine Tasting Tips, Part 2

28 Feb

Still ticked off about the spit bucket being your new BFF? If you don’t know what I’m talking about, take a look-sie at Wine Tasting Tips, Part 1 for the first in this two-chapter primer on how have a fabuloso wine tasting experience.


So now that you know about reds before whites, the five S’s, and the infamous dump bucket rule, here are three more tips to make your next winery-hopping weekend a snob-free breeze:

4. Be vino-lingual. Consider the Wine Snob, that pompous dork (or dorkita) whose contrived geek-speak upon taking a sip of Chateau-de-Je-Ne-Sais-Pas makes me want to douse their ecstatic rapture with the contents of a dump bucket. If you remember anything from reading this blog, it’s this: Don’t. Let. The. Big. Words. Scare. You.  Now that we’ve got that straight, here are some basic wine-tasting terms you may hear:

Astringent. A puckering sensation caused by a wine’s tannins (see below)

Bouquet. Not quite the same thing as “aroma,” “bouquet” refers the smells a wine develops as it ages in the bottle

Complex. A wine that displays various characteristics, such as fruit, earth, acidity, floral aromas, etc. Usually a mark of quality.

Dry. The opposite of sweet

Earthy. Your tío Pedro may have an earthy sense of humor (i.e. raunchy). In wine, earthiness is like the smell of a garden after it rains.

Finish. What happens after you’ve taken a sip of wine. Think about how long the flavors linger, and whether the wine has a kick or leaves a smooth sensation.

Fruit forward. A wine in which fruity aromas and flavors are dominant

Full-bodied. A wine with high alcohol or a heavier feel on the palate

Jammy. The taste of ripe, almost preserved fruit. Usually an indicator that the wine is made from grapes grown in a hot climate.

Minerally. The taste and smell of gravel, chalk, wet stones, granite. Some French and Spanish wines are prized for their minerality.

Mouthfeel. A wine’s texture. Think silky, velvety, soft, mellow, supple, coarse, rustic, etc.

Residual sugar. The sugar left over in a wine after fermentation

Tannic. Tannins are natural compounds in grape skins and seeds. They also can be found in the wood from barrels used for aging wine. Heavily tannic wines leave an astringent, puckering sensation in the mouth.

Terroir.  The influence of climate, weather, soil and geology on a grapevine. Can also be used to describe the earthy aromas and flavors of a wine.

Well-balanced. A wine in which acidity, tannins, fruit and alcohol are evenly present.


5. Food sold separately–somewhere else. A tasting room is simply that – a space for tasting wine, and not a café or wine bar. On occasion, a winery may serve water crackers, but these are more a kind gesture than a snack. If your wine tasting sojourn spans the lunch hour, you may want to pack some sandwiches and fruit (or any portable, fuss-free food you may like) and have a picnic in between tastings. Most wineries allow visitors to bring food and eat in designated outdoor areas.


6. Save dessert for last. You may see dessert wines being offered on tasting room wine lists. Going back to the picnic for a minute, you wouldn’t eat the cupcakes before the turkey and brie baguette, would you? For some of the same reasons, you should taste the dessert wine last. Dessert wines, as you may recall from previous posts, are often honey-sweet and heavier on the palate. If you start with a late-harvest or dessert wine, any dry, lighter-bodied wines you taste after that will seem watered down and flat.

Now go forth and taste wine, chicas y chicos, and let me know how you fare. ¡Salud!

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)


At last – a wine for your Cuban sandwich

26 Nov

There’s rumba in them thar hills! One Oregon winery  owner has put some ritmo into the Willamette Valley winemaking community, and he’s all about passion for sabor.

At Cubanísimo Vineyards in Salem, neurosurgeon and Havana native Dr. Mauricio Collada named his winery for the ‘very Cuban’ flavor he brings to one of the top Pinot Noir regions in the U.S.

Forget about lame ambient music on winery sound systems. Visitors to Cubanísimo’s tasting room can enjoy a little rumba with their award-winning Pinot Noir, and if you’re lucky enough to live in the area, you can sign up for salsa lessons every third Saturday of the month.

Not a local? Then take home a souvenir guayabera with the Cubanísimo logo embroidered on the back. Low on TP? Not to worry – you can pick up a few rolls of Fidel Castro toilet paper for a revolutionary way to–ahem–take care of business.

Read the whole story (penned by yours truly) on and find out how Cubanísimo is merengue-ing its way through Oregon wine country. ¡Salud!

Oregon Wine Country, Part 3: All in the Familia

19 Oct

I knew the gods were smiling on me the day I married Señor Jim. You see, his familia hails from the Pacific Northwest, land of the Pike Place Market, birthplace of Nordstrom, breeding ground for some of the world’s most delectable salmon, and home to two wine-producing states. Oh, and he’s a pretty fine hombre, too.

Oregon boasts 16 AVAs (American Viticultural Areas), or officially recognized wine grape growing regions.

So earlier this year when he told me his cousins were planning a September family reunion in Oregon’s premier wine region, the Willamette Valley, I thought it would be fun to finally get to meet some more of his family, and try some smaller label Oregon Pinot Noirs. But when I learned that two of his relatives actually made small label Oregon wines, I knew I’d hit the Spouse Super Lotto.

As it turns out, Jim’s cousin Brenda worked in the wine industry for more than 25 years, both in California and Oregon. And Brenda happens to be the proud mother of not one but two winemaking sons, Stirling and Christian.

Brenda’s son, Stirling (photo: Mad Violets Company).

Stirling Button Fox is the proprietor of  Mad Violets Wine Company, where his lovely wife, Kelly Kidneigh, is the official winemaker (Girl Power!).

Kelly, the winemaker at Mad Violets (Photo: Mad Violets Company)

Mad Violets is a family business in every sense, including its moniker, which is a mash-up of the names of Stirling’s two daughters, Madeleine and Violet. Fort-five percent of the grapes in the 2009 Pinot Noir come from the couple’s own vineyard, Buttonfield Estate (careful readers will note that Button is a family name), and 100 percent of the grapes in the 2010 Pinot Gris are also from the estate.

What’s a family reunion without family-made vino?

Both the Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris display classic characteristics. I personally loved the minerality of the Pinot Gris, and the Pinot Noir’s gorgeous strawberry notes were a hit at the reunion dinner. If you like your vino with peach and honey aromas, the 2011 Riesling is a winner. These grapes are sourced from the oldest Riesling vineyard in Yamhill county.

One of the things I adore about Jim’s family is how warm, open and genuine they are. This blog post would rival a García Márquez novel in length if I were to acknowledge each and every one of them for their hospitality and kindness during our five-day Oregon wine county odyssey.

So let me acknowledge one cousin whom I got to meet for the first time, the one whose newsy Christmas letters I’ve had the pleasure of reading in the 12 years Señor Jim and I have been together, and the one without whom today’s post literally would have been impossible.

Brenda with her fabuloso cousin, Señor Jim.

Brenda, thank you for sharing your love of wine and passion for life with us, not to mention your enormous heart.

And to the entire Button clan (I’m looking at YOU, Carolyn, Diane, Jeanie, Carlee, and your wonderful hombres), I raise a glass to you. ¡Salud!

Oregon Wine Country, Part 2: Latinos and vino

12 Oct

So this Mexican college student walks into an Oregon winery…

If this sounds like the setup for yet another tired joke, you couldn’t be  more wrong, chicas y chicos. This is literally how the story of  the Willamette Valley’s only Mexican head winemaker begins. And it’s a story I stumbled upon during day three of my Oregon wine country sojourn in late Septmember.

The tasting room at White Rose Estate.

But first, the backstory: On day two of our trip, a bright and friendly young woman working at the Ponzi Wine Bar in Dundee saw me scribbling tasting notes and we started chatting. When I shared with her  Señorita Vino’s mission to spread the love of wine among Latinas and wine newbies of all stripes, she told me about Jesús Guillén, head winemaker at White Rose Estates. I was intrigued. And I was determined to meet Señor Guillén before returning to L.A.

Jesus Guillén, head winemaker at White Rose Estate.

The next day I found myself inside the uber-hip, black-walled, A-frame tasting room at White Rose Estate. Dagoberto, the young man behind the counter, turned out to be Guillén’s younger brother, and for the next 10 minutes, he diligently texted and called his big bro so that Señorita Vino could squeeze in an impromptu interview. 

A native of Chihuaha, México, Jesús Guillén was studying computer engineering there until his life took a detour through Oregon.

“My dad came here from México in 2000 to work in the vineyards,” Guillén says. During a summer  break from college, he traveled to Oregon to help his father. One evening  Guillén went to a wine tasting and knew on the spot that he wanted to work in the wine industry. He returned to México, finished his degree, and came back to Oregon to work the vineyards. In 2002 he came to White Rose as a vineyard worker, and by 2008 he was appointed head winemaker.

The vineyards at White Rose Estate, where Guillén got his start.

Guillén dreams of having his own vineyard one day, and if the quality of White Rose Estate’s wines is any indicator of his abilities, he’s well on his way.

As if you needed more proof that wine makes some pretty fantástico things happen, I’m going to leave you with a tale of what happens when successful winemakers pay it forward.

Much like California, the majority of seasonal vineyard workers in Oregon are Latino. Because of the constant moving and variable pay, many workers can’t afford health care and often they and their families don’t get medical attention until it’s too late. Enter ¡Salud!

Founded by the Ponzi family, ¡Salud! is a collaboration between Oregon winemakers and local healthcare professionals to make healthcare services available to Oregon’s seasonal vineyard workers.

The Ponzi Wine Bar in Dundee, Oregon.

Since 1991, ¡Salud! has provided health screenings and health education programs to vineyard workers and their families. Last year alone, ¡Salud! logged more than 7,000 medical and dental encounters including vaccinations, clinical visits, dental procedures and worksite wellness clinics. Each year, ¡Salud! holds its signature fundraising event, the two-day Oregon Pinot Noir Auction, to support the health and well-being of seasonal vineyard workers. This year’s event is Nov. 9-10. Visit for details.

If you can’t make it, then just do Señorita Vino this favor: The next time you have a glass of wine, raise a toast to all of the people who worked with love and diligence every step of the way to create that liquid magic. ¡Salud!

Next week: Oregon wine country, part 3: It’s all in the familia! 

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