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Alximia Winery of Baja California #HispanicHeritageMonth

8 Oct

If you grew up in Southern California, chances are you spent at least one spring break weekend terrorizing the Baja California town of Ensenada with your frat brothers (or sorority sisters). What you may not have realized then is that Ensenada is an intellectual center and home to the Autonomous University of Baja California, Mexico, where winemaker Alvaro Alvarez studied physics.

Alvarez went on to pursue a master’s in math at UC Santa Cruz. As if studying permutations and number theory weren’t enough, he decided to do a little microbrewing on the side. Fast-forward to today, and Alvarez and his astronomer father are at the helm of Alximia (pronounced al-SHEE-mee-uh) Vino Elemental in Baja California’s Guadalupe Valley.

‘Alximia’ is inspired by the Spanish word for alchemy, and if you visit Alximia, you’ll swear some otherworldly force transported the spaceship-like winery from a galaxy far away and planted it among the vineyards.

Image courtesy of AlXimia Vino Elemental

Image courtesy of AlXimia Vino Elemental

As if by magic, Alximia came to my neck of the woods in the form of Manuel Alvarez, Alvaro’s younger brother and the man who does the marketing for the family winery here in the U.S. Manuel was kind enough to arrange a private tasting of five of Alximia’s wines.

Manuel Alvarez and his family's wines.

Manuel Alvarez and his family’s wines.

We got all Salma Hayak and chose Lebanese food to pair with Mexican wines. As evidenced by Salma, the Mexican-Lebanese combo works. All of the wines I tasted were made with red varietals, which pair beautifully with traditional Lebanese dishes including lamb kabobs, eggplant and tomato spreads, and yes, hummus.

And because the wines are literally the product of a rocket scientist, it only makes sense that each is named after an element. By design, the food pairings for each wine relate to their respective element:

Alximia wines

Aura (now Aqua): Made from a blend of Petit Verdot, Zinfandel and Grenache, this wine is aged 12 months in French oak. And because the element is water, Manuel suggests pairing it with seafood.

Libis: The element is air. A blend of Petit Verdot, Zinfandel and Syrah, this wine pairs well with airborne comestibles such as chicken and duck.

Gaia: Named for the Earth goddess, this special edition wine is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Tempranillo and Syrah. I loved the violet aromas. This earthy wine pairs well with beef, pork and lamb.

Pira: Pira represents fire, and it’s 100 percent Barbera. Manuel recommends pairing it with meat that has been barbecued over an open flame.

Magma: You science geeks will know that magma is the blend of molten rocks and solids beneath the Earth’s surface. The wine is a less searing blend of Carignan and Grenache. With jammy plum aromas and a hint of chocolate, you can enjoy it with gamier meat such as venison and goat.

Alximia-Pouring

Stateside, you can find Alximia Vino Elemental at Whole Foods Market. If you’d rather have the full experience, visit the winery as part of a Guadalupe Valley wine road trip. Pocket protectors optional.

Mucho Gusto! Get to know #SauvBlanc on #SauvignonBlancDay

24 Apr

You know the vino gods are smiling upon you when you get not one, but TWO vino holidays in the two weeks before a statistics final!  Today is Sauvignon Blanc Day, and I’m re-blogging this post from my ¡Mucho Gusto! series in honor of the occasion, and as an auspicious sign that I’ll ace the stat exam. Let’s do this!!

For those of you who don’t speak Spanish, mucho gusto is what you say when you first meet someone. It’s like “nice to meet you,” but it would translate more directly as “with great pleasure.”

Gusto has many meanings, including “taste” and “flavor,” so consider ¡Mucho Gusto! a delectable play on words and a way to familiarize yourself with wine. Without further ado, it is my great pleasure to introduce you to Sauvignon Blanc.

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HOLA, ME LLAMO: Sauvignon Blanc is a white wine.

MY ROOTS: Sauvignon Blanc was born in France’s Bordeaux region. A bit of trivia – the grape variety hooked up with Cabernet Franc sometime in the 1700s and the result was Cabernet Sauvignon. Today, Sauvignon Blanc continues to thrive in Bordeaux. Because French wines are geographically labeled and not named for the actual grape, “Sancerre” and “Pouilly-Fumé” are 100 percent Sauvignon Blanc wines. Sauvignon Blanc was planted in other countries including New Zealand, the U.S. (California), Chile, Australia and Italy. Robert Mondavi coined the name Fumé Blanc, so if you see this on the grocery store shelf, it’s Sauvignon Blanc.

ALL ABOUT ME: Sauvignon Blanc is a dry wine made from an aromatic grape, hence its distinctive aroma. You may get nectarines, white peach, grapefruit, grass and herbs, gooseberries, and believe it or not, kitty pee. French Sauvignon Blanc may also display a flinty, gravelly minerality. Most Sauvignon Blanc is stainless-steel fermented, so you won’t get the woodsy, oaky notes you’d find in Chardonnay. It’s also known for its refreshing, crisp acidity.

FOODS I LOVE: You can’t go wrong with Sauvignon Blanc and seafood. The wine’s crispness complements the buttery texture of white fish and scallops. I’ve had it with oysters and it’s to-die-for amazing. Sauvignon Blanc is the ideal wine for vegetarian dishes. This is a great wine for salads, since the herb notes of the wine will match the crisp greens in the salad and the acidity matches vinaigrette dressing. For some Latin flair, pair Sauvingon Blanc with guacamole (the acidity of the wine “cuts” the creaminess of the guac) and spicy dishes like enchiladas and chile relleno. I love Sauvignon Blanc with Peruvian arroz con pollo (chicken in a cilantro sauce).

DO TRY THIS AT HOME: The beauty of Sauvignon Blanc is that you don’t have to break the bank to enjoy it. You can get a good bottle for $10 – $20. Of course, you can pay upwards of $150 for a classified Bordeaux blend. Some well-regarded labels include: Cloudy Bay, Kim Crawford and Matua Valley from New Zealand; Laville Haut-Brion, Alphonse Mellot and Pascal Jolivet from France; St. Supéry, Kunde and Matanzas Creek from California; Montes, Concha y Toro and Viña Leyda from Chile.

So here’s wishing you ¡Mucho Gusto! as you get to know Sauvignon Blanc. Until next time…

¡Salud!

¡Mucho Gusto! Get to know #Malbec on #MalbecWorldDay

17 Apr

Darlings, I miss you!

Señorita Vino has been hitting the books, burning the midnight oil, and every other academic cliche you can think of to make it through her MBA program. But even as I drown in a sea of standard deviations, you, my lovely readers, are never far from my heart. Final exams are on the horizon, but I had to take some time to wish you all a happy #MalbecWorldDay. Here’s a re-blog of a “Mucho Gusto” featuring…you guessed it–Malbec. 

There’s nothing Señorita Vino loves more than a fiesta, and today happens to be a big fiesta in the Wonderful World of Wine. Happy Malbec World Day, chicos y chicas! It’s possible that Malbec is the first Latin American wine you tasted, or at least the one that’s easiest to find this side of the Rio Grande.

In honor of this auspicious day, here’s the scoop on Argentina’s most popular wine.

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HOLA, ME LLAMO: Malbec is a red wine that has become Argentina’s signature vino.

MY ROOTS: Depending on which wine reference book you’re reading, Malbec is believed to have originated in France’s Bordeaux region or in Auxerrois in northern Burgundy. It’s known as Cot in most of France and today makes up at least 70 percent of the blend in the Cahors AC. Malbec was first brought to Argentina in the early 1850s from Chile.

ALL ABOUT ME: A dry red wine with bold, fruity aromas, Malbec has gorgeous purple hues and lush, velvety tannins. Besides ripe black fruit, Argentinean Malbecs may give you a whiff of violets and sweet spice. You may even get hints of coffee. A Malbec from Cahors will present more raisiny flavors, as well as tobacco and coffee notes. Malbec from high-altitude vineyards in Mendoza’s Luján de Cuyo province displays a crisp acidity. At such a high altitude, the grapes ripen more slowly and can stay on the vine longer, which means you’ll get more concentrated, balanced flavors.

FOODS I LOVE: There’s no better wine for grilled meat and barbecue than Malbec, which is only fitting given Argentina’s reputation for quality beef and (vegetarians, cover your eyes) rockin’ parrilladas. If you’re not a meat-eater, you can still enjoy Malbec with tagliatelle in a mushroom ragout sauce, or with a veggie empanada.

DO TRY THIS AT HOME: You can get a decent Malbec for $14-$20. Higher-end labels will cost a bit more. If you’re going all out with a fine cut of meat, it may be worth the splurge. Wines with “Salta” or “Luján de Cuyo” on the label come from vineyards at the highest altitudes. Recommended labels include Norton, Bodegas Poesía “Clos des Andes,” Catena, Luigi Bosca and Crios de Susana Balbo.

So round up your besties, grab some steak and your favorite bottle of Malbec and celebrate Malbec World Day con pasión, che! Tango music optional. ¡Salud!

#Wine Resolutions for 2015. Oh, and I’m baaaaack!

8 Jan

2014 was a pretty good year: I passed the WSET Level III Advanced exam, I got to be a guest judge at this year’s Los Angeles International Wine Competition, and my blog was a finalist in the 2014 Wine Blog Awards. Then the last quarter hit, and Everything Happened. Here’s a quick recap to set the stage for this week’s post:

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October: Started a new work contract and lost my mom–on the same day. All of this during midterm exams at grad school. November: Balanced the very demanding second half of the semester and the new work contract and managed not to have a nervous breakdown. Drank lots of wine. I think it helped. December: Took two final exams, wrote a term paper, and met a dozen client deadlines. Got an A for the first semester of my MBA program. Treated myself with a bottle of 2011 Ornellaia (not the whole thing–I shared it with Señor Jim, my dad and brother on my birthday).

Ornellaia

Which brings us to the present moment. A year older, maybe a little wiser, and determined to focus on the good things each day brings. Because if I learned anything last year, it’s that bad stuff happens because it’s life, but if you dwell too long on the negatives, you’re going to miss the positives. So in the spirit of kicking off an optimistic 2015, here are my Wine New Year’s Resolutions. Feel free to adopt any that strike a chord:

1. Use the good glasses. Life’s too short to drink wine from crappy stemware. If you have high-end wine glasses, use ’em! If you don’t, treat yourself to just one (it’ll cost you about $25 -$30) and make it a luxuriously rewarding ritual to sip wine from your fine wineglass at the end of a busy workday.

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2. Buy at least one high-end bottle of wine. You don’t have to break the bank, but from personal experience I can tell you that buying at least one wildly amazing bottle of wine a year will result in a delicious endorphin rush. For the first time in my life, I bought myself a $180 bottle of wine in December. It was the aforementioned Ornellaia, and I can tell you it was worth every penny. I can hear you saying, “But that’s a lot of money!” When you look at the big picture, it really isn’t.

Here’s what you do: Grab a piggy bank, mason jar, empty cigar box, or whatever will remind you that you deserve to drink a world-class wine. Then sacrifice one latte a week and put the money you’d spend on the java into your “vino bank.” Not a coffee person? Then just put $3 in your vino bank each week. By the end of the year, you’ll have around $150 to spend on your vino. Why? Because you’re worth it.

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3. Share the fancy wine with the people I love most. Let’s face it–it’s no fun drinking a bottle of vino by yourself. Sure, you can stretch it out over a few days if you properly protect it from oxygen before re-corking it, but why not share the love? Someday when you’re old and grey, I can guarantee that you won’t look back on life and wish you had enjoyed all of your good wine alone.

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So Feliz Año Nuevo and Happy New Year, chicos y chicas. May 2015 bring you much joy, amor and good fortune. And remember–the wineglass is always half-full. ¡Salud!

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!

Prohib_Newspaper

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.

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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.

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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.

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

¡Salud!

Señorita Vino is interviewed by the San Jose Mercury News #wine

10 Oct

Darlings, I was tossing and turning last night, trying to figure out how I would crank out a blog post this week and still meet my work deadlines AND study for my economics midterm next Wednesday.

Turns out good things come to those who can’t sleep: I woke up to find the online version of a story that will appear in this Sunday’s San Jose Mercury News as an “Eat, Drink, Play” feature. Problem solved! You can read the article here.

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I’ve said this before but I’ll say it again: MUCHAS GRACIAS for following Señorita Vino. I sincerely appreciate your comments, “Likes,” and support–your enthusiasm inspires me to keep on keepin’ on, as they say. So this weekend during breaks from analyzing marginal cost curves, I will raise a glass to YOU for being the super-fabulosa/fabuloso vino lover that you are. ¡Salud! 

P.S. If anyone lives in the San Jose, Calif. area and can score a copy of the paper, can you let me know? Or if you live in the L.A. area and know of a newsstand that sells the  Merc, give me a shout via comments or email (my email address is on the CONTACT page of this blog). ¡Gracias!

P.P.S. Wish me luck on the econ midterm!

¡Mucho Gusto! Get to know #Riesling

3 Oct

One of my favorite wine-tasting-gone-wrong stories happened a year after starting my blog when I was invited to join a group of women bloggers on a day of vino tasting in the Santa Ynez Valley.

In the tasting room of a winery whose name I won’t mention, the gentleman pouring our wine opened a bottle of Riesling and said, “You girls will love this one because it’s sweet. All Rieslings taste sweet.” True story.

Of course, not all “girls” love sweet wine, and certainly not all Rieslings are sweet. At the risk of making waves in this group I was just getting to know, I decided to very diplomatically note that some Rieslings are in fact dry.

You can guess where that led. Annoyed that I had corrected him, in a condescending tone he argued that ALL Rieslings ARE INDEED sweet. I decided not to ruin the convivial mood and dropped the matter. To prepare you in case you find yourself at the same winery with the same twit pouring your wine, it’s my pleasure–no, it’s my duty–to present the 411 on Riesling.

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HOLA, ME LLAMO: Riesling (pronounced REES-ling, not REEZ-ling)

MY ROOTS: According to the Oxford Companion to Wine, the earliest known mention of Riesling was found in Germany’s Rheingau region on an invoice dating back to 1435. The Riesling grape is believed to have originated in Germany, and DNA testing shows that it is an offspring of the grape Gouais Blanc. Noteworthy Riesling is produced in Germany, Austria and  in France’s Alsace region. Riesling  also is made in New World countries including Canada, Australia’s Clare Valley, and in the states of Oregon, Washington, California, and New York’s Finger Lakes region. Riesling vines have hard, resilient wood, which allows them to thrive in cold climates such as New York, Canada and Germany.

ALL ABOUT ME:  Riesling is a white wine that can be made in a variety of styles, from bone dry to sweet. The classic aromatic profile is a heady mix of lychee, white florals, citrus, white peaches and a distinctive petrol or kerosene smell in older wines. Rieslings have low to medium alcohol, rarely exceeding 12.5 percent ABV. This is a wine with a crisp acidity. Cool-weather Rieslings are especially zingy, and in Germany and Canada, some grapes are allowed to freeze on the vine to produce a beautifully sweet Icewine. The sweetness of German Rieslings is ranked according to a classification system that ranges from Kabinett (dry) to Trockenbeerenauslese (super-sweet). In France’s Alsace region, grapes may be harvested late (Vendage Tardive on the label), producing a rich, honeyed wine. Sometimes, but not always, American Rieslings will have “Dry Riesling” on the label if it’s, well, dry. When in doubt, ask your wine merchant or server to be sure.

FOODS I LOVE: Riesling is a versatile wine that pairs with all kinds of foods. Try a sweet or off-dry Riesling with spicy Mexican or Thai food to cool the burn. Rieslings go well with charcuterie plates, roasted duck and mildly salted cheeses. It also works with crab, shrimp or lobster. And Riesling holds the distinction of being one of the few wines that pairs nicely with eggs.

DO TRY THIS AT HOME: Riesling can cost anywhere from $16 to $60 a bottle. See last week’s post for four Finger Lakes Rieslings you may want to try. For Old World Rieslings, you can’t go wrong with Germany’s Dr. Loosen from the Mosel region. And from France’s Alsace region, I enjoyed the 2012 Hubert Meyer Riesling.

What are some of your favorite Rieslings? Don’t be shy–let me hear from you. Enjoy the weekend and as always, ¡Salud!

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