Tag Archives: Cheese Store of Beverly Hills

Top 7 holiday gifts for #winelovers

5 Dec

It’s December 5, and there are 19 shopping days left until Christmas. If that doesn’t have you reaching for a bottle of Malbec, I don’t know what will.

But consider this your lucky day, as I’m proud to present the second annual Official Señorita Vino Holiday Gift Guide for Wine Lovers. In no particular order, here are seven wine-related gifts for your favorite vino lover. (Pssst. Go ahead–buy a few nice things for yourself. I won’t tell).

El Full Disclosure: I was not compensated in any way for mentioning the products below, nor did I receive samples from the manufacturers or retailers.

1. Wine Shorts


Photo credit: wineenthusiast.com

Help that special someone show her passion for wine while she sleeps or lounges around the house sipping vino. These shorts are hers (or yours!) for $24.95 plus shipping at wineenthusiast.com. Grab ’em while they’re hot; based on my experience two years ago buying wine pajama bottoms, they sell out fast.

2.  Wine Bottle Hurricane Lamps


Photo credit: BoMoLuTra

The perfect hostess gift, these wine bottle hurricane lamps class up a boring candle and let guests know they’re in a wine-loving household. Best part – these lovely specimens are $12 a piece on Etsy.com at the BoMoLuTra Bottle Art site, compared to $89 a piece at other online retailers I scouted. See, I even do all the legwork for you!

3. A Little Queso for your Vino

Photo credit: Cheese Store of Beverly Hills

What’s vino without a little cheese? The fine folks at the Cheese Store of Beverly Hills will overnight five super-delicioso Spanish cheeses–Manchego, Idiazabal, Drunken Goat, Zamorano and Cabrales–along with some Spanish olives–to the cheese lover of your choice. It’s $75 plus shipping; if you’re in the L.A. area, they can messenger it. Shop online at cheesestorebh.com.

4. Wine Away Red Wine Stain Remover

Photo credit: www.wineaway.com

Photo credit: wineaway.com

I hate to see a mess, and I’m willing to bet your favorite vino lovers do, too. That’s why this wonder-product is the perfect stocking stuffer. Prices vary according to bottle size (about $12 and up). You can buy these directly from WineAway.com, or find them at your favorite wine store. True story: I have an adored relative who can spill a glass of red wine even when he’s standing three feet away from it. Wine Away has kept the peace at family gatherings (and saved my rugs) for the past 10 years.

5. Champagne Coupes or Saucers

Waterford coupe

Photo credit: Waterford

For the sparkling wine lover on your gift list, a set of champagne coupes, also known as champagne saucers, may do the trick. Legend has it the champagne coupe was modeled after none other than Marie Antoinette’s girls, and I don’t mean her daughters. Of course, that’s an urban legend probably started by a randy French lit grad student, but you don’t have to tell. The Waterford set pictured above will set you back about $320, but there are less expensive coupes out there.

6. Wine Wars: A Trivia Game for Wine Geeks and Wannabees

Photo credit: Amazon.com

Photo credit: Amazon.com

Who says learning about wine is not all fun and games? It is, I tell you, it is! This is a great gift guaranteed to liven up your BFF’s next fiesta, or entertain the more studious types on your gift list. And at $16.36 on Amazon.com, it’s a steal. Heck, buy one for yourself, too!

7.  6-Bottle California Wine Gift Box

Photo credit: Wally's Wine & Spirits

Photo credit: Wally’s Wine & Spirits

This year’s gift catalog from Wally’s Wines in West Los Angeles impresses with the matte, heavy stock paper and the gorgeous, bordering-on-artsy-wine-porn photography. The set pictured above is a beautiful gift for anyone on your list who wants to discover California wines. It’s $95 (a little less than $16 a bottle). Check it out–and other elegant gift baskets–at wallyswine.com. Be sure to read the fine print on shipping outside of California.

That’s it, darlings! Now go forth and shop. Until next week, I bid you ¡Salud!

Back to school: Alpine wines and cheeses

23 Aug

The reward for spending 90 minutes stuck in traffic? Arriving at your destination and being greeted with a glass of sparkling wine. The good people at the Cheese Store of Beverly Hills know how to make a frazzled L.A. driver feel welcome, and they make “school” a picnic by presenting monthly cheese and wine pairings that are both educational and, well, fun.


Cheese People, as anyone who attends a tasting is called, gathered recently to relish wines and cheeses from the French, Austrian and Italian Alps. Tony and Norbert, founders of the Cheese Store of Beverly Hills, deserve a trophy (preferably made of Gruyère) for democratizing the cheese and wine tasting experience.


Tony cozies up to an extra-aged Comté.

Snobbery is verboten here, despite the posh neighborhood.  At the start of each tasting, Tony reminds “freshmen” and “seniors” about the golden rule: No snapping of fingers to get staff’s attention (“We’re not at Spago!”).  By the way, this is the only place on the planet where it’s an honor to be called a senior, a title I’ve earned after years of attending Cheese Store events, much to the benefit of my makeshift wine storage closet (and the detriment of my waistline).

The first of two cheese plates.

The first of two cheese plates.

Clockwise from the top, the first cheese plate featured Cremeux de Jura, a cow’s milk cheese from France’s Jura department; Amadeus, made from cow’s milk in Austria (Norbert’s homeland) and a great breakfast cheese; Le Marcaire, a cow’s milk cheese from Alsace which tastes like Muenster on flavor steroids; Colombier, a goat’s milk cheese from France’s Rhone Alps; and Abondance, a cow’s milk cheese from France’s Savoie region that resembles Comté and Gruyère. Abondance is great in fondue.

Norbert is shown preaching the Gospel of Gruner Veltliner.

Norbert preaches the Gospel of Gruner Veltliner.

Each cheese plate is served with a flight of two wines, which brings me to Grüner Veltliner. Considered Austria’s signature white wine, I’m seeing more Grüner on restaurant wine lists and in some California vineyards. Convenient, since I’ve begun worshipping at the altar of Grüner Veltliner. And we all learned that Norbert is the high priest of Grüner Veltliner, and that his radical evangelization has elevated Grüner to the status of “house wine” at the Cheese Store of Beverly Hills.  With spicy aromas, delicate citrus and a beautiful minerality, Grüner is great on its own or with food.  And it’s a bargain at $18 for a full liter bottle.

This is where I get to tell you that I have no photo of the second cheese plate.  By the time I realized I hadn’t snapped a picture, all that was left were a few rinds. Blame it on my calorie-counting app. Put a cheese plate in front of me after two months of arduous self-denial and I crumble. Among the highlights was the Fontina Valle d’Aosta, a cow’s milk cheese from Italy; a French Munster cheese like you’ve never had (forget the waxy slices you buy at the grocery store – this was a soft cheese made in the shape of a small, flat wheel  that Tony passed around for us to manhandle); and an extra-aged (as in 30 months) Comté from France.


The two wines served with Cheese Plate 2 were a 2011 Albert Mann Pinot Blanc with delicate peach and mineral aromas (a great buy at $22) and a grape I’d never heard of called Poulsard. Ah, Poulsard. Where have you been all my life? This thin-skinned red grape is rarely found outside of France’s Jura region, which sits between Burgundy and Switzerland. I would say this grape was a hit last night. Just look at the gorgeous color…


…and the empty bottle:


Poulsard is not a rosé, and it’s lighter than a Pinot Noir. The grapes are grown in old Jura soil, and at only 11 percent alcohol, it’s perfect as a stand-alone wine. But drink it soon, because it’s not meant to be aged.

Each Cheese Store tasting features a sample of a regional dish with the third and final flight of wines. A French chicken stew similar to goulash was paired with two gorgeous Italian red wines. Both the 2010 Didier Gerbelle Torrette from Valle d’Aosta and the 2011 Erste & Neve Lagrein from Südtirol-Alto Adige were spectacular.


And to prove that the Cheese Store of Beverly Hills tastings are what I call a Snob-Free Wine Zone, among the recommended pairings for the Torrette was the humble grilled cheese sandwich.

CHeese notes

My random notes garnered an “A” from Tony, but I flunked Waist Management 101 by adding Swiss chocolate truffles to our wine purchase. That only means one thing – I’ll have to take the class over again.


The Cheese Store of Beverly Hills. 419 N. Beverly Drive, Beverly Hills, CA 90210. (310) 278-2855. Call or visit www.cheesestorebh.com to find out about monthly wine and cheese tastings.

Vinos and cheeses of España – a match made in pairing heaven

26 Oct

Your friendly guides on this tour of Spanish culinary delights (l to r): Norbert Wabnig, owner of the Cheese Store of Beverly HIlls, Antonio Martínez of Antalva Imports, and the Cheese Store's Tony, who leads the educational discussions on cheese at the monthly tastings. Photo courtesy of the lovely and talented Ulla Kimmig, herself a Cheese Store alumna. View more of her exquisite images at http://www.ullakimmig.de.

“…it made him to dream that he was already arrived at the kingdom of Micomicon, and that he was then in combat with his enemy, and he had given so many blows on the wine-bags, supposing them to be giants, as all the whole chamber flowed with wine.”  – Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, Don Quixote, Part I.

You literary types may recall this scene from Don Quixote, in which our hero’s valiant quest to slay a super-sized enemy turns into a sleepwalking fiasco involving gallons of spilled red wine and a furious Spanish innkeeper. My own hunt for the perfect Spanish wine and cheese pairing ended less chaotically at the Cheese Store of Beverly Hills. I’m happy to report that not a drop of Garnacha was wasted, and unlike Quixote’s angry host, the proprietors here plied me with serrano jam and marcona almonds.

On a recent Thursday night, I and nine other lovers of Spanish wines and cheeses gathered for The Cheese Store’s monthly wine and cheese pairing. The theme: “España.” Our mission: To sample 10 cheeses and seven wines from the land that brought us flamenco, paella and Pedro Almodóvar.

Importer Antonio Martínez of Antalva Imports, the consummate caballero, started us off with the Cava Blancher Capdevila y Pujol, a sparkling wine made in the méthode champenoise style, which, simply stated, means the wine was produced according to a traditional method developed in the Champagne region of France. I tasted pears; the tasting notes said green apples. Go figure. A future post will delve into the wine novice’s conundrum, “But I Taste Pears, Not Apples,” so stay tuned. For now, suffice it to say that the delicate bubbles did a gentle zapateado on the taste buds, and at $16 a bottle, this one’s definitely fiesta-worthy.

As for the cheeses, if Manchego is as far as your Spanish cheese repertoire goes, get ready to explore new horizons. Nine of them, to be exact: Nevat, Leonara, Tetilla, Pata Cabra, Idiazábal, Valdeón, Romáo, El Porfaio, Abrigo. The barnyard was well-represented here, with cheeses made from the milk of sheep, goats and cows.

Among my personal favorites was the Leonara, which is produced in Castilla y León from goat’s milk. The rich, buttery taste was a perfect contrast to the dry sparkle of the Cava Blancher. Picture yourself with a bottle of Cava, a wedge of Leonara, Javier Bardem (or Penélope Cruz), in a tucked-away Salamanca wine bar, and you’ll understand how otherworldly this pairing is. (El Full Disclosure: In case my husband is reading, I swear I went to the tasting with Debra, not Javier Bardem).

Before launching into another Tempranillo-soaked, bodice-ripping food fantasy, I want to mention a couple of the standout wines that were poured that evening. Yes, all of the wines were A-plus, but with all due respect to Cervantes, I want this post to be a little more concise than Don Quixote, parts 1 and 2.

Three flights of wine were poured with the first plate of five cheeses. The 2010 Maria Andrea Ribeiro Blanco, a crisp white wine made from a blend of Treixadura, Albariño, Godello and Loureira grapes, was a winner. I tasted melon (and so did the tasting notes!) and I was even able to identify malolactic fermentation from the creaminess on the palate. Malolactic fermentation, in case you’re wondering, is a process by which an acid that occurs naturally in crushed grapes is converted to lactic acid, which tastes smoother and gives the finished wine a buttery, creamy taste.

Pair the Maria Andrea with the Idiazábal cheese, a semi-hard cheese made from sheep’s milk smoked with beechwood. You’ll notice a subtle, smoky flavor with the nutty sweetness typical of cheeses made with sheep’s milk. The smokiness works beautifully with the acidity of the wine. De-li-cioso.

And speaking of delicious, the second plate of cheeses paired with an additional three flights of wine saw the marriage of two Spanish classics – Manchego cheese and Tempranillo wine. Manchego, as noted by Tony Princiotta, one of the Cheese Store’s High Priests of the Palate, “lives with red wines.”

For me, the ultimate fusion of flavors was the 2009 Viña Zangarrón “El Vino del Buen Amor” Toro D.O. (Tempranillo) paired with the Valdeón blue cheese, also from Castilla y León. This melt-in-your-mouth cheese is made from a blend of cow and goat milk. Wrapped in sycamore leaves, you’ll feel a bit of a spicy kick but not to the point that it dominates the delicate flavor, which I found more subtle than your typical blue cheese. The rich texture was a perfect match for the inky, full-bodied Toro, an organically made wine which, according to el Señor Martínez, boasts triple the antioxidant content of most red wines. I’ll drink to that!

To come full circle, “El Vino del Buen Amor” happens to be a phrase coined by the great 14th century Spanish poet, Juan Ruiz, in a collection of poems on romantic themes. Pair this wine with your favorite carne asada dish or a hearty seafood paella and watch love blossom (Javier Bardem optional).

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