Tag Archives: food

Vino 101: #Wine cork etiquette

4 Oct

Friday already? Time flies when you’re tasting wine, as I’m sure you’ll be doing tonight. So that you know what to do when your server hands you the cork after opening your bottle of vino, here’s a re-blog of a post I did last year on wine cork etiquette. Until next week, ¡Salud!

You’ve ordered vino at a restaurant and your  sommelier presents you with the cork after she’s opened the bottle. You: a) Give it a sniff b) Take a look at it c) Ignore it–you just want to try the wine d) Pop it into your purse or pocket for your wine cork bulletin board project.

If you chose b, you are correct-a-mundo! You need to eyeball the little guy.

Most of us may instinctively opt for taking a whiff. After all, wine is about aromas and flavors, no? And didn’t Mr. Howell sniff his wine corks on “Gilligan’s Island?” (NOTE TO YOUNGER READERS: “Gilligan’s Island” was a popular TV sitcom back when Señorita Vino was just a chiquita. NOTE TO AGELESS READERS: Ever wonder how the Howells managed to get wine delivered to a desert isle in the pre-Internet days?)

As I’ve always said, sometimes the wine world is full of contradicciones, and some wine folks say you should indeed sniff the cork. Completely contradicting what one of my wine instructors said, another wine teacher noted that you might be able to tell by smelling the cork whether your wine was tainted with TCA, a chemical compound that can originate in cork and can ruin wine with a musty aroma. This is what people mean when they say that a wine is “corked.”

A sommelier and trained server, however, can usually detect cork taint by smelling the wine, not the cork.

So why should you look at the cork? First, to make sure it’s intact and not disintegrating, and second – although not necessary in today’s highly regulated wine industry – to verify that the imprint or logo on the cork matches the bottle label (NOTE: Not all wineries put their logos on the cork, so don’t panic if it’s unadorned).

Back to the first reason, a crumbly cork is usually a dry cork, which could mean oxygen seeped through the cracks and into your wine, thereby causing off-aromas as it begins to break down. How’d the cork get dry in the first place? Primarily from storing the bottle upright. During prolonged storage, corks that have  no contact with the wine eventually will dry out.

Oxidized wine will not kill you, nor will the dried-out cork particles that may be floating in your glass. Nor will TCA, for that matter. But you’re paying for the wine and you want it to taste right, so don’t be afraid to send it back if the cork is falling apart and your wine tastes a bit off.

So there you go, chicas y chicos. Señorita Vino just saved you from being the kook at table 4 with the sniffing fetish. De nada.


This #vino’s for you

26 Sep

Darlings, Señorita Vino is feeling muy sentimental today, and I wanted to take this opportunity to extend a heartfelt gracias to all of you for your support, comments and enthusiasm for this blog over the past two years.


Slowly but surely, Señorita Vino is growing (the blog, not–ahem–my person), and so is the focus on Latinos in the U.S.,  thanks to our culture, buying power, and damn fine taste in food and música.

As the first and only Latina to blog exclusively about wine, I like to keep my wineglass on the pulse of wine industry trends and marketing efforts to reach us as current and potential wine drinkers. ¿Porqué? Because I value your trust in me and I vow to respect that trust by ensuring that the path along your wine discovery journey is paved with unbiased, snob-free information, and the occasional gratuitous Diego Forlán image:

Don't say I never give you eye candy. Credit: Fotitos21.

Don’t say I never give you eye candy. Credit: Fotitos21.

My goal is to continue sharing useful (but not crazy-technical) wine tips and tidbits, wine discoveries, and stories about Latinas and Latinos who are making strides in the vino universe.  But this is a two-way calle, and I want to know what you’d love to see more or less of in Señorita Vino.

Yesterday,  Señorita Vino was featured on NBC Latino’s “Food Blogs We Love”.  This couldn’t have happened without your readership and support. Let me know what you think of the article, and if you like what you see, please do Señorita Vino a huge favor: “Like” the story and share it across your social networks.

Regardless of who you are, where you’re from, how much–or how little–you know about wine, and how you spend your hard-earned dólares, the kingdom of vino is yours to explore. It’s an honor to hold the gate open for you. Until next week, ¡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.

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

Bordeaux Basics for Wine Novices

23 Apr

Wanna learn about France’s fabled Bordeaux region? How about over lunch at the Peninsula Beverly Hills with 32 of  Bordeaux’s most prestigious  winemakers? If  “anxiety attack” was the first thing that came to mind, fabulous! I’m not alone.


Moments after I RSVPd for a sit-down trade luncheon featuring Le Cercle Rive Droite, a French society that represents 143 vineyards from the Right Bank of Bordeaux (more on that later),  my top three wine tasting insecurities materialized: How early would I dribble red wine all over my chin while using the spit bucket? Would I be able to keep up with the wine lingo? And would I drown in a sea of old guys wearing tweed jackets and silk cravats?

Chicas y chicos, yesterday’s luncheon offered more proof that wine anxiety is très passé, and I managed not to get a single drop of wine on myself (wish I could say the same for my notebook).

Best of all, I was happily swimming in a sea of  hip, young winemakers, some of whom were women, and one of whom encouraged me to unleash my très broken français on her. We chatted about weddings, food and her childhood growing up in a chateau. C’est cool!


Before I describe some of the highlights of the lunch, here are six things you should know about Bordeaux:

  • The Bordeaux region is near the southwestern coast of France, and its vineyards are located in three distinct areas: the Left Bank, the Right Bank, and the Entre-Deux-Mers area, which is between the two banks.
  • Bordeaux wines are made with the primary grapes of the Bordeaux region. There are several approved varieties, but the most widely used are Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Malbec for the reds; and Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon for the whites.
  • Wines made in the Left Bank of Bordeaux typically feature Cabernet Sauvignon as the primary grape.
  • Wines from the Right Bank will be made mostly with Merlot.
  • Wines from the Entre-Deux-Mers region are generally white and feature Sauvignon Blanc.
  • Three of the world’s most expensive wines come from the Bordeaux region: Chateau d’Yquem, Chateau Cheval Blanc, and Chateau Pétrus. But don’t worry – you can find a great Bordeaux wine for anywhere from $15 – $70.

Wasn’t that stress-free?


Because Le Cerlcle Rive Droite represents winemakers from the Right Bank (rive droite, pronounced reev dwat, is français for right bank), the wines served  at the lunch were a blend of 70 percent or more Merlot with some Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon or other approved grapes. So if you dig Merlot, chances are you’ll enjoy a Right Bank Bordeaux.

Merlot is not as tannic as Cabernet Sauvignon, so it pairs well with chicken. No surprise, lunch was a chicken breast with mascarpone polenta, tomatoes, sweet corn and chicken jus. Délicieux!


Merlot also pairs well with cheese. Perfect, since dessert featured a cheese plate and an assortment of cookies and macarons. Apologies to you sweets lovers–I bypassed the cookies and went straight for the cheese.


Careful readers are probably wondering about the old guys in tweed jackets. I saw none.  In fact, a jacket-less French winemaker at my table reported that the only jacket he brought “was an alcoholic.” Egged on by his peers, he described how a bottle of wine had broken in his suitcase, thereby giving his jacket “plenty of time between New York and Los Angeles to drink the entire bottle.” And that, mes amis, is living proof that Bordeaux wine–and winemakers–are nothing to fear. Santé!

When a wine bottle breaks in your suitcase, pour yourself a glass of wine.

A glass of Bordeaux is the best cure for a broken wine bottle in your suitcase.

Which wines go with Peruvian food?

25 Mar

Chicas y Chicos,

Señorita  Vino is traveling to the mother country this week (that would be Peru). In the spirit of the journey, here’s a re-post of a piece on which wines to pair with Peruvian food. 

Happy eating and I’ll be back soon!

If Peruvian cuisine were a movie star, she’d be stalked by paparazzi, grace the covers of fashion magazines, and receive an audience with the Pope. Ah, but  if  wine were her consort, what lucky devil would have the privilege of escorting her on the red carpet?

Ever the match-maker, Señorita Vino recently had the privilege of selecting wines to go with various Peruvian-style dishes prepared by Peruvian chef Renzo Pinillos Luck. Here, for your pairing pleasure, is what we created:

1. Aperitif – Albrecht Cremant d’Alsace Reserve. Alsace, France

Think of this sparkling wine as a palate cleanser. The elegant little bubbles in this fruity, dry wine from France’s Alsace region set the stage for a rich and varied menu.

2. Butifarra (Peruvian Chicken Breast Sandwich) and 2010 Phebus Torrontes. Salta, Argentina.

Butifarras are usually served with pork, but this genteel take on a street food classic went beautifully with with the citrusy Torrontes from one of Argentina’s famed wine growing regions. The crisp, stainless-steel fermented dry white complemented the creaminess of the chicken salad filling. ¡Delicioso!

3. Triple White Bread Sandwich with Avocado, Egg, and Tomato and 2009 Harbor Front Chardonnay. Monterey, Calif.

Tropical fruit aromas such as pineapple, with a splash of orange, brought the tanginess of the tomato and the butter of the avocado to life on this Latin-American twist on the club sandwich.

4. Cheese and Fruit Platter with Papa a la Huancaina and 2009 Bougrier ‘V’ Vouvray. Loire Valley, France.

A modern take on the Peruvian staple, papa a la huancaína.

A creamy white wine with a hint of sweetness, this Loire Valley classic displays some minerality, which is characteristic of the soil from this world-renowned grape growing region. The slight residual sugar in the wine balances the salty cheeses, and at the same time it complements the fruit. The Vouvray’s creamy flavor helps tame the slight kick of the ají amarillo in the huancaína sauce, which is poured over boiled potatoes.  

5. Pionono with Dulce de Leche, Strawberries, Almonds and Chocolate and Rivata Brachetto Piemonte. Piedmont, Italy.

Sí, chicas – they make piononos in various Latin American countries, but the Peruvian version features dulce de leche and good-for-you treats such as fresh strawberries and almonds, which are packed with ‘good’ fats. It’s a guilt-free dessert. Kind of. Because of the pionono’s high sugar content, I paired it with a sweet sparkling wine from Italia. Just enough sweetness to complement the dessert without making you feel like you’ve devoured the sugar bowl. And the bubbles help cleanse the richness of the dessert, leaving you with a fresh palate.

Ready for his close-up: Chef Renzo, a man outstanding in his Peruvian cocina.

Foolproof food and wine pairing

14 Sep

Last fall, a winemaker in a Los Olivos tasting room gave me the best food and wine pairing advice I’ve ever heard: Drink what you like with food that you love.

Señorita Vino believes that no one should feel confined by rules when it comes to food and vino. However, there are a few no-nos to remember. Certain types of fish will taste metallic when combined with a full-bodied red wine, and a too-sugary cupcake, flan or pastel will make a sweet dessert wine taste bland. Last but not least, unless you want a five-alarm fire in your mouth, avoid pairing spicy food with high-alcohol wines.

Wine cork wisdom.

Okay, got all that? If not, don’t worry, because I am about to introduce you to the smartest food and wine pairing tool ever invented: The wine label. Specifically, the label on a bottle of Entwine, a collaboration between the Food Network and California’s Wente Vineyards. Each bottle of Entwine features pairing suggestions on the back label, which I put to the test with the intrepid Señor Jim last weekend.

Preparing to test-drive label pairing suggestions.

[EL FULL DISCLOSURE: Wente Vineyards sent me one bottle each of their Entwine wines. Muchas gracias, Wente! The opinions (and pairing taste test) are entirely my own. But I’m willing to share].

Food and wine pairing doesn’t get any easier.

On the menu: A cheese and olive plate, cumin chicken in a creamy cilantro yogurt sauce, breaded veal scaloppina with prosciutto, and seared sea bass in a red wine reduction with shiitake mushrooms and mashed potatoes.

Because we had Manchego and Romano cheeses and a jar of savory kalamata olives on hand, we decided to start with the Pinot Grigio, a crisp white wine. The label suggested pairing it with salty cheese, hors d’oeuvres or guacamole, among other delicacies.  The natural acidity of the wine worked with the richness of the cheeses. Too easy!

Next, we paired the Chardonnay with the chicken in cilantro yogurt sauce. Some of the recommended combinations on the label included roast chicken, cream sauces, grilled cheese sandwiches, potato chips and shellfish. No guesswork here, and the buttery taste of the Chardonnay was a nice match with the cilantro sauce.

Cumin chicken and yogurt cilantro sauce paired well with Entwine Chardonnay.

We chose the more complex dinners to test the red wine pairing tips. The breaded veal and prosciutto seemed a fairly close match to the Merlot label recommendations of salami, grilled pork and meatloaf. No complaints from Señor Jim, whose sensitivity to tannins (remember, tannins give wine an astringent, mouth-puckering feeling and come from grape skins and seeds or oak barrels) was not triggered by the less tannic Merlot.

Merlot is a great match for prosciutto-wrapped veal.

I saved the Cabernet Sauvignon to prove my earlier point about rules made to be broken. My sea bass was happily floating in a reduction of Sangoivese, an Italian red wine. Two meaty shiitake mushrooms and some garlicky mashed potatoes kept it company. The Entwine Cabernet Sauvignon is aged in oak and, generally speaking, is not considered a good match for fish.

At this point, any wine snobs who sneaked under the Señorita Vino Snob-Free Wine Zone radar are twitching and muttering, “Oh, no she DIDN’T!”

Reader, I did.

Now, the wine label recommendations did include potatoes and sautéed mushrooms, and there happened to be a velvety red wine sauce slathered all over my fish. So while I broke the ‘no-fish-with-bold-red-wine’ rule, I bent the ‘match-the-sauce-with-the-wine’ rule to satisfy my insatiable curiosidad.

It worked for me. May not work for others, but that’s the beauty of the vino world. Sometimes what’s good for the goose is also good for the fish, the veal and the chicken.

[Psst…still there? You can buy Wente’s Entwine line of wines online (dontcha love that assonance?), or you can find them at your local supermarket. Here in L.A., Entwine is sold at Albertson’s and Total Wine and Spirits, among others. And the price is nice at about $12 a bottle. Salud, and happy pairing!]

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