Tag Archives: food and wine pairing

Vino 101: Why pair food with #wine?

22 May

We’ve all heard the so-called rules about food and wine pairing, including the classic “red wine with red meat, white wine with fish.” If you’ve been reading Señorita Vino for some time, you may recall that I’m a proud member of the “reglas are made to be broken” camp.

But on Monday, a friend who claims to know nothing about wine asked me, “So, why pair food with wine?”

Usually I’m asked how to pair food and wine, but this was the first time I’ve ever been asked why. In response, here are the three reasons I think food and wine pairing is a good idea. If you have other suggestions, bring ’em on!



1. Wine can make your food taste better. Ever bitten into a wedge of rich, creamy Brie and loved it so much you could eat the whole wheel? I did that once in college and I don’t recommend it, but I digress. The point is that sometimes too much of a good thing is, well, too much. But if you’re having that creamy cheese with a glass of crisp, acidic Chablis, the wine helps balance the richness of the cheese.

2. Food can make your wine taste better. I’m a huge fan of in-your-face, bold red wines, but I know for some people, those gripping tannins pack a bit too much pucker power. Enter the juicy, meaty hunka-hunka-burnin’ love steak. The voluptuous, fatty fabulousness in the meat binds with the tannins in your Cabernet Sauvignon, taming the rough texture of the wine and rendering it as smooth as seda.

3. Wine and food pairing broadens your palate’s horizons. Say you’re a Chardonnay Chica (or a Merlot Man) at a Spanish tapas bar. Chances are, you’re going to find a lot of Spanish vinos on the wine list, and maybe none that you recognize. Your server may recommend a Viura instead of a Chardonnay, or a Garnacha-Tempranillo blend as a Merlot alternative. And just like that, you’ve discovered a new wine.


So go forth and experiment, chicas y chicos. Enjoy that carne asada with a Barolo! Nosh on those nachos with a Gruner Veltliner! Savor the spicy chicken tikka masala with a Riesling! Most of all, have fun with it. And whatever you do, don’t eat the whole wheel of Brie.


Señorita Vino’s holiday #wine-pairing cheat sheet

24 Dec

Felices fiestas, darlings! The winter holidays are my favorite time of year. The food, the familia, the gift exchanges, the vino. As I write this, I’m making like a wine-totin’ reindeer and dashing out to the family homestead to celebrate Noche Buena, or Christmas Eve Night.


But before I rush out the door, I’ve received some pairing questions from readers as they prepare for their holiday feasts. In response, I’m sharing this link to an article I wrote last year for Latina Magazine’s TheLatinKitchen.com on the topic of – you got it – how to pair wine with traditional Latin American holiday food.

Whichever way you choose to celebrate, may it be happy and in good health.

Until next week, ¡Salud y felíz Navidad!

Peruvian restaurants expand their wine lists

11 Jan

Pan pipe music, tarnished brass tumis and fuzzy little llama dolls are standard fare at Peruvian restaurants in the U.S., but donde está el wine list?

Look! A tarnished tumi! (No restaurants were dissed in the making of this photo. This guy happens to hang in  Casa de Señorita Vino)

Look! A tarnished tumi! (No restaurants were dissed in the captioning of this photo. This tumi lives in Casa de Señorita Vino)

Here’s a summary of my wine experience at Peruvian restaurants over the past couple of decades:

SERVER: Can I get you anything to drink?

ME: Do you have a wine list?

SERVER: There’s red and white.

ME: Yes, the Peruvian flag is elegant in its simplicity. And I ADORE that little vicuña on the crest!

SERVER: Mujer, you could use a pisco sour.

ME: Actually, I’d like a glass of wine. Do you have any Sauvignon Blanc?

SERVER: No. There’s just red or white.

ME:  About that pisco sour…

So now you know why I’m blogging and not writing for Letterman. The good news is that this scary scenario is starting to fade. More and more Southern California Peruvian restaurants are adding wine lists, and it’s not just the fancy novo-andino joints with the minimalist decor, hipster bar scene and ear-splitting decibel level.

The wine list at Casa Inka in Fountain Valley, Calif. features Malbecs and New Zealand Pinot Noirs, among other choices.

The wine list at Casa Inka features Malbecs and New Zealand Pinot Noirs, among other choices.

Case in point: Last night I met up with the familia at Casa Inka in Fountain Valley, Calif. (and no, this is not a sponsored post. Casa Inka, if you’re reading this, de nada. Maybe we could get a papa rellena on the house next time we’re there?). We were seeing my brother off before he headed back east after coming home for the holidays.

Located in a nondescript Orange County strip mall, Casa Inka stands out for its Jimmy-Buffet-esque facade: A glass-enclosed bamboo loft housing a couple of stuffed parrots and faux jungle flora. Inside, the decor is a blend of Peruvian kitsch–grinning llamas, serranita dolls, and a looming, oversized photo of Machu Picchu)–sprinkled with some artistic photos of Lima’s trendier neighborhoods and the city of Cusco.

Casa Inka's facade stands out in an otherwise ordinary strip mall.

Casa Inka’s facade stands out in an otherwise ordinary strip mall.

On the menu are popular dishes you’d see at most Peruvian eateries, and–holy cau-cau!–a new wine list!

Here’s a sampling of what we ordered and the wines we paired them with:


Anticuchos are skewered, marinated chunks of beef heart. Yummy!

Anticuchos are served with a side of chimichurri sauce. Yummy!

Authentic anticuchos are skewered morsels of marinated beef heart. I paired these with the Ampakama Malbec 2009. The wine’s bold fruit contrasted nicely with the saltiness of the marinade.

Yuca a la huancaína:

Yuca a la huancaína: Fried cassava in a spicy cheese sauce

Yuca, or cassava, is popular throughout Latin America. At Casa Inka, it’s prepared in the huancaína style, smothered in a rich sauce of fresh cheese and ají amarillo, served with slices of hard-boiled egg and black olives. The zingy acidity of the Rata Sauvignon Blanc 2011 from New Zealand was a perfect match for this creamy dish.


Arroz con pollo is ideal for cilantro lovers.

Arroz con pollo, a cilantro lover’s dream.

Señor Jim ordered his standby dish, arroz con pollo, with his standby wine, Sauvignon Blanc. The New Zealand Rata’s grassy notes complement the cilantro in this traditional chicken dish. The wine list features the Rata Pinot Noir 2008, which also works.

Lomo saltado appears on just about every Peruvian restaurant menu.

Lomo saltado appears on every Peruvian restaurant menu in the galaxy.

Ask my brother how he judges the quality of a Peruvian restaurant, and he’ll answer in two words: Lomo saltado. The  classic Peruvian stir-fry pairs beautifully with Chile’s Torreón de Paredes Carmenere 2009, a red wine with elegant tannins [NOTE: The wine list spells the name as “Torreón Parpois,” but since I actually  fact-check my material, I found it as Torreón de Paredes, so that’s what I’m sticking with].

Tacu-tacu, a dish that's not commonly found on the menu in U.S. Peruvian eateries.

Tacu-tacu, a dish you won’t see on too many U.S. Peruvian menus.

This, my friends, is what you want to eat before you set out to hike the Inca Trail. Otherwise, you’ll gain about 10 pounds approximately 30 minutes after you scrape the last remnants from your plate. Tacu-tacu consists of stir-fried beans and rice topped with a steak and an egg over-easy, with a little bit of fried plantain for the heft–I mean heck of it. One of the classic pairing rules is to match the weight of your meal with the weight of your wine. A robust Zin, California’s Dancing Bull Zinfandel 2009, is the ideal choice.


The Machu Picchu of alfajores towers...

The Machu Picchu of alfajores towers.

A South American version of a dessert from Moorish Spain, the alfajor is a shortbread and dulce de leche sandwich sprinkled with powdered sugar. Damn, I think my thighs just grew an inch after writing that. Here’s where I channel my inner Señor Jim and pair this with an espresso. Oh, and I cannot tell a lie, so  I confess I don’t remember whether there were dessert wines on the wine list. It’s probably because I was too busy chismeando with my dad (NOTE TO NON-SPANISH-SPEAKING READERS: “Chismear” is to gossip).

My brother models a mini-alfajor.

My brother offers up a mini-alfajor.

Wait–I’m not finished! I’m pushing 900 words here, but no one ever said Peruvians were succinct. I dedicate this post to my super-fantástico brother, whose visits to California are always much too short. Nino darling, may the road be paved with lomo saltado, and be wary of strangers bearing cans of peanut brittle. Besos, P.

Casa Inka, 8610 Warner Ave., Fountain Valley, CA. (714) 847-7555. Open 7 days a week for lunch and dinner.

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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