Tag Archives: Los Angeles

Los Angeles: Birthplace of California’s wine industry

4 Sep

For better or for worse, Los Angeles has spawned the Barbie doll, the film industry, the Cobb Salad, and yours truly. As L.A. celebrates its 231st birthday today, it’s worth noting that Los Angeles, not Napa or Sonoma, gave birth to the California wine industry.

Vignes, glorious vignes!

Angelenos who have taken high school French will know that ‘vignes’ is the French word for vines. As Señorita Vino recently learned, Jean-Louis Vignes was the aptly named French immigrant who planted European grape varieties a stone’s throw from downtown Los Angeles in 1831. He called his vineyard El Aliso, and present-day Aliso and Vignes streets are named for Vignes’ contribution to Los Angeles history.

California’s first commercial vineyard was planted in 1831, near L.A.’s Union Station.

While Vignes was the first in California to plant a commercial vineyard, the Spanish missionaries were the first to grow grapes in California. Father Junipero Serra is credited by some sources as having planted the first vineyard in California at Mission San Diego de Alcalá around 1770. These grapes  were of the Mission variety and used to make sacramental wine.

Not satisfied with the quality of wine made from Mission grapes, Vignes, a native of Bordeaux, France, imported two of his native region’s more prominent grape varieties, Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc. A barrel maker by trade, Vignes aged his wines in barrels made from trees grown in L.A.’s San Bernardino Mountains.

Today, wine can be aged in oak barrels or stainless steel tanks. Each method has a different effect on the aroma and flavor of the wine.

By 1849, the Gold Rush had caused a population boom in Northern California, and the Napa and Sonoma Valleys became the hub of California winemaking. Which brings us (at warp speed) to today.

Enjoying a glass of wine 24 floors above LA’s 110 Freeway, about a mile south of where Vignes planted his vineyard.

Join me in raising a glass to celebrate 231 years since the founding of the City of Angels, birthplace of the tortilla chip, the French Dip, and California’s wine industry. ¡Salud!

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).

Carmageddon Wine List – Wines Named after Highways

14 Jul

Route 246 in the Santa Ynez Valley

Carmageddon is one day away. Do you know where your GPS system is? Those of you living outside the Los Angeles area may not know that our fabled 405 freeway will close between the 10 and 101 freeways for three days starting tomorrow, an event which has caused weeping and gnashing of teeth-against-steering-wheels for the past two months.

Having spent 20-plus years on the highways and byways of this glorious metropolis, I’ve experienced my share of personal Carmageddons. Conclusion: Weekend freeway closures are for wimps. Try driving from Westwood to the South Bay on a weekday, during afternoon rush hour, in the rain, and then tell me about Carmageddon.

To my fellow Angelenas who are thinking the world will end because they’ll have to skip their nail appointment in Studio City, I have five words: Have a Glass of Wine. In fact, have a glass of wine named after a highway. That’s right chicas. Here for your sipping pleasure are five wines named after roads and highways in South America, California and Europe. The antidote to impending doom and gridlock.

1. Camino del Inca 2009 Malbec, Mendoza, Argentina

A wine after my own Peruvian-American corazón. The Camino del Inca, as you Spanish-speakers will know, refers to the Inca Road. Once the highway that connected the Inca empire, which spanned as far south as Argentina, Camino del Inca is the name of a vineyard in Salta, Argentina, whose estate vines grow on land that once formed part of the mighty kingdom.  A glass of Malbec is the perfect accompaniment to a car-free weekend.

2. D2 2008 Columbia Valley, Washington

Although this wine hails from Washington’s renowned Columbia Valley, it takes its name from the famous D2 highway in Bordeaux, France, which I fondly refer to as Appellation Highway, as it winds through world-renowned appellations such as Médoc and Saint Julien, among others. Sigh…the mere name takes me back to France, circa 2006, when crammed into a tiny Peugeot with my husband, we castle-hopped with a few stops at small tasting rooms in 500 year-old cellars. Oui, le D2. A highway I’d volunteer to be Carmegeddoned on any day.

3. Ruta 22 Reserve 2009 Malbec, Patagonia, Argentina

The Ruta 22 is the highway that runs east-west across Argentina about halfway between the Mendoza region and the town of Bariloche. Survive Carmageddon by throwing a gaucho-themed parrillada. A juicy, grilled steak will pair wonderfully with the firm tannins in this wine. Not a meat-eater? Pour yourself a glass and enjoy it with a cheese plate and olives. Ponchos optional!

4. Highway 12 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon, Sonoma County

If you’d planned ahead, you could have spent Carmageddon on California State Route 12, the highway that travels east-west through Sonoma County.  Highway 12 is dotted with world-class wineries and surrounded by some of the most stunning scenery in Northern California. Notice how I’ve selected wines that go swimmingly with casual, summer foods. Hey, if you’re not going to be stuck in traffic, you might as well get outside and actually use your backyard or rooftop deck.

5. Ramal Road  2007 Pinot Noir Carneros, Sonoma County

Smack dab in the heart of Sonoma, Ramal Road is home to some world-class wineries and exactly 398 miles north of Carmageddon ground zero. My reason for choosing this wine, besides the fact that it’s named after a road? It’s a five-minute drive on surface streets to a wine retailer that sells it. 405? We don’t need no stinkin’ 405!

El disclaimer: Señorita Vino does not  – repeat – does not, advocate drinking alcohol and driving on highways or any other surface, closed or not. The goal here is to enjoy a full weekend of not having to get in your car but instead chill at home with your hombre and amigas.


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