Tag Archives: wine for beginners

#NationalDrinkWineDay: Your 5-step #wine tasting guide

18 Feb

 

Drink up, darlings! It’s National Drink Wine Day. For your sipping pleasure, here’s an easy-peasy primer on how to enjoy vino. Can I get a ¡Salud! for the Five S’s: See. Swirl. Sniff. Sip. Spit.

Glasses

1. See. How a wine looks can tell you a lot about what’s in your glass. For example, the younger a white wine is, the paler it looks. Conversely, the older a red wine is, the lighter in color it will appear. More advanced tasters may be able to tell what type of grape the wine is made from by how it looks, e.g., a Cabernet Sauvignon will look inky, while a Pinot Noir will appear more clear.

Swirl

2. Swirl. When you swirl wine around in your glass, you’re releasing the little odor molecules that give wine its flavor and aroma. The only wine you don’t want to swirl is a sparkling wine. Exposure to air will cause the wine to lose its fizziness and some of its flavor characteristics.

spin

3. Sniff. Smelling a wine can give you more clues about its origins and how it was made. If you’re smelling vanilla, cedar or tobacco, it’s an indicator that the wine was aged in oak barrels. If you’re smelling a lot of fruit, it’s possible the wine comes from the New World, or a winemaking region outside of Europe. Mineral aromas like gravel, flint or wet stone may mean the wine is made in the Old World or European style.

sniff

4. Sip. Notice I said sip and not gulp. A smaller sip allows you to discreetly swirl the wine around in your mouth so that you can pick up more aromas, and thus get a better sense for the wine’s flavor.

Pouring

5. Spit. You’re probably wondering why anyone would want to waste perfectly good wine. I’ll drink to that! But if you overdo it, your ability to distinguish flavor characteristics plummets. It’s like meeting a chulo guy (or hot señorita) in a bar. The more you drink, the less likely you’ll be able to tell a winner from a stalker/TV Guide hoarder. Save the ambitious drinking for dinner. And make sure you have a ride home. Preferably not from aforementioned serial killer/Beanie Babies doll collector.

Now go forth and taste, chicas y chicos.  ¡Salud!

Five fab reads to boost your #wine knowledge

2 Feb

Baby, it’s cold outside! And what better way to weather a storm than by curling up with a glass of wine and a good book. Heck, why not curl up with a glass of wine and five good books–about wine.

These tomes have something for everyone, from the wine newbie to the cheese lover and the history buff. There’s even one for vino geeks on branding and terroir. Check ’em out. And happy reading! [El Full Disclosure: I received review copies of these books from the publishers, however the views expressed here are entirely my own.]

TastingWineCheese_CoverTasting Wine and Cheese: An Insider’s Guide to Mastering the Principles of Pairing by Adam Centamore (Quarry Books, 2015)

My name is Señorita Vino, and I am a cheese-a-holic. [Can I get an “Hola, Señorita Vino?”]. Kidding aside, a recent scientific study presented evidence that cheese is as addicting as crack. True story. To help you master your addiction, cheese guru extraordinaire Adam Centamore has put together this user-friendly wine and cheese pairing guide. Start with easy-to-grasp pointers on tasting wine and cheese separately, then explore how the characteristics of different cheeses work with particular wines. After that, it’s pairing time! Concise and engaging, this could become one of your favorite go-to party planning guides.

The History of Wine in 100 Bottles by Oz Clarke (Sterling Epicure, 2015)Oz

Can I just say, I love Oz Clarke. His books have made my wine education a delicious journey filled with tantalizing tidbits that make me sound reeeeally interesting at dinner parties. Just ask my friends. Clarke’s latest work takes you on a time-travel adventure of the vino kind, starting in 6000 BC and ending in 2014. You’ll visit one of the first wine bars ever (Pompeii), learn about the highest vineyard in the world (Salta, Argentina), witness the end of Prohibition  (yay!), explore how the Nazis absconded with prized French wine (boo!), and get a glimpse of a convincing fake bottle of 1947 Chateau Petrus, courtesy of fraudster Rudy Kurniawan (boo again!).

TangledVInesTangled Vines: Greed, Murder, Obsession and an Arsonist in the Vineyards of California by Frances Dinkelspiel (St. Martin’s Press, 2015)

Murder! Intrigue! Quirky characters! Wine! If this sounds like the makings of a juicy, wine-soaked fiction novel, guess again. Tangled Vines is the true story of Mark Anderson, a whack-job grifter with a palate for fine wine who intentionally set fire to a wine storage facility in Northern California. The blaze obliterated more than a quarter of a billion dollars’ worth of wine, including 175 bottles of Port Angelica, a wine made by the author’s great-great grandfather in 1870s Southern California. Dinkelspiel sets out to trace the history of the Rancho Cucamonga property where her ancestor’s vines once grew. Along the way, she paints an enthralling portrait of California’s early wine industry.

Wine and IdentityWine and Identity: Branding, Heritage, Terrior edited by Matt Harvey, Leanne White and Warwick Frost (Routledge, 2014)

I’m not gonna lie–this exploration of wine branding and tourism is not exactly a beach read. Think of it as the difference between drinking a gossamer-light sparkling wine and a big, bold, badass Cabernet Sauvignon. And I mean that in a good way. If, like me, you dream of making wine your business (or if you’re a hardcore wine geek with an insatiable appetite for wine knowledge), Wine and Identity offers a deep-dive analysis of global wine markets and wine regions as destinations. The scope of the essays in the book comprises Old and New Worlds, established and emerging wine regions. Dive in. You’ll emerge enlightened and inspired.

FollyWine Folly: The Essential Guide to Wine by Madeline Puckette and Justin Hammack (Avery, 2015)

Cool wine diagrams – check. Fun, useful wine facts – check. A snob-free wine primer – check. This is the first book from the people who brought us winefolly.com, an award-winning website with easy-to-understand wine information, enticing visuals and a down-to-earth tone. The book is a helpful resource for people who are just learning about wine and for those who have some wine knowledge but want to have a quick reference guide on hand. My favorite part: the flavor profiles for more than 50 different grape varietals.

¡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.

Loosens

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!

¡Mucho Gusto! Get to know Lagrein

19 Sep

It’s been some time since my last “¡Mucho Gusto!,” so today I’d like you to meet Lagrein. If you’re new to Señorita Vino, ¡Mucho Gusto! is an ongoing series of posts about a specific varietal wine. And if you don’t speak the language of Cervantes, mucho gusto translates as “nice to meet you.”

I first tasted Lagrein with one of my very first wine instructors, an Italian man who very promptly won the hearts, minds and libidos of all the single ladies in the class. One student literally fell for him, as in she lost her balance while speaking to him and landed in an undignified pile at his feet. True story. And yes, it was as embarrassing to watch as it sounds. I suspect there was vino involved, but who am I to judge?

You, on the other hand, are welcome to judge the merits of Lagrein. So without further ado, heeeeeeeere’s Lagrein!

Lagrein

 

HOLA, ME LLAMO: Lagrein (pronounced la-GRINE)

MY ROOTS: Lagrein is a red wine from the predominantly German-speaking Alto Adige, the northernmost part of Italy’s Trentino-Alto Adige region and just a stone’s throw from Austria. Alto Adige is sometimes referred to as Südtirol, which is German for South Tyrol.

The name “Lagrein” is believed to have come from the Lagarina valley in Trentino. Its earliest mention dates back to the 1600s, when it was noted in the records kept by Benedictine monks from a monastery in Alto Adige. Today, Lagrein is grown on a mere 750 acres in Alto Adige. DNA testing shows that Lagrein is related to Teroldego, an ancient grape variety from Trentino.

ALL ABOUT ME: Lagrein is bold and flavorful. Young winemakers are experimenting with different styles, so you can find Lagreins with tannins that won’t tear up your palate. One of the first things you’ll notice when you pour a glass is the brilliant shade of violet. You’ll get blackberry, plum and dark chocolate aromas with earthy minerality. You’ll also detect some crisp acidity, which offsets the chewy tannins a bit.

Note that “Lagrein Scuro” or “Lagrein Dunkel,” which mean “dark Lagrein,” are the terms used to distinguish red Lagrein from the rosé version, which is called “Lagrein Rosato” or “Lagrein Kretzer.”

FOODS I LOVE: The firm tannins in Lagrein make this a great match for meaty dishes. Think New York steak, carnitas, beef stew, prosciutto, wild boar. It’s nice with aged cheeses, too.

DO TRY THIS AT HOME: You can find Lagrein for anywhere from $13-$50 a bottle. Here are some you may want to try: 2011 J. Hofstatter Lagrein Alto Adige (this one received 88 points from Wine Spectator, if you’re into ratings); 2011 Erste e Neue Lagrein; 2010 Cantina Zterlan “Gries” Lagrein.

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!

Barsha

 

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.

AlpineArrival

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.

¡Salud!

Happy #StPatricksDay – Green #wine?

17 Mar

Chicos y chicas, here’s an oldie but a goodie that’s still very relevant on St. Patrick’s Day. May the camino rise up  to meet you, and may el sol shine warm upon your face!

Poor St. Patrick. A lifetime of saintly deeds, and all he gets in return is an annual drinking holiday. Tonight, millions will don plastic leprechaun hats while bobbing in a virtual sea of green beer, all in the name of Ireland’s patron saint. Which brings us to the topic of green wine.  In the spirit of St. Patty’s Day, Señorita Vino proudly presents her official primer on ‘green’ wine.

“Green beer? Really?”

1. Vinho Verde

You guessed right, chicos y chicas. ‘Vinho Verde’ is Portuguese for ‘green wine.’ But this Portuguese wine is not green in color. ‘Green’ in this case is referring to youthfulness (see number 2 below), so the correct translation would be ‘young wine.’ Vinho Verde wines can be white, red or rosé. The key is to drink this wine soon after you buy it, because it’s not meant to be aged. A white Vinho Verde tends to be light (a lower alcohol content), crisp (high acidity) and wonderfully floral. Sip a glass as you’re painting your nails green.

2. Youthful Exhuberance

White wine gets darker in color as it ages. In a very young white wine, you may be able to detect a subtle greenish tinge. We’re not talking kelly green, but  a pale yellow with just a hint of greenness. The next time you’re drinking a white wine from an early vintage (2010, 2011), hold your glass against a white piece of paper and you’ll see what I’m talking about. Pretty cool, huh?

3. Organic Wine

This is a topic that stirs a lot of debate, so for the purposes of our ‘green’ theme, we’ll keep it simple. Generally speaking, organic wine in the U.S. is wine made from grapes grown according to organic standards established by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. In other words, no chemical pesticides or fertilizers are used, among other organic farming practices. Rules about organic winemaking–or what happens in the winery once the grapes are harvested–vary from state to state. What matters is that drinking organic wine is an individual choice only you and your tastebuds can decide.  I have tasted both organic and non-organic wines, and have had excellent and so-so wines in each category.

4. Green foods and the wines that love them

What would a green wine discussion be without a pairing of wine with verde-colored victuals? For your St. Patty’s Day dining pleasure, here are some wines you can drink with your favorite emerald-toned comidas:

Green salad with avocados: Choose a lighter white wine such as a dry Riesling. The wine’s natural acidity will ‘cut’ the fat of the avocados.

Chile verde:  Here’s where a medium-bodied Zinfandel would complement the meat (and heat!) in this dish.

Green cupcakes: A sweet dessert wine would pair much better with green cupcakes than a pint o’ green Guiness. Just sayin’. Be  sure the wine is sweeter than the dessert. Go for a Moscato or a sparkling Brachetto.

5. If you really must go there…

I believe in freedom of choice, but I also believe that friends don’t let friends put green food coloring in white wine. Yes, that’s me editorializing. However you decide to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, take this bit o’ wisdom to the pub with you on Saturday:

“Wine comes in at the mouth and love comes in at the eye; that’s all we shall know for truth…”

-William Butler Yeats, Irish playwright and poet

Meet the wine lover: Chef Ricardo Zarate

12 Mar

Darlings, it’s been a mad March, and I’m not even a basketball fan. Señorita Vino is swamped in projects this week, so here’s a re-blog of an interview from last year with Peruvian chef Ricardo Zarate, the force behind two of LA’s most hip and happening Peruvian restaurants. ¡Buen provecho! (That’s Spanish for bon apétit!)

It’s not every day that a fellow peruano gets voted “Best New Chef” by Food & Wine magazine. Lucky Angelenos are reminded how Lima-born Ricardo Zarate earned his 2011 title each time they dine at his two L.A. Peruvian restos, Picca and Mo-Chica. Chef Zarate chatted with Señorita Vino about his passion for vino and why every day is the perfect day for a special-occasion wine.

Photo courtesy of Picca.
Photo courtesy of Picca.

SENORITA VINO: What’s your favorite wine?

RICARDO ZARATE: I like ceviche, and Sauvignon Blanc is one of the best wines for this dish. I love Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc. It’s so aromatic. If I want something fancy, I’ll pick a Sancerre.

SV: Besides Malbec and Torrontés, which wines would you pair with the most popular Peruvian dishes?

RZ: In the U.S., Malbec and Torrontes are two of the most available South American wines. I like Argentine wines because they get good mileage when paired with Peruvian cuisine. Malbec is light-bodied and not too rich. South American cuisine is rich in flavor, so you don’t want a wine that’s too rich.  I would add New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, and Chilean whites are good with Peruvian food.

SV: Will we ever see the day when Peruvian wines compete on the global stage?

RZ: Peru makes some great wines, but because they’re small-vineyard wines, you rarely–if ever–see them outside Peru.  The majority of grapes grown in Peru are used in making Pisco. I think at one point wine will become bigger because Peruvian cuisine is moving toward fine dining, and fine dining needs a fine drink like wine. It may be 10 years before we see more quality wines coming out of Peru.

SV: What advice would you give someone who is not well-versed in wine and may feel intimidated by it?

RZ: I used to go to restaurants and I’d see a French wine and get instantly intimidated. I’d think, “My God, I  don’t know what I’m doing!” When you order wine in a restaurant, you have the option to taste it first. The more you taste, the more you learn what grapes you like. California is a fantastic place to live. Go wine tasting in Napa Valley with your boyfriend or girlfriend, and make it a hobby or something you do just for fun.

SV: Do you have a favorite memory associated with wine?

RZ: When I was 20 I received a really expensive bottle of wine as a gift. All I can recall is that it was worth a couple thousand dollars. I decided to save it for a special occasion.

Soon after, I moved to London for work. One night I went out drinking with a good friend, and he overdid it and asked to stay on my couch. My wine collection was out in the living room where he [would be sleeping]. My friend wanted to keep drinking, so I told him he could open any bottle except for that one, and then I said goodnight.

The next morning, I saw that he had opened the expensive bottle. I was furious! I figured it was ruined since it had been left open overnight. So I sat him down and said, “We’re going to finish this bottle.” The wine was perfect, and my anger disappeared.

A few years after I left London, I learned that my friend had died in an accident. The night we drank the wine was the last time I saw him, so it was all meant to happen. The special occasion ended up being the night I drank a great wine with a good friend.

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