Tag Archives: wine pairings

East LA Meets Napa. ¡Vámonos!

3 Aug

Uh, yeah. About that final installment in the Canada wine series…

Well,  this cheap-o file cabinet in my office is self-destructing:

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And I can’t open the drawer with my passport in it.  Seriously. Which is a major problema, because without a passport, I can’t travel. I mean, it’s not like you need a passport to go to Napa  if you’re already a U.S. citizen, but still. It’s the principle (muchas gracias, Big-Office-Supply-Company-That-Sells-Cheap-Crap-Whose-Name-I-Won’t-Mention-Here).

So while I spend the rest of my Saturday afternoon emptying the file cabinet and sorting through old paperwork to extricate my passport, you can take a journey that doesn’t require you to leave the comfort of your sofa.

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Learn about vinos fabulosos, made by Mexican-American winemakers.  Score a recipe for the most beautiful tortillas you’ve ever seen, courtesy of uber-famoso chef John Rivera.  And find out how sipping wine and noshing on Latin American food can help people in the Los Angeles area gain access to much-needed healthcare.

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It all came together at this year’s East LA Meets Napa, one of my favorite wine tasting events in the vino universe. Read about it in this article I wrote for Latina magazine’s mouthwatering food and wine website, TheLatinKitchen.com. No passport required.

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Which wines go with comfort food?

12 Apr

Señorita Vino is scoping out the Miami wine scene this week, so here’s an earlier post with a timeless subject: Wines that go with your favorite comfort food. ¡Salud!

Your suegra just made another snide remark about the messy kitchen, you have a pile  of work projects due like, yesterday, and your angelito is squealing with delight after dumping the contents of his sippy cup on your keyboard. Ay, ay, ay…

Before you reach for that can of diet cola (or run screaming from the house), consider this: Wine (consumed in moderation, of course!) has been shown to have some heart-healthy benefits, thanks to a few of its natural components. Diet soda? Nada, baby. In fact, a recent study showed that diet colas can actually raise blood pressure – just what you need when you’re stressed out.

Putting on my Suave Disclaimer Voice, the following is not medical advice but a tongue-in-cheek perspective on how to slow down when la vida gets loca. Drink responsibly, as in no more than one glass a day, and make sure your health history allows it. Oh, and do not try this at home if you’re under 21.

Now that we’ve got that out of the way… Who doesn’t feel like a drink after a crazy day? A glass of wine helps me chill with a pre-dinner snack, a homemade meal, or while I’m cooking. If you’re like me, stress ups the snacking ante, so here are some suggestions on how to make that [insert comfort snack food here] go down smooth as seda:

1.    Chocolate 

Nothing tames the Stress Monster like cacao. The Mayas were on to something when they named chocolate a sacred food. Make your chocolate binge a religious experience by pouring yourself a glass of Pinot Noir to go with it. The strawberry and raspberry aromas that characterize this wine will complement the sweetness of the chocolate without being over the top.

You don’t have to break the bank to enjoy a good Pinot Noir. Trader Joe’s and your local grocery store have some quality selections for under $10. A worthwhile investment when we’re talking about our sanity.

2.    Queso

Ah, cheese…my number one go-to comfort food when I want to make the world go away (or hurl my laptop out the window). Cheddar and Pepper Jack go really well with a sassy Shiraz. The spicy notes and rich character of this wine complement the kick in spicier foods, and the richness of the cheese tames any rough edges in the wine. A match made in stress-free heaven.

I’ve written about this one before, but one of the best deals I’ve found is the Luchador Shiraz, available at Cost Plus World Market for the insanely low price of $6.99.

3.     Chips

Maybe it’s the calming taste of corn tortillas or potato chips, maybe it’s the texture and rhythm of the crunch, crunch, crunch. Or maybe it’s just the salt. Either way, a bag of chips is my edible blankie when things get a little wacky.  I like a crisp Sauvignon Blanc with my salty chips. Heck, even a buttery Chardonnay works well with the vegetable oils in fried tortilla chips or in the Peruvian version of the classic bag of Lay’s, pictured here. Once again, you can find great white wines for under $10 at your favorite grocery store or deli.

If you didn’t see it here, let me know what your favorite stress-relieving snack food is, and I’ll suggest a vino that would work with it. Salud, and happy stress-busting!

A taste of Buenos Aires in Los Angeles

7 Mar

Señorita Vino left her heart in Buenos Aires three years ago. To be precise, she left her entire person at Ezeiza International Airport after missing a connecting flight to Lima en route to Los Angeles. Her excuse: Perfume shopping in the duty-free section. Lame, I know. Or as my Buenos Aires cousins might have said after I boarded a rescheduled flight the next day, “¡Qué boluda!”

Argentina didn’t cry for me, but I certainly cried after realizing I couldn’t bring home any of the beautiful bottles of Malbec I bought in a hip little airport bodega, all because my bags had the good sense to make the flight and were, at that moment, Lima-bound without me. I’m sure by now my Argentine cousins have put those bottles to good use, their prize for rescuing me from the prospect of spending the night on the floor of International Terminal A.

Imagine my nostalgia-ridden joy when I stumbled across a gem of an Argentinian eatery in Los Angeles. Carlitos Gardel Restaurant sits on a nondescript stretch of the tourist mecca that is Melrose Avenue, about halfway between the stuck-in-the-the-80s boutiques and the posh Beverly Hills end. For those of you who may not be familiar with Carlos Gardel, you’ll certainly know who he is about five minutes after stepping into the restaurant’s retro-elegant interior. Framed reprints of newspaper clippings and old photographs line the walls, telling the story of one of Argentina’s most beloved musical figures, known to some as the godfather of tango music.

Tango Bar: An image of Carlos Gardel taken in a Buenos Aires milonga, or neighborhood tango hall.

Sultry tango rhythms drifting in from the audio system serve as a fitting soundtrack for a menu of traditional Argentinian dishes: Empanadas, melted provolone and steak classics including milanesa, entraña a la parilla and churrasco. Signature Italian influenced-plates feature gnocchi, ravioli and seafood pasta.

The wine list is curated by the restaurant’s Buenos Aires-born sommelier, who is at the ready with helpful advice and pairing suggestions. I decided to take a break from Malbec and try what in my opinion is Argentina’s true wine star, Bonarda. This is a red grape with a wonderfully fruity character and a smooth feel on the palate. I chose a 2007 Lamadrid Reserva Bonarda. Gorgeous violet aromas, a hint of chocolate and lots of ripe red fruit. In a word, ¡Fantástico!

Next time you're in the mood for Argentine wines, give Bonarda a try.

Bonarda was the perfect match for my Italian-influenced appetizer of burrata and prosciutto. The wine’s flavor and structure also complemented the main course, entraña (grilled skirt steak) served with pumpkin-infused mashed potatoes and steamed vegetables.

Mamma mia! An influx of Italian immigrants to Argentina starting in the mid-1800s gives the nation's cuisine a decidedly Italian flair.

During my first trip to Buenos Aires, my cousins took me to a tango dinner theater where I proceeded to consume a juicy steak about the size of a coffee table. This, of course, while watching lithe dancers flit about the stage in spangled, form-fitting dresses. It’s a good thing my gym doesn’t have a branch in Buenos Aires, because I probably would have spent the next 24 hours on the treadmill. The portions at Carlitos Gardel are more than generous, much like every restaurant I tried in Argentina. This time, I showed some restraint and had enough leftovers for two more meals.

Dessert at Carlitos Gardel is the best incentive not to go loca on your main course. The peach layer cake with dulce de leche and whipped frosting is like nothing I had in Buenos Aires. The great thing about that is knowing I can enjoy it without having to board a plane  – and risk missing another connection.

Carlitos Gardel Restaurant. 7963 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90046. 323.655.0891 Dinner M-Sat, 6 – 11 p.m.; Sun, 5 – 10 p.m.  Lunch M-F, 11:30 – 2:30.

Love story–wines and foods of Latin America

16 Feb

 “Where love is concerned, too much is not even enough.”

–  Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais (1732-1799)

In my world, too much Valentine’s Day is not enough. Maybe I’m a sucker for love, or maybe I’m just looking for an excuse to eat chocolate all day long. Regardless, I thought I’d spread the amor by sharing my experience providing wine pairings for a pre-Valentine’s fiesta this past Sunday.  The passionate affair between Latin American foods and the wines that adore them is like a sweeping romantic drama I never get sick of watching. So dim the lights, grab a box of bonbons, and find out what happens when a spicy dish meets a suave Latin American.

The Prologue

It all started with those randy Spanish conquistadores, who had the insight to bring the grapevine to the Americas. The Spaniards had a winemaking tradition dating back to the Roman Empire, circa 210 B.C. Fast forward to modern times, circa four days ago. A macho Spanish Rioja falls in lust with a picante Latin version of an American classic: beef sliders with potatoes in a creamy jalapeño cilantro sauce. The result is nothing short of explosive.

 A splash of 2009 Aspaldi Rioja Cosecha with jalapeño beef sliders. ¡Caliente!

Scene 1: Peru and Uruguay – a mouthwatering match

So this saucy Peruvian dish walks into a bar and collides with a crisp Uruguayan. Her name: Tallarín Verde. Chicas y chicos, this is the stuff telenovelas are made of. In case you’re wondering, the Uruguayan is none other than a 2010 Pisano Torrontes Rio de los Pájaros from Progreso, Uruguay. The reason these two are such a good match: The crisp acidity of the wine harmonizes with the rich, cheesy sauce of tallarín verde, or ‘green spaghetti.’ This classic Peruvian pasta dish features a creamy basil sauce that’s heavy on the garlic and cheese. Two words: Qué sexy.

Scene 2: It takes two to tango

The plot thickens: Red wine and chocolate become Latin lovers in the form of chicken mole tacos and an Argentine Malbec. Call them Latin America’s sweethearts. The reason they work well is that the spice of the mole sauce matches the spicy notes in the Malbec. Tango Trivia Time: The smoldering dance was born in the poorer neighborhoods of Buenos Aires. Fittingly, you don’t have to marry a millionaire to be able to afford this 2008 Flichman Malbec Tupungato, a steal at $15.99.

If this tall, dark and handsome Malbec asks you to tango, say ¡Sí!

Scene 3: Chile verde and Chilean Chardonnay meet cute

Chile verde. Wine from Chile. Irresistible, especially when you add a sweet cream corn sauce. The smooth, buttery flavor of the 2010 Chateau Los Boldos Cuvée Tradition Chardonnay complements the creaminess of the sauce. ¡Qué romántico!

Happy Ending: Red Velvet Cake falls for an Italian 

How could anyone not fall in love with Brachetto, a salmon-pink, sweet Italian sparkling wine? Rumor has it that this was the beverage of choice among Italian high school students back in the 80s, which makes my own youthful dalliances with strawberry daiquiris sound muy cheesy by comparison. Brachetto is a hit at all the pairings Señorita Vino has recently created, so hurry on over to your local wine shop for a bottle of Sant Orsola Brachetto d’Acqui. That’s amore!

Stay for the Credits:

All of the wines featured in this post were purchased by Señorita Vino at Total Wine and Spirits in Redondo Beach, Calif. Total Wine is a national retailer with an extensive selection of wines from all over the world. Look them up online to find the nearest location.

The delectable dishes mentioned were the creative genius of Art Rodriguez, who with his partner Stephen Chavez are co-founders of LatinoFoodie.com. They graciously invited Señorita Vino to select wines for the food tasting menu at their first-ever My Foodie Valentine party. ¡Besos, muchachos!

Comfort food goes better with wine

24 Jan

Your suegra just made another snide remark about the messy kitchen, you have a pile  of work projects due like, yesterday, and your angelito is squealing with delight after dumping the contents of his sippy cup on your keyboard. Ay, ay, ay…

Before you reach for that can of diet cola (or run screaming from the house), consider this: Wine (consumed in moderation, of course!) has been shown to have some heart-healthy benefits, thanks to a few of its natural components. Diet soda? Nada, baby. In fact, a recent study showed that diet colas can actually raise blood pressure – just what you need when you’re stressed out.

Putting on my Suave Disclaimer Voice, the following is not medical advice but a tongue-in-cheek perspective on how to slow down when la vida gets loca. Drink responsibly, as in no more than one glass a day, and make sure your health history allows it. Oh, and do not try this at home if you’re under 21.

Now that we’ve got that out of the way… Who doesn’t feel like a drink after a crazy day? A glass of wine helps me chill with a pre-dinner snack, a homemade meal, or while I’m cooking. If you’re like me, stress ups the snacking ante, so here are some suggestions on how to make that [insert comfort snack food here] go down smooth as seda:

1.    Chocolate 

Nothing tames the Stress Monster like cacao. The Mayas were on to something when they named chocolate a sacred food. Make your chocolate binge a religious experience by pouring yourself a glass of Pinot Noir to go with it. The strawberry and raspberry aromas that characterize this wine will complement the sweetness of the chocolate without being over the top.

You don’t have to break the bank to enjoy a good Pinot Noir. Trader Joe’s and your local grocery store have some quality selections for under $10. A worthwhile investment when we’re talking about our sanity.

2.    Queso

Ah, cheese…my number one go-to comfort food when I want to make the world go away (or hurl my laptop out the window). Cheddar and Pepper Jack go really well with a sassy Shiraz. The spicy notes and rich character of this wine complement the kick in spicier foods, and the richness of the cheese tames any rough edges in the wine. A match made in stress-free heaven.

I’ve written about this one before, but one of the best deals I’ve found is the Luchador Shiraz, available at Cost Plus World Market for the insanely low price of $6.99.

3.     Chips

Maybe it’s the calming taste of corn tortillas or potato chips, maybe it’s the texture and rhythm of the crunch, crunch, crunch. Or maybe it’s just the salt. Either way, a bag of chips is my edible blankie when things get a little wacky.  I like a crisp Sauvignon Blanc with my salty chips. Heck, even a buttery Chardonnay works well with the vegetable oils in fried tortilla chips or in the Peruvian version of the classic bag of Lay’s, pictured here. Once again, you can find great white wines for under $10 at your favorite grocery store or deli.

If you didn’t see it here, let me know what your favorite stress-relieving snack food is, and I’ll suggest a vino that would work with it. Salud, and happy stress-busting!

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).

A Wine by Any Other Name

26 May

You say bitch like it’s a bad thing.

 Who you callin’ a fat bastard?

Well, I say Bitch like it’s a good wine. And if you must ask, I am calling a bottle of wine a Fat Bastard. Okay, maybe not me personally, but someone named a wine Fat Bastard. This evening finds me wiped out from a day of meeting deadlines, paying bills, and still happy as a churro in cinnamon that the world didn’t end on Saturday.

Which brings me to last Saturday’s reverie of Wines from Tastings Past (hence the empty bottle of Bitch you see pictured here), which in turn led me to ponder how quirky wines got their names.

Now yours truly has been called a lot of things, mostly good and never fat. But I have been called quirky, which I took as a compliment. So this evening, it’s my supreme pleasure to introduce you to my top three quirky wine names. Granted, some of these are no longer around, but my point is to expound upon the clever wordplay and titillating turns of phrase. (El Swear Word Alert: Cuidado, friends. Lisuras ahead).

1. 2004 R Wines Bitch Barossa Grenache, Australia

Yeah, so you’ve probably already heard of this one. But have you tried it? Easily one of the best Barossas I’ve ever had, it was introduced to me at a wine and cheese pairing in Beverly Hills, where the winemaker told us that it got its name not from some spicy, sassy Aussie señorita, but because the wine was, simply stated, a bitch to make. The winemakers were so frustrated that the back label, where you will see the word ‘bitch’ about 80 times, sums up their winemaking experience. Clever marketing gimmick? Quizás. Fan-tabulous wine? ¡Absolutamente!

2. 2009 Falesco Est! Est! Est!, Italy

Here’s one for you history buffs. We have a 12th century German bishop who was a bit of a diva to thank for this name. Forced to go to Rome for a coronation (pobrecito), he sent his manservant ahead to scout out the taverns and inns that served the best wine. The devoted servant was to mark the door of each tavern that passed muster with the word, “Est,” shorthand for “Vinum est bonum,” or “the wine is good.” Legend has it that when the diligent servant made it to the town of Montefiascone, he was so enamored of the wine that he scrawled, “Est! Est! Est!” on the tavern door. Anyone know where I can find a like-minded manservant?

3. 2008 PharaohMoans Syrah, Paso Robles

I think we know each other well enough by now that I can let down and reveal my inner seventh-grader, the one whose puerile antics I try to keep to keep under wraps but am powerless to suppress during times of great solemnity, eg. board meetings, new blog posts, and meeting the suegros. The real question remains, What makes the pharaoh moan? Is it the indignation of being confined to a bottle? The retail price of $100? The clever hormonal pun?  As a public relations veteran, I would say it’s the fact that nowhere on the winemaker’s beautifully executed website or in the well-written press materials is there any trace of irony or acknowledgement with respect to the name, nor any explanation, serious or not, as to how this cheeky moniker came to be. Kidding aside, check out the reviews – this is one that’s going on my Must-Try List.

And now I bid thee buenas noches. Señorita Vino must retire to her bedchambers, but not before asking you to share the most bizarre, raucously funny, inappropriate or creepy wine name you’ve ever heard.

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