Tag Archives: wine tips

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.


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.


Vino 101: Wine Tasting Tips, Part 2

28 Feb

Still ticked off about the spit bucket being your new BFF? If you don’t know what I’m talking about, take a look-sie at Wine Tasting Tips, Part 1 for the first in this two-chapter primer on how have a fabuloso wine tasting experience.


So now that you know about reds before whites, the five S’s, and the infamous dump bucket rule, here are three more tips to make your next winery-hopping weekend a snob-free breeze:

4. Be vino-lingual. Consider the Wine Snob, that pompous dork (or dorkita) whose contrived geek-speak upon taking a sip of Chateau-de-Je-Ne-Sais-Pas makes me want to douse their ecstatic rapture with the contents of a dump bucket. If you remember anything from reading this blog, it’s this: Don’t. Let. The. Big. Words. Scare. You.  Now that we’ve got that straight, here are some basic wine-tasting terms you may hear:

Astringent. A puckering sensation caused by a wine’s tannins (see below)

Bouquet. Not quite the same thing as “aroma,” “bouquet” refers the smells a wine develops as it ages in the bottle

Complex. A wine that displays various characteristics, such as fruit, earth, acidity, floral aromas, etc. Usually a mark of quality.

Dry. The opposite of sweet

Earthy. Your tío Pedro may have an earthy sense of humor (i.e. raunchy). In wine, earthiness is like the smell of a garden after it rains.

Finish. What happens after you’ve taken a sip of wine. Think about how long the flavors linger, and whether the wine has a kick or leaves a smooth sensation.

Fruit forward. A wine in which fruity aromas and flavors are dominant

Full-bodied. A wine with high alcohol or a heavier feel on the palate

Jammy. The taste of ripe, almost preserved fruit. Usually an indicator that the wine is made from grapes grown in a hot climate.

Minerally. The taste and smell of gravel, chalk, wet stones, granite. Some French and Spanish wines are prized for their minerality.

Mouthfeel. A wine’s texture. Think silky, velvety, soft, mellow, supple, coarse, rustic, etc.

Residual sugar. The sugar left over in a wine after fermentation

Tannic. Tannins are natural compounds in grape skins and seeds. They also can be found in the wood from barrels used for aging wine. Heavily tannic wines leave an astringent, puckering sensation in the mouth.

Terroir.  The influence of climate, weather, soil and geology on a grapevine. Can also be used to describe the earthy aromas and flavors of a wine.

Well-balanced. A wine in which acidity, tannins, fruit and alcohol are evenly present.


5. Food sold separately–somewhere else. A tasting room is simply that – a space for tasting wine, and not a café or wine bar. On occasion, a winery may serve water crackers, but these are more a kind gesture than a snack. If your wine tasting sojourn spans the lunch hour, you may want to pack some sandwiches and fruit (or any portable, fuss-free food you may like) and have a picnic in between tastings. Most wineries allow visitors to bring food and eat in designated outdoor areas.


6. Save dessert for last. You may see dessert wines being offered on tasting room wine lists. Going back to the picnic for a minute, you wouldn’t eat the cupcakes before the turkey and brie baguette, would you? For some of the same reasons, you should taste the dessert wine last. Dessert wines, as you may recall from previous posts, are often honey-sweet and heavier on the palate. If you start with a late-harvest or dessert wine, any dry, lighter-bodied wines you taste after that will seem watered down and flat.

Now go forth and taste wine, chicas y chicos, and let me know how you fare. ¡Salud!

Vino 101: Wine tasting tips – part 1

7 Feb

What could be more exciting than a day of wine tasting with your BFFs? Maybe a one-on-one soccer lesson from Diego Forlan, but I digress…

Is it hot in here? Credit: Fotitos21

Last night I ran into a fellow Latina blogger and her über-wonderful mom. The striking pair had just attended a culinary trade event in Beverly Hills, where industry representatives from wine labels and restaurants were plying their wares. The ladies found the place crawling with that pesky critter, vinus snobus, a.k.a. the wine snob.


What’s a chica to do?  Whether you’re road tripping to Napa, tangoing through the vineyards of Mendoza or visiting your neighborhood wine shop, these three tips can give you a confidence boost on your next wine tasting journey.

1. Whites before reds.


If you’re asked which wine you’d like to try first, always taste white wines before reds. Why? Because white wines are lighter in body than reds, and if you start with a heavier red wine, your palate will miss the more delicate flavors and aromas of the white wines. It would be like having your main course before your dinner salad.

2. Remember the five S’s: See. Swirl. Sniff. Sip. Spit.


We’ve all seen those self-important dweebs making a Shakespearean drama out of sipping a glass of wine. You can learn to appreciate wine and its lovely, delicious components without the theatrics:

See. A wine’s visual characteristics can tell you a lot about what’s in your glass. For example, the younger a white wine is, the paler it will look in your glass. Conversely, the older a red wine is, the lighter it will appear.

Swirl. The reason people swirl wine around in their glass is to release the little odor molecules that give wine its flavor. Some red wines may need a little more swirling if the bottle has just been opened. 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 characteristic flavor.

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, chances are the wine was aged in oak barrels. If you’re smelling a lot of fruit, it’s possible the wine comes from grapes grown in a warmer climate. Mineral aromas like gravel, flint or wet stone may mean the wine is from the Old World, or a European wine region.

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.

Spit. I know, I know…why would you want to waste perfectly good wine? Read on…

3. Your new BFF: The dump bucket. If you’ve ever started your winery-hopping early in the day, you may have noticed how quiet tasting rooms are around 11 a.m. By about 2 or 3 p.m., the decibel level is noticeably louder. Wine loosens us up and makes us chatty. I’ll drink to that!  But if you overdo it, your ability to distinguish flavor characteristics plummets. Save the major drinking for dinner later on.

Oh, and winery staff will not get offended if you spit or dump part of the wine they pour. And if they do, they probably could use a glass of wine. ¡Salud!


Stay tuned for Wine Tasting Tips, part deux!


Meet the Wine Lover: Chef Ricardo Zarate

31 Jan

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 stepped away from his busy kitchen to chat 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. Don’t ask me the name; all I know 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]. I had about 30 bottles, and I separated the expensive one from the others. 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 was enjoying a great wine with a good friend.

Vino 101: Old World vs. New World Wines

25 Jan

Feliz Friday, chicas y chicos! The weekend is here, and it’s time for a whirlwind tour of the “Old World” and “New World” of wine. Yes, right now. It’ll only take five minutes. Fasten your seat belts, make sure your tray tables are locked and your seat is in the upright position, ¡y vámonos!

Old World wines come from Europe and the Mediterranean.

Old World wines come from Europe and the Mediterranean.

Simply stated, Old World refers to a wine from southern or central Europe (France, Italy, Spain, Germany, Austria and other Mediterranean regions). The New World covers wines made in North and South America, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and South Africa.

You’re probably wondering why this matters, right? The short answer is that an Old World Chardonnay (made in France, for example) is going to taste a lot different from a New World Chardonnay made in California. Here’s why:

1. Winemaking

Old World winemaking relies on traditions that have been around for centuries, while New World winemakers tend to use modern science and technology, giving them a little more control over how the wine will taste.

2. Terroir

Think of terroir as the environmental factors (climate, soil, rainfall) that give a wine some of its characteristics. For instance, grapes grown in hot climates ripen more easily and have a higher sugar content, so those wines will have more alcohol (remember that sugar is needed for fermentation, the magical process that turns grape juice into wine). Wine made from grapes grown in cooler regions tends to have less alcohol and will be more acidic.

The soil where vineyards are planted is an almost literal example of terroir.

The soil where vineyards are planted is an almost literal example of terroir.

Okay, got all that? If not, all you need to remember is this:

Old World wines generally…

– Are higher in acidity

-Taste more “minerally”

-Have fewer fruity aromas or flavors

-Tend to age better

New World wines generally…

-Taste more fruity

– Have less acidity

-Are higher in alcohol (because the grapes have more sugar)

– Tend to be less diverse (“international” grape varieties such as Chardonnay, Merlot and others are used more in New World winemaking than lesser-known grapes like Müller-Thurgau, Tempranillo, Nebbiolo and Cinsault)

How can you tell which style you like best? If you’re a fan of black cherry flavors in your Cabernet Sauvignon, go for a New World option from California, Chile or Australia. If you like your Cab with a touch less alcohol and a little more acidity, an Old World wine from France’s Bordeaux region is a fine choice.

We’re going to hit a little turbulence now, so hold on to your wine glasses. The lines between the Old and New Worlds are beginning to shift as younger winemakers in Europe experiment with New World techniques. My philosophy: Explore both worlds and let your tastebuds be your guide.

Salud, and thank you for flying Señorita Vino!

Guest Post: Señorita Vino for a Day

6 Dec

Where does the time go? Holidays, work, wine certification exams and simply thinking about new ways to sharpen my scintillating wit and verve can tap the ol’ brain cells. Which is why I am making one of my readers do all the work this week.

Chicas y chicos, allow me to introduce you to my esteemed fellow wine blogger, Ernesto, author of the wine-tastic blog, Whine and Cheers for Wine. Ernesto has been a vino aficionado for nearly 30 years. He began taking wine classes three years ago and subsequently landed the prestigious position of wine steward for a national grocery store chain. All that and he’s a Cubano, too!  Ernesto, take it away!


I have to admit I like the title.  I think it makes me sound younger. Señor Vino? Nah, maybe in a few years…. As a big fan of Señorita Vino and her very entertaining and educational writings, I was surprised and honored recently when she asked me to do a guest post. I guess I could have been Señorita Vino for a Day but in my eyes, those shoes (OK, pumps) are too big to fill.

Latino wine lover? I never really thought of myself as such but I must admit the title fits; my parents migrated here from Cuba in 1961. I work in a community that is over 60 percent Hispanic. On a daily basis my customers come from Venezuela, Colombia, Honduras, Perú, Jamaica, México, Trinidad, El Salvador, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, and the list goes on.

As each Hispanic customer—and most are Latinas—brings their heritage into the mix, it’s great to see that we all have a lot in common, in particular, a love of vino! Sometimes they buy wine just for the pleasure of drinking it, but other times they get together with their amigas and learn about the wine to better understand its heritage and what it is about a particular varietal that they enjoy the most. One of my biggest pleasures is having a customer return to share a wine experience that they have had after learning more about wines through one of our meetings.

So, with this I present Vino 101 Tidbits, information that I have found educational along the way and can be great tools for sharing with others over a glass of vino in any social setting, including Girls’ Noche Out.

Ernesto book

Aroma is derived from the grape. Bouquet comes from fermentation, wood (oak), aging. Eighty percent of what we taste is attributed to our sense of smell.

What is BODY? Body is the weight of the wine on the palate. A good measuring trick would be the following scale: Light (skim milk), Medium ( 2 percent to whole milk), Full (whole to half & half).

White Wine Styles: CRISP unoaked, refreshing, higher in acidity. ELEGANT seamless balance of acidity with an oak component. OAKY lush, round, creamy, buttery and lower in acidity. SWEET usually fuller in body, lower in alcohol and acidity.

Red Wine Tannin Levels: EASY DRINKING no drying sensation, smooth. SOFT mostly aged wines, barely noticeable. RIPE not overpowering but definitely detectable, in balance with fruit intensity.  FIRM: drying sensation is apparent, most prevalent in higher end young wines.

Tempranillo grows in the Rioja region of Spain. In Portugal Tempranillo is known as Tinto Roriz and is one of the grapes used in making Port/Porto.

Burgundy (except for Beaujolais) is mostly made from Pinot Noir.

When in doubt, Beaujolais goes with practically everything.

Chardonnay and Riesling are white wines that can age.

Chardonnay is a component of Champagne, Burgundy and Chablis wines.

Wine most sold in USA: White Zinfandel

STELVIN: a screw top bottle closure

And finally, a rhetorical question for you all: If a bad wine with a cork closure is referred to as CORKED, would a bad wine with a screw cap be classified as SCREWED? 


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