3 Things to Know: What is Wine?

giphy

Let’s back up this week shall we?

The previous “3 Things to Know” post touched on Old World vs. New World wines, but if you’re a novice wine drinker, you need the basics: What is wine and its common characteristics?

I got you.

1. Okay, I know what wine is. It’s a beverage that goes nicely when catching up with girlfriends or lying on my couch and watching Netflix. But, what exactly is it?

Wine is fermented grape juice. Yeast, which is present on the grapes, on grape vines and in the air, feeds on the sugar present in grape juice and converts the sugar into alcohol and carbon dioxide. The grapes used to make wine aren’t what you’ll find at the local supermarket. Wine grapes have seeds, thick skins and are smaller than your standard table grapes. There are thousands of grape varieties (ex. Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon) used to make wine. Fun fact: most grape juice  – regardless of whether it came from red or green grapes – is clear. Red wine gets its tint from the skins of red grapes.

2. Are there certain wines where not all of the sugars are converted into alcohol?

Yep! Wines with sugar left over from the fermentation process – this is called residual sugar–  are typically labeled as sweet wines or dessert wines. These types of wines include Moscato (hello, Drake), ice wine, port and sweet Riesling. Most wines do not have residual sugar and are labeled as dry, even if your tastebuds are screaming “this is sweet!” from the flavors the wine imparts, specifically fruit-forward wines like Pinot Grigio.

3. The Cabernet Sauvignon I had recently was the opposite of sweet. It literally sucked the moisture from my mouth. The hell?

The dryness and bitterness you experienced was due to tannins, a common characteristic mostly found in red wines, like the Bordeaux varieties (ex. Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec), Syrah and Barolo. Tannins come from the skin, stem and seeds of a grape, and when left to mix with the grape’s juice for long periods of time, produces wines high in tannin. Aging wine in oak barrels also produces this effect. All wines have tannins, however red wines have higher levels than white wines. In order to color a wine red, grape skins must soak in the juice for extended periods of time. If you’re still recovering from cotton mouth, wines such as Pinot Noir, Zinfandel and Beaujolais (my favorite) are low in tannins.

#themoreyouknow

3 Things to Know: Old World vs. New World

Old World vs. New World wines

In March, I signed up for a four-part Wine 101 course to learn about winemaking regions, grapes and most importantly, how to taste wine. There’s a lot to learn about vino and where it comes from, most of which isn’t necessary for someone who drinks casually and not as a career, à la sommelier or winemaker. But it’s important to know the basics, which will help you when ordering a glass of wine at a restaurant or picking a bottle at your supermarket amongst dozens of options.

So I’m breaking it down for you as part of a series: 3 Things to Know About Wine. That’s it, three things, facts, tidbits, “did you know’s?” that can help you become a better consumer and purchaser. This week, we’ll dive into Old World vs. New World wines. 

Pinkies up.

1.  My server was explaining the wine list and mentioned “Old World” wines. Huh? Is there a “New World” type of wine too? 

YAS, there is such a thing as New World wine. Let me explain: this terminology is used to differentiate wines made in countries where winemaking first originated (Old World) versus countries where winemaking is still fairly “new” (New World). Here are some examples:

Old World wine regions

France

Italy

Germany

Spain

Greece

Hungary

New World wine regions 

United States

Australia

New Zealand

South Africa

Argentina

Canada

Mexico

2. Cool, so why did he just refer to my Pinot Noir pick as a red Burgundy? 

Same wine, different names.  Old World wines tend to be named by region, while New World wines are named by grape. In this example, Pinot Noir is the name of the grape, and Burgundy is the name of a wine-making region in France that grows Pinot Noir grapes. Below in bold are examples of the same wine, but labeled differently depending on what region of the world it was produced:

Sauvignon Blanc (grape) =  Sancerre or Pouilly-Fumé (regions)

Pinot Noir = red Burgundy 

Chardonnay = white Burgundy  

Cabernet Sauvignon = Bordeaux (Note: Bordeaux is usually a blend of two or more grapes from the Bordeaux region which can include: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec, Cabernet Franc and Petite Verdot).

3. This red Burgundy tastes different from the Pinot Noir I usually drink from Oregon. What gives?  

There are plenty of factors that affect the taste of wine. Like chefs, winemakers have their own “recipes” for making wines. Some choose to leave the skins on the grapes for a longer period of time, resulting in a more “tannic” (astringent) wine, or some choose to age the juice in oak barrels versus stainless steel. But let’s back up, and start with the grapes and the environment they were grown in, commonly referred to as “terroir.” Some factors that determine terroir  include climate (temperature and rainfall), typography (the altitude of the vineyard), sunlight and soil type. While Pinot Noir grapes are grown in  Oregon and Burgundy (eastern France) due to their similar climates, they have different soil types, which result in slightly different tasting grapes.

#themoreyouknow

Image: Sex and the City / HBO

A First-Timers Guide to Rome

Don’t sleep on Rome.  

Rome_A First Timers Guide

Paris, London and Amsterdam seem to get all the love, but Rome is a treasure, bringing together the perfect travel trifecta of good eats, beautiful sites and history.

It’s also old as hell.

Nothing puts your own existence into perspective, than walking around ruins dating back to 800 BC. Rome is not a modern city. Besides the ruins, almost every building looks to be from a past time. But that’s part of its charm.

My family and I stayed at an Airbnb in the Trastevere neighborhood, which is known for a variety of restaurants and bars – it’s also near Vatican City. Rome is very walkable, albeit watch your step when on the cobblestone streets, and look out for motorists on mopeds, who have their own rules for the road.

Because this was my first visit, I spent five days playing a basic tourist. The following list is for first-timers to Rome, and includes the restaurants and sites I enjoyed while visiting.

To Explore:

The Colosseum and the Roman Forum

Rome_The Colosseum

These three sites are covered under one ticket which can be bought online. Unless you like waiting in line, you should definitely pre-purchase tickets. If you don’t, get to the Colosseum or the Roman Forum entrance – which has a shorter line –  before opening time. If a “guide” approaches to entice you with a tour and a no-wait entry for 30 euros, keep it moving. These men and women are not affiliated with the Colosseum and Roman Forum, and our wait time ( we didn’t pre-purchase tickets) was only 30 minutes. After you’re finishing touring, walk along the street, Via dei Fori Imperiali, for about 10 minutes, until you see the Altar of the Fatherland monument. Adjacent is the Campidoglio, a square designed by Michelangelo and offers additional views of the Roman Forum.

Ticket price: € 12.00 

Vatican City: St. Peter’s Basilica, the Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel   

The Vatican Museums line is real. REAL. You need to buy your tickets in advance if you have any desire to see the Sistine Chapel in this lifetime. To be honest, I found the Sistine Chapel to be underwhelming. However, I  really enjoyed walking around St. Peter’s Basilica, which is free, but has it’s own separate and lengthy line.

Ticket price: € 16.00  for entry into the Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel

Pantheon, Trevi Fountain and Spanish Steps  

Rome_Trevi Fountain.jpg

These three sites are in walking distance, so hit them on the same day. Don’t forget to climb the Spanish Steps to see the church at the top. If you’re inclined to shop, this is the area where you’ll find high-end labels like Gucci, Salvatore Ferragamo and Dolce & Gabbana.

Ticket price: FREE 

Villa Borghese

A beautiful park that houses the Galleria Borghese, which tickets are a requirement,  a zoo and a beautiful view of the city from Pincio Terrace.

Ticket price€ 21.50  for the Galleria Borghese

Colle del Gianicolo

One of the best views in Rome. See it at sunset…or sunrise.

Ticket price: FREE

To Eat and Drink:

Roscioli 

Rome_Cacio e pepe

Roscioli is a group of dining establishments: a bakery, a pizzeria and a full-service restaurant that you could go to every day to fulfill breakfast, lunch and dinner needs.  A couple of doors down from the restaurant, is where you’ll find their pastry shop. If you’re in a morning rush, grab a standing spot at the counter and order a baked good and espresso like a local. Have a little more time? Head to the back, where you’ll find table service and a more expansive menu.

Salumeria Roscioli

Try the: cacio e pepe

Address: Via dei Giubbonari 21

Roscioli Caffè Pasticceria (bakery)

Try the: cornetto and an espresso

Address: Piazza Benedetto Cairoli, 16

La Fata Ignorante 

My last meal in Rome, was neither pizza or pasta, but steak, endless bread, generous pours of red wine and complimentary limoncello. It was one of the best meals I had in Rome, and the service was impeccable. It was also affordable. Make reservations for this spot.

Try the: tempura mixed vegetables, the Danish sliced beef with balsamic vinegar reduction and the cockrel (chicken)

Address: Via Giuseppe Giulietti, 5

Pizzarium Bonci 

Pizzarium Bonci

The best pizza I had in Rome. This is a tiny spot where you take a number, wait for it to be called, and then order pizza by weight, not by slice. Attendants will make scoring motions with their scissors to inquire how much you’d like, and then they snip. This is not a traditional pizzeria, you’ll find toppings you never knew could work on a pizza, but do. Also, wine is €1.50 a glass. So there’s that.

Try the: potato or the onion and sun-dried tomato slices

Address: Via Della Meloria, 43

Cantina e Cucina

A fun and lively restaurant that brings out Prosecco for guests waiting for a table. A nice mix of locals and tourists alike.

Try the: carbonara

Address: Via del Governo Vecchio, 87

Fior Di Luna   

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My go-to gelato spot near the Airbnb I was staying at.

Try the: pistachio or chocolate hazelnut gelatos

Address: Via della Lungaretta 96

Biscottificio Innocenti

Start your day with a couple of cookies. Because why not? They make great dunkers in your morning cappuccino.

Try the: everything. You can’t go wrong with cookies.

Address: Via della Luce, 21

Freni e Frizioni 

If you need a break from wine – or Rome’s craft beers, head to this trendy watering hole in Trastevere and order one of their speciality cocktails. Drink sizes are “yuuuuge” and the pours are generous.

Try the: London Collins

Address: Via del Politeama, 4/6, 00153

Roma

Have you been to Rome? What were some of your favorite spots? Comment below. 

 

How to Travel Solo

So you want to travel solo?  

Paris

I’m not immune to being wildly uncomfortable. At 12, my family and I moved to Atlanta  from a small city in Central Illinois. At 22, I moved to New York City, only knowing my grandma and a couple of acquaintances. Then at 24, I took a cross-country road trip to begin an adventure in Los Angeles. But as much as I live for change, I’m not the best when it comes to being alone. Being around people energizes and inspires me. Which is why I was worried to take my first solo trip to a country (France) I had never traveled to, knew no one and couldn’t speak the language.

Traveling alone was not in the initial plan. I found an airline ticket to Paris from Los Angeles for under $500, and went for it. I’d figure out my travel companion later…because Paris. I was going and that’s what mattered most. But after asking friends and family, and not getting anywhere, I’d realized this trip would be a solo one. And initially, that was scary. And then it became exciting.

If you’re debating taking a trip because you might not have a partner or a friend to go with…do it. Do it now. Even if you’re going across the country, across state lines or traveling an hour away from home. Not all experiences are meant to be in the company of others. Get out of your comfort zone. The following tips helped me get out of mine.

1) Have a Plan

I’ll be honest, I planned the sh*t out of this trip. I’m talking spreadsheets. A spreadsheet containing restaurants and bars I wanted to eat and drink at, museums I wanted to see and shops I wanted to visit, all categorized by Arrondissement (neighborhood). I even mapped out my days. My natural inclination is to plan (solo trip or not), but even if it isn’t yours, I think there’s merit in having a plan of action. What do I want to do? What do I want to see? Where do I want to eat?  Answer these questions so you can spend time exploring, and not twirling your thumbs overwhelmed by the amount of activities you could do. Give yourself a free day to take things as they come if you’re worried that planning will kill spontaneity. It won’t. Instead, it will keep you sane.

2) You’re Not Too Old for a Hostel, and Not Too Bourgeois for an Airbnb

First off, kudos if you can afford a couple of nights at a hotel by yourself. However, this is not the time to flex those adult muscles. You’ll want to be around people, and hotels rarely give you that connection. For my trip, I opted to book a room through Airbnb, which was only $10 more than the hostels I looked at. The trick is to book a room, and not an apartment or a house, which gives you the opportunity to interact with your host. The guy who owned the apartment I was staying in, was super engaging and personable, something that I had specifically sought out when reading reviews. Of course, this might not always be the case, depending on your host. Hostels though, will always give you the opportunity to meet new people.

3) Purchase an International Mobile Plan

If you’re traveling abroad, you don’t want to be stuck in a foreign city without cell service. I don’t know how people traveled before cellphones, but since we have this luxury, use it. Having an international plan allowed me to keep in touch with my parents, prevented me from getting lost and overall, gave me some piece of mind. My plan with Verizon cost $10 a day for talk, text and data.

4) Book a Class/Workshop/Tour

One of the peaks of my trip was taking a cooking class at Le Foodist. Four hours of cooking a three course meal, engaging in great conversation with my peers and drinking wine during the course of it. I was the only person not paired up, and I didn’t feel excluded or alone the entire time. Look into booking a class of some sort, a walking tour or a museum tour. You’ll meet people and learn something new along the way.

5) Meet up with Friends of Friends of Friends

As mentioned, I knew no one in Paris – not a long lost second cousin twice removed or an acquaintance from college. But I did know friends who had friends who lived there. One friend, who I had not seen in three years, connected me with a woman who was attending graduate school in Paris. Ditto, a couple of days earlier, when I met another friend of a friend for drinks near the Seine. Friends might not think to connect you with people they know, so be bold and ask around.

6) Be Open

You gotta be open. There’s no way around it. The one thing I was worried about during this trip was eating alone. But when you’re traveling solo, that’s inevitable, so I sucked it up on my first night and went to a restaurant on my list. Waiting in line, I noticed a woman behind me alone and speaking English to someone on her phone. After she hung up, I introduced myself. We made conversation as we waited to be seated, and ended up dining together. It was a great start to my trip, and I wouldn’t have had that experience if I kept to myself. You have to take the initiative and start conversations with people, and most importantly, be open to new experiences.

Have you traveled alone? If so, what was your experience like? 

 

All The Places I Wish to Eat & Drink in 2017

Two years ago, I crossed the border into California from Arizona, took a picture next to the “Welcome to California” sign and lost my wallet along a highway. California has given me quite the adventure since day one, and as I mark my second year in the Golden State, specificially in Los Angeles, I haven’t begun to explore a fourth of what the state or the city of L.A. has to offer.

Maybe I’m afraid of losing my identity again or maybe I’m still trying to acclimate myself to a city that still doesn’t quite feel like home. Either way, my one and only New Year’s resolution this year is to knock the following items off my bucket list. And because I’m food and beverage-obsessed, this list only contains restaurants and bars in Los Angeles County.

You gotta start somewhere.

 

screen-shot-2017-01-04-at-8-47-37-pm
Sqirl

Breakfast/Brunch:

Bottega Louie for the macarons and Instagram photos

Love & Salt for the ricotta pancakes

Perch for the view

Toast Bakery Café for the chance to see what the line is about

Viviane Restaurant at the Avalon Hotel for the Kelly Wearstler designed interior

Winsome for the quinoa, wild rice and toasted almond horchata…yeah, that’s a mouthful.

 

screen-shot-2017-01-04-at-8-48-25-pm
Night + Market

Lunch/Dinner:

A.O.C. for the wine list

Howlin’ Ray’s for the hot fried chicken…because what else?

LocoL for the community

Maude for the tasting menu and extravagance

Petit Trois for the omelette, Big Mec and croque monsieur

Pizzaria Mozza for the Nancy Silverton legacy

The Polo Lounge at The Beverly Hills Hotel for the people watching

Salazar for the margarita and esquites

Silverlake Ramen for the tonkotsu spicy ramen

Union for the pork ragu tagliatelle

 

screen-shot-2017-01-04-at-8-48-45-pm
Bar Amá

Bars:

Break Room 86 for the karaoke

Clifton’s Republic (The Pacific Seas) for the kitsch

The Edison for the classy ambiance

Mama Shelter for the roof and happy hour

Tiki-Ti for all the rum, coconut and pineapple I can handle…

 

How to Spend a Day in Mexico City

Dia de los Muertos

When I decided to take a trip to Mexico City, I wanted to immerse myself into the culture, the arts, the history and most importantly, the food. Living in Southern California has allowed me to sample a wide variety of Mexican dishes, from tacos al pastor to Oaxacan mole. 

But damnit, I wanted to go straight to the source. The motherland.

Vacationing in Cancun has never appealed to me, nor has Cabo San Lucas or Puerto Vallarta. As a kid, I loved learning about ancient civilizations, and sought out history on the Aztecs and Mesoamericans that resided in and around present-day Mexico City.

I knew I wanted to go during Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), so as soon as I got the go-ahead from work, I started planning. Round trip airline tickets cost less than $300, Airbnb accommodations in the colonia Roma Norte, were around $250 and Uber rides never cost more than $5 a ride. My trip lasted a week, but if you had only three days to experience the best of the city, it would be doable. Below is a sample itinerary on how to spend a day in Mexico City. 

Morning

Wake up and grab a green juice at Elixir Juice House to balance out the pastries and churros you’ll be eating later on. Juice #3 (Healthy Greens), with apple, celery, cucumber and collard greens was my favorite. Locations in Condesa, Roma Norte and Lomas. 

Afterwards, head to Panadería Rosettaa bakery owned by Mexican chef Elena Reygadas, for a breakfast of croissants (try it with ham and cheese), cardamom buns, vanilla conchas – a traditional Mexican sweet bread and coffee. Locations in Roma Norte and Juarez. 

Get an Uber, and head over to Museo Frida Kahlo in Coyoacán. The museum is dedicated to Mexican artist, Frida Kahlo, and is housed in her former family home, La Casa Azul. If you’re interested in the life of Frida and Mexican folk art, this museum is a must-see. Buy your tickets ahead of time to avoid the line that wraps around the block. Tickets are around $10 USD, including a fee to photograph inside the museum.

Afternoon 

Mercado de Coyoacán
Mercado de Coyoacán

After visiting Frida’s house, walk two blocks and explore the market, Mercado de Coyoacán. Get lost in this maze of vendors who sell everything from meat, fish and produce, to spices, Mexican candy, Day of the Dead porcelain skulls and piñatas. You want souvenirs? This is the place to purchase. Stay and eat at one of the inexpensive fondas (family-run diners) that serve up home-style food with a prix-fix menu. I went to La Cocina De Mi Mamá, where I started off with a glass of the agua del día (water of the day) made with cucumber, pineapple and mint. Next, was a vegetable soup accompanied with fried corn tortillas and various salsas. For my entree, I chose a grilled flat-iron steak which came with a side salad and refried beans. 

After exploring and eating at the market, walk a block over to Café El Jarocho for a hot chocolate or a cup of coffee – the best in the city.    

Palacio de Bellas Artes
The Palacio de Bellas Artes seen from Torre Latinoamericana.

Catch another Uber and head uptown to Centro Histórico, Mexico City’s central neighborhood and home to the second-largest public square in the world, the Zócalo. Have your Uber drop you off at the Palacio de Bellas Artes, a stunning architectural landmark that hosts art exhibitions and theatrical performances. Take pics in and outside the palace, but skip the museum. Afterwards, walk across the street to Torre Latinoamericana, a skyscraper that allows visitors to go up to the observation deck on the 44th floor for 360 degree views of Mexico City. Tickets are around $5 USD.  

Next, head over to the Zócalo, where you’ll find the Catedral Metropolitana, Latin America’s oldest and largest cathedral, which still hosts regular mass. Walk in and prepare to be astonished by the level of architecture, decor and detail. Admission is free. Adjacent to the cathedral are the ruins of Templo Mayor, an Aztec temple once dedicated to the god of war and the god of rain and architecture. If you have the time, the Museo del Templo Mayor houses the archaeological finds from the ruins. Admission is around $3. Don’t forget to take a picture of the Palacio Nacional on your way out, which holds the offices of Mexico’s President and the Federal Treasury. 

Evening  

Roma Mercado
Pozole and tostadas at José Guadalupe.

By now it’s dinner time. If you’re looking for upscale – but still affordable – dining, make reservations days in advance at the Italian-influenced Rosetta in Roma Norte, the sister establishment to Panadería Rosetta. If you’re up for anything, head to Mercado Roma, a gourmet food hall in Roma with tons of choices like tortas and “upscale” tacos, to burgers and pizza. I ate the best pozole, a meat and hominy soup, at the stall, José Guadalupe. Don’t leave without trying churros at Churrería El Moro. For an extra treat, order a(nother) hot chocolate to dip your churros in. 

Late Evening

Cap off your night with a mezcal flight or cocktail at La Clandestina in Condesa or El Bósforo in Barrio Chino. If you get hungry, hit up a crowded street stall for a taco or tostada. If you’re worried about cleanliness, squeeze a lime wedge over your food and pay after you’ve finished your meal. 

Go to sleep happy and full.

Buenas noches.

 

Wino

My favorite wine is a dry Gewürztraminer, a white wine traditionally from the Alsace region of France. Fruity and floral, it’s smooth on the tongue and lavishly coats the inside of the mouth. I also like it because the name is hard to pronounce on the first (and second) try. Guh-Voorts-Truh-Meener. Say it again.

My first taste of Gewürztraminer was at a wine and food pairing class in Brooklyn. It was paired with pâté. By itself, the delicacy was fatty and gamey. But when paired with the wine, it mellowed out. What was once fatty, was rich, and what was once gamey, was full of flavor. It was delicious.

I tell you this, because I’ve come a long way from the Moscatos and sweet Rieslings I sipped as a college student and recent grad. Those wines seemed like safe bets: sweet, accessible and cheap. ‘Adult’ wines like Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay were too tannic and dry on my palate, which was then only accustomed to amaretto sours and cosmopolitans. It was as if I was trying to resurrect the second coming of Sex and the City with my drink orders, not to mention my penchant for emotionally unavailable men.

I was twenty-two.

A lot can happen in four years. You get sick of throwing up vodka cranberries and bottom shelf tequila shots, and riding shotgun in the car of a driver who had one less drink than you. Twenty-two was marked with bad decisions cloaked in celebration. And then finally, I grew out out of it. I quit a job that was making me unhappy, I turned a hobby into a passion project, and moved 3,000 miles across the country. Somewhere along the way, I began drinking wine.

I began drinking  when I moved to Los Angeles and found a job working at a public relations agency that specialized in wine PR. I took home bottles of wine from the agency each week as homework, and often perused the aisles of wine stores to take home more. I was an excellent student. For instance, did you know Pinot Grigio and Pinot Gris are made from the same grape? Or that Cabernet Sauvignon should never be paired with chocolate, unless you like the taste of bitterness on your tongue? The job ended after a few months, and my severance was a $100 gift card to a regional beverage retailer. Newly unemployed but armed with six new bottles of mass market wine, I spent my first spring in Los Angeles downing wine and updating my LinkedIn profile.

About a month later, I found a new job at a creative agency. My present. A job that serves a rotating selection of wines on tap. This month, Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir fill up our glasses, mugs and paper cups. I’ve become accustomed to drinking on the job. Drinking for fun on the weekends is one thing, but it’s another to drink on a random Tuesday at 3:00 p.m. when you’re deep in deadlines and need a temporary escape. It’s called self-medicating. We’re good at it in this industry.

It’s funny, although I drink wine more than any other alcohol, the buzz still comes. Slow and steady. Confident and competent. Wine always wins the race. I spent my early twenties drinking to get drunk, which only resulted in breaking glasses, falling over and into beds to sleep in. I didn’t care whose.

Wine is different. It smooths the furrow between my brow, puts a twinkle in my eye and smirk on a face. I feel something when I drink wine. Thankfully, sloppiness doesn’t come easy, and I can’t remember the last time I was sick from wine. It only happens after cocktails, when having one, really means having three; the alcohol diluted by ice, syrups and juices. The hangover intense. The taste of sugar and stomach acid still on the tongue from the night before.

At twenty-six, I’ve learned to drink cocktails for the taste, and shots for the buzz. Wine satiates both and then some. I drink to taste, to feel and to want.

I want it all.