An Invitation to Fathia Vineyards Harvest Celebration – October 22nd!

Our friends at Fathia Vineyards would like to invite you to their Harvest Celebration.
Saturday, October 22, 2016 | 1pm – 4:30pmfathia-2jpgJoin the Fathia wine family for an unforgettable experience featuring a champagne reception on a private estate and four courses paired with their wines. Dishes will be made by Chef Mario Garcia from Mexico City. Originally from Oaxaca, Mexico, Chef Mario came to the US 23 years ago to pursue his dreams and a brighter future. Today, Chef Mario collaborates with other chefs, restaurants, caters weddings and special events. He’s looking forward to sharing his delicious creations with you!First Course
Jumbo scallops, corn cake, beurre blanc orange sauce and micro greens paired with their 2013 Sauvignon BlancSecond Course
Arugula and mixed green salad with figs, walnuts, manchego cheese and cherry vinaigrette paired with their 2015 Viognier

Third Course
Rack of lamb, cimichurri sauce and roasted fingerling potatoes paired with their 2013 Cabernet

Fourth Course
Puffed pastry with figs and muscat canelli sauce paired with their 2013 Muscat

Space is limited and you may purchase your tickets via
There is a special of $30,00 discount for our SVL community. Use code athena2016
We hope to see you then!

Sabor del Valle Inaugural Celebrity Bartender Night

Sabor del Valle-celebrity-bartender-night

Wine Traditions, myths, and just plain silliness.

Wine Traditions, myths, and just plain silliness.

Vino Latino has a fun little program we call Vino with Amigos. It’s an in-home winetasting where we go to the comfort of your home and do a private wine tasting with your guests and educate using the wine made by our Latino vintners and winemakers. (Incidentally, we just launched a GROUPON deal for this, if you are interested). Last weekend, while at one of the in-homes, we saw our guests sticking their glasses under their chin and then bringing the mouth of the glass under their nose in a forward motion. Ramon and I just looked at each other with a puzzled look on our face. Finally, one of the guests explained to us that their friend is a Sommelier at a very well known resort in Napa and he told them that before you even swirl your glass, smell it by moving the glass in a forward motion starting from your chin and then past your nose. The reason is that you would capture wonderful little nuances that are destroyed when you swirl the wine before sniffing it. All evening long people were walking around doing this move convinced that it would enhance their wine tasting experience.


This got me thinking to all the silly things people do when it comes to wine. One of my favorites is when people talk about the legs of wine. The legs are those streaks of liquid that slowly stream the inside of stemware once the glass has been given a swirl. It seems that every wine class stops to talk about the legs. But here’s the thing, they don’t mean anything. They can indicate high alcohol, residual sugar, or it could mean that the winemaker added glycerin to the wine to give it a shine and viscosity that is pleasing to the eye. It doesn’t relate to quality, age, or anything else significant, so why bother? Our advice is if you are going to look at legs, look at the legs of your wife or girlfriend rather than streaks of liquid dripping down your glass.

Sometimes “wine experts” will explain why there is a punt (hole) at the bottom of a wine bottle. If the wine expert states anything having to do with the bung as fact, then it’s time to get up and leave and find a new expert. The truth is, no one knows for sure why there is this whole on the bottom of wine bottles. There are many theories. Some say it’s to trap the sediment. Some say it’s for the sommelier to be able to hold the bottle in such a way as to present the wine better. And others say it’s just the glass mold that was used hundreds of years ago and it hasn’t changed since.

This brings us the difference in bottle. You have the shouldered Bordeaux bottle and the smooth burgundy bottle. I’ve heard “experts” say the shoulders on the Bordeaux bottle is to trap sediment, which it does in fact do. However, the truth is that the bottle molds in Bordeaux had shoulders and the ones in Burgundy did not and they haven’t changed since.


We’ll close with one of our personal pet peeves found in many wine circles and that is the mispronunciation of the word “meritage.” “Meritage” should be pronounced so that it rhymes with the word, “heritage” for it is a purely made-up American word. A meritage is Bordeaux blend made in the USA. It can only contain Bordeaux grapes (cab sav, can franc, merlot, malbec, petite verdot, etc.). Many people like to put a French spin on it and pronounce it with a French spin so that it rhymes with “decoupage.” What is really infuriating is when wineries who make a meritage (to label a wine “meritage” a winery has to pay money to the meritage society) also mispronounce the word. There aren’t many terms in the wine lexicon that originate in the USA, so let’s be proud of one word that is purely ours.


Wine Dos and Dont’s

“What is the proper tasting room etiquette?”

This is a question I appreciate, yet feel hesitant to answer.   I feel hesitant because I don’t want people to feel more intimidated by wine than they are already.  I feel hesitant because I often think the staff needs to be more worried about etiquette than the guests.  I feel hesitant because I’m kind of a free spirit and don’t like a lot of dos and don’ts.

etiquette Wine

However, after posting the question on facebook and really thinking about it, I realize there is indeed some etiquette that when followed will make wine tasting a lot more enjoyable for everyone.


TIPPING:  We get this question a lot.  So here it is, tips ARE NOT expected by tasting room staff.  This is especially true for the wineries you visit with Small Lot Wine Tours since more often than not our guests are meeting and tasting with the winery owners.  HOWEVER, if you feel compelled to give a staff member a tip because they did a great job they will look upon the tip as an unexpected treat.

NOTE: Many larger wineries forbid their staff to accept tips.  One winery I know actually makes you give the tips to the winery and donate to the charity that the winery chooses.

KIDS:  How I cringe when people say, “Ugh.I can’t believe they brought their kids!”   Are people who can’t find a sitter to be excluded from the wine tasting experience?  As a single mom I’m really taken aback by that attitude.  What if they are on the hunt for something specific?  What if they are on a cross country trip and decided to stop in world famous Napa?  I personally have no problem with anyone bringing their kids as long as they are WELL BEHAVED AND, PLEASE, do not let your kids sniff or taste the wine.  A winery can lose their license for something like that.

NOTE: Some wineries, due to insurance, do not allow children.  It is a good idea to call ahead and make sure it is okay to bring your well behaved kids with you wine tasting.

Here are a few more (dare I say it?)Dos and Don’ts

  • Pefume: don’t wear it.  It interferes with the wine aroma which is a huge part of tasting wine.
  • DO NOT EVER pour your own wine glass.  It’s against the law and it’s really rude.
  • If you want to taste something again or “Revisit” something, just ask.
  • It’s not an insult if you dump your wine.  Wineries would rather you dump so you can taste more wine than drink everything and be drunk.
  • Don’t take your glass with you…the days of souvenir glasses are over.


We went over etiquette for winery guests.  But as someone whose passion is hospitality let’s talk about etiquette for tasting room staff.

TASTING NOTES: Please don’t tell people what they are about to taste.  Just because you, or your winemaker, taste the flavor of buttermilk pancakes does mean that everyone is going to.  Let your guests enjoy the wine first then after they’ve tasted it, discuss what you taste and what they taste.  But the first sip should not have any biases.

TASTING FEE: For the love of God, waive them if they purchase.  Period.  Are you in the wine tasting business or the wine selling business?  The damage caused by charging a tasting fee on top of purchase will cost you a lot more than the $25 you made off the tasting fee via yelp, word of mouth, and by how bad you will look because most awesome wineries would never ever charge a tasting fee on top of a purchase.

WINE CLUB DISCOUNTS:  They get the discount if they join.  Not after they’ve made their first order. Yes, sometimes unscrupulous people join the club just for the discount and cancel when they get home, but they are far and few between.

TARDINESS:  So your guests are late.  It happens.  They are already stressed about being late, no need to make them feel even worse by greeting them with a scolding.

WINE LANGUAGE: Don’t assume your guests have had Cheval Blanc (I haven’t), or know what “RS” stands for, or that they don’t drink white zinfandel.  Rather, assume that every guest doesn’t know anything about wine and then adjust your lingo as a way to get to know them.  AND PLEASE, PLEASE, STOP using “Casis” as a tasting reference.  The vast majority of the public have no idea what a “casis” is, including myself!

NAPA VS. SONOMA:  Stop it already.  We are all friends.





And God Said, “Let there be Wine”

Walking through a Latin grocery store the other day we saw aisles and aisles of beans.  Latin stores always have beans, but this time there was every bean imaginable due to Lent starting on February 13.  Latinos, who are meat based, get creative during this time with beans and fish.  Some people will practice Lent every day, some only on Fridays.  Some have fish every day, some only on Fridays.  There are many Lent traditions.  Whatever your chosen tradition, Lent still means that a carnivore society will have to pretend lo be herbivores  Here’s the good news, wine is vegetarian.  We have a few wines that we think will make this Lent season more palatable.


Ceja Rose`:  This wine is going to pair well with everything, but we     added it specifically for those of you who enjoy fish.   This rose` is dry, so the acidity will play well with the fish. However, it also has a little barrel age to it which gives it a nice round mouth feel, meaning it’s great with ceviche or with a delicious grilled salmon.  Because it’s light, it will do okay with salsas as long as they aren’t too hot.





Cesar Toxqui Viogner: At the beginning of the year we did a vegan experiment for 3 weeks.  Three weeks with no meat (not even fish or eggs) was a long time for us.  We missed meat.  We found some in this viogner.  This viogner, to me, has a distinctive umami finish.  Umami is a taste that is meaty, sort of like soy sauce.  It’s a savory sensation on the palate that I have an affinity for and more people seem to be talking about it.  If you are missing meat, crack open some of this viogner.  It will go lovely with anything made with cheese, roasted vegetables, bean stews, and roasted fish (but not ceviche)

winebttleJ. Wilkes Pinot Noir: This pinot will go great with vegetarian empanadas, especially the traditional kind that include cinnamon and raisins.  It will also lend itself well to lentils.  We don’t suggest this with salmon, although people always think of pinot and salmon, because this pinot has a lot of spicy notes such as cardamom and cinnamon.  However, if you create a lent dish other than empanadas that includes raisins and olives, this is the wine for that dish.







Aurora Vinedos Petite Sirah. Sometimes you just need steak.  Petite Sirah is the steak of wine . It’s big and meaty.  It’s warm and comforting.  Sometimes, when we want a steak, we just have a glass of petite sirah instead.  The perfect Lent pairing for this wine is cotija cheese and olives.  The saltiness of the cheese and olives will tame the tanins leaving with you something that will give the meat eater in you some satisfaction during this season of fasting.

wine label

The Grape Journey, from Vineyard to Wine Glass.

Vino 101


The Grape Journey, from Vineyard to Wine Glass.


Last month we talked about knowing what is in your wine glass.  Now we’ll talk about how wine is made.


Grapes will turn into wine all by themselves if left alone.   The natural yeasts that live in the vineyard will automatically start converting the sugars into alcohol.  If you’ve ever made your own apple juice you will know that within a couple of days that juice will begin to ferment and turn into cider.  Wine is a natural process.  But there are some things a winemaker does along the way that helps that natural process go from making a by-product of nature to something really delicious.




GROW THE GRAPES:  90% of winemaking is done in the vineyard.  If you have bad grapes, you won’t have good wine, no matter how talented a winemaker the winery employs.  Good grapes are the result of good vineyard practices (i.e. hand pruned, hand picked, low yields on the vines, etc.) and the right growing site.  Grape Vines are basically a weed..they’ll grow anywhere.  Cabernet could grow in Hawaii…but it would taste bad.   Therefore it’s important to plant the right grapes in the right soil with the right climate.  This is often referred to as terroir. 


Harvesting and Crushing:  Once the grapes are ripe, they are harvested.  Harvest is when the winemaker gets involved with the grape growing because they are the ones who choose when to pick the grapes.  The winemaker makes this decision by measuring the grapes brix (brix is the percentage of the grape that is sugar.  So if a grape is at 25 brix then that grape is 25% sugar).   They look at the seeds in the grape..if they are green the grape is not ripe.  They consider the weather.  Is it going to rain?  If so, how badly?  And last, but not least, they taste the grape.  If the grape tastes good, if it has enough brix, and if it is fully ripened, then the winemaker tells the vineyard manager its’ time to harvest.


When the grapes are harvested the grapes are crushed.  A big mass produced winery does everything mechanically.  The grapes are thrown into crusher/destemmer.  They say grapes, but actually, all the bugs, rotten fruit, mice, lizards, and other flora and fauna that are in the vineyard will go in that crusher/destemmer as well.  The juice will go into large stainless steel tanks for fermentation. The wine will “age” there too, with oak chips thrown in for flavoring.  This is the wine that is most often found on your super market shelf.


However, when it’s a small winery, the process is very different.  The grapes are first hand picked.  The winemaker or vineyard owner is usually there to do a preliminary sort to pick out the lizards, mice, and rotten fruit.  Then the grapes are taken to the crush pad where they are thrown onto a conveyor belt.  This is where the grapes as whole clusters can be sorted.  Next the grapes go through a destemmer that gently removes the grapes from the stem.  Those individual grapes are put on yet another conveyor belt where they are sorted again.  The grapes are then put in the stainless steel tanks for fermentation.  The weight of the grapes will crush themselves.


Once fermentation has taken place (fermentation is the process of converting sugar into alcohol) the wine will either go into barrels are tanks to be aged.


Usually, red wine goes into barrels.  Winemakers often refer to barrels as their “spice rack.”  Barrels can give flavors of vanilla, cinnamon, caramel, spice, etc according to where they were grown, how tight the grain of the wood, and how the inside of the barrel is toasted.


The winemaker decides how long the wine should age.  They also decide how to blend the wine and with what.  Perhaps a cabernet needs better aromatics, if this is the case they might ad a little bit of Cabernet Franc.


Once the wine is aged and blended, it goes into a bottle where if it’s a red wine it is usually aged an additional year.




All these decisions translate directly into what is in your glass and whether or not you’ll like it.  You might not like the loud spicy notes that American Oak gives wine.  Or you may love a chardonnay that smells like crème brulee.   Maybe you love the crisp sharp lines that stainless steal aging gives Sauvignon Blanc.  How the wine is made has a lot to do with whether or not you’ll like the wine.  Take the time to ask about the winemaking process when visiting wineries, you’ll not only increase your wine knowledge, but you’ll begin to figure out what you like and why.


For any additional questions please feel free to respond to this post or email us directly at



Vino 101: Wine Lingo

On one of our Vino Latino Tours we had some guests that had a long discussion about tequila amongst themselves.  They used terms like “Anejo” and “reposado” and “Mezcal.”  This meant nothing to me since I don’t drink tequila.  In the same way, there are terms and lingo attached to wine that if you don’t know or understand, you might  not know what is in your glass.


02 three-different-wines

WINE IS NOT COLOR BLIND: The first thing to learn about is the color of wine.  There is red wine, white wine, and rose`.  The only thing that makes wine red, is contact with red grape skins.  This is because the flesh of all grapes (except for a few varietals such as alacante bouschet) is clear or “white.”  Most “white” wines come from grapes with greenish or yellow skins.  However, many sparkling wines that are white are made from pinot noir, which is a red grape.  This is done by immediately removing the juice from the skin.  A rose` or pink wine is a wine that has had a little bit of contact with the red skins.  A really deep red wine has probably been in contact with the skins for weeks whereas a rose` has had contact with the skins for a few hours.


NAME THAT GRAPE! On a label you’ll often see the name of the grape variety such as chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon, zinfandel, etc.  This is simply the type of grape the wine is made from.  It’s very similar to apples.  When you go to a grocery store there are many types of varieties of apples.  You have a granny smith, red delicious, fugi, gala, etc.  They all taste like apples, but each has a special character that makes it unique to that varietal.  Granny Smith is often tart,  Fugi is sweet and firm.   More than likely when you go to the store you have a favorite type of apple you tend to buy.


This is exactly the same with wine grapes.  Chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon, pinot noir, zinfandel, etc are simply the names of different types of wine grapes.  They all taste like grapes but each has a different character.  The more you try wine the more you’ll start to learn what types of wine is your favorite




RESERVE? OLD VINE? Some terms you often see on a bottle are terms like “Reserve” or “Old Vine.”  These terms are integrity based, meaning there is no legal weight behind them.  A winery can put these terms on any bottle, and often the big producers do!  Yikes!  But the vintners we work with put the weight of their integrity behind their labels.   When they put “reserve” it’s usually their best barrels.  “Old Vine” usually refers to vines that are over 50 years old.  Voces Old Vine Zinfandel is made from vines that are 120 years old!  Solovino’s Resever Cabernet tastes much more elegant and refined than their regular cabernet.


At the end of the day, however, as my dad often said, “There are only two kinds of wine, the kind your like and the kind you don’t”  May you find the wine you like in your glass!

Vino 101: Step One: Drink the Wine by Becky Tyner Sandoval



The very first step to enjoying wine is to drink it.  Seems simple until you start seeing all the books with titles such as, “How to Drink Wine” or advertisements for wine tasting classes.  At Vino Latino we don’t think that such a big fuss should be made over something so simple, but we do want to share a few tips that might make your wine drinking experience more enjoyable






THE VESSEL:  I’m sure it sounds silly, but believe it or not, the glass matters.  I don’t care how great your wine is, if you drink it out of a Styrofoam cup or a mason jar, it’s not going to taste good.  Riedel, the wine glass makers, discovered that what makes the most difference is how the glass throws the wine on your palate.  But rather than make this more complicated than it already is, just follow this simple rule.  Always use a wine glass and avoid wine glasses that have a lip on the rim.  The thinner the rim the better.  This ensures a smooth transfer of wine from the glass to your mouth, avoiding “splashing” upon the bitter parts of your palate.


RELEASE THE BOUQUET:  Unless you understand why, the swirling may seem a bit pretentious. But truly, the swirl is almost as important as the glass, for it oxidizes the wine and releases the “bouquet” allowing you to smell all the wonderful nuances of the wine.   You smell much more than you taste, and the smell of wine is almost better than the taste!  If you don’t believe it do this experiment.  Put some wine in a glass.  Now smell it.  Now swirl the wine.  Now smell it.  BIG DIFFERENCE!


RINSE YOUR MOUTH, NOT YOUR GLASS:  We see it all the time, people rinse their glass when they change from white wine to red wine.   What you really need to rinse is your mouth.  When you first go from white to red, the red wine might taste really harsh.  So take that first sip and let it rest in your mouth for an extra second to get your palate ready for red wine.  Then take another sip. After the 3rd or 4th sip your palate should be accommodated to the red wine so that you can fully enjoy your red wine experience.


WINE IS BETTER WITH FRIENDS.  Wine is meant for sharing.  That’s why the food and wine pairing aspect is so popular, because both were meant to be shared with friends and family.  When you share a wine your are excited about, make sure you tell your friends why, so that they too can be excited.



“New Wineries, New Traditions”

“New Wineries, New Traditions” by Becky Tyner Sandoval

The holidays are a time for traditions.  Some are old, some are new, and it all depends on what is happening in our lives.  The wineries we work with are family owned; yet many of them are fairly new.  Here are three Latino family owned wineries and how they have incorporated new traditions with old ones to embrace their wine careers.



Gerardo Espinoza, vintner and winemaker for Vinedos Aurora in Lodi, and his family began experimenting with wine about 10 years ago.  As a hobby they would make wine from their vineyards every year.  That first Christmas, ten or so years ago, after their first harvest, they could hardly contain their excitement about their winemaking project. They were so excited that they took barrel samples and served them with their Christmas dinner and made projections about what the wine would be like in the future.  This has been their tradition ever since then.  However, this past year was a bit different, now that Gerardo makes wine professionally, he also brought along the finished project to share with his wine loving family.




Jess Castillo of Castillo’s Hill Shire winery in Morgan Hill has always stayed true to his Mexican roots.  During Christmas he makes tamales.  Yes, HE makes them, his wife Rhoni Jo decided that while she certainly could lend a helping hand, the tamale making was up to him.  Now that they own their own winery they’ve decided to share this tradition with their wine club members.  Every year they make homemade tamales and serve them to their wine club members at their home.  Guests not only get to eat delicious food, but they also get to enjoy music from Jess’ wife and their two kids, Nate and Vivienne.





While you are diving down Westside Road in Healdsburg you might notice a big gift.  The gift is the theme behind Gracianna.  The Amador family got in the wine making business when they caught their 15-year-old son, Trini IV, making wine.   This led to Trini IV working for several well-known wineries in Sonoma Country to more recently, his parents investing in his dream to create their family winery, Gracianna.  Mexican on Trini III’s dad’s side, Gracianna is the name of his Basque grandmother who led an adventurous life during WWI and taught them many lessons about love, family and gratitude.  The gift, that is their logo, is a reminder to everyone to remember what they are grateful for and to remember those things are the biggest and greatest gifts we could ever receive at Christmas time.


This Christmas, as you celebrate your holiday traditions, old and new, remember that those traditions along with respect are what make us successful Latinos.  The wines we feature are from real Latino families that have succeeded in this industry and in this wonderful opportunistic country.

From Bricks to Brix

The Story of Cesar Toxqui by Becky Tyner Sandoval

Life takes many surprising twists and turns.  Sometimes you start out on a life’s path, then tragedy hits, and not only does it take you off the path, but sometimes it can make you feel like giving up.  Cesar’s story is a story of life’s twists and turns and how a spirit that never gives up can lead to your dreams, even if you didn’t know you had them.


Cesar was born in a pueblo outside of Mexico City.  He is the fifth of nine children.  When he was just 11 years old he began a business with his brother making bricks.  They would take bricks to Mexico City every week.   Even at this very young age they were finding success.  Their lives and the lives of their family had a very bright future.   But sadly, life had a tragic turn when his brother and business partner became very sick.  The entire financial burden for his large family rested on Ceasar’s shoulders.



When Cesar was 15 his uncle, who lived in Ukiah, California, offered to let him come to the USA to live and work.  Cesar took the offer and moved to Ukiah, expecting that work would come easily. However, it did not come easily for a 15 year old boy.  After sometime, with no work, Cesar was ready to return to Mexico with a heavy weight on his shoulders of failing his family.  That’s when he met the son of Jesse Tidwell, who then owned Parson’s Creek Winery.  They needed help with the winery.  Not only did they hire Cesar, but they invited him to live with them as well.


One thing we have learned, here at Vino Latino, is that it is virtually impossible to work in the wine industry and not eventually fall in love with wine, and Cesar was no exception.  He went to Sonoma State to become an engineer, but Jesse Tidwell asked why he didn’t become a winemaker.  After finishing nearly all the required math for engineering, Cesar decided that he should indeed pursue winemaking.


One of his early jobs was as The Cellar Master at Brutocao Cellars, which is also a custom crush facility.  Watching all those small independent vintners develop their own wine labels inspired Cesar to start his own label.  This was the catalyst to him leaving Brutocao Cellars and eventually starting Cesar Toxqui Cellars.


Cesar’s winemaking style is staying as close to nature as possible, from using as many organically grown grapes as possible to using wild yeast for fermentation.  His respect for the terroir and nature’s expertise in making good grapes shows in his wine.  His wines are full bodied, approachable, fruit forward, food friendly, and really just very very good.  He has a label he named Immigrant to celebrate his American dream and the American dream of others.

Cesar makes chardonnay, viogner, zinfandel, a solara style blend, and pinot.  Pinot is his favorite because it’s not only a challenge to grow, but a challenge to make as well.


You can visit Cesar at his tasting room in Hopland which is in Mendocino County.  He’s personally at the tasting room every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.