East LA Meets Napa

Pork carnitas taco
Pork carnitas taco

by Barnaby Hughes

Have you ever paired spicy tacos with a Napa Cabernet? This combination works surprisingly well! At “East LA Meets Napa,” dozens of Latino-owned Napa Valley wineries poured their wines alongside tacos, tamales and enchiladas served by East LA restaurants. Held on July 8, 2011, among the beautiful colonial-style courtyards of Union Station in downtown Los Angeles, this food and wine tasting event benefitted AltaMed, a health care network serving Southern California. Live salsa music added to the Latin sabor, giving couples an excuse to dance the night away.

Tasting glasses were filled, emptied and refilled throughout the hot summer evening. As Napa Valley’s signature varietal, Cabernet Sauvignon was well represented; some wineries poured it exclusively. LA’s own San Antonio Winery, founded in 1917, poured the largest variety of wines. With estates in Napa Valley and Monterey, as well as partnerships elsewhere, San Antonio boasts multiple labels, including Riboli Family Vineyard, Windstream, San Simeon, Maddalena, Kinderwood and La Quinta. Young winemaker Alex Sotelo of his eponymous winery was present pouring his portfolio of six wines. Unfortunately, by the time I made it to his table only the Muscato was left, which proved to be deliciously sweet, with fragrant fruity aromas. Molly Hill, winemaker at Sequoia Grove, was also pouring wines, happy to answer any questions, but the legions of wine aficionados clamoring to have their glasses refilled made that nearly impossible. Many of the wines featured cannot be found at your local supermarket or wine store, so it was a treat to have the opportunity to sample them. These included small, family-owned operations, such as Encanto Vineyards, Mi Sueño Winery, Ceja Vineyards, Renteria and Karl Lawrence Cellars, which produce a few thousand cases or less.

Guests didn’t have to sip their wine on an empty stomach, though, as the number of food tasting stations rivaled those featuring wine. Taco lovers had a seemingly endless variety to choose from, including al pastor, lengua, fish, shrimp, pollo, carnitas and duck. Porto’s Bakery & Café in Glendale served up some sumptuous sweets such as guava and cheese strudel and Raspberry Gold Rush – consisting of successive layers of chocolate mousse, lychee pannacotta and raspberry mousse topped with a golden almond crumble. The new LA-based beverage company Cobá offered its line of naturally-sweetened juice drinks, which come in flavors such as Guayaba (guava berry), Jamaica (hibiscus), Mango and Tamarindo. And for those who enjoy spirits, there was Tributo Tequila, amazingly smooth and without a hint of any harsh aftertaste.

Perhaps many of the 1,400 guests at “East LA Meets Napa” were there simply to enjoy good food and wine, but one of the event’s aims was to launch a new book celebrating the Hispanic contribution to the American wine industry. In Their Own Words: Latino Contributions to the Wine Making Industry in the U.S. is lavishly illustrated with large color photographs. Sales of the book benefit AltaMed and the Migrant Farmworkers Housing Centers. Tickets for “East LA Meets Napa” are not cheap, but for those who can afford them, this event is worth every penny.

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