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San Antonio Winery Celebrates 90th Anniversary with Wine & Tamales

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A few miles northeast of City Hall, tucked in an triangle bordered by the 110, the 5 and the 101 freeways is one of Los Angeles' secret gems, the San Antonio Winery. Instead of Italian immigrants, warehouses and trucking lots now dominate this unprepossessing little slice of industrial Los Angeles. And in the midst of it the San Antonio Winery stands as the last remnant of a little known and largely forgotten aspect of Los Angeles history.

Founded in 1917 by Santo Cambianica, an immigrant from the northern Italian province of Lombardy, the San Antonio Winery used to be one of over a hundred wineries that thrived on the banks of the L.A. River. But when Prohibition hit in 1920, most wineries had to shut their doors. The San Antonio Winery managed to survive by selling sacramental wines to the Catholic Church, and to this day it's the largest supplier of sacramental wines in the nation. (If only Jewish synagogues agreed to substitute these wines for Manischewitz, attendance at services might rise.)

2007 marks the winery's 90th year, and the San Antonio Winery is celebrating by hosting a slew of special events throughout the year. I was lucky enough to attend a tasting of tamales and wine on a recent Sunday morning.

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While wine and tamales might sound less like an ideal gustatory pairing and more like an experiment in ethnic fusion cuisine gone awry, it proved to be a fortuitous combo of savory, sweet and starch. Oh hell, who am I kidding? In my world wine goes with just about everything except for milk, dog food and Gatorade.

The tasting featured a diverse selection of San Antonio wines paired with tamales from Mama's Hot Tamales Café. Mama's is a non-profit, apprentice-operate business that provides training for apprentices who serve kick-ass tamales that they've prepared from scratch.

My guinea pig and I had the opportunity to stuff our faces with a dozen different tamales, regional specialties from across Mexico and beyond. Sometimes we took the suggestions of the sommelier (or whoever drew up the menu) and sometimes we struck out on our own and discovered some particularly tasty pairings.
* Oaxaca - vegetarian cheese and jalapeno tamale + Correntina Tempranillo 2006
* Oaxaca - chicken with black mole sauce + Tres Pinos Viognier 2005
* Acapulco - pork with spice green tomatillo sauce + Correntina Malbec 2006
* Sinaloa - beef with spicy red sauce, olives, potatoes and carrots + San Simeon Pinot Noir 2004
Plus, there was a tamale chef on hand offering tamale-making demos.

There were even dessert tamales filled with apple and spices, peach and fruit syrup or (my personal favorite) guava and cheese. Not to mention the flan de coco, which was like a little morsel of heaven melting in your mouth when paired with a sip of Bodegas Dios Baco Oloroso sherry.

The San Antonio Winery features a spacious and well-appointed tasting room. The attached Maddalena restaurant looks friendly and comfortable. And there's a gift shop stocked with wine and chotchkes. So whether you want to impress friends with your knowledge of viniculture and enology, immerse out-of-town visitors in local history or simply put a high-class spin on your alcoholism, head to the San Antonio Winery where you can indulge your oenophilia in the heart of East L.A.

Photos by Rob Takata.



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San Antonio Winery - 737 Lamar Street, LA, CA 90031 (off of Main St., not far from The Brewery)
Mama's Hot Tamales Café - 2122 W. Seventh Street, LA, CA 90057 (half a block west of Alvarado St.)