Jan 152011

A Bottle Full of Memories and Rainbows

Last night I came home from an invigorating workout and opened my wine cooler As usual, I never really know what’s going to tumble out at me. I have an eclectic mix of wines from Texas and around the wine world.

By far, most of these wines are purchased, but (in the light of truthful disclosure) some are samples provided to me for evaluation, but without any personal commitment to write or blog about them. Most are for private feedback to the winery or winemaker. The vast majority of wines that I discuss in this blog are purchased or tasted at wine competitions, tasting rooms or public events. But, today, I made an exception.

During the Christmas holidays, I received a shipment of four wines from E & J. Gallo: Chardonnay, Malbec, Merlot and Zinfandel, all from their value-oriented brand, Redwood Creek. With this admission, you no doubt might think that this is not going to be a Texas wine blog today. But, surprise…. It rambles around Texas, then on to California, and finally even down to Argentina.

Not knowing what to expect, I selected the bottle of Redwood Creek 2009 Malbec ($7.99, 13.5% alcohol, from the Argentine Mendoza region), opened it and poured a glass. Then, I read the card that came with the shipment. At the bottom of the card was a familiar name – Carmen Castorina, whom I have not seen in over ten years and he likely does not now remember me. Carmen is the DFW-based, Director of Communications for E&J Gallo Winery. Continue reading »

Jan 102011

Duchman Winery says $10 is the New $15 for Their Vermentino

Last weekend my wife and I were sitting on our front porch at my cottage in the Texas hill country. The weather was simply divine: cool and breezy as the sun was setting to our backs. Birds were eating at the feeders. We were doing what Texans do; enjoying some Texas wines. The white wine was Duchman Family Winery Vermentino.

As we sipped, I took a look at by Blackberry Twitter app and noticed that I received the following tweet from Duchman Winery…”Our New wine prices are meant to put our wines in competition with other wines on the world stage. $10 a bottle for Vermentino!!!”

I thought to myself…A ten dollar Vermentino that’s really cool. Most Vermentinos in the marketplace are Italian and are $18 or more a bottle. This one is grown, ripened, and fermented inTexas…now, that’s even cooler.

So, I had to get some additional info. I tweeted back, “@DuchmanWinery: This is great. Is it at the winery or retail stores?”

In a matter of seconds, I got a response…”Retail will be soon to follow, tasting room/online now. All wines have been re-priced. We now offer some of the best value in the state.”  I thought….and, you did it without going to some far away state to get grapes, either! Continue reading »

Jan 042011

Favorite Texas Wine Photograph of 2010: Wintery Winery Sunset in the Texas Hill Country

I took the above photo at Becker Vineyards in Stonewall, Texas, in the Texas hill country. I stopped there in January to visit with Dr. Richard Becker. The discussion morphed into a retrospective tasting where memories and tastes of old wines combined and intertwined. This accidental happening gave me the basis for a chapter in my recently completed book manuscript.

After the tasting, I felt like I delved into the mysterious folds the mind and extracted long filed away memories drawn out by tastes of wines more than a decade old. I also felt like the afternoon couldn’t possibly give me anything more.

However, on my way back to my car, I turned around to take a look back at the winery. I found the low sun producing long shadows and a yellow-gold glow on the wine barrels. It was all “painted” on a canvass that melded from the yellow to deep blue of a clear winter sky.

Jan 022011

Sunday ‘Cyclopedia of Wine: New Year’s Pairing – Champagne and Caviar

If you’re like me, you’ve just celebrated in the new year with a pop of the cork: the cork on a bottle of Champagne, that is. My selection was Veuve Clicquot Gold Label Vintage Brut 2002; perhaps one of the best recent vintages for Champagne. This Champagne was paired with Russian Osetra Cavier. Both were purchase at Spec’s large Smith Street store in downtown Houston.

This pairing may be considered by some to be one of similarity (expensive and expensive). However, this is actually quite a natural and enjoyable wine and food pairing. The crisp, full body and lush silky quality of vintage Champagne stands up to the complex earthy, oily and sea water flavors of the caviar and the tactile pop of the little fish eggs.

There is another aspect of this Franco-Russian wine and food pairing: culture and cuisine. From the time of Catherine the Great, many influential families imported both the products and personnel — many of which were French — to bring the finest, rarest, and most creative foods to their table. This is nowhere more evident than in the elegant, and bit decadent, repertoire of Franco-Russian chefs of the time. The culinary bond between France and Russia is indisputable. Thus, another reason to pair fine French Champagne and Russian Caviar.

However, you may know all that sparkles is not Champagne. Most wine aficionados by now have been lectured on the differences between Champagne and mere sparkling wine, even if made by the same process. Continue reading »

Dec 312010

Video: The New Year is a Good Time for a Texas Two Sip Challenge

Being a proud but discerning Texan, it’s time to take a Texas Two Sip Challenge. Prove to yourself how far Texas wines have progressed up the wine quality ladder and see how they compare with wines from major wine regions. But, what’s a Texas Two Sip?

A Texas Two-Sip tasting is a blind tasting [that’s done with name and place of origin withheld from the tasters]. It includes Texas wines poured alongside comparable non-Texas wines from the United States or other wine regions around the world. Host your own Texas Two-Sip with family and friends. But, how do you do it?

Here is a step-by-step Texas Two-Sip guide:

1. Printing: Select one of the three tasting sheets to use for your tasting. Each option highlights different Texas wines. Print enough copies of your selected tasting sheet for all your guests. You can also print blank tasting notes for them to use during the tasting. Finally, print copies of the tasting placemat to make it easy for your guests to know which wine to taste and in what order.

If you can’t find the particular wine vintages shown, that OK. Substitute 2009 and shortly the 2010 vintage wines will be available, too.

2. Wine Purchase: Purchase the wines needed for your tasting. Remember that an average-sized bottle of wine (750 mL) holds approximately 25 ounces of wine. Since you will pour small, one- ounce tastes for each wine, a bottle should serve approximately 10 to 12 people.

3. Wine Preparation: Chill your whites and feel free to slightly chill the red wines as well. Open all the bottles and disguise any labels. The easiest way to do this is to get the small brown paper bags they have at wine shops and liquor stores. Put a bottle in each bag and secure the bags around the necks of the wine bottles with rubber bands or string. After bottles have been appropriately covered, label the wines according to the tasting sheet – 1A, 1B, etc.

4. Hosting the Texas Two-Sip: Put a tasting placemat and blank tasting sheet at each guest’s seat and arrange the wine glasses. Pour approximately one ounce of each wine into each glass.

Taste each flight one at a time and ask guests to discuss the wines. You can reveal the wines’ identities at the end of each flight of two wines, or wait until the end. When the tasting is finished, give each guest a copy of the tasting sheet.

Examples of Texas Two Sip wine pairings include:

Becker Viognier (Texas) vs. Miner Viognier (California)

McPherson Cellars Rose’ (Texas) vs. Belleruche Cotes Du Rhone Rosé (France)

Inwood Cornelious 100% Tempranillo (Texas) vs. Pesquera Tinto Ribera del Duero (Spain)

I’ve participated in several blind tastings using the Texas Two-Sip format:

2010 Grape and Gridiron Classic

A Tweet Victory for Texas Wines

For more info, watch the video to see what two of the top wine guys in Texas found out during the Texas Two Sip experience.

I’ve been surprised at how hard it is to tell which wines are from Texas. At first, I didn’t realize that this was really the good news. Texas wines are world class and it’s high time to give them a try side-by-side with the wines of the world.

Dec 292010

How Does the “Classification of Napa Valley” Discussion Relate to Texas Wine Quality?

Tom Wark posted a Fermentation Blog yesterday that explored the future of Napa Valley and the issue of the commoditization of Chardonnay and the soon to be similar fate for the region’s Cabernet Sauvignon. He cites the following:

“…Napa is to California wine what Yosemite is to our National Parks. An economic underworld of oversupply is shifting the price of Napa Cabernet Sauvignon down, says a November story in Wines and Vines magazine. The story’s author and President of Enologix, Dr. Leo McCloskey, says, “Figures show Cabernet Sauvignon is exhibiting early signs of commoditization.”

Buried at the very end of McCloskey’s press release was the answer. And it’s a fascinating proposition: “Worldwide over-planting creates an oversupply, resulting in a downward trend of lower prices that cannot be avoided without classification or regulation of the type found in Europe.”

Wark states, “I am fascinated by both the idea of classifying Napa Valley in some way and by the fact that it will never happen in any official or semi-official way.”

This discussion on Napa Valley’s future actions in response to commoditization caused my ears to perk up as in Texas we are again in the discussions of forming a different sort of rating system, one that involves basic wine quality. While being on the opposite ends of the wine spectrum, these two topics have a host of similarities, the biggest of which Wark correctly identifies, is that in the United States it will never be something that can be mandated or legislated by government into existence.

Here in Texas, we have a rapidly growing wine industry with many new vineyards and wineries, and there are some involved in the business of  grape growing and winemaking that still have a lot to learn if they truly want to ascend the ladder of wine quality. The wine quality efforts in Texas have included technical support of experts in viticulture and enology provided by the state. They’ve been doing their thing in private and out of the eye of the Texas wine consuming public.

I applaud these efforts. But, they still seem to be not enough particularly when it comes to the dilemma facing Texas wine consumers as to which bottles manifest a serious level of wine quality. Thus, discussions have again turned to establishing some form of wine quality benchmark visible in the marketplace, agreeing on a process for analysis and evaluation, and the organizational and funding structure to support the process.

From a series of meeting held on this subject in Texas over the period 2003-2004, the one thing that everybody could agree on was that it was something that could NOT be mandated or legislated into existence, even if by a well intentioned state department of agriculture. The only path forward was to create an opt-in system based on the following concept:

1. All submissions would be voluntary and at the discretion of the winery (e.g. It could submit none, any, or all wines they saw fit to submit); however, they would have to be wines made to Texas appellation.

2. Evaluations would have to be confidential and independent from winery influence.

3. Evaluations would include a combination of wine analyses and/or sensory evaluation by a panel of qualified independent in-state and out-of-state experts (rotated regularly).

4. The Organization has to be a reputable operation so that consumers believe that it was independent and credible.

5. It needs to be self-funded by those that submit wines (but could have financial support from other sources, if available).

6. The output (TBD) could be a market-visible designation (sticker or foil) with possibly other aspects or activities that would aid visibility and marketing of high quality Texas wines.

I agree with Wark’s statement: “It’s not that Americans are opposed to ranking things. It’s that they are opposed to official and particularly governmental quality rankings.” Therefore, this is something that the Texas wine industry has to do itself in a responsible and credible manner.

My questions are…Does the Texas wine industry (and its viticultuers, winemakers and winery owners) have the stomach for it?  Do they see the benefits that can arise from such a wine quality system dispite some concerns? Are there leaders among them who are brave enough to put their wines to independent analysis and evaluation? Is the time right?

Well, I believe that the actions or possibly the inactions of early 2011 will tell. How do you feel?

Dec 272010

Write Off the Vine: Texas Wine News – December 27, 2010

Texas wines a booming industry

San Antonio —  “A fine glass of wine gets better with age.” – It’s a saying that can also be applied to the entire Texas wine industry.

News 4 WOAI’s Mireya Villarreal found out this is one of the fastest growing agricultural industries in the state.

Three Dudes Winery in San Marcos opened back in 2005 when there were only 50 or so Texas wineries across the state. Now, just five years later, this business is booming with over 200 home-grown wine makers.

Three Dudes Winery is a perfect example of a Texas-based wine maker. They’re a small business, with a laid back atmosphere.


— — — — —

Texas Wine Trade Association Board Approves State Legislative Agenda

The Texas Wine and Grape Growers Association (TWGGA) Board of Directors recently approved the agenda for the 2011 state legislative session. The agenda was developed over the course of the interim via feedback from members and board members at meetings and events.

The proposed agenda was discussed during Grape Camp in Fredericksburg during early November to provide the industry an opportunity to understand and give feedback related to the agenda. Agenda items include:

Protect Current Operating Environment

Protect Current Funding to State Agencies for Industry Development

Participate in State Budget Negotiations

Remove the Cap on Tasting Room Sales

Adjust GF Permit Restrictions

Clarify 2,4-D Regulation

Establish Beer Sales Capability

As reported at Grape Camp, the session will be challenging at best as a result of the state budget shortfall and everyone’s attention to redistricting. The TWGGA team is expecting most resources to be dedicated to defensive measures rather than offensive measures.

The upcoming state legislative session convenes January 11, 2011. In an effort to increase the visibility of the Texas wine and grape industry at the state capitol during the state legislative session and to provide industry members with additional opportunities to interact with their elected officials, TWGGA will be hosting three capitol days during the 2011 session:

Wednesdays – January 19, February 23,  April 13

For more information, contact Dacota Haselwood, chief governmental affairs officer at 210-867-2576.

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San Antonio Wine Calendar: Dec. 26-Jan. 1

Come and Taste It

When: 5-8 p.m. Thursday

Where: The Grapevine Texas Wine Bar, 1612 Hunter Road, New Braunfels, 830-606-0093,

Cost: Complimentary

— — —

Texas Hill Country Wine Trail 2011 Season Pass

When: On sale now.

Where: Passes can be purchased at texas

Cost: $155 singles pass, $252 couples pass

Info: Get one of the 100 limited season passes available from the Texas Hill Country Wineries. Passes provide entry to events throughout the year, including the Wine Lovers Trail, Wine & Wildflower Trail, Harvest Wine Trail and Texas Wine Month.


— — —

Winery U

When: 10:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. Jan. 8, 2011

Where: Dry Comal Creek Vineyards, 1741 Herbelin Road, New Braunfels, drycomal, 830-885-4076

Cost: $30

Info: Interested in learning about wine? Join Dry Comal Creek for wine classes. January kicks off with Wine FAQ, an introduction and overview to wines of the world.


— — — — —

Texas Vineyard Living

The novelty of the golf course community may have begun to fade in recent years, but vineyard living has emerged as an alternative. The American fascination with wine has never been more intense, and communities like Vintage Oaks are appearing alongside—or right in the middle of—vineyards across the country.

The Texas Hill Country is no exception; as Hill Country Wineries win awards and praise in international competition, it’s only natural that the beauty for which the Hill Country is known and the relaxed, welcoming lifestyle it promotes would make this an in-demand location for vineyard living.

Vintage Oaks, located right in the heart of the Texas Wine Trail with the popular Dry Comal Creek Winery just across the street, has found a place in the heart of wine country enthusiasts and discerning land buyers alike. This exceptional community doesn’t just offer a desirable environment rich with flavor and fun, but also a unique opportunity to appreciate Texas vineyard living firsthand.


— — — — —

On the Texas Twitter Wine Trail

RT @bgregcobb: Interested in starting a #Texas vineyard? #txwine

RT @VintageTexas: @akashicvineyard – Think this Biodynamic stuff will catch on in Texas (a skeptic) #TXwine

RT @TwitTastings: Take a Trip to the Wine Country of Texas |So. FL Travel: Located in the Texas Hill Country,

RT @dry_comal_creek: Folks at @EdibleWandF promote excellence in #TXwine, provide platform for Texas wine & chefs to be recognized.

Dec 242010

A Merry 2010 Texas Christmas from VintageTexas

Texas is a wonderful place to spend Christmas. If you don’t like the weather just wait a day. Today it will be in the seventies and tomorrow the low will be be near freezing. We will spend tomorrow with the family savoring our turkey, three-days brined with salt, brown sugar, chili powder, lemons, oranges, sage, rosemary, thyme all in 1.5 liters Ste. Genevieve Winery’s Sweet Muscato and a gallon of apple cider (See brine recipe below).

Turkey Brine Recipe (for 18-20 lb turkey)

1 gallon apple cider

1 cup kosher salt

1 cup dark brown sugar

1/3 cup chili powder

1 large chopped yellow onion

4 bay leaves

1 orange and 2 lemons, quartered

6 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed

1.5 liter bottle Ste. Genevieve Sweet Muscato

— — —

Water to cover turkey (if needed).

Start with cold defrosted turkey

Put turkey inside two white (unscented) trash bags

Place in cooler that already has one bag of ice on bottom

Mix brine thoroughly, pour over turkey

Squeeze air out of bag and tie the top of the bags

Put two more bags of ice around and over turkey

Keep with ice for 2-3 days checking ice daily (add more as necessary)

Remove turkey from brine, rise it and rub it with olive oil

Cook turkey at 325 F (no basting necessary) until cooked thoroughly

Dec 232010

2010 Top Ten Texas Wines from VintageTexas and More: Five Honorable Mentions (and for good reasons)

I know that I promised that I was going to mention just my 2010 Top Ten Wines. Well, I did that. See:

Installment #1 –

Installment #2 –

However, I still had several wines left that offered me a special taste of Texas in 2010. They were wines that provided a bit of the here-and-now of the Texas wine experience and some interesting features of what’s-to-come in our Texas wine future. Here they are; my 2010 five honorable mentions:

Brushy Creek Vineyards, Sparkling Blanc Du Bois, Texas 2009

Texas can now legally lay claim to Blanc Du Bois as its own grape. There is more of it grown in Texas than anywhere else in the whole dang world and winemakers have learned the necessary harvest and process parameters that make Blanc Du Bois into a wide variety of world-class wines and in a variety of styles, too. Here is a new one. Les Constable at Brushy Creek Vineyards (Alvord, TX) has been experimenting with making sparkling Texas wines (actually made here, from Texas-grown grapes and not imported from wineries in California or New Mexico). This Sparkling Blanc Du Bois is Texas’s answer to Italy’s Asti Spumante. It’s semi-sweet and effervescent, fun and friendly. It’s like a sparkling fruit cocktail. I hope Les makes more in 2010 and others like Haak Vineyards, Tara Vineyard and Enoch’s Stomp will follow.

Bending Branch Winery, Tannat, Texas High Plains, 2008

Most people have never heard of Tannat, the grape with a Pyrenees lineage. Some say its French and others say that it’s Spanish. Either way, I feel that its the future Red Zinfandel of Texas. This Texas Tannat from Bob Young’s Bending Branch Vineyards (Comfort, TX), made from grower Vijay Reddy’s Texas high plains fruit, is thick, opaque and “teethstainingly” purple. It’s driven by a new world Tannat style invented in South America. In addition to having the necessary attributes to be a good performer in Texas as a varietal wine, it can add depth and a voluptuous quality to blends with Cabernet, Merlot, Syrah, and Tempranillo, too. We have just begun to learn where Tannat could take Texas red wines. Stay tuned for more…. Continue reading »

Dec 192010

VintageTexas Sunday ‘Cyclopedia of Wine: What do Sicily and Texas Have in Common?

Sicily, the largest of the Mediterranean islands, is one of the top three wine regions of Italy. Historically, its most famous wine was the amber fortified Marsala. Once the Sicilian wines were heavy, high in alcohol and sold in bulk or for blending (for addition of color to wines from central and northern Italy). The planting of new vineyards and implementation of new winemaking techniques have evolved Sicilian wines to new levels of quality.

Sicily today has some of the world’s most modern wineries, with the latest technology (e.g. temperature controlled fermentation) for making wine in a searing hot, dry summer climate. This has required considerable financial investment to build and equip the wineries, and to entice and train talented agronomists and winemakers. The region’s current success is the direct result of all this effort.

Sicilian grape varieties include some of the same varieties that we now find doing well in Texas. They include Moscato, Malvasia Bianco and Trebbiano as the whites, Nero d’Avola (also called Calabrese) and Primotivo are the reds.

Nero D’Avola is an interesting case study. In Sicily, it now can be sampled as a standalone varietal wine or blended with other varietals such as Merlot, Cabernet, and now days most often with Syrah. In Texas, we only have small plantings as yet, but it makes some interesting and rustic wines and has been used in blends with Barbera and Syrah.

Other Sicilian grape varietals that might like a chance to take to the Texas terroir include the following list of grape names that you likely will not recognize:

Carricante (Catanese Bianco). A white from the Etna area.

Cataratto Bianco. A white traditional in the Trapani area and used in Marsala wine, characterised by a delicate flavor and medium alcohol level.

Corinto. A light white.

Frappato. Strong red of uncertain origin grown in southeastern Sicily. It is genetically very similar to Gaglioppo.

Gaglioppo. A red of Calabrian origin frequently grown in Sicily. Similar to Frappato.

Grecanico (Greco). A white so-called for its Greek origins. Genetically very similar to the Garganega grown in Veneto.

Grillo. A distinctive white.

Inzolia, Insolia or Anzolia. Used to create dry white table wines, either as a varietal or blended with varieties such as chardonnay.

Nerello. Strong red grown in two varieties, Mascalese and Cappuccino.

Perricone (Pignatello). Esoteric, robust red.

Zibibbo (Moscatellone). White (a variety of Muscat of Alexandria)

Come on Texas Winegrowers, you might want to give them a try. You don’t know what might take root in the strong Texas sun.

— — — — —

Alas, we don’t have the Roman and Greek ruins and a Mediterranean vista. However, in Texas we do have ruins of ancient Native American civilizations and picturesque dessert and mountain vistas (See below).

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