Mar 292013

Chef Olivier Ciesielski (photo via L’Olivier Restaurant)

Duchman Winery Dinner at Houston’s L’Olivier Restaurant: High Time for Texas Wines on the Gourmet Scene

A splash of Vermentino on a knee and hearty conversation around well-matched gourmet food and excellent wines made for a lovely evening this week at Houston’s French-inspired, Montrose-area L’Olivier Restaurant. But what if I told you this wasn’t a French wine affair, but rather a Texas wine dinner would you think any different of it?

Well, the consensus if those in attendance was you shouldn’t.  It was a delight. Famed Chef Olivier Ciesielski did his usual best; taking the finest of European cuisine and pairing it with the wine flair from a quite different part of the universe – the world of Texas wines.


More specifically, the wines were provided by Duchman Family Winery in Driftwood, Texas. Winery owners and fellow Houstonians Stan and Lisa Duchman attended and dined and conversed with friends, associates and the restaurant’s faithful patrons, some of which kept asking if their first wine was a Chardonnay.

OK, after hearing this, I had to take the bait and resurrected the comments I made previously in another winery’s tasting room who was pouring their Texas Viognier to another California Chardonnay drinker.

While on the restaurant’s patio during the reception, I said, “Try it, you’ll like it. It IS Texas Chardonnay! It just happens to be made from Viognier, a grape that does as well here in Texas as Chardonnay does in California.” With that, I saw a cringe from Duchman winemaker Dave Reilly. However, in a flash and with a shared wink, we both smiled knowing that this is how Texas wines will gain new followers…one California Chardonnay drinker at a time.


Winemaker, Dave Reilly  (photo via Duchman Family Winery)

During the evening, the Duchmans and Reilly provided point-by-point commentary on their wines along side Chef Olivier’s impeccable gourmet cuisine. On the patio,tThe hand-passed Hors D’Oeuvres accompanied the 2011 Duchman Viognier that showed a lighter, less aggressive style than found in many other Viogniers. Dave used one simple word to describe what he was after in this wine: “finesse”. Implicit in this statement is his working with properly harvested fruit (not over-ripe) and his personal style of providing a light hand in the winery, just as his mentor Mark Penna taught.


We settled into our seats in the dim light of the restaurant. The serious food and wine pairing began with the Chef’s English Pea Ravioli teamed with the Duchman 2011 Vermentino, pairing herbal characteristics of both while also playing on the counterpoint of fatty pancetta and the white wine’s crisp acidity. Vermentino is a grape widely planted in Sardinia and in the Liguria region of Italy, but this slow ripening white grape has found a new home in Texas. This has mainly come through the initial efforts from Duchman Winery and Texas high plains winegrowers whose efforts have gained critical acclaim at international wine competitions and even from Oz Clarke during his wine sipping trip to Texas.

Next came a new Duchman release: the 2011 Tempranillo accompanied with a sliced veal chop, potato cake and morel sauce. Each was absurdly good separately and also incredibly fine together. Borrowing from Dave’s initial one word statement, this pairing could be characterized simply by the description: finesse on the plate, in the glass and in the mouth.


I motioned to Dave to come over and have a seat beside me while I was concentrating on his Tempranillo (this being my first taste of this wine).

I said, “Dave, you know…I find that the people that pointlessly bad-mouth Texas wines the worst are Pinot Noir drinkers. They typically can’t find any Texas wines that satisfy their need for a light/medium bodied, red-fruit dominant wine with crisp acidity escorted with hints of smoke and earthy characteristics.”

I followed this with, “Dave, this Tempranillo’s got it all: red fruit, medium body, crisp acidity, and a light earthy smokiness on the finish. It could score big with that group of yet unsatisfied and potential Texas wine drinkers.”

Over hearing this, Stan Duchman said, “We had our Dolcetto (another well-awarded Duchman red wine) in a blind tasting with one of our tasting groups that was pouring high end Pinots one night. Our wine showed amazingly well, something that later surprised everybody at the tasting when the wines were revealed. Interestingly, the only person that correctly identified our wine out of the cast of high end wines featured that night was my wife Lisa.”

Finishing off the evening of fine dining were a Roquefort terrine and berry compote paired with the Duchman Canto Felice, a mildly sweet red wine. Who said, sweet red wines, can’t be serious? Nobody here. The pairing teamed up sweet red fruit characteristics on the plate and in the glass. The fifth and final course was the Chef’s strawberry soup with a personal favorite, Duchman 2009 Muscat, both of which were bright, lively, tart yet sweet.

— — — — —


Stan and Lisa Duchman (photo via Duchman Family Winery)

For more information on tours, tastings and events at the Duchman Family Winery in Driftwood TX, click here.

For menu and reservations for Chef Olivier Ciesielski’s L’Olivier Restaurant in the Montrose-area near city center Houston, click here.


 Posted by at 1:07 pm
May 172010

Ten Things I Learned at the Vinotology Mandola Twitter Tasting and Tasting Notes

For those of you that did not follow the Ben Simon’s Vinotology Mandola Twitter Tasting using the Twitter tag #tastetexas this past Thursday evening; you missed a fun time. A quick look at the stats showed that there were 51 tweeters with over 500 tweets generated! I have not run the numbers, but from my past Twitter tasting experiences, these events typically generate about 200,000 or more media impressions, or roughly equivalent to something in a single issue of Texas Monthly.

Here are the Ten Things I Learned:

1. Wine in the United States has progressed beyond geeky terms, esoteric descriptions. My first tweet in Ben’s Twitter Tasting was, “AND NOW THE MOVIE FOLKS….TaDa! Featuring Ben Simon and the cast at Mandola Winery: Brump Boom Crash!”. I also liked Denise Frasers non-geeky description for the Rosé: “Jolly Rancher cherry”.

2. Texans might be ready for dry Rosé. It had lots of good comments in the tasting and it certainly fits the summertime climate here and the price is right. I hope that Dry Rosé can break with the stereotypical sweet, pink blush wine image and the misconception that cowboys don’t drink pink wine.

3. People are thinking more of wine with food versus just as a sipping drink. Many tasters included references to food and wine pairings in their comments, e.g. VintageTexas: “Rosé and smoked chicken or Gorgonzola Dolce”; JennyGregorcyk: “We’re having it w/Gouda”. This is a twitpic of pizza and the Mandola wine set included in Thursday’s Twitter Tasting.

4. Drinking Texas wine is not the same as drinking wine in Texas. Suburbanwino tweeted @SipwithMe “Drink whatever you’ve got and put on some cowboy boots or something“.

5. Texas needs to find its Hallmark varietal wines. McKinzeyC said, “So many to choose in TX! RT @TheOther46: VA Viognier, NY Merlot, Texas ???? #TasteTexas, #TXwine My vote, Tempranillo.”  Maybe she’s right for our red wine. Viognier is it so far for the key white wine in Texas – I call it “Texas Chardonnay”.

6. Sangiovese grown in Texas is still young, but has good possibilities as the vines mature and winemakers learn how to make it. Per Houstonwino: “This Mandola Sangiovese needs more extraction, but the fruit almost tastes Italian”. Suburbanwino: @MandolaWinery as hot as I assume #TasteTexas wine country is, I’m pleased at the “terroir” earthiness & low alcohol”. BillElsey mentioned @vintagetexas Forth leaf for this vintage – young vines.

7.  Texas wineries still have a way to go on price, but this should improve as Texas wine production increases and its grape shortage moderates. BillElsey said “Retail for Mandola Sangiovese $24”. Suburbanwino tweeted, “$24 a little high”. MandolaWinery tweeted, “Dolcetto is $26 retail”. Davetxwine said “@TheOther46 800+ Dolcetto and 1200 of Sangiovese”. VintageTexas responded, “Limited production wines.”

8. In the wine community, Texas still has to overcome its cowboy reputation. ThomsonVnyrd tweeted, “Who’s drinkin’ wine out of their Cowboy boots tonight?”; I must have left my webcam on!

9. Sweet wine can be serious wine. Roadtrips4wine tweeted, “This Canto is my FAVORITE. Hint of cinnamon, nutmeg…spicey…me likey”. VintageTexas said @houstonwino “2008 Mandola Canto Felice: Sweet Red [is common in] many warm wine regions (e.g. Banyals). Starts sweet but finishes dry and crisp.”

10. Remember, it’s only wine. Some people just can’t have a civil discussion about wine when opinions diverge. Houstonwino tweeted, “Mandola Canto Felice <— Everything that comes to mind when I think Texas wine. F***ing AWFUL!” and finished with “Wine only Russ Kane could love.” Oh, well. I keep in mind that our topic of discussion that night was only wine and not world hunger, geopolitics or other problems that need serious treatment.

11. Oh hell…here is the eleventh thing I learned. Virtual is Beautiful. Because I was traveling the back roads of Texas during the Vinotology event, I took my wines with me not really knowing if or where I would be able to participate. Because of virtual nature of the Twitter Tasting, I was able to do the tasting and participate in the fantastic and frenitic Twitter Tasting from the glorious backdrop of Bend Big National Park (Chisos Mountain Lodge). Amazing enough, I did not have cell phone coverage, but I had Internet access courtesy of the park’s wireless network. I eventually got my Skype account activated again and used this for phoning.

Ben Simon, The Mandola Twitter Tasting organizer, is also posting his own ten lessons learned today on Vinotology. To see his ten lesions at 9:00 am, go to:

Here are some details of the wines in the Vinotology Mandola Twitter Tasting with winery notes and notes from VintageTexas:

Wine #1

2008 Mandola Dry Rosé.

[Winery Notes] Cabernet based, with notes of red berries and spice, drink slightly chilled.

[VintageTexas Notes] Candy apple red in color. More than Rosé more like Rosato style with deeper red coloration. Nose and fruit restrained, but red fruit perceptible both nose and palate with a steely finish. It is a bit more serious than summertime quaff (e.g. Provence-style Rosé) Needs food or cheese for best expression – suggest smoked chicken, aged brie or gorgonzola dolce

Wine #2

2008 Mandola Sangiovese

[Winery Notes] From Reddy Vineyards, medium bodied with strawberry and cherry, neutral oak 9 months.

[VintageTexas Notes] Medium bodied with red berry, to black cherry qualities, characteristics of classic Sangiovese (lighter than Brunello style). Hints of smoke, and lemon thyme herb; Lead pencil and dryness on finish. Bright acidity – should be great food wine.

Wine #3

2008 Mandola Dolcetto

[Winery Notes] From Bingham Vineyards, Dark black fruit, medium tannin- acidity neutral french oak 9 mos

[VintageTexas Notes] Fruit forward yet medium body and extraction, could possible do more with older vines. Dark berries and touch of beet root on nose and palate with dry finish; not as tart as Sangiovese. Light on the oak aging as Dolcettos should be per Alba style “breakfast wines”.

Wine #4

2908 Mandola Canto Felice

[Winery Notes] Our best selling red with 3.5% residual sugar, lush red fruit, serve slightly chilled w/ chz, fruit, chocolate

[VintageTexas Notes] Sweet Red is something of a “Texas Thang”; but many warm wine regions produce sweet red (e.g. Banyuals). Sweet red fruit more on palate – somewhere between red plum and mulberry.  Starts sweet but finishes dry and crisp. Good sugar acid balance. Suggest serving for summertime fare esp. BBQ with sweet red sauce or duck with cherry or plum sauce.

May 132010

It’s Finally Time for a Taste of Texas, Twitter-Style

Today is the day. The time to tweet is at 7:00 pm Central Time, when Ben Simon at Vinotology ( will be hosting an event on Twitter with Mandola Estate Winery (  A whole cast of characters will be tasting four different Mandola wines, and tweeting up a storm about Texas wine, and especially about the Mandola wines featured in this event.

If you have already obtained Mandola wines, this will be a great opportunity for you to taste some Texas wine and Tweet your comments about one of the many great wineries located in the Hill Country of Texas. Four wines will be tasted:

Mandola Rose’

Mandola Sangiovese

Mandola Dolcetto

Mandola Canto Felice

So, drink up, and tweet about your experience, but be sure to use the #tastetexas hashtag so that people can find your comments.

Alternatively, if you are not actively tasting, you can TASTE VIRTUALLY! Follow along taste-by-taste by searching for the tweets using the #tastetexas hastag at: You can ask questions of the tasters or provide your insights on the guest tasters comments.

For details on the event, visit the TasteTexas Eventbrite site at:  Still need more info, go to: See who will be the guest tasters at:

I’ll be there, online that is, but barely. I’m staying at the Chisos Mountain Lodge in Big Bend National Park. I did a seven mile hike this morning. I was worried that I might not be able to get online. I brought my stash of Mandola wines and was very relieved when I found out that the lodge has a new wireless network. It works in the visitors center and restaurant; but, to my surprise, I can also get a decent signal in my room. All the comforts of home. I will be tasting and tweeting up a storm tonight at 7 pm Central Time.

So, you be there, or be square!

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