Apr 172016

Paul and Merrill Bonrrigo – Learn about Texas Wine for two of its Modern Pioneers

Texas Wine: April 19th at Texas Wine School with Texas’s True Wine Pioneers and More…

Texas Wine – Past, Present & Future with Paul and Merrill Bonarrigo of Messina Hof; Tuesday, April 19, 7-9pm – only $20 per person

Messina Hof is the 3rd oldest winery in Texas, and is the most awarded and renowned Texas wine in national and international competitions. Hear from Messina Hof founders Paul and Merrill Bonarrigo how Messina Hof has influenced the Texas wine industry, and learn what grape varieties are their futureRegister now!

For White Wine Lovers…

Everyday Whites – Tuesday, April 26, 7-9pm – only $40 per person

Ready to branch out beyond Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc? Come discover a new go-to white wine just in time for summer.

SPIRITS at The Texas Wine School

Bourbon – Thursday, May 12, 7-9pm – only $40 per person

Gin – Thursday, May 26, 7-9pm – only $40 per person

 Posted by at 10:32 am
Jun 302015

Messina Hof Sneak Peek – Awards, Events & Wines

Sneak Peek of Messina Hof Winery 2015 at Vic & Anthony’s

Paul Mitchell Bonarrigo, the seventh generation winemaker in the Bonarrigo family, addressed the assemblage at Vic & Anthony’s Steak House in Houston to taste and savor the wines from Messina Hof Winery and Resort. With Paul Mitchell were his family: father and mother, Paul and Merrill, who started their family winery in Bryan, TX, in the 1970s, and his wife Karen.

During a break in the tasting, Paul Mitchell highlighted a few of Messina Hof’s long list of accomplishments, including:

  • Most awarded winery in Texas with over 200 competition medals in just the past three years and over 150 gold medal wining wines.
  • From 1983 to 2015, the annual case production of Messina Hof Winery increased from 550 to over 70,000 cases.
  • Being the fourth modern era winery established in Texas, Messina Hof now has three locations including the Messina Hof Winery and Resort (Bryan), Messina Hof Hill Country (Fredericksburg) and Messina Hof Grapevine.

Selection of Messina Hof Award Winning Wines

He said, “During the last few years, there has been a lot of investments in Texas vineyards that have accumulated more than 2000 new acres of vines. Many growers on the high plains are converting from cotton to grapes. I want to specifically acknowledge Bill and Gail Day (Houston area residents) who planted their Buena Suerte Vineyards near Lubbock. Their vineyard has provided the Viognier, Tempranillo and Sangiovese that are in the wines you enjoying tonight.” Continue reading »

 Posted by at 2:24 pm
Jul 272012

Paul Bonarrigo - Messina Hof Winery & Resort

Messina Hof Winery Harvesting: “More fun than I thought it would be!”

I was recently part of a limo-driven labor force on route from Houston to Bryan, Texas, to participate in this year’s harvesting of Black Spanish (Lenoir) grapes at Messina Hof Winery & Resort.  You may not recognize these grape name, as they are not the widely common Cabernet, Chardonnay or Pinot Noir. But, you probably have heard about the wines that Messina Hof makes from their Black Spanish grapes that are favorites with consumers in the Lone Star State: Papa Paulo Port and Sophia Marie Rosé.

Our Houston delegation included my fellow Texas wine buddy, Jeff “@TXwineLover” Cope, and several other media types.  As you might expect, media can be an aloof bunch. But not this trip, before we arrived at the winery we were already posting on Facebook and tweeting about our expectations and on-bus wine tasting, featuring Messina Hof’s offerings of Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay (but none for the bus driver).

Dave Morales tweeted” dave morales ‏@daveBackstageOL Headed to Messina Hof! #MHWine http://yfrog.com/octm9urj

Jeff Cope tweeted: “Now my turn on a photo of the media bus to @Messina_Hof #txwine #mhwine http://yfrog.com/mn56oesj

Upon our arrival at Messina Hof, we were given a tour of the property that included the winery tasting room, The Villa B&B (rated four diamonds by AAA), and the Vintage House restaurant (photo above). The tour gave us a chance to get a personal look at Messina Hof’s winery and hear the first-hand  perspectives on the Texas wine industry straight from Messina Hof Owner and Winemaker, Paul Bonarrigo (see video below).

For more Messina Hof Harvest Videos, click here.

However, unlike a more typical and relaxing times that I’ve previously spent at Messina Hof, our group didn’t stroll at their leisure through the vineyard, smell the roses at each end post, sit by the fountain, relax with a glass of crisp Riesling or rich Shiraz, or linger over candlelit conversation. On this trip, we had our mission well planned and boiled down to four words: harvest and stomp grapes. Only then could we sit back relax with a glass of wine, a plate of vineyard cuisine, the enjoyment of spirited conversation, and then a late bus ride back to Houston.

We started with our well-choreographed (by Paul and Merrill Bonarrigo and MH staff) harvest “orientation” on the maturing and harvesting of grapes, signing of vineyard songs (Pick, pick, pick the grapes, gently down the row…) and the important and customary signing of the Messina Hof damage/injury waiver form. The latter was a precaution just in case, in the grand gusto of grape harvesting, anyone might accidentally harvest a finger or two; likely to the surprise of the person harvesting grapes on the other side of the vine.

As the sun laid low and yellow in the western sky, we made our way heading east down a row of vines, dropping bunch after bunch of ripe, red-black grapes, which I might add were mighty tasty, too. I have to admit to eating just a few (wink, wink).

We were told earlier to be on the look out of any unusually large bunches (that Paul called his “Kahunas”) or bunches that had particularly unusual shapes that might go with a good story. These would be entered into a competition for the best Kahuna later that evening. Well, I found my Kahuna about half way down the row. It was long and pointy; something like the nose of a doberman pincher and it had another appendage that looked like a mouth that I could open and close. At first, I thought of it as a dog, but then Jeff said that it had three ears! Oh well, that meant that the dog was out; but, Jeff said that it could well be a dinosaur with three horns (aka Triceratops).

Once back at the winery crush pad, all of the “Kahuna Harvesters” had to tell the story of their Kahunas. My story was about a place far away from a time long ago. This was a time when the DNA of grapes and dinosaurs still very closely linked. Atfer I told my story, the Triceratops Kahuna in my hands started to open its mouth.  In what I will admit was a poor attempt at dinosaur sound effects (not exactly of Jurassic Park quality), I made a loud throaty and scratchy sound in time with the opening of the Triceratops mouth. Alas, the crowd was mostly unimpressed. You be the judge (See video below).

However, my spirits were lifted as we shortly started to stomp the grapes in large plastic bins. The fresh, warm, purple grapes oozing up between our toes brought a smiles to our faces.

Then, for the souvenir moment, the  harvesters imprinted their Tee-shirts with their dipping purple feet.

After dinner, we gathered back on the bus for Houston a bit hot and sweaty, but with smiles still lingering on our faces. Dave Morales said it best as he plopped down in his seat on the bus and said, “You know, this harvesting thing was much more fun than I expected.” You know something…I agree. It really was.

Come on down to Messina Hof Winery and Resort in Bryan, TX, to get your share of the harvest fun.

— — — — —

Jeff "TXwineLover" Cope with his Kahuna in Hand

If you want to participate in Messina Hof Winery’s 2012 harvest, they have harvesting festivities and dinner Friday evenings (7:00 pm) and Saturday evenings (6:30 pm) through August 18th. Daytime harvesting includes full and half day packages on Saturdays and Sundays through August 19th. For more details and reservations, click here.


 Posted by at 2:55 pm
Oct 212011

Messina Hof Hill Country Grand Opening: Of Tractors, Terroir and a Taste of 1984

It was a grand day yesterday on the Fredericksburg Route 290 Wine Trail with another Texas winery planting its footprint at the epicenter of where it’s happening. It’s at the stretch of road between Blumenthal and Stonewall centered on (appropriately enough)  Grape Creek about 5 miles east of city center Fredericksburg.

Messina Hof Winery and Resort of Bryan Texas opened their castle-esque Hill Country tasting room. It was built from the remnants of a tractor repair shop (repair shop bays and all which explains the open design of the tasting room), but you would never guess this was the case. The only vestage of the tractor repair days is the original but refinished concrete floor. When told of the buildings history I made a comment guessing that it was made for Texas tractors and now for Texas terroir, a continuation of its Texas agricultural legacy.

When I arrived at mid-day, the pre-grand opening festivities were in full swing. I quickly found chef and cookbook author Terry-Thompson and winery owner and grand impresario of Texas wine, Paul Bonarrigo (sporting his characteristic red beret), engaged in wine and discussion. I joined them in conversation just as Paul released what to me was the bombshell news of the day. He said, “All of the wines that we will be selling in our new Hill Country tasting room are  made from 100 percent Texas grapes.”This was music to my ears as I have experienced first hand that several wineries and tasting rooms (some in close proximity to the new Messina Hof location and in more generally in Texas are selling wines that are not made Texas appellation. In other words, there are not enough Texas grapes in these wines to legally carry the words “Texas” on the front label.

Terry and I walked in the airy open space between the two tasting room bars sampling Messina Hof wines, starting with a high plains Riesling, an off-dry Muscato and a crisp, clean and sweetly-luscious Mistrella (a style of wine where the fermentation is halted with an infusion of brandy, thus combining the fresh fruity grape juice with the fortification of alcohol).

After a tour of the tasting room facilities, a close inspection of an antique European marble gazebo, and a visit to the four B&B cabins out back, Paul personally tasted us through a selection of wines. We swirled and sipped Messina Hof’s offerings of Merlots and Cabernets, four wines total, one of each made from Hill Country grapes and Texas High Plains grapes. While the high plains wines seemed to have a deeper color as expected, both sources of grapes produced fine and delectable wines. You’ll have to taste them for yourselves to pick your favorites.

Then, we tasted Messina Hof 2010 Semillon. Paul said, “Normally, there isn’t enough Texas Semillon for us to bottle a single varietal wine, but due to the plethora of Texas grapes harvested last year, we had enough to ferment it separately and make this wine.” Terry and I both loved it. I confess that I’m not much of a Chardonnay drinker and this wine gives an real alternative to the wine drinkers around Texas like me. It had great lemon citrus fruit qualities combined with a silky medium bodied mouthfeel that Chardonnay drinker tend to appreciate.

As Terry and I were savoring the Semillon, Paul reached over to a wooden box of wine bottles next to the tasting room bar and said, “Do you want to try something really interesting!”

Not really knowing what Paul had in mind, he showed us a bottle of Messina Hof wine with a 1984 vintage date, just two years after he and his wife and business partner, Merrill, opened their family winery in Bryan Texas. Paul said, “This should be interesting, but I don’t know what it’s going to be like after over 25 tears. You know, this wine was a Meritage blend, before the term Meritage was even invented.” He was referring to “Meritage” as it is used too describe a red wine made from a blend of Bordeaux grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cab Franc and others, but where the grapes were not grown in the famous French region. The term Meritage wasn’t even initiated by the Meritage Alliance until 1988!

Paul carefully and slowly pulled the cork on his Messina Hof Wine Maker’s Blend (Texas 1984, Table Wine) , and all looked like it was going well. The cork was still moist and didn’t show signs of leakage. Then, he poured the wine from the bottle revealing that it, in fact, had held up remarkably well. It had a brick red color that still held a hint of purple in it.

The most incredible aspect of this wine (obviously after how well it held up during bottle aging) was how it evolved over a prolonged time period in the glass after being poured. Terry and I first identified the typical descriptors of fine old Bordeaux wines, all elements of terroir: wet earth and mushrooms, just like a forest floor. After about 30 minutes, a deep leather note emerged along with liquorice that danced from the glass. This was followed in another half hour by wet hay and herbs, and then finally nearly an hour and a half after the bottle was opened, there was a minerally note that I identified as similar to the “lead pencil” from my early school days.

If you want a taste of modern Texas wines of quality that are actually made from Texas grapes, stop by Messina Hof’s new Hill Country tasting room.  If you savor fine old bottle-aged red wines and want a taste of 1984 Texas terroir (a venerable taste of Texas wine history), Messina Hof has it for sale too, available in their new Hill Country tasting room, but for how long? I don’t know; probably for as long as the precious few bottle last.

Messina Hof Hill Country

9996 Hwy 290 East, Fredericksburg, TX 78624 USA

 Posted by at 10:46 am
Sep 092011

Messina Hof Let’s Talk Seafood Party: Like Opening the Pantry and Frig and Starting a Recipe from Scratch

Finally, a few days of lower temperatures lightened the evening drive from Houston to Messina Hof Winery and Resort for what was billed as their “Let’s Talk Seafood Cooking Party”. I had initially sensed some apprehension at the parties organizers at Messina Hof when I booked the outing. When we arrived and new Messina Hof Executive Chef Dorian Clark started his presentation, it was obvious why.

Chef Dorian opened by saying, “I’ve only recently taken this position at Messina Hof. As a matter of fact, I’ve only been at work here for two days, now.”

Think about this situation for a moment: just starting a new job as executive chef at a major Texas winery restaurant and in two days having to prepare dinner for thirty-plus people, many of whom are diehard Messina Hof fans and VIPs. I imagined that it was like me coming home and opening the pantry and frig and starting to cook something from scratch for dinner, but magnified times thirty.

The concept for this event and the two that will follow in October and November is based on a cooking party with the chef and this inaugural session with Chef Dorian could not have better fulfilled it’s mission. The chef took us through his creation of the recipes for each course starting with his arrival at Messina Hof (two days prior) and his having to figure out what ingredients he had available for starters. He initially focused with the fresh herbs from the Messina Hof estate and showed how he crafted each course with what was available and making modifications to take into account what he had at hand or readily available. The chef emphasized that experimentation and flexibility was key to good cooking and always being aware of what is available and fresh; and, in this case, what was in the pantry and on hand when he started at Messina Hof.

I originally anticipated a typical two hour session with cooking demos and discussion. However, what we received in this case was a four-course, gourmet meal and each course paired with a Messina Hof wine and Chef Dorian walking us thru the recipe development (or modification and evolution) and the key steps in preparing each course.

1st Course – Interplay of Seafood Vinaigrette and Crisp Pink Wine

The first course was a shrimp and lump crabmeat salad stuffed into a tomato crown with chilled asparagus spears, and finished with a tawny port raspberry herb vinaigrette and balsamic reduction sauce. Chef Dorian provided a standard method and ratios of ingredients to compose a vinaigrette dressing. In this case, he included Messina Hof Tawny Port and their Gewürztraminer raspberry chipotle sauce, olive oil (the good stuff) and local herbs. The wine pairing was Messina Hof Sophia Marie Rosé, made from early-harvested (19 Brix) estate grown, black grapes called Lenoir (also known as Black Spanish).

2nd Course – Tactile Sensation, Aroma and a Pinch

Chef Dorian warned us. He said, “When you see this oyster stew, you’re going to say…’this doesn’t look like any oyster stew that I’ve ever seen before’.” Well, he was totally spot on the mark. It had none of the hallmark milky white color and consistency that I was familiar with. He continued and said, “I love oysters, particularly breaded and deep fried. I got that from my days working in New Orleans. So, I looked around for a way to feature them in this presentation.”

After he scouted about the Messina Hof kitchen and talked to a few suppliers, Chef Dorian built this dish, literally from the bottom of the bowl upward. He focused on ripe tomatoes and roasted them, infusing a smoky note while concentrating their juices into precious drops of goodness, not enough to be a classic soup or stew; just enough to cover the bottom of the bowl. Then, he added corn and toasted spinach tortillas strips adding dashes of color, tactile sensations and a southwestern flair. It was overlaid with his favorites: cornmeal breaded and deep fried oysters and a scattering of minced green, and paired with Messina Hof Pinot Grigio.

Chef Dorian emphasized that a cook’s job is to experiment just as he had done in this preparation; however, he also accentuated not to experiment on a recipe for the first time with dinner guests. That was bad policy. The message was to develop and practice with your recipes. Then, show them off to friends. He stressed that, nothing that he did that evening was done for the first time. Everything was drawn from his experience.

3rd Course – Roasted Texas Redfish and Red Wine

Who said that you can’t serve fish with red wine? This uninformed person certainly hasn’t been to Messina Hof, talked to its winemaker Paul Bonarrigo, nor had a meal served by Chef Dorian. Again, the chef walked us through his epicurean gymnastics starting with the saffron herb that he used to infuse a gold color his shrimp rice mixture that added its characteristic earthy fragrance. He demonstrated how to wrap it inside a filet of fish that stood on end in the middle of the plate and then before our eyes developed a Cabernet Franc cream/butter sauce that bonded the dish to this featured red wine that accompanied the preparation.

While we eat, Paul Bonarrigo presented his Messina Hof single vineyard Cedar Crest, Cabernet Franc that featured grapes from the Cedar Crest Vineyard in North Texas near the banks of the red river. I mentioned to Paul that I’ve had the chance to taste four American Cabernet Francs this year from Colorado, Missouri, Virginia and now Texas and each one was rich, dark and full bodied, not the commonly thought of lean, green-herbal varietal from the Bordeaux region of France. Despite its thick red essence, it melded pleasingly with the full-flavored redfish joined by Chef Dorian’s red wine sauce.

4th Course – Spice Pumpkin, Crème Brulee, Sherry and Birthday Cheer

Just when I was about to burst, literally…the final course was on its way. Chef Dorian mentioned that sometimes recipes just happen and you have to go with the flow. He pointed out the roasted pecan granola that topped his preparation was not in his original plan. But, a vendor came in the other day with the pecan granola and, after tasting it, the flash of inspiration hit him to included it in this dish. The baking spices, pumpkin, caramel sherry sauce and his unplanned topping integrated well and proved a match for Paul’s Solera Sherry that offered cherry and almond notes of amaretto. It was made even more personal when the staff brought out a special candlelit version of this dessert for my adult daughter, Caroline Carruba, who accompanied me to the cooking class as part of my birthday gift to her. Back in June, for father’s day, she previously brought me a registration in a grilling class. So, this was a little birthday quid pro quo on my part. Also, thanks to Caroline for the photos used in this blog.

— — — — —

Messina Hof (Let’s Talk) Cooking Parties

All in all, the Let’s Talk Seafood Cooking Party was a successful inaugural event for Chef Dorian Clark at Messina Hof. It was over three hours of presentation, discussions, Q&A, and a full four courses of eating enjoyment and wine appreciation.

For those that enjoy cooking, wine and trying new recipes that feature wine and who would also like to “get inside the head” of a profession chef, based on this event, the following two upcoming Messina Hof cooking parties with Chef Dorian are highly recommended:

Let’s Talk about Stuffing and Dressing: Thursday, October 13th – 6:30pm

Let’s talk about Thanksgiving Dinner and Mise en Place (see below): Thursday, November 10th – 6:30pm

More information at: http://www.messinahof.com/events_culinary.php

Mise en Place means “everything in place”, as in set up. It is used in professional kitchens to refer to organizing and arranging the ingredients (e.g., cuts of meat, relishes, sauces, par-cooked items, spices, freshly chopped vegetables, and other components) that a cook will require for a meal.


 Posted by at 5:33 pm
May 042011

Judgments of Texas Wine: Time for Another Texas Two-Sip. Join Me at Culinaria in San Antonio

Where, What, When: Culinaria Wine and Culinary Arts Festival for the Texas Two Sip on Saturday, May 14, Hilton Palacio del Rio Hotel in San Antonio, Texas, 5:30 p.m. – $25 pre-sale, $35 at the door.

If you know food and wine writer, Rob Walsh, like I do, you know that good ol’ Rob has not always been an outspoken fan of Texas wines. If anything, he’s been the outright opposite.

In a recent statement on HoustonPress.com, Rob came out and acknowledged both how far Texas wines have come in terms of quality and how far he has come in terms of accepting them. He said, “If you haven’t had a glass of Texas Viognier yet, put it on your “to drink” list. It’s a lovely white wine with huge floral aromas and flavors reminiscent of apricot and peach. Texas wineries make some of the best Viogniers in the world. I never thought I’d be calling Texas wines the best in the world, but it looks like the “Judgment of Texas” has arrived.”

In his statement, the use of the term, “Judgment of Texas”, Rob makes reference to The Paris wine tasting held in 1976 often called the “Judgment of Paris“. It was a wine competition organized in Paris on 24 May 1976 by Steven Spurrier, a British wine merchant, in which French judges did blind tastings of top-quality Chardonnays and Cabernet Sauvignons from France and from California. A California wine rated best in each category. This tasting was a monumental moment in the course of California (and new world) wines that caused surprise. At that time, France was regarded as being the foremost producer of the world’s best wines. At the time, Spurrier sold only French wine and did not actually believed that the California wines would surpass the French wines in the tasting.

Robb admitted that the change in his perception of Texas wines came in 2007. He said, “My Judgment of Texas” moment came on a Saturday afternoon in late April of 2007. At the Buffalo Gap Wine and Food Summit that year, I was a panelist for the Texas vs. The World Wine Tasting. Austin wine writer Wes Marshall put on the blind tasting. I love his style — he used Brown paper bags to disguise the bottles.

I’ve always considered Steven and I kindred spirits of sorts. On numerous occasions, I’ve put Texas wines to the test: always in blind tastings and putting them up against highly rated, 90+ Wine Spectator wines from around the world. Examples include things I’ve posted before on VintageTexas:

The Judgment of Houston:  The Wine Society of Texas organized “The Great Texas Conundrum” as part of its 6th annual Texas’ Best Wine Competition at the Conrad Hilton School of Hotel and Restaurant Management at the University of Houston. Approximately 150 wines entered the competition from 31 Texas wineries. It was a double-blind tasting and judging was based on a modified University of California Davis 20-point evaluation method conducted with noted wine experts from around Texas. Click here for more.

The Judgement of Bryan Texas: At Messina Hof Winery and Resort in Bryan, Texas, winery owner Paul Bonarrigo put it on the line at the Messina Hof Twitter Taste-Off. The tasting included recognized, premium and best selling non-Texas wines from around the world paired with wines from Messina Hof Winery. It was a blind tasting in which the tasters did not know if the wines they tasted were from Messina Hof or the non-Texas wines. Click here for more.

The Texas-French Wine Shoot Out: A truly eye-opening experience was when we brought together about 55 people encompassing a wide cross-section of wine experience and tasting skills at the Culinary Institute Marie and Alain LeNotre in Houston for a Texas French Wine Shoot Out. In this head-to-head competition, the best Texas Merlot and Cabernet-based wines and blends were tasted against a selection of quality French Bordeaux wines. Click here for more.

— — — — —

Well, get ready for another opportunity to challenge Texas wines head-to-head with the wines of the world. Come on down to the Culinaria Wine and Culinary Arts Festival for the Texas Two Sip on Saturday, May 14, Hilton Palacio del Rio Hotel in San Antonio, Texas, 5:30 p.m. – $25 pre-sale, $35 at the door.

Have some fun before the Culinaria Grand Tasting later Saturday evening at the Texas Two-Sip Tasting, where you will blind taste Texas wines against similar non-Texas wines from around the world.

Texas vs. The World; who makes the better wines?  You decide.

See the amazing strides in Texas wine quality since we stopped trying to emulate California and started to make the comparison between Texas wines and the wines of the old world: Spain, Portugal, Italy, Sardinia and southern France.

The Westin La Cantera Resort’s Sommelier Steven Krueger, Becker Vineyards Owner, Dr. Richard Becker and I will lead you through the Two-Sip Tasting, providing information about Texas’ popular varieties that are winning awards and gaining international attention. This event will be a great aperitif before the Grand Tasting.

For more information and tickets for the Culinaria Wine and Culinary Arts Festival and Texas Two-Sip, so to:


See you there!

 Posted by at 10:17 am
Jun 142010

Cowboys, Cabernet and More at the Bush Presidential Library

I drove up from Houston to College Station, Texas, as a hazy, yellow sunset burned ahead in the sky, masked only by a few wisps of periwinkle clouds. The roadside fields were lush with greens of every shade, made so by the recent and frequent episodes of early summer rain. The sights of Texas highways and byways still leave me with delight even after more than a year now on the Texas wine trail.

The George Bush Presidential Library and Museum (http://bushlibrary.tamu.edu) drew me into College Station, home of Texas A&M University. A received a call for a guided wine tasting and seminar highlighting the heritage of Texas wines, their challenges and the new styles of wine gaining credibility and acceptance with wine drinkers and aficionados.

The wine tasting started early, by most standards, initiating at 10 am, but the room full of people made it known that they were there to taste and to learn more about Texas new-style wines. They were also eager to know about the legacy of Texas wines going back to the formation of limestone ledges and red sandy soils. They are actually more akin to the old world terroir of France, Spain and Italy than they are to at of its breather wine production states of California, Washington and Oregon. My slide presentation is available online (in PDF format) at:

Slide Presentation: Cowboys, Cabernet and More (George Bush Preidential Library)

My presentation was drawn from experiences gained traveling this state and my research into its historical and literary archives in search of “Texas Terroir”. I selected nine wines to taste and the seminar title “Cowboys, Cabernet and Beyond”. This presentation focused on the many new varieties of grapes now being growing in Texas, the associated wines and wineries. My slide presentation is available online (in PDF format) at:

The wines I chose were all special to me and of limited production, hand-selected to illustrate what I felt were key points important to the wine future of Texas. The wines involved in the seminar and my descriptions are given below:

Brennan Vineyards Viognier 2008

Viognier is rapidly gaining acceptance as a preferred white wine in Texas. Much of the acclaim for this grape in Texas has come from the gold medals received by the Brennan Viognier in wine competitions far and wide. The grapes from winery vineyards near Comanche, Texas, and include 87 percent Viognier with additions of Semillon and Chardonnay. Fruit fresh characteristics of white peach and floral tones of honeysuckle. Produced from cold fermentation in stainless steel, un-oaked. http://www.brennanvineyards.com

Becker Vineyards Roussanne 2009

Roussanne is a new varietal for Texas, like Viognier, it originates from Southern France. The grapes were from Bingham Vineyards (Texas High Plains AVA) and they were barrel fermented in French oak with a secondary malolactic fermentation. This acknowledged French-style approach yielded a silky, gracefully smooth mouthfeel, floral aromatics, and characteristics of pear and herbal tea. In this style, Roussanne could make a long time Texas Chardonnay drinker jump ship. http://www.beckervineyards.com

Llano Estacado Viviana 2009

Mark Hyman (President and CEO of Llano Estacado) presented this wine that is a blend of aromatic grapes (Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Muscat Canelli, Viognier) originating from The Mont Sec Vineyard in far west Texas near Del City to be specific. It was a wine attributed to young winemaker Chris Hall under the tutelage of Llano executive winemaker, Greg Bruni.  The wine saw no oak and was aged for 4 months on its fermentation lees at cold, temperature. Viviana is Llano’s answer to popular new world wines such as Caymus Conundrum, and Sokol Blosser’s Evolution. Viviana exudes exotic tropical fruit, honeysuckle and melon, combine to create a lush texture kept fresh by a lift of citrus zest through the long finish.   http://www.llanowine.com

Messina Hof Paulo Cabernet Sauvignon 2006

This wine was presented by Paul Bonarrigo (co-owner of Messina Hof Winery). Paulo is their line of premium wines and this one was made from 90% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Merlot sourced from grapes grown around the Lamesa and Lubbock areas. It was cold fermented for 21 days on skins and then receiving 1 year in American Oak followed by 1 year in French Oak. When Paul describes this technique as his “Double Barrel” aging technique, it conjures up visions of the Rifleman…Pow, Pow! He also mentioned that the Cabernet Sauvignon vineyard is now 24 years old and produces intense varietal flavors. This balanced fruit driven wine carried aromas of dark berries and plum flavors with rich vanilla tones. http://www.messinahof.com

Inwood Estate Magellan (Bordeaux+ Blend) 2006

Inwood Estates is the creation of Dan Gatlin with a winery in a Dallas warehouse and now in a new, winery at the beautiful development, Vineyard at Florence, northwest of Austin. This wine is almost a Bordeaux blend except for one thing. It is Cabernet driven with  68% Cabernet Sauvignon blended with other Bordeaux varietals (22% Cab Franc, Merlot, Malbec, Petit Verdot) and (the other thing) is 10% Tempranillo. The grapes are 78% Newsom Vineyards in the Texas High Plains AVA with the remaining 22% other sources within Texas. Dan is very much a kindred spirit of mine that has come to the realization that Texas limestone infused soils have much more in common with those of Europe than they do with California and require special winemaking techniques. This wine spent 3 years in French oak barrels and can easily bottle age for 5 to 10 years. Dan believes strongly that it will have a life expectancy of 30+ years, challenging some of the classic Chateau of France. Take the Texas two sip challenge, give it a try…compare the Inwood Estate Magellan to 2006 Chateau Calon-Segur, in the Saint-Estèphe appellation of the Bordeaux wine region of France. http://www.inwoodwines.com

Sandstone Cellars VI 2008

This wine was made by consulting winemaker Don Pullum who used a blend of four grapes: Touriga Nacional, Barbera, Zinfandel and Primitivo, all coming from vineyards in Mason County, Texas. If you want to taste the terroir of a specific region, this wine is a good one to accomplish the task. He also used extended fermentations with some batches going to 30 days. Half of the wine was aged for 10 months in three-year-old American oak barrels and half aged in stainless steel to preserve the fruit qualities of the wine (including cold fermentation and reductive winemaking).  This morning the dominant aromas were of red fruits (raspberry and even pomegranate), rose and herbed sage followed by flavors of dark berries. http://www.sandstonecellarswinery.com

Fall Creek Tempranillo – Salt Lick Vineyard 2008

Texas wine industry prime mover, Ed Auler from Fall Creek presented this wine made from grapes grown at the “Salt Lick Vineyards” in Hays County, Driftwood, Texas, the first commercial production for these Tempranillo vines. The must was cold-soaked and grapes pressed before the end of primary fermentation; then aged 1 year in American oak (50% new oak and 50% 1 year old) and left unfined. Ed said that this Tempranillo shows what Jancis Robinson calls a “marriage of Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir”.  It has a Cabernet structure worthy of ageing yet the vibrant red fruit qualities of Pinot Noir. For those with knowledge of the Tempranillo-based wines of the Rioja, this wine would likely fall between the classic Rioja categories of Crianza and Reserva, primarily because of the wine’s medium bodied style and young vine fruit. It is a great first vintage with the potential for even greater things to come. http://www.fcv.com

San Martino Winery Tempranillo 2005

This wine was made by Emilio Ramos, winery owner, winemaker and descendant of family winemakers in the Glacia region of Spain. It was 100% Tempranillo sourced from Newsom Vineyards in the Texas High Plains AVA. It received 2 years 100% American Oak (50% new, 25% one year old, 25% two year old) yielding an impressive Spanish style. The degree of oak aging and vine age produced a big but refined wine with the structure and added essences of vanilla bean and tea overlaid on a palate of red and dark berries. This wine would likely be in the Rioja Reserva classification and bodes well for a Gran Reserva for Texas in the near future. http://www.sanmartinowinery.com

Haak Vineyards Madeira 2006

This wine is made from 100% Blanc du Bois. It can be considered a Texas varietal as there is more Blanc Du Bois grown in Texas than in any other wine region or state. A portion (35%) of this wine comes from the Haak vineyard, the balance (65%) comes from Austin County Vineyards in Cat Springs, Texas (Jerry Watson’s vineyard). The wine was first fermented with Saccharomyces + Bayanus yeast blend to 18% Alcohol. It was not fortified with brandy. It then spent 2 years in oak barrels before going through the classic Madeira Estuffa process. Once in the estuffa, it was held for 6 months at 105 F. This Madeira has a very interesting pale copper color and of aromas/flavors of caramel and toffee with a fresh, crisp and zesty finish. http://www.haakwine.com

Apr 182009

Let’s Taste the Terroir, Search for Parking and Savor the Coffee

Entry 3 – The Texas Hill Country Wine and Food Festival Adventure

Two festival events preoccupied my attention yesterday: “Where Terroir Meets Tradition”, a noontime luncheon tasting featuring six premium Texas wines appointed with three carefully inspired food  pairings from select Texas chefs, and “Stars Across Texas”, the grand Austin tasting escapade where signature dishes meet a cadre of fine wines from around the world.

The morning started with the flash-bang of a Hill Country thunderstorm that announced a gray-black veil of rain on the Big Hill and the thirsty countryside. Departing the cottage had me following the storm eastward to Austin. My trip was a leisurely drive across land that was taking its big gulp of nature’s nourishing moisture; being that it’s been rather parched around these parts for some time. Entering Austin, I thought that I was in for a storm rematch, but it had lost some feistiness and could only muster a light April shower as I parked my car and strolled to the AT&T Conference Center and Hotel.

Where Terroir Meets Tradition

The panel included three Texas winemakers: Ed Auler (Fall Creek Vineyards – www.fcv.com), Paul Bonarrigo (Messina Hof Winery – www.messinahof.com), and Russell Smith (Becker Vineyards – www.beckervineyards.com); winery principals Mark Hyman (Llano Estacado Winery – www.llanowine.com) and Angela Moench (Stone House Vineyard – www.stonehousevineyard.com); winery spokesperson, John Bratcher (McPherson Cellars – www.mcphersoncellars.com); panel moderator, Jane Nichols (Wine Educator at the Texas Culinary Academy – www.texascookingacademy.com).

Course 1: The first presentation was a Yin-Yang of wine and food pairings featuring Maria Maria (www.mariamariarestaurants.com) Chef Octavio Benavides’ preparation, a sweet chipotle marinated shrimp tacos, blackberry sorbet vinaigrette, fresh strawberries, crunchy slaw and habanero sauce. Mark Hyman presented Llano Estacado Signature Mélange – red blend and Paul Bonarrigo presented Messina Hof Angel Riesling; at first blush, wines of totally opposite character. Can they possibly each pair with the wines? Both showed the excellent pairing possibilities for spicy Texas cuisine with the medium body, fruit-driven red wine (Mélange), as well as with the sweet but crisp white wine (Angel Riesling).

Course 2: The next presentation involved two red wines: Russell Smith offered the deeper, darker red wine, Becker Vineyards Prairie Rotie, and John Bratcher went with a lighter bodied, cherry infused McPherson Cellars Sangiovese. Both were paired against a tomato-fennel soup with topped with vodka, olive oil crema and celery salad, a creation of Chef Josh Watkins (The Carillon Restaurant in Austin’s AT&T Conference Center and Hotel – www.meetattexas.com/restaurants.html#carillon).

Who says you can’t pair soup and wine? Let him speak now, or hold his peace. I asked Chef Watkins how he approached his recipe knowing the soup would be paired with two red wines. He said, “I know that soups generally pose problems for wine pairings, but in this case, I tried to match the acidity of the wines to that of the tomatoes that I used for the soup base.”

During a short break, I was able to meet my table-mates for the tasting. They were Gary and Fredna Manney who were also fellow Houstonians and had a reputation that they were upholding. Gary and Fredna attended 22 out of the 24 Hill Country Wine and Food Festivals in Austin. They were deeply into the tasting and even brought their own Riedel stemware. Congrats to Gary and Frenda – Keep up the good work. See you next year or hopefully in Houston. 

Course 3: The final appearance involved the big-dog red wines of the event: Ed Auler presented Fall Creek Vineyards Meritus, a premium red-blend of Bordeaux varietals that sneaks in a Rhone varietal, and Angela Moench brought her Claros – a proprietary red wine based on her estate-grown Norton grapes. Both wines were rich and full bodied and paired in a mano y mano manner with Marathon’s Gage Hotel (www.gagehotel.com) Chef Paul Peterson’s Texas grilled quail served with honeyed pears, field greens, smoked onion vinaigrette for an all Texas plate.

The panel discussion was interesting and tended to focus around how as Ed Auler said, “Texas is a whole other Country”. It is sometimes impossible to simply take techniques from places like California and apply them here; the conditions just aren’t the same. Techniques for Texas grape growing and wine making are still being learned and refined.” He illustrated his point with his use of blending to make the best Texas wine possible, as is common in other warm growing regions around the world. Ed said, “I have made Meritus about a half a dozen years over the past decade and in each case, the resulting wines were from completely different blends of red grapes as conditions in these years varied.” The most recent of Ed’s Meritus wines even included Syrah, a non-Bordeaux grape varietal. The situation presented itself in 2005, he experimented and he believes that it had great results. Meritus has gone from a Merlot-driven wine at the start to Cabernet Sauvignon dominated wine and now refocused on Merlot, supported by a cast of Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, and Malbec with a squirt of Syrah.

The Stone House Vineyard Claros has an equally interesting story to tell arising from its origin with the Norton grape, a French-American hybrid that has gained significant interest in the past ten years for premium table wines. This wine has lots of color and deep dark berry qualities that Angela has found to be of medal winning quality starting with grapes grown in her Stone House Vineyard in Spicewood, Texas.

With the luncheon event complete and the evening grand tasting event hours away, I had time to relax in Austin and perhaps grab a cup of coffee. However, try to find a hitching post for your car in this town. It is hard to find a parking slot on a clear day, even more challenging when it rains, and on a Friday afternoon to boot……Oh Mama! After a trek around downtown Austin, I ended up with a five dollar parking tab, and this just to get a cup-o-java. Happily, there are good souls in this town. After I told barista my setback, she said, “The coffee’s on the house”.

Watching the rain, savoring my coffee, and reading my notes…..Austin is a pretty nice place, after all.

Oct 272008

Texas Ports of Call – Port, Food, and Chocolate Pairing Ideas from Messina Hof Winery & Resort

Paul & Merrill with Houston Rodeo Competition Wine Award Saddle

NOTE: A Vintage Texas blog reader recently posted a comment that requested information on pairing chocolate and wine. I responded that I believe that I could do this one better to include food, chocolate and wine pairing ideas, based on an event that I covered at Messina Hof Winery and Resort in Bryan, Texas. The following posting is based on my preparation and experiences from this event.


You might be surprised to hear that Texas has been at the forefront of the national and international wine scene with its Port wine production? Winemakers like Paul Bonarrigo at Messina Hof have stirred the “fermentation tank” and added a healthy dose of innovation to Port-style winemaking that appears to be potentially perking demand for this sultry sweet drink.

I had the pleasure of visiting Messina Hof to experience something that piqued my culinary interest….Merrill Bonarrigo’s Port Wine and Chocolate Pairing Luncheon.

Actually, this event was a dual experience that combined a unique three-course, food encounter with winemaker Paul Bonarrigo’s educational, blending laboratory presentation. And all this took place in the beautiful setting of Messina Hof’s Vintage House restaurant on a delightfully warm, sunny day that made for a pleasant road trip to their winery in Bryan, Texas, about 80 miles northwest of Houston.

Ports and Other Sweet Fortified Wines

Port-style wines actually pre-date their namesake country, with thick, sweet wines being common in Greek and Roman times. As it turns out, the high sugar and alcohol contents of these wines act as preservatives and have been used particularly in warmer wine producing regions for this reason for millennia.

Once sweet, alcoholic wines were made, they were incredibly stable and could be transported great distances by ship or road, or stored for years waiting for just the right banquet accompaniment. In fact, to this day, most wine producing areas around the Mediterranean still have their own brand of sweet, fortified wine that is intertwined with local culture and cuisine. As has been shown previously, Texas has much in common (actually more than you might first realize) with many of these sunny winemaking locales.

It was the Portuguese that actually converted Port making into an artisanal craft. By the 13th century, wine producers in Portugal were exporting their wines from the Douro River valley. But, it was the demand for hearty red wines in Britain in the 17th century, combined with their king’s political disdain for all things French that fueled their fledgling Port making industry.

For centuries, this fortified wine has been made in the classic manner that stops the grape fermentation to maintain residual sugar and then brings the alcohol up to 18 to 20 percent through the addition of Brandy. Paul Bonarrigo has been on the forefront of Port-making by using a strain of yeast that can remain active up to these very high alcohol levels. This innovation allows him to make a “naturally” fermented Port without the dosage of Brandy.

The Main Event: Food – Chocolate – Port

The luncheon at Messina Hof was a great expression of winemaking and wine and food pairing, much in keeping with the characteristics of Paul and Merrill Bonarrigo who hosted this event at Messina Hof. I especially like wine and food experiences that take people and wine out of their conventional genre and context. Well, this one really filled the bill. It is not very often that a gourmet meal starts and finishes with port wine and, where every course includes chocolate. I expected that it would be even rarer to find people that might think that it could work, but there were many that spent their afternoon trying out this eclectic culinary handiwork.

The menu had countless flavor elements to tingle the palate and made it receptive to the full favored, Port-style wines from Messina Hof. As stated by Merrill Bonarrigo, “The menu and recipes were prepared with the complexity of the flavor components of the foods and wines in mind, and to show how they work singularly and together.”

Merrill continued by explaining her Port pairing tips, “First serve foods that have assertive flavor components, especially those that can stand up to the intensity of Port. Secondly, serve foods that are less sweet than Port. When the food is sweeter than the wine, it tends to make the wine taste sour. Finally, don’t forget that you can also substitute some Port for just about any sweet component in the preparation. This helps to bring the food and wine flavors together.”

First Course – Salad

The endive salad, served as the first course in combination with the Messina Hof Ivory Ports of Call (a White Port), was one of the best and unique amalgamations of the day. The salad was prepared with strong flavor elements coming from the pistachios, bitter chocolate, balsamic vinegar, raisins and black pepper. It may surprise some of you that Port can be white. It is far less common than hearty red Ports, but in this case, the wine consisted of a blend of strongly scented and highly floral Muscat Canelli and Sauvignon Blanc grapes that had received some aging in French oak.

During this first course, Paul Bonarrigo illustrated the role of acidity in wines by preparing a modified, high-acid version of his Ivory Port. As Paul pointed out, “Acidity is usually a good quality in wines which keeps them fresh and interesting on the palate. However, too much acidity can lead to a bitter sensation that can actually detract from the sweetness of the Port.”

In this case, the combination of sweetness and acidity in the Ivory Port helped to match the same qualities in the raisins and balsamic vinegar while also ameliorating and integrating the chocolate. The third noticeable aspect of the wine and food pairing was the oak aging that added structure to the wine while being a facilitator for the nuttiness of the pistachios and the pepper in the salad.

Second Course – Chicken Mole

The second course was a spicy chicken mole preparation that contained chocolate, onions, tomatoes, cumin and chipotle peppers served in combination with Messina Hof Tex-Zin (Red Zinfandel). This grouping combined a full-flavored white meat dish with a full-bodied red wine – Gee, did you know that you can do that?

Merrill’s strategy that worked well is summed up in her statement, “The wine should be dictated by the flavors and their intensity in the food, which can actually come from the sauce or spices.”  In this case, the strong elements of tomato, spices and chocolate in the sauce melded fine with the wine’s underpinning of dark berries which was punctuated by smoky, peppery qualities that, in turn, were a superb match for these same characteristics brought by the chipotles.

Paul then demonstrated the impact of oak aging by comparing the Red Zinfandel to a modified version that had about twice the oak intensity (essentially “over-oaked”). It was obvious that the additional oak aging worked counter to the food-friendliness of the wine, thus illustrating another of Merrill’s wine and food pairing tips.

Third Course – Dessert

The final course was a chocolate adaptation of the quintessential dessert – Crème Brûlée, served with Messina Hof Papa Paulo Private Reserve Port along with a traditional Port (fortified with Brandy).

Crème Brûlée is already rich in crème and the addition of chocolate gave it an added weight and flavor intensity that begged for a substantial wine. A natural pairing for rich chocolate-infused desserts are sweet red wines that exude distinctive dark berry, cherry and chocolate qualities. The Papa Paulo Port held up its side of the pairing quite well. The vanilla aroma infused into the wine by 24 months of oak aging also joined up with the vanilla in the dessert, as well.

An interesting comparison was made between the naturally fermented Papa Paulo Port and the Brandy-fortified traditional Port. The absence of Brandy in the naturally fermented Port was most noticeable on the palate during the finish due to the improved smoothness sans the brandy addition. It was also a wonderful finish to an enlightening and educational afternoon at Messina Hof Winery and Resort.

Messina Hof Ports and Sherry

Messina Hof Winery now offers a range of fortified wines including five Ports and a Sherry.  As explained by Merrill, “The Ports are the Ivory and Ebony Ports of Call, Barrel Reserve Port, Private Reserve Port, Paulo Port, and Tawny Port.  The Sherry is called Solera.  The Messina Hof Tawny Port was one of the saddle winners that Messina Hof received from the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo.” 

Paul Bonnariggo Wine Making Presentation

These ports are made from the Lenore (Black Spanish) grape that grows well all around Texas, but in totally different styles.  It is amazing to taste the difference of the chocolate cherry in the ruby ports versus the cherry amaretto character of Tawny.  For Paul to be able to make two such totally different wines from the same grape is truly amazing. 
Merrill also related, “The Solera Sherry was a limited production available only locally.  The first time one of our guests opened a bottle and tasted it they exclaimed, ‘It tastes like a liquid Cinnabon!’.  I think it will be a perfect dessert wine for toasting the holidays.”
Paul and Merrill have now released there third cookbook called Vineyard Cuisine, Meals and Memories from Messina Hof.  It has an entire section on wine and chocolate pairing.  I had the feeling that it would since Merrill said in closing….”You know my love for chocolate!” 

For more information on Messina Hof Winery and Resort, their winery B&B, and their complete offering of wines and upcoming events, go to: www.messinahof.com.

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