Jun 162012

Raymond Haak - The Maestro of Madeira

Haak Texas Madeira Tasting & Dinner: An Evening with the Maestro of Madeira

Think Madeira is just for old people, or worse, just for cooking? Well, those that attended the Haak Winery Madeira Tasting and Dinner last night definitely came away saying, “think again”.

Attendees celebrated in grand fashion the release of  the new Haak Winery Texas Madeira campaign and new Madeira website: www.texasmadeira.com with the Maestro of Madeira – Raymond Haak.

As you may know, Madeira is originally a fortified Portuguese wine made in the Atlantic Islands of  Madeira. To prevent spoilage on long voyages by ship, neutral grape spirits were added, as is the case with Port wines. However, on the long sea voyages particularly those to America, the wines would be exposed to excessive heat and movement which transformed the flavor of the wine. Today, Madeira is noted for its unique winemaking process which involves heating the wine up to about 105 F for several months. Deliberately exposing the wine to heat produces oxidation of the wine leading to nutty aromas and flavors, and it concentrates the wine’s flavors. Because of this unique process, Madeira is a very robust wine that can be quite long lived even after opening. Madeira has over the centuries received worldwide acclaim. It was also known to be Thomas Jefferson’s favorite and America’s forefathers reportedly toasted the Declaration of Independence with Madeira wine. It must have been some party (and headaches for all the following morning) withwhat I’m sure were multiple toasts and libation of this rich, hearty and highly alcoholic fluid that comes packing 18-20 percent alcohol.

This Haak “Madeira Experience” featured multiple vintages and special limited offerings pulled from the Haak wine library that are no longer available to the general public.

We started with a vertical Madeira tasting and Q&A lead by winery owner and winemaker Raymond Haak in the winery’s cellar. Raymond told us about how he began his foray into Madeira-making.

Raymond said, “It all started with a critical evaluation of my Port wine that I made from local Black Spanish grapes (also known as Lenoir, or as Raymond prefers to call it, Jacquez)/ The reviewer of my wine was Master of Wine and wine purveyor, D.C. Flynt.” Raymond continued,  “D.C. told told me that my Port had many of the qualities of Madeira wine. You know, at the time I didn’t know really what Madeira was, but I started to research it. I ended up building an Estufa, the heated room used to age barrels of wine into the classic Madeira style. We now use it to age up to 40 barrels of our Texas Madeira wine at a time.”

I remember talking to D.C. Flynt after his encounter and comments on Raymond’s Port and after Raymond had asked him to arrange for a blind tasting of his Madeira against a flight of ten first-class Madeira Island wines, including some that were over a 100 years old. D.C. said that he was just a little concerned about the sanity of Raymond’s venture into Madeira winemaking; all based on his brief commentary on the Haak Port wine. However, his fears were put to rest when the results of the Haak Madeira blind tasting were made public. Raymond’s Texas Madeira Jacquez came in around the middle of the pack When considering the stature of the competition and caliber of the Madeira wines represented in the tasting, this was a mighty fine performance for a wine that at the time of only a little over two years old. Since then, Raymond’s Texas Madeiras made from both Jacquez and Blanc Du Bois have received many accolades and awards including international gold medals and critical tasting notes from Jancis Robinson for Raymond’s 2006 Blanc Du Bois Madeira with a scoring of 15-17 points (in ”superior” range).

Note: Orange-gold color with unique green hue

Last night, we tasted four of Raymond’s prized Madeiras. The first two, from the 2006 and 2007 vintages, were made from Blanc Du Bois for which Raymond has proven to have a particular fondness. It’s grown in the Texas Southeast and Gulf Coast region where the usual European varieties won’t grow, and he now makes Blanc Du Bois into six different-styled wines. These two Madeiras had an amazing green-hued, iridescent orange-gold color, with the 2007 being a shade deeper-to-gold. They were rich with cooked peach, caramel and toasted nut characteristics with the 2007 tending to also exude overtones of baking spices.

These wines were followed by two more classically-styled Haak Madeira wines made from Jacquez. They varied from dark copper to dark mahogany in color going from 2003 to 2005 vintages. These two Texas Madeiras were strong on the coffee and toffee characteristics with hints of tobacco on the 2003 and black tea on the 2005.

After the tasting, we were tantalized* with a four-course Madeira dinner, but NOT where these wines were used for cooking! Each of the four Haak Madeira wines were expertly “reverse” paired with four flavorful food courses. *Excite the senses or desires of (someone).

1st Course: Cioppino – An Italian seafood stew with fish, clams and shrimp. Paired with 2007 Blanc du Bois Madeira

2nd Course: Barely Buzzed Salad – Barely Buzzed coffee crusted cheddar, maple bacon, fresh spinach, butter lettuce and radicchio topped with a Madeira caramel vinaigrette. Paired with 2003 Jacquez Madeira

3rd Course: Quail and Beef Tenderloin – Honey soy glazed quail, stuffed with shallot and mushroom wild rice, with a mini beef tenderloin steak topped with Madeira infused caramelized onions and mushrooms. Roasted sweet potatoes and butternut squash with pecan pralines. Steamed edamame (shell-on soybeans) with melted roasted garlic butter. Paired with 2005 Jacquez Madeira

4th Course: Caramelized Peach Cheesecake with peach and walnut caramel topping. Paired with 2006 Blanc du Bois Madeira

I called this a reverse pairing dinner specifically because the Haak Winery house chef had to work backwards; first starting with four uniquely-styled Texas Madeira wines and developing the menu items to work with each one. Note that each course was a rich and flavorful preparation, as they needed to be to match the intense flavor characteristics and savoriness of the wines.

This event was a grand affair and was perfectly timed in the lead up to the upcoming Fourth of July – Independence Day celebration. While the Haak wines are not the Madeira wines of our forefathers (Raymond’s are likely better-made and flavorful by virtue of modern winemaking technology), they are still grand wines of our American revolutionary heritage and tradition with which to toast this years celebration of our forefathers and our Declaration of Independence.

Haak Madeiras are available for purchase at the winery. You can also use the online locator to find establishments that sell and serve Haak Madeira (click here).

When in the Houston-Galveston area, please stop by Haak Vineyards and Winery and get a taste of some darn good wines and a good dose of original “Haak Hospitality”.

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Haak Vineyard & Winery Inc.

6310 Avenue T, Santa Fe, TX 77510; Phone: (409) 925-1401; Fax: (409) 925-0276

Web site: www.haakwine.com

Gladys and Raymond Haak, Owners

Tours, Tastings, Weddings, Concerts, Festivals, Corporate Meetings, Picnics

“A Taste of the Old World in Galveston County,” Haak Vineyards is owned and operated by Gladys and Raymond Haak, who have been growing grapes in the coastal region of Texas since 1969. Haak Vineyards produces premium award-winning wines from grapes grown in the couple’s vineyard in Santa Fe, Texas, as well as from other premium grape-growing regions of Texas. Haak Vineyards was the first winery in Galveston County. Enjoy the Sunday afternoon concerts, themed festivals, private events and weddings. Full time kitchen staff for all your catering needs.

Closed Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day. Visitors Welcome:

Mon-Fri 11am–6pm; Sat 11am–7pm; Sun noon–6pm

Raymond Haak - Galveston County Winegrower

 Posted by at 4:23 pm
Apr 262012

Small Scale Winemakers Symposium: May 5, 2012 in Cat Spring, Texas

The Grape Growers Committee of Austin County will be sponsoring a Small Scale Wine Makers Symposium on Saturday, May 5, 2012, at the Cat Spring Agricultural Hall in Cat Spring, Texas. You will have the opportunity to hear from local wine makers as well as commercial winery owners about how to make your own wine from traditional wine grapes such as Blanc Du Bois and Lenoir, as well as from native Mustang grapes and various fruits. The program will cover the basics of good wine making practices, equipment needed, the importance of sanitation, and TABC regulations. And because many commercial wine makers start out making amateur wines, there will be a section on making the transition from a home winery to a commercial operation. The day will finish with a wine social, where area wine makers will have samples available and share a secret or two about their own techniques.

The program is scheduled to begin with registration from 8:30 to 9:00 a.m. The program will begin at 9:00 and last until 4:00 p.m. A registration fee of $20.00 per person will be charged at the door — cash, check, or credit card. The registration fee will include all of the handouts, break refreshments, and a catered meal at lunch. Anyone interested in attending the program is asked to register by calling the Texas AgriLlife Extension Service Office of Austin County at (979) 865-2072 or by email at Austin-tx@tamu.edu.

The symposium schedule is available in PDF (Click here Small Scale Winemaking Symposium Cat Spring).

A registration fee of $20.00 per person will be charged at the door — cash, check, or credit card. The registration fee will include all of the handouts, break refreshments, and a catered meal at lunch.

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Sponsorship for this event are available at $100.00, and includes a space for an exhibit (10X31/2 tables), a free lunch, a chance to visit with winemaking enthusiasts and an opportunity to briefly speak about your product during the break or before lunch.

Please consider this opportunity to participate in one of the first home wine makers educational meetings of its kind, and potentially the largest such event on the Texas Gulf Coast.  If you are interested, please contact Philip Shackelford at (979) 865-2072 and he will get you fixed up with your sponsorship.  You may also confirm your participation by email p-shackelford@tamu.edu.

 Posted by at 10:24 am
Feb 172012

And What a Year It Was! Tales from 20th Gulf Coast Grape Growers Day

Gulf Coast grape growers and an increasing assemblage of the grape-growing-curious assembled at the historical Cat Spring Ag Society Hall last week to hear a series of lectures that included extension viticulturalists, area grower-winemakers and people that write grape contracts and employee manuals. The point pondered at the start of the meeting was: What was the 2011 vintage like? Well, it doesn’t take a local vigneron to know that last summer was dry, dry, dry and hot, hot hot! But, Texas AgriLife extension viticulturalist, Fritz Westover, started the show by summing up what happened to our two local (and favorite) Gulf Coast wine grapes: Blanc Du Bois (the white) and Lenoir, aka Black Spanish (the red).

Fritz Westover, Texas Agrilife Extension Program Specialist, acknowledged that the winds were stronger and temperatures higher than normal during the summer of 2011. The rain (you might say, “What rain?”) was down 18 to 38 inches across the Gulf Coast. When you figure that our area normally gets about 50 inches of rain during a typical year a loss of 18 to 38 inches left us with a rainfall deficit of between 36 to 76 percent, depending on your specific location. That’s dry enough to make your spit dry up before it hits the ground. However, that said, the Gulf Coast generally fared better than the central, northern or western parts of the state. As long as a grape grower’s well was flowing, they generally fared better than those that farmed row crops that are generally not irrigated.

By the numbers, Blanc Du Bois and Lenoir grapes did well as long as they weren’t over cropped or left to die of thirst. Well managed vineyards produced Blanc Du Bois with slightly higher acid (pH 3.6 and titratable acid 5-6) and sugars at harvest (Brix 20-22) than usual. The heat brought the Blanc Du Bois harvest 7-10 days earlier than normal. Fritz’s assessment was that the 2011 Blanc Du Bois harvest will make decent dry, off-dry and sweet wines with aromatic stone fruit (peach and apricot) and tropical fruit characteristics, perhaps more so than the typical citrus qualities particularly common in the dry wines in 2010. Grape harvest yields in 2011 were down by 20-30% from 2010 (which was a particularly large harvest year). This reduction in yield was primarily due to smaller berry size resulting in more concentrated juice and flavorful wines.

For Black Spanish, sugar levels at harvest were generally between 23-26 Brix with acids coming in at pH 3.5-3.7 and titratable acidity of 6.5 to 9.0. Fritz suggested that the preferred wine style will be off-dry table wines or sweet, blush or port-style wines. When comparing the past four harvest years (2008 thru 2011), the cluster size was down from that in 2009 and 2010, due to the drought and desiccation of the grapes. But, the clusters size was still higher than recorded in 2008.

Challenges going forward into the 2012 grape growing season on the Gulf Coast are managing the stress caused by the drought on the vines. This will require watering (but Mother Nature as already helped in this area with recent and plentiful rains), application of fertilizers and administration of viticultural practices such as judicious winter and spring pruning.

With Fritz’s comments to set the stage, we had a tasting of a dry table wine made from Washington County Black Spanish grapes by Saddlehorn Winery in Burton, Texas. If you haven’t been there, they’re just a short drive up the road from Houston on Route 290. The Black Spanish red table wine made by Saddlehorn Winery was very palatable with pleasing red-black color in the glass, medium body and expressive red berry and plum nose and flavor with a floral aromatic note. This latter point came as a surprise to me as Black Spanish is typically known for its tar-like aromas rather than that of flowers. But, when combined with residual sugar and left to ferment its way up to 18% alcohol or get there with a dosage of brandy, it makes a mighty good port-style wine.

The accompanying discussion with the wine included something that I’d heard before about making a dry table from the Black Spanish grape. Many now say, “It’s a red grape that needs to be treated in the winery and fermented like a white grape.” By this, it is meant that the skins likely need to be separated from the juice prior to alcoholic fermentation to prevent unwanted bitterness and objectionable qualities in the wine. By comparison, most red vinifera grapes are macerated to produce a “must” comprised of grape juice, pulp and skins. This agglomeration typically gets an inoculation of yeast and is left to ferment. Therefore, making a dry table wine from Black Spanish grapes still seems to be a work-in-progress, but with progress being made.

There was a substantive discussion on the various techniques that can be used to extract the deep dark red/black color typical of Black Spanish wine without getting the tar-like characteristics. This may require a cold soak and removal of the grape skins prior to fermentation. But, there was little agreement on a preferred temperature of the soak or the length of time of the soak to get just the right characteristics. These are all real-time lessons in Gulf Coast winemaking. Stay tuned for more as I’m sure that I will be asked to taste quite a bit of Black Spanish wine in the months to come and I will try to keep you informed. From what I tasted here, I think that we are getting very close to the “formula”.

FINAL NOTE: Fritz mentioned that there were now at over 200 acres of wine grapes being grown on the Texas Gulf Coast. He also guessed that with the level of planting that he expected to take place this year, we could likely see 300 acres in a short period of time.

 Posted by at 9:40 pm
Jan 242012

Old World Charm, New World Adventure – The Wines of Alamosa Wine Cellars

The other day, after tasting a set of three wines from Alamosa Wine Cellars, I was reading in my Sotherby’s Wine Encyclopedia

“While Spain can claim a 3,000 year history of wine, the diversity of its wine areas and styles did not commence until the 1490’s, just 30 years before the Spanish planted the first vines in the Americans. Some parts of the Old and New Worlds are much closer in age… than these terms imply.”

Well, Texas can claim a wine history that goes back to the 1600s, only 150 years after the entry of Spanish vines into the Americas and nearly 100 years before the arrival of Old World vines in California. Texas owes its wine genesis to the Spanish that settled in what then were the northern borderlands of Mexico (called Tejas) at El Paso del Norte.

Why do I bring up this lengthy preamble to my tasting notes of these particular wines? It’s precisely because Texas, more than any other of the largest wine producing American states – CA, WA, NY, OR), has a linkage to Old World wines. It’s rooted in its limestone encrusted terroir and fiery summer climate akin to that of Europe’s Mediterranean region that takes in Spain, southern France and Italy.  From the get-go, Alamosa Wine Cellars has focused on this heritage: Mediterranean grape varieties with a Chardonnay vine nowhere in sight!

According to Jim Johnson (Owner, grape grower and winemaker at Alamosa Wine Cellars), “Our vineyard was planted in stages.  In ‘96 we planted Sangiovese, Viognier, Ruby Cabernet, and Cabernet Sauvignon.  In ’98 it was Tempranillo, Grenache, and Syrah. In ‘99 we included Syrah, Mourvedre and Malvasia Bianca.  Of those, the Ruby Cab, Cab Sauv, Mourvedre and Malvasia are gone.  I just couldn’t get the Cabs to grow well, Mourvedre was hypersensitive to Pierce’s Disease, and Malvasia is thin skinned and rotty in our climate.  To the remaining varieties, over the years, we have added Graciano, Tannat, Verdelho and Petite Verdot.”

As you can plainly see, he’s focused completely on the Tex-Med wine experience, but it doesn’t end there. I took three red wines from Alamosa Wine Cellars with me on a recent trip to Fredericksburg, Texas, to taste with friend and fellow wine and culinary author Chef Terry Thompson Anderson and her husband Roger. The following notes are an amalgamation of our comments.

The tasting started with Alamosa Wine Cellars 2010 El Guapo, a Spanish red-blend (72% Tempranillo, 20% Graciano and 5% Garancha with 13.4% alcohol). The wine had a deep red garnet color that offered red berry and plum aromas combined with a hint of aromatic tobacco and stony mineral characteristics. On the palate, it generally followed the aroma with red and black berries dominating over dry (still tight) tannins and a medium+ lingering note of dusty earth on the finish. This wine had an excellent Old World presence similar in style and finesse to a classic Spanish Rioja Alta (possibly a disappointment for those looking for just another California-style fruit bomb), but a true find for those looking for “Wines of Terroir”.

To these notes, Jim added, “My approach to winemaking is definitely old world with minimal intervention.   At Alamosa, we shoot for good harvest chemistry, but will adjust in the winery as required.  We go for ripe flavors and use new oak sparingly.  Our approach to blending is to use blends for most of our reds and, in old world tradition, field blend when possible.  A good wine is like a good book, it needs a beginning, middle, and finish. I believe that blending is a good way to achieve that objective, particularly when using warm climate grapes.” On this latter point, Jim is spot on: most warm wine producing regions are best known for their blended wines, not for making single varietal wines.

The second wine up was the Alamosa 2010 Graciano. Alamosa Wine Cellars is perhaps the only winery in Texas with enough Graciano vines growing to make both a blended wine (El Guapo) and a single varietal wine from this grape variety. Graciano is a red blending grape of particular noteworthiness in Spain’s Rioja region normally associated with wines made from its leading grape: Tempranillo. In fact, most Spanish Rioja wines are blends that support its “all-star” Tempranillo with Granacha (Granache) for color, body and alcohol, and Graciano for acidity, flavor and aroma, and don’t forget Mazuelo for tannin and ageing characteristics. Alamosa’s Graciano showed a distinctive varietal character strong with black cherry on the nose and palate and a dominant sweet Cavendish tobacco aroma (the likely source for the sweet tobacco in the El Guapo) that opened further into scents of humus. It was apparent why Garciano has its appeal as a blending grape that marries well with Tempranillo and plays a role in making of true Rioja-style wines.

In preparing for this tasting, I asked Jim what were the top three challenges he has experienced making TexMed wines with exotic grape names. He prioritized them and said,   “Number 1 – Lack of name recognition in the marketplace for some of the varieties that work well for us. Number 2 – Weather related challenges, spring frosts, high temps at harvest, rain at inconvenient times, and Number 3 –  Weeds! The grand prize goes to Johnson Grass with the reserve grand champion going to Texas Sandbur, more commonly known as Goatheads.  Number 4 – Last but not least, it’s rattlesnakes. Dogs can now be vaccinated against rattlesnake bites (not everybody knows this) and ours are, and for good reason!”

The third wine for the evening was Jim’s eclectic red blend, Alamosa 2010 Texacaia (pronounced “Tex-a-ki-ya”), single vineyard designated with the name of his estate vineyard (Tio Pancho Ranch). On the side of the bottle, it says that it is 64% Sangiovese (from the Tuscan region of Italy), 15% Tannat (a tannic grape that makes nearly black wine originating from the Spanish Basque area and most commonly found in the Pyrenees regions of Spain and France) and 11% Petit Verdot (a red blending grape from used in Bordeaux to add acidity and spicy notes). This is a wine that both defines and fulfills Jim’s mission for TexMed wines, all 360 points of the region’s compass.

The Texacaia had a deep red purple color that held a garnet hue when angled just right that held aromas of red fruit on the attack followed by scents dark plums and new leather. On the palate, the red/dark fruits held true to the aroma tailing toward a mouthfeel dominated by tannins reminiscent of hazelnuts (Terry focused on hazelnut skins), and completed with a dry, minerally finish with a cool, cool 13.1% alcohol.

In reflection, Jim has a feel for the future of Texas wines. He said, “In ten years, if we do it right, there will be more Mediterranean grape varieties grown here in Texas, almost no Burgundian varietals like Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. There will be more wineries, probably double what we have today. Most of all, there will be better consumer acceptance in the marketplace of what may appear today as exotic and mysterious Mediterranean grape varieties and wine names. I’m surely counting on that! After consulting my crystal ball, I say that there might even be a Texas-based cooperage making wine and whiskey barrels from Missouri, Minnesota, and Pennsylvania oak.”

All in all, these wines of Alamosa Wine Cellars highlighted the Old World linkage of the Lone Star State while conveying the spirit of adventure that is helping to define the Texas wine experience of today and the future. They offered medium+ body and concentration, pleasantly moderate alcohol levels, and most of all, the mineral character that heretofore has been only associated with Old World wines.

 Posted by at 1:22 pm
Dec 192011

Fairhaven Vineyards TVM 2009 Lomanto: Texas Bred, Texas Savored

It was truly one of the most incredible wine tastings…in Denison, Texas, at Vinita, the familial home of Thomas Volnay (T.V.) Munson. We had a host of wines, but not a name among them was recognizable from any of my previous wine tastings. The names included Lomanto, Ben Hur, Delicatessen, Wine King, and Nitodal. These are now only memories to me, except one.

R.L. Winters provided the wines made from grapes originally bred at the hand of the “Originator”, T.V. Munson: the grape breeder par excellence, horticulturalist, scientist, businessman, back roads traveler and savior of the French wine industry with Texas native root stock that gave him the moniker: The Grape Man of Texas.

R.L. is a master horticulturalist at his Fairhaven Vineyards, which has a mission to produce exceptional, fine quality French American and American Hybrid wines for sale in the Texas market and nationwide. He has begun a pioneering effort to develop his “Heritage Series” of super-hybrid wine grapes. The genetic base for this project was sourced from Fairhaven’s exceptionally rare American hybrid collection. His breeding vineyard is a living history of Texas wine Heritage. What heirlooms are to tomatoes, Munson varieties are to grapes.

In November of 2009, Fairhaven Lomanto became the first wine produced in R.L.’s Heritage Series.

All of the wines from my Vinita tasting were now history except for one, and it was a bottle of R.L.’s Fairhaven Vineyards 2009 Lomanto. The label on the bottle bares the initials TVM in honor of T.V. Munson’s great grape breeding work over a century ago.

Nearly immediately after I popped the cork on this baby, I knew that it had a lot to give. It was thick and dark with an opacity something like a California Zin. The color was a purple-blue-red, something that R.L. calls “astral purple with a stunning iridescent blue halo”. The aroma was still tight, but had readily discernible dark berries highlighted with mineral and mint notes. On the palate, it was pure black cherry: juicy, ripe and concentrated. After I sat awhile tasting this wine, I thought seriously if anyone had doubts that a red hybrid grape could go mainstream, they better think again.

The Fairhaven Lomanto was a deep, dark and serious red wine

According to R.L. “Regarding Lomanto, it’s one tough vine.  We were able to get 400 of the vines through this last summer (a 100 year drought) without irrigation, and only had a few losses. In a normal year the vine shows very little damage from foliar fungal problems when a usual spray program is maintained.”

He continued, “Lomanto’s tolerance to Pierce’s Disease (PD) is exceptional. An occasional vine will show some symptoms but the problems usually occur on a single cordon (zonal) and rarely affect the entire vine. Berry size is 20-22mm and cluster weights will average about 14 ounces, with some ranging to 18.”

At more or less a pound a piece, those are what I call clusters.

R.L. gave me more details on the 2009 Lomanto harvest and how it was handled in his winery. He said, “In 2009, ripening was progressive and uniform. Harvest details and berry chemisty was as follows: Harvest 2009 July 14 at 6:45 am, Brix 21. pH 3.3. TA 0.90 g/l. Fermentation was in two stages: Primary fermentation with Lalvin ICV D254 and a secondary malolactic fermentation using Scott Labs Alpha ML. After that, the barrel treatment was new American oak all the way with 145 days in oak, a mere five months.

During my tasting, I decided that the Fairhaven Lomanto was a perfect match for tomato pasta with its fruit forward characteristics and moderate tannic structure. It was like having an “East Texas Montepulciano”, the red Italian wine grape variety acknowledged far and wide as having wine characteristics with a high pasta compatibility factor.

R.L. was specific about why it should be grown here in Texas: resistance to Pierce’s Disease and drought, while providing a good crop load, as well. But, why is Lomanto so good as a wine grape. I looked for an historical perspective by going back to T.V. Munsons words that I found in his seminal grape growing primer, Foundations of American Grape Culture.

Lomanto was a Munson hybrid grape that he produced in 1902 by crossing Salado and Pense grapes. Pardon if these are not household names, but from Munson’s notes these two grapes brought to Lomanto excellent quality claret red juice, good acidity and value for grower needing a grape for Texas’s limy soils and hot climate.

Furthermore, Lomanto was a cross that linked American and European grape cultures and over a hundred years later appears ready to serve and be served. In the cross, Munson used Salado, another Munson hybrid from 1893 that brought together Champini, De Grasset and Brillant, that he combined with Pense (also known as Malaga) that Munson realized was a European vinifera grape. Malaga has also be referred to by other names: Chevrier, Columbier and Blanc Doux. However, Malaga (Pense) is more commonly known these days as Semillon, the first-class sweet white grape of the French Sauternes. The ability of Malaga (Semillon) to produce ripe sweet juice appears to have come through in Lomanto, too.

For more on the Munson story and my “in the vineyard” tasting of Munson grapes, go to: http://www.wineslinger.net/?p=96

 Posted by at 11:55 am
Aug 152011

Video: Calais Winery in Dallas Deep Ellum Presses 2011 Newsom Vineyards Tempranillo (The Purple Stuff)

Here is “The Purple Juice”. It’s Newsom Vineyards 2011 Tempranillo (Texas High Plains Appellation) that was pressed at Calais Winery in the Deep Ellum district of downtown Dallas after eleven days of fermentation on the skins.

According to Ben Calais, winemaker at Calais Winery, said, “2011 was a hard year for winegrowers in Texas, but the grapes that were watched over, harvested and carefully transported to the winery came in with some pretty good numbers. For example, these Tempranillo grapes were ripe and concentrated and had good acidity; actually the best I’ve seen over past years.”

Watch the video that shows the thick purple juice being pressed, pumped and gathered to be aged in oak barrels.

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Back to Texsom for Day 2. We will be sampling some wines from Rioja region of Spain. These are the wines of Tempranilllo, the region in the land where Tempranillo’s origins reside. While tasting the Cianzas and Gran Reservas from Rioja, I will be mentally tasting the Tempranilllo of Calais Winery.

 Posted by at 9:37 am
Jul 172011

Manifesto: The Texas Wine Discussion Starts with Diurnal Temperature Swings, But Goes So Much Further

How many times have you heard winery and/or vineyard reps say, “This vineyard location benefits from warm to hot days that develop strong fruit character, but also have cool nights that helps maintain acidity in the grapes”?

It’s repeated, repeated and repeated. It’s almost like a mantra in most wine regions, particularly in California…but is it true? And, is that really the discussion we need to have?

In most new world wine growing regions, the challenge in grape growing (numero uno) is getting the grapes to physiological (phenolic) ripeness before sugar levels get too high and the acidity starts to drop off and pH starts to shoot up making wines undrinkable and unstable.

But, is the need for large diurnal temperature (i.e. the day-night temperature) swings counter-productive. There is definitely a school of thought (particularly in old world European grape growing) that for flavor development in the grapes, they need uniformly moderate temperatures.

Europe’s best and most widely regarded wine producing regions characteristically have temperatures that vary over narrow ranges, both day-to-night and day-to-day throughout the ripening portion of the growing season. Relatively moderate and constant temperatures during ripening favor certain biochemical processes that define the color, flavor and aroma of wine grapes.

Why is this true?  The answer is likely this:  biological chemical reactions are driven by enzymes.  These enzymes’ activity levels are a function of temperature.  So it is likely that the enzymes relating to phenolic development do not work as well in extremes of temperature. But, warmer regions have found a way to handle this problem. It’s blending. In the notably hot Rhone Valley they have up to 13 grape varieties of grapes that can be legally used in a Rhone blended wines; even the noted “lip stinger”, Picpoul Blanc that brings lip smacking crisp acidity to the blend even in the hottest of years.

So, what about vineyards in what are characterized as having hot days like we have in Texas (and particularly this summer) and when night time cooling is low to moderate? In these sites, sugar development and acid drop are likely to outpace phenolic development and structural ripeness.  This situation leaves the grape growers with two choices:

  • Pick early and have underdeveloped phenolics with accompanying herbaceous or other unattractive flavors (this works surprisingly well for most white grape varieties, less so for reds), or
  • Pick later with much higher sugar levels and low acidity that must be dealt with at the winery with strategies designed to moderate alcohol content and increase acidity in the finished wine, but run the risk of bringing undesirable characteristics of their own.

In California, they have high daytime temperature but big day-night temperature swings brought by cool Pacific breezes at night.  In contrast, Bordeaux has a climate where the Atlantic moderates both the day and nighttime temperatures and thus more completely minimizes temperature fluctuations.  Both regions can grow classic European varieties of grapes (Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon), but California’s wines tend to be higher in alcohol and lower in acidity than wines made from the same grapes but in Europe.

What about frontiers of the modern wine world like Texas? We have summer daytime temperatures in the mid-90s that can even reach the low 100s by mid-summer, but this is not that much different than in other new world grape growing regions like California (Napa), Washington state (eastern regions) and even Australia. Unfortunately, Texas doesn’t have a large body of cool water to its west that helps dry a diurnal temperature swing.

What we do have in Texas is elevation and dry, arid conditions. As you travel in a northwesterly direction from the eastern Texas Gulf Coast near Houston (45 feet above sea level) the elevation increases to between 1000 to 2000 feet by the time you reach the Texas hill country near Austin, San Antonio and Fredericksburg. If you continue on this northwestern trajectory and eventually find yourself in the region between Lubbock and the New Mexico border (the Texas high plains), you’ll be at 3500 to 4000 feet (that’s a thousand feet higher than the Argentine Mendoza). It’s dry as a bone up there and has lots of red sandy loam to go around.

The net result is that the vineyards in the Texas hill country get moderate night time cooling, probably insufficient for Classic European varietals to be within their usual parameters. However, by the time we reach the Texas high plains, things would be closer to the bar set by California’s wine producing regions, but still not quite there. Consequently, we can grow Cabernet, but it is going to be a good “warm weather” cabernet, not the Napa Valley kind of wine you might expect. Winemakers can make some adjustments if they harvest right and provide judicious treatment of the juice at crush, or use of blending with other grape varieties that have more tolerance to the heat and that preserve their acidity. These are generally grapes that originate from southern regions in Spain, Portugal, southern France, southern Italy, Sicily and Sardinia. A good example of this latter approach is Llano Estacado Winery’s Viviano (made with part Cabernet Sauvignon and part Sangiovese).

For a longer term and more permanent fix, more of these “Mediterranean” grapes need to be planted in Texas. The picture that is becoming evident is that the Texas high plains may be like Spain, southern France and Italy, but the Hill Country may be more like Portugal. However, the grapes selected for these regions need to fit within the other constraints that our continental climate brings. They need to bud late or have prolific secondary buds to beat the late spring freezes (this is the single biggest threat to low harvest yields in Texas) and be able to quickly shut down after harvest to resistant winter kill when the winter cold sets in.

As you can see, the discussion of growing wine grapes in Texas starts with the question of our summer time heat and the discussion of diurnal temperature variation, but gets even more complex. However, this is precisely the discussion that we need to have.

Texas just ain’t Bordeaux, and it ain’t even Napa Valley no matter how you slice it or dice it. It’s time to get real and move on to discover what the Texas wine experience really will be and set our vision toward how to reach 10,000 acres of wine grapes and how to get there a quickly as possible. Only once we get to that point, will the global wine world take up as a serious player.

 Posted by at 1:43 pm
Jul 032011

VintageTexas Sunday “Cyclopedia of Wine: Cold Soak versus Extended Maceration

Maceration is a winemaking process whereby the phenolic materials of the grape (tannins, coloring agents (anthocyanins) and many flavor/aroma compounds) are extracted from the grape skins, seeds and stems into the must (pulpy juice of the grape). Since most of the pigments in red grapes are in the skins, maceration is the principal technique used to yield the dark purple-red color in red wines.

Pre-fermentation cold soak has gained popularity as a trendy winemaking technique in recent years. It seems to have started as way to get more color and flavor from the finicky and notably thin-skinned grape, Pinot Noir. The technique has now been used on just about every red grape in the known wine world.

Cold soaks on macerated grapes are typically conducted at temperatures of about 40 to 50 F for periods from a couple days to about a week, but under the hand of an experienced winemaker, they can run as long as two weeks. The use of low temperature in this process is to reduce bacterial growth and spoilage in the presence of oxygen due to the absence of the protective carbon dioxide gas formed during fermentation. Arguments continue as to the true benefits of cold soaking, which red grape varieties truly benefit, and the optimum period for cold soaking. It does appear that “thin-skinned” varieties of grapes and those that do not give color and aroma readily stand to benefit more than those that have thicker, color-rich skins. In Texas, I would think that Sangiovese and Grenache are good candidates for the cold soak, as may be Black Spanish which does not have a lot of tannin to give.

During conventional red wine fermentation, the grape skins and solids are also being leached of color, tannins and aromas. Typically, when fermentation is done, the wine is pressed or drained from the solids, but if a winemaker wants to extract more from the grape solids (skins, seeds and stems), the process used is extended (alcoholic) maceration.

Why do it? Some winemakers like the added color and flavor and feel that it improves a wine’s overall mouthfeel and that it might even improve the ageability of the wine. Sometimes, more color can be extracted during post-fermentation extended maceration as a result of the increased solubility of color-containing molecules from the skins in the presence of alcohol. Another factor in extended maceration is that short chain tannin molecules can link up to form longer chain molecules that yield more supple and pleasurable wines.

However, just as with pre-fermentation cold soaking, with extended maceration, experience is the rule to follow. Empirical studies show that extended maceration can make wines that are more complex and delicious, but sometimes if taken to extreme can result in overly astringent and harsh tannins, which may not benefit from aging in barrel or bottle. This process is often done with Bordeaux and Rhône grape varieties that have significant tannin levels. However, there is typically some loss of fruitiness and color in the process, but many feel it is justified by the complexity and mouthfeel that it adds to the wine.

In Texas, I’ve noticed that what I sensed was an unwillingness on the part of some Texas winemakers to try to extract all that the grapes have to give. I think that this is because they fear loosing what precious few Texas grapes they have to what on their part may be an untried process, at least on their part.

While on a visit to wineries in the Piemonte (Piedmont) region of northern Italy that make inky (and ageworthy) Barolo from locally grown Nebbiolo grapes, it was obvious to see that winemakers there had no such fear and took all they could from the grapes with hugely long extended macerations. They also had innovative techniques like rotary fermenters that were used to mix the “brew” for a month if not longer. At the end of the process, the skins were a pale shade of gray…no pigment was left in them.

So, are cold soaking and extended maceration important to making wine in Texas? I think so, as we need wines of body, character and complexity to represent the Lone Star State as we enter the global wine world.

Next time you visit a Texas winery, try to find someone that works with the wines on the production floor. Ask them about cold soaks and extended maceration. I’ll bet that you’ll get one of many possible responses based on the varieties of grapes they use, their willingness to explore the unknown, and the experience of the winemaker with these processes.

 Posted by at 1:30 pm
May 182011

A Story of the Three Texas Viogniers

As I selected this title, I had in my mind the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears. You know, when Goldilocks got tired, she found one bed too soft, another too hard and the third was just right. Well, it seems that when it comes to Texas Viogniers, something close akin to this just might apply.

Why? Because there are a growing number of Texas-made Viogniers and this grape has quickly progressed deeply into our Texas wine Lexicon.

Last weekend I co-chaired a wine tasting panel at Culinaria (Culinary Arts and Wine Festival) in San Antonio where we did a Texas Two-Sip blind tasting: Texas versus non-Texas, sight unseen which was which.

Three of the six two-sip flights in the tasting were comprised of white wines. On the second flight, I asked the audience, “What was the grape variety from which the wines were made?” Nearly unanimously, the audience shouted out: “Viognier!” Well, they were wrong; the two Viognier wines were in the following flight. However, it goes to show how Texas wine drinkers have begun to associate Viognier with white wines made in their state. Click here for more.

Other recent tasting experiences have also illustrated to me how common “good quality” Texas Viogniers are becoming, and how varied, as well. It all started at the Texas Wine and Grape Growers Meeting in early March and the Buffalo Gap Wine and Food Summit followed. Since the start of this Viognier tasting escapade, I’ve tasted four different Viogniers: the first was from Lone Oak Winery and then I moved on to Kim McPherson’s McPherson Cellars Viognier (click here for blog post). Since then, I’ve had three more and all from the 2010 harvest. They were Viogniers from Brennan Vineyards, Grape Creek Vineyards and Becker Vineyards.

Words that might be used to describe this spectacle of Viogniers might include: abundance, cornucopia, or profusion depending on your point of view. In these regards, Texas Viogniers are not only getting plentiful, but they are getting acclaim. Check out this month’s featured Texas wine from Jessica Dupuy who does the feature on Texas Monthly’s “Eat My Words” blog.

The balance of my Viognier Manifesto focuses on another aspect of Texas Viogniers: they are starting to differentiate. By this, I mean that we are starting to see different styles emerge. Some of this may be due to the mindset of the winemaker, but it may also been due to the varying growing conditions across Texas. It may just be variation in the Brix (sugar content) of the grapes at harvest. At the TWGGA meeting we had a tasting of three Texas Viogniers made from grapes harvested at 21-23 Brix, 23-25 Brix, and over 25 Brix. All wines were made by the same winemakers using similar techniques. These three wines were remarkably different from one another.

I actually don’t know yet what is the predominant factor in determining the up and coming styles of Viognier in Texas (If you feel like you know, please feel free to comment). The following three wines are examples of Texas Viognier that offer high quality and also the room for wine drinkers to find the style of Viognier that they like best.

Brennan Vineyard Viognier 2010

This wine is the lightest and brightest of the bunch and it offers a pale straw complexion with yellow/green highlights in the glass. What follows is a near monochromatic experience of bright citrus (lemon-lime on the nose followed by a light floral component of citrus blossom). Immediately on the palate, the wine shows a hint of fruit sweetness followed by pear and peach with a subtle, yet long crisp finish. Recommendation: This wine is for those that normally find other Viogniers (particularly California-style Viogniers) too big, too ripe, or too floral for them. Pair with light seafood dishes such as flounder, shrimp or oysters.

Grape Creek Vineyards Viognier 2010

Building on a similar basis from the previous wine, the Grape Creek Viognier starts with citrus on the nose but adds two more notes (honeysuckle and yeasty characteristics) resulting in a three-part harmony of aromatic sensations. This wine yields a dry tasting experience dominated by peach and a long bright finish of lemon zest. Recommendations: This wine is likely the most food friendly of the bunch. The dominance of dryness and acidity on the palate will cut through sauces rich in butter or olive oil but used on light, spicy fare such as Shrimp Scampi or Asian/Indian cuisine (yellow curry with seafood and jasmine rice comes to mind).

Becker Vineyards Viognier 2010

If the first two wines are monochromatic and a three tone chord, respectively, the Becker Viognier is a full polyphonic symphony, but crafted in aromas and taste. This wine is multilayered and changes significantly with time in the glass. It provides an exotic baseline of ripe peach and apricot that takes on tropical nuances as it lingers in the glass. Then, the wine erupts with aromas of honeysuckle and magnolia blossom and in time; a warm scented vanilla note wafts. But wait…there’s more. The mouthfeel is silky and soft and the taste oozes with ripe peach, nectarine and vanilla that lingers for minutes on the palate. Recommendation: This wine is best served colder than most white wines as it allows time for the tasting experience to evolve in the glass as the wine warms. Therefore, it serves a double purpose: good for sipping while cool, yet powerful enough for your most elaborate and powerful Mediterranean preparations like chicken with garlic, rosemary or herbs d’Provence, and citrus.

There you go…three Texas Viogniers, three very different, high quality wines. Depending on your preference choose the one to your liking: (a) light, bright and straightforward, (b) the intermediate play, or (c) the complex and exotically scented.

Which style is Texas Viognier? Well, right now and maybe forever, all of them. Enjoy the moment and we will see what happens.

 Posted by at 5:29 pm
Oct 212010

Write Off the Vine: Texas Wine News & Videos – October 21, 2010

How To Host a Texas Two-Sip

A Texas Two-Sip tasting is a blind tasting of Texas wines alongside comparable non-Texas wines from the United States or other wine regions around the world. Download the materials below to host your own Texas Two-Sip with family and friends.

All the resources you will need to host a Texas Two-Sip, find a Texas winery or wine trail near you, a list of grape varieties that do well in Texas, find a GoTEXAN restaurant that features Texas wine, and more are located online at: http://www.gotexanwine.org/

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New Academic Programs for the Texas Wine Industry

Texas Tech University is pleased to announce a new initiative made possible through the support of the Texas grape and wine industry. Several new courses and a degree specialization will soon be offered for students seeking careers in the wine industry and in wine retailing. Through the efforts of faculty in the College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources and the College of Human Sciences, many new courses and one degree option will soon be available to students at Texas Tech University.

Courses Available Beginning in Fall 2009

PSS 1311 Winemaking Worldwide: an Introduction to Wines of the World; PSS 4111 Wine Appreciation; PSS 2314/2114 Wine Production Introduction (Principles of Wine Production) & Lab; PSS 3310 Viticulture I: Principles of Viticulture; PSS 4416 Winemaking Quality Control and Analysis; RHIM 4350 Wine Tourism; PSS 6415 Advanced Winemaking

Courses Available Beginning in Spring 2010

AAEC 5396/ PSS 5316 Winery Business Planning, Design and Operations; RHIM 4340 Wine Marketing; PSS 4XXX Study Abroad; PSS 4310 Viticulture II – Grape Production; PSS 5312 Vineyard Management

More: http://www.pssc.ttu.edu/News-Events/Viticulure_Enology_Courses.php

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Texas Wine of the Month: Haak Vineyards Madeira of Jacquez, 2006

Jessica Dupuy (EatMy Words/Texas Monthly)

For almost a year, we have presented a variety of different wines as some of Texas’ best showstoppers. From commonly known grape varietals such as Sauvignon Blanc and Tempranillo to less familiar grapes such as Black Spanish and Muscat Canelli, each new Texas Wine of the Month is a testament to the wide range of grapes the Lone Star state can produce—and produce well.

This month, we bring you another uncommon wine selection, a Madeira wine produced just outside of Galveston. That’s right, Galveston.

With 20% alcohol, the Haak Madeira of Jacquez is a strong wine that may not be appreciated by all palates, but it does make a perfect sipping digestif. Made exclusively from Jacquez grapes grown in the Gulf Coast region, the winery’s estufa—the heating element for producing the wine—is one of the very few in the United States today.

Winery: Haak Vineyards and Winery

Retail Price: ~$40

Availability: Spec’s and at Haak Vineyards and Winery

More: http://www.texasmonthly.com/blogs/eatmywords/?p=1453

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Texas Wine is Alive and That’s No Bull

The Texas wine grape industry started in 1650 when Father Garcia de San Francisco y Zuniga, the founder of El Paso, planted vineyards for the production of sacramental wine (he is credited with the first vineyard planted in North America). It was not until the late 1960’s and 70’s that a new wine revolution began, and today the Lone Star State is home to over 200 wineries, and ranks fifth in total wine production in the United States (description from Appellation America). Some of the larger wineries of Texas include: Ste. Genevieve (#1- 600,000 cases), Llano Estacado (#2- 100,000 cases), Becker (#3), Messina Hof (#4) and Fall Creek (#5). Twenty-eight of Texas’ 254 counties still remain dry, even today. Harvest time is the end of July, two months earlier than California.

More: http://www.thefiftybest.com/wine/the_wine_detective/texas_wine.html

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10 Texas Wines to Tempt Your Taste Buds

John Griffin (SavorSA)

The calendar tells us that October is Texas Wine Month, but many of us “loca-pours” — the wine-loving equivalent of a locavore  — have been enjoying the state’s rich bounty all year long. The following is a list of 10 Lone Star wines worth seeking out. Many are at fine wine shops in the area. Others are available only at the winery or online.

The list could stretch on an on to include selections from many of the state’s other fine wineries, such as Fall Creek, Brennan, Pedernales Cellars, LightCatcher and Inwood Estates. These are just to get you started.

1. Haak Winery Blanc du Bois (Dry) 2009

2. Perissos Vineyard and Winery Texas Hill Country Viognier 2007

3. Stone House Vineyards Claros Norton 2008

4. Calais Winery Tempranillo 2009

5. Texas Hills Vineyards Toro de Tejas Newsom Vineyards Tempranillo 2009

Details and More: http://www.savorsa.com/2010/10/10-texas-wines-to-tempt-your-taste-buds/

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