Impressions from the 2012 Houston Rodeo Uncorked Best Bites Competition

WARNING: This is not a short form blog today. So, you’d better sit down and pour of glass of Texas wine before you start reading. If you don’t have time now, just wait until later for some quiet time. Lead photo from http://houston.culturemap.com.

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Tanji Patton summed up last night’s Houston Rodeo Uncorked and Best Bites Competition festivities best on the Chron.com blog this morning by saying, “There are plenty of great food and wine events in Houston, but the HLSR Uncorked is one of my favorites.  Easy to see why it’s always a sell-out event!”

Yesterday, I barely had time to set down my suitcase after the debut of my book, The Wineslinger Chronicles, at the Texas Wine and Grape Growers Association (TWGGA) meeting on Saturday in San Marcos. However, my wife and I donned our best western duds and got back in the car and headed to the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo (HLSR), Rodeo Uncorked and Best Bites Competition at Reliant Center yesterday evening.

Bloggers Meet-Up – A Tweet for a Tweet

We met-up with Jeff (the @TXwineLover) Cope and Gloria for a festive evening of biting the best bites and sipping the best wines that the 2012 HLSR International Wine Competition had to offer. Jeff and I decided to take simultaneous phone pics and link to our photos when we blog. Here is the link to his photo of my wife Delia and me, our Tweet-for-Tweet Pics.

Jeff has already done the Texas wine loving blog community a big favor by publishing a list of the Houston Rodeo’s 2012 winning wines from Texas wineries on his blog (click here for list). The complete list of 2012 rodeo wine competition winning wines from around the world can be found on the HSLR website. They were all there, well not really, but more on that later.

If you know anything about the HLSR, they do things in a big way, especially if it’s getting a crowd together in the name of fund raising for charitable, educational and scientific purposes. I experienced it personally the first year that the HLSR held their wine competition. I signed on as a wine judge and it was impressive to see the HLSR wheels start to turn. Before anyone knew it, they had a national-scale wine competition and fund raising mechanism in place. If you want to see what I mean, take a look behind-the-scenes at the wine competition manual for starters (click here). The rules are as comprehensive as any major wine competition in the country, and the amount raised through the HLSR wine competition, auction and related activities is on par with the biggest nationwide.

Best Organized Best Bites

Well, nuff said about the origins of the HSLR wine competition and the winning wines. All I can say was “WOW”! If you don’t know the size of the Reliant Center it’s big, offering over 706,000 square feet of exhibit space. Last night, a good hunk of it was dedicated to Rodeo Uncorked and Best Bites Competition. Estimates of the attendance were around 4,000 people. I must confess that I didn’t do a head count. There were over 60 best bites offered up to attendees at this year’s competition.

The event was as well planned as the wine competition with food and wine stations laid out (appropriately enough) in a wagon wheel fashion. Each section between spokes of the wheel was labeled with the letter code found in my program where the list of all the wines and best bite offerings were itemized. I’ve been to nationally recognized events such as the Aspen Food and Wine Festival with their grand tasting and food pavilions, and they are no match to this one by a long shot!

Standouts of the Evening

Despite my grease-smudged smartphone camera lens, I’ve managed to salvage a few photos from last night’s event. Memories of the best bites include a mouth-watering piece of sausage from Ciro’s Italian Grill that most people likely passed right over, a ceviche guacamole combo from Cyclone Anaya’s. There was much, much more that came to fast to record as I carefully balanced my wine glass, plate, program and greasy smartphone. I’ve got to find another way to do this; maybe with a head-cam and shoulder contraption to secure my plate. I’d could be a walking literal “one-man-band” of wine and food tastings and blogging.

The wines were simply wonderful. Being that Texas is now growing and making wines from the Tannat grape, I dove into the award-winning Tannat-based wines from Madiran in the French Pyrenees (Chateau Barrejat) and Bouza Bouza from Uruguay as part of my palate calibration.  Next, I tasted Yalumba Y Series Vermentino from South Australia. Why? Again, it was because Vermentino is starting to make a run in Texas. Particularly exciting is what Duchman Winery is doing with Vermentino grape grown at Bingham Family Vineyard on the Texas High Plains. From my previous tasting, my opinion was that Duchman’s was a far superior wine. A great taste came when we stumbled onto Dr. Loosen (for some reason, I mistakenly thought Dr. Konstantin Frank (of New York Finger Lakes Region Riesling fame). Man alive was my mind boggled, or maybe bloggled. But nevertheless, we stumbled into what I then remembered as the greatness of the Dr. Loosen Rieslings of Germany: Dr. Loosen Wehlener Sonnenuhr Spatlese, Mosel, 2010 – crisp, semi-sweet fruit and light in body and alcohol, and Dr. Loosen Estate Eiswein, Mosel, 2008, made with grapes left on the vine into winter and harvested after they’ve been frozen. This wine was a delight to taste (sweet and tart and minerally all at the same time).

Most exciting of all was a taste one of my favorite new wines in Texas, Pedernales Cellars, Reserve Tempranillo. I believe that it’s sold out, but you might check with the Pedernales Cellars winery tasting room. They might have a bottle or two left to sell. I hope since I’m out too!

We also tasted one of the top scoring wines in this year’s Houston Rodeo competition. It was the Messina Hof, Solara Sherry that exuded essences of chocolate, cherries and caramel with a well-structured balance of acidity and residual sugar gained from baking in barrel in the hot Texas Sun for three months.

Also, noteworthy for those like me that say perhaps a bit too often that Texas just ain’t Bordeaux, was the gold medal winning Llano Estacado Winery Cabernet Sauvignon and their refreshing Pinot Grigio, all made Texas appellation. Others tasted were Pilot Knob Vineyards Viognier (a silver medal winner) and Tyler, Texas’s own Kiepersol Estates Stainless Cabernet Sauvignon (also a silver medal winner) made entirely without oak aging, but it still has a tannic kick, made (I’m guessing from evidence in the glass) by extended maceration and cold soaking in the style of many of the new Chilean Cabs and Merlots. I know that I have missed a few, but it was all coming at me fast and furiously. I’d check Jeff Copes TXwineLover blog for more (and perhaps different) highlights of this event.

Now…The Rant and The Rave

THE RANT: My rant is aimed at the no-show wineries. It is great to win awards, but then to not have the courtesy to show up for the tasting (or even take you sign down at the event) that is just bad form. You all know who you are (both Texas and non-Texas wineries) and for that, you get the trashy award of the evening. Every wine is somebody’s favorite wine. It’s disappointing to fight the crowd up to the pouring station that proudly displays the name of your favorite wine only to be told that the winery did not present their wines.

But now THE  RAVE: I particularly want to thank the long time stalwarts who gave the Texas wine industry it’s restart in the the early modern days (1970s and early 1980s) and who still show the dedication to its ongoing success. Messina Hof’s Paul and Merrill Bonarrigo and Fall Creek Vineyard’s Ed and Susan Auler (above with Fall Creek Vineyards 2006 Meritus) were at the Rodeo Uncorked event, personally pouring their own wines like they have done so well for decades. I’m sure that they could have stayed comfortably at home and delegated the job to others, or perhaps in what seems to be a new tradition for the Rodeo wine competition award winners, not even had their wines poured at Rodeo Uncorked and Best Bites Competition. I also want to acknowledge in the same regard, Bill Friedhof, V.P. of Llano Estacado who manned their pouring stations (Llano Estacado had two of them as did Messina Hof to handling all of their award winning wines). I hope that more Texas wineries take their lead from you dedicated people. Thanks for all that you do!

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Love to taste, talk and tweet about Texas wines and where they are in the global scheme for wines. After all that's the only way they will reach the full potential.