Thursday, August 28, 2014

Spicewood Vineyards

I had the pleasure of tasting the wines of Spicewood Vineyards last weekend with the winery’s visionary and president, Ron Yates. Ron grew up in nearby Marble Falls and graduated from the University of Texas. In his attempt to get the most out of his academic quest, he did a study abroad in Spain in 1999 to fulfill his college Spanish requirement; this led him to his love of Tempranillo wines.

Despite his not enjoying his early participation in Texas grape harvests as a kid, he decided to parlay what he called his highly embellished vineyard skills for the opportunity to stay on in Spain for the Ribera del Duero harvest after his Spanish courses ended. While he was in the midst of his adventure, he did think about how the terroir of Ribera del Duero reminded him of some areas back home in the Texas Hill Country. The idea of making the Spanish style wines that he loved back in Texas began forming.

The longer that I talked with Ron, the more I was repeatedly struck by two things:
1)      Ron is a bit of a Renaissance man. His stories tossed into casual conversation between tastings and touring around the winery included not only working harvest but law school, playing guitar, his record label, the Austin music scene, the Austin real estate market, more tales of Spain (of course, he went back) and what I will call “Tex-ifying” some European wine making equipment -you just need to call a guy that welds together barbeque pits. And,
2)      Ron is going to have fun doing whatever it is that he is doing. His stories include many references to friends and family with a good dose of humor aimed primarily at himself but also at several buddies from high school who work with him.

Ron and his family purchased Spicewood Vineyards in 2007. The original seventeen acres were planted with Bordeaux varieties by the previous owners back in 1992. As these vines were producing grapes, they were able to start some experimental wine making immediately. Ron is committed to an estate program and he has increased the vineyard size to thirty-two acres with an additional eight acres planted to the west. He is focusing on planting Tempranillo along with other heat tolerant Spanish varieties like Graciano and Touriga Nacional.

While Ron says he prefers to use his own grapes whenever he can, he will not turn down any good fruit offered up by a trusted friend. He likes to experiment with different varieties and see what they can do. He jokes about some of these experiments having to go straight down the drain. He says the goal at Spicewood is to make wines that don’t need corrections and he feels this starts with carefully selected rootstock and varieties that suit the climate.

I had entered the tasting room at the winery from the 100 degree Farenheit temperatures so I was pleased to see an array of cool whites in the line-up along with a Tempranillo from the Hill Country Estate as well as one from the High Texas Plains. There was also a somewhat questionably labeled wine called Cabernet Claret, a kitchen sink blend of Texas grapes with 2% residual sugar.

My favorites from the tasting:
  • 2012 Spicewood Texas Hill Country Estate Semillion – dry, crisp, fresh pear, citrus and a light mineral finish, $19 a bottle.
  • 2012 Spicewood Texas Hill Country Estate Sauvignon Blanc – dry, zingy grapefruit, lime zest and a light mineral finish, $17 a bottle.
  • 2012 Spicewood Texas High Plains Viognier – dry, fresh melon and apricot with a light citrus blossom floral note and a citrus finish, $18 a bottle.
  • 2013 Spicewood Texas High Plains Rousanne –  fuller body, dry with chamomile, sweet citrus and ripe pineapple with a clean citrus finish, $14 a bottle.
  • 2012 Spicewood Texas High Plains Tempranillo - a good summer red; dry, medium body, fruit forward with mixed berries and baking spice; aged 12 months in 70% neutral oak and 30% new French oak barrels, $24 a bottle.
  • 2012 Spicewood Texas Hill Country Estate Tempranillo – dry, fuller body with dried cherries, black pepper and cocoa with a light toasty note; aged 12 months in 60% neutral oak and 40% new French oak barrels, $46 a bottle.

Ron also pulled some Albariño from the tank that I am looking forward to trying again as soon as it is bottled and ready. I also tried the 2012 Cabernet Claret. I say “questionably named” as varietals outside of the traditional Bordeaux grapes are included. Ron said that 2012 was not the best year for the estate Cabernet so Tempranillo and Syrah were also part of the blend for this vintage. Ron had considered changing the name but it is the featured wine at the annual Pair it with the Claret party which the vineyard hosts each February. Ron says that the 2% residual sugar and jammy red berry flavors makes it a fun wine to drink with spicy chili, barbeque and Mexican dishes, $17 a bottle.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Happy Hour at Uchi - Wining and Dining in Houston

While my daughter was in town briefly between her study abroad and school starting, we took the opportunity to wine and dine our way around Houston. She is always a favorite dining companion of mine because she will taste anything and loves to split items, we can always create our own multi-course menu.

Uchi was one of her not-to-miss spots while she was here. Happy hour runs from 5-6:30 daily and there is always a crowd. We arrived at 5:00 pm on Wednesday to find the line already forming but we were able to walk right in and get a table as soon as the doors opened. The restaurant quickly filled up.


This time of day at Uchi provides a great opportunity to try smaller portions of some of the regular menu items. The entire menu is also available as well as a menu of daily specials. We ordered some sparkling Loire Valley rosé, the Bouvet Brut NV off the regular wine list. They serve it for $11 a glass or $43 a bottle. Happy hour or "Sake Social" drink selections include sake for $3, a sake cocktail for $6 and a red and white wine by the glass for $7.

We started with the spicy crunchy tuna roll with big-eye tuna, avocado, jalapeno and cucumber and the shag tempura roll with salmon, sun-dried tomatoes and avocado, both for $6. We followed that course with one Thai oyster with galangai, lemongrass and tomato each for $4 a piece. 

Next up, we opted for the Uchiviche with salmon, striped bass, bell pepper, tomato, garlic and cilantro for $6. There is always more fish than you expect in this little tasting. I think I have had this menu item every time that I have been to Uchi. We also enjoyed the Machi Cure which is not pictured; it is smoked baby yellowtail with yucca crisps, marcona almonds, Asian pear and yuzu for $6. I love this combination of flavors, we attacked it and I did not take a picture. 

For our final savory dish, my daughter picked the yaki niku with wagyu beef, ginger, fish sauce, local greens and ogo nori for
$8. This is a filling little plate and a good way to convince non-raw eaters to come check out Uchi with you.

We did not stop thereSince they do provide a small dessert taste on the Sake Social menu, we ended our meal with it- the okashi, made with pluot, chocolate and beet for $4, this is a very interesting dessert combination and the perfect size.

While it is always a treat to go to Uchi, I think that happy hour is my favorite time to be there. The crowd is lively and the menu variety allows for individual portions or table sharing sizes for groups. You can count on everything on the menu being available as nothing has been 86'd this early. The food is always so fresh and good; if you haven't tried Ushi yet, it may be time.

Monday, August 11, 2014

The Wines of Saget La Perrière with Arnaud Saget

A lunch time tasting with Arnaud Saget from Saget La Perrière Wines was definitely a highlight of this summer. Arnaud shared his vision for growing his family's company and his push for greater awareness among consumers about the wines of France's Loire Valley. 

Arnaud discussed both the value that can be found in the Loire Valley and the pairing potential of his food-friendly wines with our local cuisine. 

We tasted his selections at the Oceanaire with the Alaska Seafood Institute Prefix Menu. This multi-course menu included red king crab salad, pan-broiled weathervane scallops, seared wild halibut, grilled coho salmon and blueberry cobbler for dessert. All of the wines are recommended.

The Tasting:
Muscadet de Sèvre & Maine sur Lie Les Cilssages d’Or (approximately $14)
Marie de Beauregard AOC Vouvray (approximately $18)
Guy Saget La Petite Perrière Sauvignon Blanc (approximately $12)
Guy Saget La Petite Perrière Sancerre (approximately $22)
Le Domaine Saget Pouilly-Fumé (approximately $29)
Guy Saget La Petite Perrière Pinot Noir (approximately $13.50)
Marie de Beauregard Chinon (approximately$17.99)

I loved both the Sancerre and the Pouilly Fume, crisp and refreshing, so nice for this time of year; they also paired perfectly with the menu. The Pinot Noir is an unbelievable value. The Chinon is smooth and spicy; a fantastic summer red that was excellent with the salmon. 

Look for these wines and wines under their other label-Pierre Archambault. The 2012 Pierre Archambault Sancerre, was featured in the June 2014 issue of Galveston Monthly.

related article:
James Brock- Mise en Place: Beauties from the Loire 


Friday, July 18, 2014

Tasting some wines of Hanna Winery & Vineyards with Chris Hanna

I had a great time meeting Chris Hanna of Hanna Winery & Vineyards last week. We met at Brennan's for dinner, some conversation and a tasting of a few of her wines. 

Chris told me that she had not expected to join the family business originally. She was an English major with her sights set on academia when her father requested that she sit in on some interviews for a new position in marketing and public relations that he was needing to fill.

She listened to the interviewees with a mix of concern and skepticism, she couldn't imagine most of these people representing her family's brand. The final interview had the opposite effect, it was so positive that she was inspired to do the job herself. When all the applicants had left, she told her father that she felt that someone with the last name of Hanna should represent the family business. He told her that he was hoping she would say that; shortly thereafter, her immersion into the family business began.


We started our meal with the 2012 Hanna Russian River Valley Sauvignon Blanc. This wine makes up about half of the 50,000 cases they produce each year. When she made the decision to focus on Sauvignon Blanc, she also started the transition from purchased grapes to an estate grown program. I really enjoyed this wine with everything from my amuse bouche to my salad to my redfish on the half shell. It had a light body with ripe peach, grapefruit citrus and herbal/lemongrass aromas and flavors; it had crisp acidity and a mineral-laced finish. This is a great summer wine that you can enjoy sipping out on the patio or with any light dinner. It is the house white at Chris' home. In addition to finding it on the wine list at Brennan's, you can find this wine at Spec's for approximately $20.

Next, we tasted the 2012 Hanna Russian River Valley Chardonnay. I loved this with both my salad and entree. It had rich aromas and flavors of baked apples, orange citrus and baking spices; a medium+ body, fresh acidity with a long creamy finish. Highly recommended, priced at approximately $25, this is a wine that will work with just about any type of food. 

Chris is a cookbook author as well as a winemaker so finding that synergy between the food and wine is always her goal. She wanted to create a Chardonnay that was a bit different than the heavy, buttery style that seemed more available; she wanted to maintain the natural acidity but she also wanted a creamier, rounder white wine than her crisp, angular Sauvignon Blanc. She achieves that with this Chardonnay through night harvests, the use of wild yeasts and light use of new oak.

Conversation flowed with the wine, in addition to our mutual love of all things wine and food, we found that we also shared: 
  • the joys of living with a sports fanatic husband
  • mothering 2 kids, one boy and one girl for each of us/ both of our college daughters are considered wine experts in their peer group 
  • we each learned a lot about cooking from the Food Network
  • we are both regular practitioners of yoga
  • and so much more.
We tasted some red wine as well. Most notably, the 2007 Hanna Bismark Mountain Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon. I wasn't familiar with that vineyard designation. Chris explained that it is located on the western facing side of the Mayacamas Mountains and will be labeled with its new named appellation, Moon Mountain, on future bottles. This wine tasted surprisingly young for 2007. It was fresh and fruity with blackberry and plum with cocoa and a bit of black olive. It was full bodied with smooth, ripe tannins and a long mineral-laced finish. Highly recommended, approximately $55.

I thoroughly enjoyed meeting Chris and tasting her wines. She has me completely motivated to come up to Sonoma and learn more. In the meantime, we can find her wines at Spec's or enjoy them in restaurants all around town.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Cantina Terlano Wines of the Alto-Adige Tasting and Seminar

Klaus Gasser from Cantina Terlano was in Houston last month conducting a tasting up at Camerata for the Houston Sommelier Association. The wines he brought come from Alto-Adige in the northern part of Italy near the Dolomite Mountains in the foothills of the Alps. There is a heavy German, French and Austrian influence in the region. 
Alto-Adige is a high mountainous region which Klaus compared to Colorado. He recommends the skiing if you are traveling there in the winter. He also compares the area to Burgundy because of its diverse micro-climates imparting unique characteristics to the wine. The region is known for its aromatic whites but it can also produce rich, full body reds. The area around Terlano is warmer than other parts of the region but it still has a good diurnal range to protect the grapes' acidity.

The vineyard area ranges from about 800-3000 ft above sea level and has red quartz porphyric rocky soil with a high mineral content which is believed to give the wines their freshness. The porous soil also allows for good drainage. Warm days and cool nights complete the perfect growing conditions. 


The area has a 2,000 year history of producing wine. Terlano is the name of the winery, the village, a historic wine blend and the name of the DOC in the area. It is a very traditional wine producing area. Cantina Terlano, the winery, was founded in 1893 with a goal to produce high quality white wines for long aging. 

The white wine making style has remained the same while the approach to red wine making has become more modern. They make white wines at higher fermentation temperatures than most modern winemakers use to get more flavor. Their wine making philosophy is to use large oak casks in the German fuder style for the important whites. They typically have long yeast contact with battonage to increase creaminess, often a minimum of 10 years of yeast contact for some wines. They have some wines on the lees in stainless steel going back to 1979.

The tasting:
2012 Chardonnay- Originally, Chardonnay was known as "the yellow Pinot Bianco" and the two were fermented together. Since 1984, it has been bottled separately. Clean, fresh, citrus, mineral, medium body, long finish.
2013 Pinot Grigio- Klaus describes it as "soft, creamy and persistent". Fresh, subtle, medium body, pear with a saline minerality. Perfect with any Mediterranean cuisine.
2011 Muller-Thurgau- This is a very small production wine. Medium body, higher acidity, elegant, peach.
2012 Terlaner Classico- This historic blend takes its name from the village; it has been produced for over 120 years. It consists of 60% Pinot Bianco, 30% Chardonnay and 10% Sauvignon Blanc. Light floral aroma, pear, minerality.
2011 Terlano "Vorberg" Pinot Bianco- Medium body, saline minerality, clean, dry finish.
2008 Andriano "Movado" Gewurztraminer- This is grown on calcerous-dolomite stone soil in a cooler area, the wine was aged in stainless steel. Full body, rich, dry, medium acidity, complex, lychee, cold cream, long finish.
2013 Lagrein Rosé- Traditionally made, pressed with a white wine fermentation. Fresh peach with strawberries. This goes with everything.
2012 Andriano "Bocado" Schiava- "This is a popular, everyday red. It is fresh, easy-drinking, not complex, a fantastic food wine," per Klaus. It is more aromatic and less pigmented. Round, moderate tannins, red cherry, light lingering finish. A good summer red.
2011 "St Magdelena" Red Blend- 95% Schiava and 5% Lagrein which gives a deeper color. Black cherry. More tannic from terroir. 


The style of the wine has changed in the last 20-30 years. "It used to be produced in a more rustic style due to a lack of phenolic ripeness." Klaus considers this to be the most important red wine from the region.
2008 "Gries" Lagrein- Spicy, black plum, bitter chocolate, long finish.
Sourced from 3 different vineyards with 40-100 year old vines. It spends 18 months in French Oak.
2010 "Porphyr" Lagrein- Amarone-like, rich, ripe with a long chewy finish.


Another great educational experience and tasting from the 

Saturday, June 14, 2014

The Woodbridge Caring Cooler benefiting No Kid Hungry

The Woodbridge by Robert Mondavi Caring Cooler is a limited-edition cooler that was created in support of Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry campaign. It is available on Monday, June 16 and will be sold for $35 on Amazon with 100% of the proceeds benefiting No Kid Hungry. 

About No Kid Hungry
No child should grow up hungry in America, but one in five children struggles with hunger. Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry® campaign is ending childhood hunger in America by ensuring all children get the healthy food they need, every day. The No Kid Hungry campaign connects kids in need to effective nutrition programs like school breakfast and summer meals and teaches low-income families to cook healthy, affordable meals through Cooking Matters.  This work is accomplished through the No Kid Hungry network, made up of private citizens, public officials, nonprofits, business leaders and others providing innovative hunger solutions in their communities. Join us at NoKidHungry.org.

The No Kid Hungry campaign is dedicated to ending childhood hunger in America and Woodbridge by Robert Mondavi is proud to support this cause through the sale of the Caring Cooler. Get it here http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00KO72TKS.

About Woodbridge by Robert Mondavi
Robert Mondavi founded Woodbridge Winery near his boyhood home in Lodi, California to encourage a growing wine culture in the U.S. by making quality wines that could be enjoyed by Americans as part of daily life. Combining traditional winemaking with state-of-the-art innovation, Woodbridge by Robert Mondavi raised the standard for everyday wines in America, and has become one of America’s most loved wines. For more about Woodbridge by Robert Mondavi, including food and wine pairings and recipes ideas, please visit www.woodbridgewines.com.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Cru Artisan Banfi Wines

Cru Artisan, who oversees the luxury selections of the Banfi portfolio, was in Houston last week sharing their wines and knowledge with local wine professionals. The experience started with a walk around tasting and an opportunity to talk with some of the winemakers. The selected wines for the tasting were produced by Castello Banfi, Sartori di Verona, Banfi Piemonte, Cerulli Spinozzi, Fontana Candida and Bolla.

I took my 21 year old daughter to work on this day. She was in on a short break during her summer internship and, although she is more of a cider aficionado, she was delighted to expand her knowledge of Italian wine. Within her own circle of college friends, she is already the leading wine expert.

Having just walked out of the already oppressive Houston heat and due to my own agenda of searching for wine recommendations for upcoming summer stories, we started with some sparkling pink wine, the 2010 Cuvée Aurora Rosé  from the Alta Langa DOCG. This classic method 100% Pinot Noir was dry with subtle notes of rose and apricot, a silky mousse, refreshing acidity with a smooth finish. Ideal anytime with anything. Priced at approximately $30.

I was then pleased to meet Enrico Cerulli and learn about his family's history in Abruzzo and hear about his choice to farm organically. We tasted his Cerulli Spinozzi "Cortalto" Pecorino which was "like spa water", per my daughter. It had fresh aromas and flavors of citrus and peach with almond, a medium body, dry and smooth with a light mineral finish. Priced at approximately $14.

2013 Banfi Principessa Gavia Gavi from 100% Cortese grapes was light, fresh and citrusy with a clean finish. This is easy to find in our area and affordable at approximately $14, I have served this with simply grilled fish on many occasions and a previous vintage was a Galveston Monthly top pick back in August 2012, it is consistently good.

Maur Merz, chief winemaker  for Fontana Candida, poured us a taste of his 2011 Luna Mater Frascati Superiore, a dry Malvasia-based white blend with aromas and flavors of citrus, melon and almond. Approximately $22, try it with light seafood pasta dishes.

We tasted the Albinea Canali FB Lambrusco Metodo Ancestrale from Emiliana. This was unlike any Lambrusco that I have ever had before, I really enjoyed it as did my daughter. It was dry, fresh and fruity. She proclaimed that she could just stop there until I was done and enjoy that wine with the charcuterie as recommended. We were disappointed to learn that we won't be seeing this in our market.

After our quick snack, I wanted to welcome Rudy Buratti of Castello Banfi and Andrea Sartori back to Houston and taste some red wine. We made the rounds and tasted too many good wines to name here. I was interested to taste the La Lus  Albarossa from Monferrato which is a variety that I have not tasted very much- very smooth and easy drinking.

The wine makers stayed in town and conducted classes at Camarata on the following day teaching locals about the different wines and the places from which they come.


Thank you to Cru Artisan and Banfi for bringing both their wine and wisdom to Houston!

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Dinner at Vallone's with Silvia Franco


I had a fantastic night out in Houston at the end of May with Jeremy Parzen, Mai Pham, Alfonso Cevola and Silvia Franco. The evening began at Vallone's with a tasting of some Nino Franco wines and ended with a trip to Camarata to check out the latest offerings from David Keck. As always, the food and wine were delicious and, on this evening, both the wine and the company were sparkling.

We tasted through the following wines over miniature lobster roll appetizers:

Rustica Prosecco Superiore NV- fresh and crisp with a subtle pear and citrus aroma and flavor with a touch of yeast.
Brut Prosecco Superiore NV- dry, fresh and crisp with delicate aromas of citrus blossoms and flavors of apricot and pear with a hint of yeast.
And, the unusual 2011 Faive Rosé Brut Sparkling; this wine is made from 80% Merlot and 20% Cabernet Franc rather than the usual Glera grape that is used to produce Prosecco. It was dry and crisp with fresh aromas and light flavors of red berries and apricot.

All were refreshing, crisp and very drinkable. They were drier and less fruity than other Prosecco I have tasted and they were somewhat softer and easier drinking than some other sparkling wines of the world. I couldn't pick a favorite, all are recommended.

I learned that Silvia enjoys tasting wine from whatever country she is traveling in while doing business and sharing tastes of her family's fantastic wines. In addition to our Prosecco tasting, we had a "new to the Vallone's wine list" Willamette Valley Pinot Noir to wind down dinner. Check with the sommelier to try that wine or whatever else might be new to the menu now. You can't go wrong.