Monday, January 26, 2015

Hanalei Dolphin Restaurant - Travel Dining in Kauai

Fresh local seafood prepared sushi style or simply grilled with a glass of Champagne while you wait. The full bar provides all your local beer and Hawaiian cocktails but also has a good list of sparkling wine that really complements the menu, you can't go wrong at this hopping restaurant and seafood market. By day, check out the great food and the view. In the evening, this place is packed and there are no reservations so be prepared to wait. It is well worth it, highly recommended! Hanalei Dolphin Restaurant

St Regis Hotel Bar - Sunset Champagne Ritual - Travel Dining in Kauai

The bar is the place to be at sunset at the St Regis Hotel in Princeville which located on Kauai's north shore, the nightly Champagne ritual brings a day at the beach to a close and sets the tone for a nice evening out. Tim is around to discuss Champagne, sparkling wine or all things Kauai. There is a great sushi menu to complement the bubbles. It is not to be missed, highly recommended! St Regis Bar -Champagne Ritual

Lighthouse Bistro - Travel Dining in Kauai

Fresh, local fare in an open air bistro with a cool glass of Terlan Pinot Grigio, that's how I enjoyed it! This is the perfect place to stop when whale watching or visiting the lighthouse or bird sanctuary. This casual dining restaurant offers several wines by the glass as well as all the Hawaiian classic cocktails and local beer. It is a fantastic place to refresh when site-seeing on the North Shore. Lighthouse Bistro

Banyon Tree - Travel Dining in Maui

I went with a group of six to enjoy the local fare with international flair menu that is offered at the Banyon Tree, an award-winning restaurant located on the beautiful Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua grounds. Robert was our server and he was fantastic. The Ritz-Carlton Champagne was a group favorite on this evening. We also enjoyed a bottle of Lassegue Bordeaux, as well, and I name-dropped about my dinner with the winemaker's charming wife, Monique and their array of wines. An enjoyable evening with friends overlooking the ocean. Highly Recommended! Banyon Tree

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Dinner at Yia Yia Mary's - Wining and Dining in Houston

While most of the Pappas' restaurants have been replicated over and over again across America, Yia Yia Mary's remains uniquely Houston's. This sit down and order restaurant, different from some other local Greek concepts, is typically full with just a short wait. They have a variety of Greek wines along with some American favorites which gives them a more interesting list than others in town. My go-to order, I drink the Assyritiko with the Greek salad and the whole branzino but there are a lot of other good options from which to choose. My husband loves the gyro and we have enjoyed several different starters, all recommended! Yia Yia Mary's Greek Kitchen

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Dinner at Holley's- Wining and Dining in Houston

Holley's brings the best of what Houston has to offer to its tables- a unique blend of Gulf Coast seafood, Thai spice and southern comfort. At the restaurant, we enjoyed excellent service with our selections of  a fresh raw oyster assortment, a seafood martini and a Thai fried whole snapper. Everything was flavorful and delicious. This was all paired with a bottle of Pierre Peters Cuvée de Reserve MV Champagne. Highly recommended! Holley's Seafood Restaurant and Oyster Bar

Monday, November 10, 2014

Wines of Provence Luncheon

I was in Austin last Monday for a Wines of Provence luncheon with a presentation by Craig Collins, MS, at Chef Andrew Curren’s and his West Sixth Street casual French restaurant, Arro. As a lover of Rosé, particularly the dry, mineral-laced style of this region, I was excited to attend.

We discussed the region’s focus on Rosé including its long history of wine making and the making of this particular style of wine. About 88% of the region’s production is Rosé although they also make some rich reds and interesting whites.  In most other areas, Rosé is often made as an afterthought but here, every vineyard decision is based on making the best pink wine possible. 

The wines are typically blends from red grapes like Grenache, Syrah, Cinsault and Mourvedre but may also include a few others. The hot dry climate helps keep pests and disease at bay so very little intervention is needed in the vineyard. They harvest at night to maintain the acidity. The wines are always dry; the residual sugar is under 3.5%. They generally keep the juice in contact with the skins for anywhere from 4-12 hours. Their goal is to gain the fruit aromas and flavors without gaining a lot of color or tannins, the result is an elegant and fresh food-friendly wine.

Our warm climate in Houston makes it the perfect place to enjoy these lightly chilled wines year round. The wines are always good with light American favorites like salads and grilled fish or chicken. The versatile food pairing ability also makes it a great choice with the diverse cuisine available to us here; it works well with seafood, Mexican, Asian and Indian dishes, as well as that most American of all meals, Thanksgiving. The wines also pair perfectly with traditional Provencal favorites like the ones prepared by Chef Andrew Curren that we enjoyed at the luncheon and with most vegetarian fare.

Menu and tasting notes:

Pissaladiere with onion, anchovy and olive 

Seared shrimp with clams, mussels and sorrel pistou 
  • 2013 Domaine de Sangliere “Cuvee Speciale” Rosé Côtes de Provence - A blend of 60% Grenache and 40% Cinsault grown in schist and clay. Ripe, sweet red berry character, light floral notes, touch of salinity; dry, refreshing, round, easy drinking. I enjoyed this with both courses. SRP $16 
  • 2013 Maisan Saint Aix Rosé Coteaux d’Aix-en-Provence -A blend of 50 % Grenache with Cinsault, Syrah, and Counoise grown in limestone gravel with clay. Lighter notes of strawberry and grapefruit; dry, softer, clean citrus and mineral finish. SRP $19 
  • 2013 Maitres Vignerons de la Vidaubanaise “Le Provencal” Rosé Inland Valley- A blend of 60% Grenache, 30% Cinsault and 10% Syrah grown in light sandy soils on terraced limestone hillsides. Fresh fruit, candied notes; dry, round, light saline-mineral finish. SRP $15

Lamb brochette with grilled sirloin and white beans with shaved Brussels sprouts. 
Craig chose these two Rosés for this course because he likes the addition of Mourvedre with heavier meat dishes. 
  • 2013 Domaine Houchart “Sainte Victoire” Rosé Côtes de Provence- A blend of Grenache, Mourvedre, Syrah and Cinsault grown in red soil with limestone fragments from mountains, this was fantastic with the lamb.  Lighter aromas of fresh peach and strawberry with potting soil; dry, fresh, round, light mineral finish SRP $19 
  • 2013 Chateau Roubine “Cuvee Classique” Rosé Côtes de Provence Cru Classé- A blend primarily of Cinsault, Grenache and Cabernet Sauvignon with a small percentage of other local grapes, including Mourvedre, all grown in chalky clay soil. The more complex blend gives more complex flavors, blackberry and plum with light lavender notes and fresh earth; dry, crisp, long mineral finish. This was my favorite in this flight, it was also excellent with the lamb. SRP $25 
  • 2007 Chateau Vignelaure Coteaux d’Aix-en-Provence- Our only non-pink for the day, this red wine was a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah grown in limestone and clay. This dark, intense wine had a blackberry, black pepper and dark chocolate character. Dry, rich with ripe tannins and a long finish, it was also perfect with the lamb. SRP $30

Goat cheese tart with dried figs, pistachios, honey and lemon zest. Craig explained the following three all come from sandier terroir which often helps to create a more aromatic wine that works well for cheese courses.
  • 2013 Hect and Bannier Rosé Côtes de Provence- This was a top pick for me when looking at the quality for the price. This was a blend of Grenache, Cinsault and Syrah grown in limestone and clay. Rustic red fruit aromas and flavors with lavender and licorice; dry, crisp, very fresh, long mineral finish. SRP $19 
  • 2013 Chateau Paradis Coteaux d’Aix-en-Provence- A blend of Syrah, Grenache and Mourvedre. Citrus blossoms, pear and grapefruit with a dry, round, fruity finish. SRP $19   
  • 2013 Chateau Hermitage de Saint Martin Ikon Rosé Côtes de Provence - A blend of Grenache and Cinsault grown in a mixture of limestone and clay. Light, fresh aromas and flavors of mixed berries and citrus blossoms; dry, crisp, elegant, long mineral finish. SRP $35


All the wines were refreshing on their own and they all paired well with the different menu items; all are recommended. If you are visiting Austin, Arro is well worth a visit as well.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

A Tasting of Ferrari with Matteo Lunelli

I was pleased to attend the Ferrari-Trento sparkling wine lunch at Tony’s for wine trade and media with Ferrari President, Matteo Lunelli; it was undoubtedly the wine highlight of my month. In addition to the fabulous food that one can always expect from Houston’s favorite upscale Italian eatery, each course was also being paired with some of Italy’s most award-winning sparkling wine. 

I learned many interesting things during the course of our meal. The history of the company began with the dream of one man, Giulio Ferrari.  He began his study of wine in the late 1800’s in Italy. He later moved to France to continue his studies and ended up traveling to Champagne to learn to make bottle- fermented sparkling wine. He would also study in Germany before bringing his knowledge and ideas back to Trentino at the end of the 19th century. Well-traveled and well educated, he believed his home was ideal for making a bottle-fermented sparkling wine like he had seen in other parts of Europe. In 1902, he started production.

His goal was to make the best sparkling Italian wine that he could, in the tradition of the great wines of Champagne with the same grapes but from his terroir. He bought Chardonnay plants back and spread them around Italy. He was interested to see it respond in different environments. As he had expected, Trentino’s limestone gravel slopes had the perfect conditions for growing Chardonnay grapes for sparkling wine. The area would help balance the acidity with aromatic complexity due to its elevation which is sitting at an even higher level than the vineyards of Champagne.

A childless Giulio Ferrari would pass the torch of his dream to his friend, a wine merchant named Bruno Lunelli in 1952, and thus begin another family’s wine making dynasty. Bruno would gradually increase production and his sons and their children would follow him into the business; this is how third generation Lunelli family member, Matteo, finds himself in Houston.

He talked a lot about the mountain and how it affects everything –the climate, the terroir, the culture of the people; it dictates how its vineyards should be tended. He spoke of the high altitude vineyards sitting at 300-600 meters, the “kissed by sun” grapes and those warm temperatures by day with those chilly nights.  He talked of their decision to ban herbicides and pesticides in favor of more natural growing techniques in the vineyard. The family feels a move towards organic is actually a return to the older ways.

Interestingly, Matteo doesn’t think this move will help him sell more wine. He doesn’t believe that organics is important to most sparkling wine consumers but he believes it is important for the people within the community, that the local people are the reason for making the change. He believes it is an ethical one. His concern is for the worker that applies the chemical treatment and for others that live nearby whose health may be affected. He said it was difficult to get some farmers to change to more sustainable methods when they had always done things one way.

Stainless steel became more important in their Blanc de blancs wines though wood barrels were always used. The Riserva wines are aged in oak to gain richness; wood can rob the younger wines of elegance. They have experimented with different types of wood and different sized barrels but they have returned to the older ways of their grandfather in the winery as well with some large Austrian oak barrels for some of the wines.

Matteo Lunelli believes the prestige of the brand rides on the Ferrari Brut Non-Vintage. Excellence must be achieved and the classic house style maintained. He says that doing this is far more difficult than getting a beautiful expression from a special vineyard or from a better year. Stylistically, the Perlés are expected to be lighter and fresher while the Riservas should be more complex.

He is proud to see his wine served in places like Tony’s though he would rather that they not serve it in flutes as he feels that some of the complexity of flavor is lost in favor of the visual experience. This comes up often from sparkling wine-makers; it may be time for American restaurants to start listening.

Despite the stemware, the wine still shone along with the fabulous meal and service. Thank you to Matteo Lunelli for sharing both your stories and the wine.



Menu and Tasting Notes

Tasmanian Salmon Tower with avocado, mango and Granny Smith apple.
  • Ferrari Perlé  2007 – (100% Chardonnay) Elegant, crisp, fresh acidity, aromas of apples, yeast and bread crust. I really enjoyed this, it balanced the fattiness in the salmon tower perfectly. SRP $35
Risotto All’ Astice with lobster mushrooms and Maine lobster roe
  • Ferrari Perlé  Rose 2006 - (80% Pinot Noir, 20% Chardonnay) Color comes from short skin contact. Red berries and orange candy character. Per Matteo, the Chardonnay brings elegance and drink-ability while the mountain Pinot Noir has lower tannins, nice acidity with lighter color and more delicate flavors. It gives the finesse that they look for. He recommends it with pizza or pasta carbonara. SRP $59
Heirloom Beet and Sonoma Foie Gras Soup
  • Ferrari Perlé  Nero 2006 – (100% Pinot Noir) More powerful, more structured with more delicate aromas and flavors. Excellent with the soup. SRP $78
  • Ferrari Riserva Lunelli 2006 - (100% Chardonnay fermented in oak, bottled and aged on the lees for 7 years) This was an intense, rich yeasty wine with lighter aromas and flavors of spiced citrus that can stand up to rich foods. SRP $59
The pinnacle of Italian sparkling wine production. The Maso Pianizza vineyard area creates wines that can last for years. Matteo Lunelli said, “This Chardonnay has the power to win the challenge of time.”
Line caught Halibut with Imperial Ossetra cavier, organic kale and golden rum raisins.
  • Giulio Ferrari 2001 - (100% Chardonnay) Fresh, fruity tropical aromas and flavors of lychee and pineapple with almond pastry. Very drinkable and surprising young tasting, I found it easy to agree with my host’s assessment that “one glass calls for another.” It was excellent with the fish. SRP $100
  • Giulio Ferrari 1995 - (100% Chardonnay) At 19 years old, this wine proves the longevity of the line with its fresh aromas of honeysuckle and apricot with honeyed brioche flavors and a crisp, saline minerality in the long finish. Fresh and complex with persistent bubbles, this wine is no longer available but older vintages are obviously well worth seeking out.
Pineapple White Chocolate Candy Bar for dessert.


Monday, October 20, 2014

Tasting The Wines of San Juan, Argentina

The Wines of San Juan, Argentina Tasting in Houston earlier this month surprised local wine trade and media with their fresh and approachable array of wines. Fifteen wineries were represented with numerous wines being poured. 

The high elevation of the vineyard area in San Juan helps to create wines that maintain natural acidity while still achieving full ripeness. This was the first opportunity for most in attendance to taste wines from the San Juan region; tasters were also treated to wines from some of the area's specific named valleys as well. I was particularly looking forward to trying some crisp Torrontes and some of the award winning Syrah.

I walked in from the heat and was greeted with a cool glass of  El Guardado Chic Rosé  made from 100% Malbec grapes sourced from the Zonda and Pedernal Valleys. This wine was refreshing and fruity, an easy drinking patio sipper. I then circled the room and tasted several Torrontes and a few other whites.

My next stop was at the Bodegas & Viñedos Casa Montes table. I tried several of their offerings, I was most impressed with the 2014 Ampakama Viognier and the 2014 Ampakama Syrah and Tannat blend, all sourced from the Tulum Valley. Sebastian Pizarro explained that he believes the Tulum Valley is the most important as the growing conditions create grapes of the highest quality with thicker skins which contribute both more color and flavor to the wine.  

I next went to speak with Juan Patricio Vilanova, the winemaker and manager at Alta Bonanza de los Andes. The estate grapes are organically grown at one of the highest elevation vineyards in the region and receive only 10 inches of rainfall a year. The wines are labeled San Juan though the estate is located in the Calingasta Valley. All of the wines are very fresh and pure; I thought their 2014 Torrontes Sanjuanino was one of the best on the floor.

During my Torrontes circle, I had spoken with Sebastian Rodriguez at Bodega Merced del Estero. I went back to taste his reds. I enjoyed both his Bonarda and his Malbec from the Tulum Valley.

My final long stop was with Arturo Arias at Fincas Sierras Azules where I thoroughly enjoyed tasting both his 2013 Syrah and 2013 Tannat sourced from their vineyards in the Zonda Valley. He explained that he was a kidney doctor with a passion for red wine and he started making wine about ten years ago. He believes the joy that wine can bring to a person is the best thing that he can do for anyone's health. His goal is to produce fresh, fruity wines that truly express the land. I was amazed at the smoothness and drink-ability of the year old Tannat in particular. 

I enjoyed the tasting and everyone that I talked to did as well. Many in attendance were surprised at what they felt was a very different taste of Argentina than they may have had in the past. Everyone was pleased at the fresh, fruity style of the wines and the great value to be found. 

Other wines of note included:
2014 Aya Torrontes and the 2013 Martin Fierro Syrah from Bodegas Borbore
2012 Don Baltazar Cabernet Franc from Bodegas & Viñedos Casa Montes
2010 Tracia Honores Bonarda from Finca del Enlace

Related: