Thursday, September 30, 2010

Michael~David Wine Dinner at Max's Wine Dive

On Tuesday night, I attended the Michael~David Wine Dinner at Max's Wine Dive. The daughter/niece of the two winemakers, Melissa Phillips Stroud, was there to meet and greet and answer any questions dinner go-ers had about the various wines.
The menu courses prepared by Chef Michael Pellegrino:
 1st A goat cheese and grape skewer with chocolate reduction sauce paired with Petite Petit which is 85% Petite Sirah and 15% Petit Verdot.
 2nd Venison tartare on crackers with fig served with the new Sloth Zinfandel.
 3rd A wild boar filled pasta square with cherry sauce, a wild boar stuffed baby bella mushroom with raspberry sauce and, my favorite part of this course, shredded wild boar surrounded with masa and fried with a plum sauce served with Gluttony Old Vine Zinfandel.
 4th Lamb Osso Bucco with roasted pumpkin risotto was perfectly paired with the Rapture Cabernet.
 5th Dessert was chocolate with berries paired with Lust Zinfandel.
I found the dinner to be really interesting and enjoyable and thought it was well paired to the wines. The Petite Petit was different and I really liked its aromas of baked blueberry cobbler and the jammy blackberry finish. Each of the three zinfandels had their own personality-the Lust seemed to be the favorite of all with whom I spoke. My favorite of the evening was the Rapture, a blend of 90% cabernet, 8% petit sirah and 2% merlot. It was the only non-purple of the evening with its deep garnet color, ripe berry aromas with hints of leather and cedar, plum & blackberry flavors and a long finish.
Be aware that all of these wines have fairly high alcohol levels ranging from 14.5%-16.9%. I was not driving so I enjoyed full tastes of each and did wake up with a slight headache in spite of the heavy meal.
Due to the layout at Max's, wine dinner participants are spread throughout the bar which makes it difficult for a group discussion but if you are looking to just discuss with the ones you came with, it works perfectly. Overall, a wonderful time was had by all.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Houston Wine Fest Media Party at Cork Soakers

The Houston Wine Fest Media Party was held last night at Cork Soakers wine bar located in downtown Houston's east side. Cork Soakers opened in March and has been a great addition to the area with its diverse wine list with many options by the glass. There was a good turn out and an enjoyable time was had by all at this comfortable and relaxed venue. Complimentary wine and prize drawings added to the fun.
The party was held to kick-off the inaugural Houston Wine Fest weekend which starts tomorrow at noon at historic Sam Houston Park located in downtown Houston at 1100 Bagby. The event goes through Sunday evening and benefits Texas Children's Hospital. There will be 200 wines from around the world, food pairings from local restaurants, other specialty food, novelty and accessory merchants with live jazz and salsa music.
Come out this weekend and enjoy some wine under the park's shady trees, a great time is promised and it is all for a good cause.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Darioush Wine Tasting at Pappas Grill

I went to a Darioush wine tasting last Friday. What a delight! I found every bottle we tasted to be exceptional. Darioush is well-known for their Bordeaux styled wines so I was already familiar with both the Darioush "Signature" and the Estate Caravan Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley. They are both highly rated and consistently good. The Caravan is the lower priced of the two and is something that I keep in stock at home. The wines in the line up for the evening were all from Napa Valley and included:
2008 Signature Viognier, 2005 Signature Chardonnay, 2005 Signature Merlot, 2007 Signature Shiraz, 2007 Estate Caravan Cabernet Sauvignon, and both the 2006 & 2007 Signature Cabernet Sauvignon. The 2007 was opened by mistake which was a bonus to all who were present.
The Viognier varietal has been hit and miss for me at tastings in the past but this offering was an absolute stand out. It was very fragrant with floral notes of jasmine and orange blossom and even stronger aromas of tangerine and mandarin orange with hints of nutmeg. It had refreshing flavors of nectarine, cantaloupe and lemon zest that were balanced with a tart acidity that still left a lingering peach cobbler finish. This wine is going to make me bring home my first bottle of Viognier.
Their "Signature" Chardonnay has been added to my husband's list of chardonnays that have "pleasantly surprised" him. It was definitely not his over-oaked expectation; it was creamy lemon pie with a hint of mineralty and an acidic citrus with a side of caramel apple finish. 
The Shiraz was another one that I must purchase for our home as it had quite a bit going on. Pomegranate, blackberry and clove aromas with flavors of blackberry and beef with a bit of chocolate coffee in a long finish. It truly had all the flavors of a complete meal in the glass.
The Merlot and all of the Cabernets were exceptional as well. In comparing the Cabernets, I preferred the "Signature" to the "Caravan" but there is also a $40+ price difference. In comparing the two years of the "Signature", the 2007 was my preference; it seemed to have a little more going on and a smoother or silkier finish.
Overall, I am very impressed with all of the Darioush line that I have tried thus far. I just learned that they have a Cabernet/Shiraz blend named "Duel" that I am looking forward to trying next.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

2008 Hellfire White Wine

A friend brought this bottle back for us after an Oregon vacation. It was put away and forgotten about until last night. I was making a corn chowder with crabmeat. I had gotten a great deal on the crab so I had bought extra. I decided to harvest the last of my jalapenos from my garden and stuff them. The soup was simmering, the cornbread (my stuffing base) was baking and the dipping sauce was made and chilling which left me with 20 minutes. I went to check to see what kinds of whites were available in our cellar.
I decided it was time to open this bottle of 2008 Hellfire, a white wine blend from Columbia Gorge. It had mild floral aromas of honeysuckle and jasmine with freshly sliced pear and a bit of slate. It was crisply refreshing, I knew it was going to work well with my spicy stuffed jalapenos. Flavor-wise, it had more of the pear with granny smith apples and hints of honey. It had a very dry, medium length finish.
It is a blend of pinot gris, chardonnay, gewurztraminer, riesling and sauvignon blanc and sells on-line for $15.00 a bottle. I wish I had tried it earlier in the summer, I would have ordered some more. It would make a great patio sipper as well as being a good pairing for some of our lighter summer meals.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Beringer Vineyards Wine Dinner at Pappas Grill

We went to Pappas Grill last night for the Beringer Vineyards wine dinner. The food was spectacular as always and I got to try several wonderful wines. Chef Michael Gaspard began our evening with pieces of rolled tuna/avocado sushi and artichoke fritters which were paired with 2007 Alluvium Blanc from Knights Valley. This white blend is predominantly sauvignon blanc and semillon with some chardonnay and viognier. It was very fragrant with aromas of toasted nuts and baked pineapple. It was crisply acidic but also had a honeyed creaminess with flavors of pineapple and citrus which I really enjoyed.
Spicy crab salad on top of
chilled english pea bisque with lemon and herbs was served next. This was so delicious, I could have eaten several bowls. This course was paired with two Napa Valley chardonnays, the 2006 "Limited Release Sbragia" and the 2005 "Private Reserve". They were both full-bodied with a long finish. I would say that the Sbragia was my favorite of the two although they had similar profiles of lemon, figs, butter and hazelnut, for both aromas and flavors. The differences were the Reserve had more oak and mineral flavors while the Sbragia had a caramel with a cinnamon/nutmeg quality and was also a bit more acidic.
The next course was warm beet salad with figs, leeks, pancetta and local Texas blue cheese. This was topped with red wine vinaigrette which was paired with the 2007 Napa Valley Pinot Noir. This medium-bodied wine was surprisingly fresh tasting with black cherry flavors along with pepper and dried herb accents.
The main course was a 55 day dry aged rib-eye with wild shitake mushrooms in smoked red wine served with 2002 and 2006 "Private Reserve" Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. These two wines also had almost identical profiles: sweet ripe blackberries, dark chocolate, a bit of minerality and toasted oak with smooth tannins and a long finish. It was easy to see how well this winery maintains their style through the different vintages. The 2002 was a bit more creamy while the 2006 was more fruit-forward, both were excellent. The room was evenly split on which was preferred.
Summer berry shortcake came next, this was an almond cake with lightly-macerated berries and orange-scented whip cream served with 2004 "Nightingale", a blend of botrytis-affected sauvignon blanc and semillion. This Napa Valley dessert wine had flavors of apricot and peach with hints of caramel. I generally prefer coffee with dessert so I was surprised when I really did enjoy this one.
Angela Balboa was the winery representative at the dinner. I always appreciate these events more when someone is there to talk about the production of each wine. As Beringer is the oldest continuously operating winery in Napa Valley, she had many stories to share. Once again, my expectations for the evening were exceeded and an excellent time was had by all.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Brunch at The Tasting Room at Uptown Park

We went to brunch yesterday morning at The Tasting Room at Uptown Park in Houston. They serve this from 10:00 am to 3:00 pm on Sundays. The last time that we brunched there, they were trying out a buffet but had now gone to a menu with a new chef. There was a good variety of choices ranging from omelets to sandwiches, salads, a hamburger and pizza. We started with some $2.00 mimosas made with fresh-squeezed grapefruit juice. I prefer this to the orange juice option which is also available. They also make a peach/basil sangria which I did not try.
I ordered the "Carolina Shrimp and Grits". It was on the appetizer portion of the menu for $9.00. It was delicious. It came in a normal-sized bowl which was filled to the middle point with grits which were cooked with small bits of ham and peppers and topped with 4 nice-sized grilled shrimp. I also had a side of fresh fruit for $3.00, this was a little over a cup of blueberries, stawberries, honeydew melon and grapes; it was very fresh. I hate it when you get a bowl of mushy fruit. My husband had the "Seared Tuna with side arrugula salad" which was tossed with a champagne ginger vinaigrette for $14.00. It was also very fresh and quite good. In lieu of ordering off the dessert menu which did sound tempting, we opted to split an order of French Toast for our final course. It was $10.00 and came with 5 halves of toast with maple syrup and vanilla bean whipped cream. I would say that while this was good, it did not top the "Creme Brulee French Toast" at Max's Wine Dive (also a part of the TTR group) which is my new standard by which to judge all french toast for all eternity.
I would definitely go back to TTR for Sunday brunch, I was a bit sorry that I had not gotten the truffled mushroom omelet with rosemary potatoes when I saw that go by to another table. The temperature will be cooling down soon and it will be nice to eat out on the patio. The menu was diverse and had options from very light to more filling. Our server told us that it changes often and with the seasons so it shouldn't get boring and there should always be something new to try. Of course, it is hard to beat a $2.00 mimosa and isn't that what Sunday brunch is really all about?

Friday, September 3, 2010

September is California Wine Month

For 6 years now, California Wine Month has been celebrated in September. In addition to it being a beautiful time of year, harvest and crush are imminent. Three years ago, I visited Napa Valley right at this same time. The weather was perfect for spending the days outside touring the vineyards. If you wanted to escape the sun for a bit then you could head inside to a tasting room or out onto a winery's covered patio for a tasting. Sitting outside and enjoying a glass of a favorite new wine in the sunshine was the ideal way to spend the day, just California dreaming. Wherever you may be, September is the time to fill your glass with some of the best that California has to offer and give a toast to the 3000 wineries that make 90% of all U.S. wine, making California, and therefore, the U.S., the 4th largest producer of wine in the world.
Cheers to you, California, enjoy wine month!

Thursday, September 2, 2010

09/02/10 Cabernet Day, I'll raise a glass to that!

In case you have not heard, today is Cabernet Day. This is the brain-child of Rick Bakas at St. Supery Vineyards. Worldwide, across four continents, there are over 50 wineries, 600 wine drinkers and 100 restaurants participating both on-line and with on-site events today. Early indications suggest that it will be the biggest on-line wine tasting ever held. Anyone can participate by using the #Cabernet tag on social network sites. Information is being shared while both virtual and real tastings are happening. Everyone is invited to critique their favorite Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc wines.
I celebrated Cabernet Day early this year. We had friends over for dinner last Friday and, for the main course, I cooked a 5 lb beef tenderloin with twice baked potatoes. We shared 3 different Napa Cabernet Sauvignon that night.
I enjoyed it all too much to make tasting notes but I assure you that they were all excellent.

Our line-up included 2006 Luna Cabernet Sauvignon-North Fork, which seemed to be the group favorite, followed by 2005 MacCauley and 2003 Rutherford Hill. Each is a wine that I would recommend.

Just because I celebrated early, it does not mean that I won't be celebrating again. Raise a glass of your favorite Cabernet tonight and tell the world what you think, everyone out there really does want to know!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

2009 Yealands Sauvignon Blanc

I served the 2009 Yealands Sauvignon Blanc when a friend and her children came by to swim, my own teen-aged daughter was there to lifeguard. I am typically a fan of New Zealand sauvignon blanc, particularly from Marlborough, as I really like the higher acidity levels that they can obtain there. I picked this bottle up at the grocery store for about $11, the "carbon zero" label attracted me to it. The menu was simple: cold-boiled shrimp, guacamole with chips, lots of fresh fruit (with ham & cheese sandwiches for the kids).
I felt that this was a really good wine for the price point when we tasted it. It was a pale straw-color in the glass. Although it called itself intensely aromatic on the bottle label, I felt that it was a more lightly-scented sauvignon blanc. Aromatically, the lime hit first and a minerality that I would call wet stone. I could also pick up black current, fresh cut grass with hints of jalapeno. On the palate, the flavors were more intense than I had expected, there was a lot of citrus. The lime was there but the flavors of grapefruit and pineapple were far more pronounced. For $11, I would absolutely purchase this wine again. I really liked the clean, zesty acidity and the nice lingering finish.
This wine comes from the largest privately owned vineyard in New Zealand which is operated according to sustainable principles. The winery was built under the New Zealand Green Building Council's Accreditation Program. The wine is a certified carbon zero product.


*Second Thought added on 10/13/10 http://tinyurl.com/SecondThoughts