Monday, July 30, 2012

Messina Hof's Moonlit Harvest & Grape Stomp

The 2012 Texas wine harvest is getting into full swing. I attended Messina Hof's Moonlit Harvest celebration in Bryan, Texas on the weekend before last and I really did enjoy my time there. The owners of the winery, Paul and Merrill Bonarrigo, are pioneers in the Texas wine industry and have been operating at that location since 1977. They planned a fun evening for some consumers and local media to kick off their harvest celebration.

As it had been several years since I had been out there, I was interested to see what all had changed and Paul accommodated our group with a tour. In addition to being a fully operating vineyard and winery, there is also a four suite bed and breakfast resort for overnight stays, a locovore restaurant called the Vintage House and their Winemaster's Wine Bar pouring numerous selections by the glass.

I had not seen the resort so I was curious to check it out as I have stayed in some questionably decorated Texas bed and breakfasts in the past. The resort has an eclectic mix of furnishings from the Bonarrigo's travels starting with the front door which came from Louis Pasteur's home. Inside, there are Bavarian chandeliers and Spanish stained glass mixed with family heirlooms creating a comfortable atmosphere of understated elegance. In addition to the regular winery guests, they also host weddings which can be officiated by winemaker/owner Paul showing the Bonarrigo's commitment to full service Texas hospitality at their property.

After the tour, we were given our pruning knives and let loose in the vineyard to harvest some rows of Lenoir grapes. The Bonarrigo's were kind enough to include my husband in the group and it turned out that he is quite the competitive harvester. I think we may have found him a new career after his retirement from his real job.

It took me awhile to get around to writing this up because I got sidetracked reading all about the history of the Lenoir grape online. There is a bit of a mystery about its origin and confusion because of its many names. The gist of my reading- A vitis vinifera French grape that was brought to the US and crossed (either naturally or by an unknown viticulturist) with an American vitis aestivalis that was then moved across the South creating the Texas hybrid grape that we now know as Lenoir. The Lenoir grape is unusual as its juice is actually red rather than the clear juice of most black grapes.

After harvesting, we cleaned up and I, along with some others, jumped into the vat to stomp some grapes. It was interesting to actually feel the temperature began to rise as the fermentation began. Stompers then got to make a souvenir t-shirt with their purple grape-stained footprints. After another cleanup, we headed up to a dinner buffet with an array of Messina Hof wines.

I was particularly curious to try the Sophia Marie Rose wine which is made from the Lenoir grapes we had just harvested and stomped. This is their driest Rose and the wine that I enjoyed through most of my dinner. I was sticking mainly to the chilled wines as it is hot in the middle of the Texas summer. Other wines that I sampled and enjoyed were the Chenin Blanc and the Pinot Grigio.

Messina Hof makes eighteen different varietal wines. They have another winery in the Texas Hill Country and, in addition to their on site vineyards, they also source grapes from the Texas High Plains AVA. 

Harvest activities at Messina Hof continue through the Black Tie Gala on August 18. The complete event schedule along with event prices is online at www.messinahof.com.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Tasting Notes on Seven Assorted Wines

Our 18 year old nephew is staying with us for awhile so I have been cooking heavier meals to try to keep some leftovers in the fridge for him. That and all the rainy weather have led to more red wine than usual this summer.
2006 Cantine Leonardo Brunello di Montalcino
Medium intense aromas of dried red fruit and leather with a bit of tobacco. Dry, medium body, alcohol, acidity and tannins with a tart cherry flavor and a thin medium- finish. Good but not as great as the high ratings would make you believe. For about $45 a bottle at Kroger's, I had hoped for a bit more. I had opened it while I was making a lasagna and poured a taste. At that point, I thought it needed a bit of breathing time. We tried it again a couple of hours later and I wrote my tasting note then. 

2005 Terlato Syrah Dry Creek Valley
Medium intense aromas of dark fruit, smoke and a bit of black pepper. Dry, medium+ body, alcohol and acidity, medium tannins with the same flavors as the aromas but with a short finish. Acceptable to Good.
My husband had purchased this in a mixed case from The Tasting Room-Uptown for about $30 a few months ago, I believe. We had it with a Pot Roast and roasted potatoes and carrots.
2008 Luna Vineyards Sangiovese Napa Valley
Medium+ intense aromas of ripe raspberries and black cherries with light floral and herbal notes. Dry, medium+ body, alcohol, acidity and tannins. Flavors mirror the aromas with a bit of chocolate in the very smooth medium+ length finish. I believe this was about $25 in a wine club shipment from a few months ago. The best bargain of the three and it also was very good! I served it with Parmesan crusted chicken breasts, ziti with a garlicky marinara and green beans.

A couple of nice nights that it didn't rain, we were able to use the backyard grill.
2007 Nickel & Nickel State Ranch Napa Valley Yountville Cabernet Sauvignon
Medium+ intense aromas of very ripe black fruit, cherries & berries with leather and vanilla. Dry, full body, medium+ alcohol, acidity and extremely smooth tannins with flavors matching the aromas with a long black pepper and vanilla finish. Excellent. This bottle was purchased in a half case at The Tasting Room-Uptown almost a year ago. I don't remember the price. We had it with grilled prime strip steaks, loaded baked potatoes and asparagus.
2010 Catena Malbec High Mountain Vines from Mendoza, Argentina was purchased at Kroger's for under $20. Medium+ intense aromas of blackberry and blueberry, smoke and chocolate. Medium+ body, alcohol, acidity and tannins. More of a black plum/blueberry flavor with vanilla and spice in a medium+ length finish. Very good, smooth and drinkable. I served this with BBQ Brisket and potato salad.



We also had two whites during this time: 2010 Bonterra Sauvignon Blanc California
This brand is available everywhere in Houston it seems. I have enjoyed their Merlot in the past but was less excited about their Zinfandel recently. Their Syrah has been recommended to me by one of my readers but I have been unable to find it anywhere. This is an organic wine with the grapes sourced from Lake County and Mendocino. I thought their descriptors on the back label were right on. Medium+ aromas of grapefruit. Dry, medium body, alcohol and medium+ acidity with ripe honeydew melon, kiwi and grapefruit on the palate. Medium+ finish. We enjoyed it with tortilla crusted baked tilapia and bean and cheese nachos with fresh jalapeno, guacamole and cilantro. A very nice wine at a nice price, about $12 everywhere.

The 2010 Clean Slate Riesling Mosel, Germany was purchased for about $10 at Kroger's. Medium aromas of green apple and lemon. Almost dry with just a hint of sweetness, medium body, high acidity, low alcohol with light lemon/citrus and a bit of a bruised apple flavor. It was a bit spritzy with a medium finish. It was acceptable but we did not finish the bottle. I served it with Cajun spiced seafood at home. I enjoyed it more at a Thai place that we frequent that serves it by the glass. I am not sure if it was the food, the mood or what. It seemed much less flavorful than it has in the past.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Assorted Summer Sippers for Under $20


Some assorted wines for under $20 that we have enjoyed at our house this summer. I misplaced a receipt so some prices are approximate.

2008 De Chanceny Brut Excellence Vouvray - Good bubbles. Aromas of lemon and earth. Dry, full body, high acid, medium alcohol sparkler with lemon pith flavor and a medium length mineral finish. It was a delightful aperitif poolside before dinner and was quickly consumed. Recommended, $17 at Whole Foods.

2009 Willamette Valley Vineyards Pinot Gris - Dry, medium acidity, medium alcohol, medium body with light floral aromas and medium intense flavors of pear and melon with a medium length finish. Recommended, Nice with grilled tilapia.  $17 at Kroger's.

2010 Flora Springs "Soliloquy Vineyard" Oakville Sauvignon Blanc - Dry, medium acidity, medium body with medium- aromas and flavors of melon with a medium- length citrusy finish. Tasted a bit tired initially, it was better with dinner- panko-crusted tilapia with a fresh mango/jalapeno sauce. $19 at Kroger's

2009 Flora Springs Chardonnay Napa Valley - Dry, medium body, medium acidity with tropical flavors and a hint of vanilla in the medium length finish. Served with grilled grouper and consumed quickly. Recommended, $19 at Spec's

2009 Four Vines Naked Chardonnay Santa Barbara County - Dry, medium+ acidity, medium body, un-oaked, light fruity flavors of pear, peach with a bit of pineapple and a medium+ length finish. Recommended, $13 at HEB

2010 Artazuri Garnacha Navarra, Spain - Looks like Cherry Kool-aid in the glass. Dry, medium body, medium acidity, light tannins with aromas and flavors of tart berries in a medium- length finish. Very simple, good with a store-bought rotisserie chicken. Recommended. About $12 at Whole Foods.
2010 Domaine des Perelles Morgon, France - The cork broke on this one and part of it ended up in the bottle so it was poured through a strainer. Despite the traumatic beginning, it was finished very quickly. Dry, medium body, medium+ acidity, rich ripe raspberry aromas and cherry pie flavors with a medium+ length finish. Also really good with a store-bought rotisserie chicken and macaroni with an Edam cheese sauce. Recommended. Approximately $15 at Whole Foods.

2009 H&G Pinot Noir Central Otago, New Zealand - Sheer ruby color. Dry, medium body, medium+ acidity, light tannins, raspberry and cherry aromas and flavors with a bit of spice in the medium+ length finish. We had this after dinner one evening while watching TV and it disappeared very quickly. Recommended. About $15 at Whole Foods.

2009 Bonterra Zinfandel Medocino - Organic, I wanted to love it but I didn't. Nothing exciting just acceptable. Served with BBQ sandwiches. $10 at Whole Foods.

Monday, July 16, 2012

"The Zen of Zin" Tasting at Fleming's in River Oaks

On Friday evening, my husband and I attended the Zinfandel wine tasting at Fleming's in River Oaks. My husband gets totally pumped up for any and all things Zinfandel but what I found really intriguing in the line up of wines were the aged offerings. Brent Sloan, managing partner at Houston's premier wine storage facility Nos Caves Vin, had provided Fleming's with four 18 year old bottlings and one 17 year old bottling from his collection of some of his favorites. I found this interesting because 1. I don't believe that I have ever had an 18 year old Zinfandel before this evening and 2. From various wine classes, I had always heard that at best Zinfandel had very limited aging ability. So, I was definitely excited to give these wines a taste.

There were also an additional five younger Zinfandel wines that are some of Fleming's best sellers. The entire tasting line up for the evening included:

2009 Orin Swift Saldo - California
2007 Schulz "Lampyridae Vineyard" - Mount Veeder
2010 Il Matane Manduria Primitivo - Puglia, Italy
2007 Valdez "Landy Vineyard" - Russian River Valley
2008 Macauley Old Vines - Napa Valley

1994 St Francis Old Vines - Sonoma County
1994 Turley "Hayne Vineyard" - Napa Valley
1994 Ridge Lytton Springs - California
1994 Cornerstone Howell Mountain Cuvee Mysterieuses - Napa Valley
1995 D-Cubed Howell Mountain - Napa Valley

When considering the younger versions side by side, the Macauley was my favorite. It had a mix of ripe, not baked, black and red fruit with a refreshing level of good acidity, very balanced. I would rate the Orin Swift as next favorite, followed by the Primitivo. The Valdez was my least favorite. I found it too herbal, somewhat tannic and lacking in acidity.

Now the whole reason I came, How were the older wines?
I thought four out of five were very good. The St Francis was the only one that I did not enjoy. It tasted over the hill with absolutely no fruit  and not much of any flavor left, just alcohol and a bit of chocolate. I was struggling more on picking my personal favorite from the other four. They were  all very smooth, well-balanced, with a complex array of aromas and flavors including licorice, sandalwood, anise, a bit of earthiness while still holding onto some fruit. All were very interesting and good. I think my views on the age ability of Zinfandel were certainly broadened.

This was an open consumer event and the crowd was quite social so I didn't get complete tasting notes on each wine. The passed hors d'oeuvres were fantastic: Korean BBQ ribs with a Gochujang rub, mini ancho-mole Cabrito tostadas with queso fresco, chorizo flatbread with tomato confit, burrata and basil pesto and lastly, the one that surprised me the most for its pairing ability, 5-spice tempura shrimp with Szechuan Chili Sauce.

This was a great wine event put on by the management and staff at Flemings River Oaks and at only $25 per person, it was also an unbelievable deal. I would definitely recommend checking out their future wine tastings.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Paul Berthelot Premier Cru Brut Reserve Champagne

When I saw this at Kroger's priced at approximately $30, I had to try it. It was not a producer with whom I was familiar but as it does fall into that seemingly oxymoronic category of "budget Champagne". I brought it home to serve with the crabcakes and fried shrimp that I was making for dinner.

From the label, I knew that the non-vintage Paul Berthelot Premier Cru Brut Reserve Champagne was from the Premier Cru village of Dizy located in the Vallee de la Marne. This area has more issues with spring frost and fall humidity so it is heavily planted with Pinot Meunier which has a shorter growing season than Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. This grape tends to produce fruitier wines that are less long-lived than wines produced with a greater proportion of the other two grapes. The blend in this bottle is 45% Pinot Meunier, 30% Pinot Noir and 25% Chardonnay.

In the glass, it was a pale straw color with effusive bubbles. It had clean, fresh aromas of red apple, almonds and a bit of herbal green tea. On the palate, it was dry, medium body with flavors mirroring the nose with the addition of a bit of citrus in the mid-length finish. It was a very nice wine especially for the price. Recommended.

Some Other Champagne Posts:
1999 Pascal Doquet Grand Cru
Thinking about Vintage Champagne

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Dinner at Ciao Bello

My husband and I went to dinner at Ciao Bello the other evening. This is a Vallone establishment that Tony calls "Your neighborhood Italian restaurant". Unfortunately, it is not in our neighborhood but we consider it to be well worth the short drive. 

As we discussed which direction to take our order, we contemplated the wine list and were torn between one of the Italian Sangiovese-based wines with which we were familiar or an unknown Pinot Noir. We opted for the unknown as we have great faith in their wine list and ordered the 2009 Alderbrook Pinot Noir from the Russian River Valley. This was a young, medium body fruity wine with good acidity and a hint of spice that ended up working fantastically with everything we ordered.
We started with the Polpette, a deliciously soft meatball over cheesy polenta that mixes together into a rich, creamy goodness. We followed that up with a new pasta appetizer, duck stuffed tortellini in broth, also yummy and a nice weight for summer time.


I decided to try to keep it light for the rest of my meal so as to save room for their not to be missed desserts. I ordered the spinach and strawberry salad with goat cheese panna cotta and pine nut puree and the Cioppino shellfish soup. My husband had the crab and shrimp topped Red Snapper Tesoro. All three items were absolutely fantastic.

At this point, we had finished the bottle of wine and, in reality, had eaten plenty. The only problem? This is really not a place to skip dessert.
After making a pact to hit the the gym in the morning, the next thing you know, we are looking at a slice of Mama Vallone's chocolate pie. It looks so simple but is described by my husband as "Out of control good". We are also looking at a new mascarpone and peach layered dessert. It was equally scrumptious in its creamy fresh, sweet, juicy way. We were going to share but the pie quickly became his and the peach quickly became mine. These were washed down with coffee in the hopes of staving off the food coma until we made it home. 

I really can't recommend this restaurant enough. The high level of quality coupled with the more than reasonable prices for what you get, keeps us returning. Everything that I have eaten here has been ridiculously good, fantastically fresh and always interesting. Again, highly recommended!