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 personal Spanish wine 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:
  • Spicewood Texas Hill Country Estate Semillion 2012 – dry, crisp, fresh pear, citrus and a light mineral finish, $19 a bottle.
  • Spicewood Texas Hill Country Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2012 – dry, zingy grapefruit, lime zest and a light mineral finish, $17 a bottle.
  • Spicewood Texas High Plains Viognier 2012 – dry, fresh melon and apricot with a light citrus blossom floral note and a citrus finish, $18 a bottle.
  • Spicewood Texas High Plains Rousanne 2013 –  fuller body, dry with chamomile, sweet citrus and ripe pineapple with a clean citrus finish, $14 a bottle.
  • Spicewood Texas High Plains Tempranillo 2012- 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.
  • Spicewood Texas Hill Country Estate Tempranillo 2012 – 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 Cabernet Claret 2012. I say “questionably named” just because varieties 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