Malbec – Texas vs. Argentina

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We had some friends in town visiting over the weekend and we wanted to do something different while enjoying a little wine. I happened to have two bottles of Malbec in the cabinet. One from Argentina, a Bodega Norton Reserva Malbec 2010 and one from Texas, a Haak Vinyards Malbec 2010. We decided it would be fun to “blind taste” the two bottles side-by-side and compare notes. It’s fair to note that my wife and I enjoyed a bottle of the Norton the previous week so it was still fresh in our memories.  Note that this is not meant to be a wine review just some impressions of tasting wine from two different regions.

We each got two wine glasses and one at a time turned our backs while someone else poured for us. Upon turning around we compared the color, smell, and taste. Going into this I really expected that the Malbec from Argentina would overwhealm the one from Texas. That turned out to not be the case.

Color impressions: When I turned around I immediatly know which wine was which. It was mostly because I had tried the Norton a week earlier. The Haak malbec had a more “orange” color to it while the Norton malbec was deeper purple/garnet. Both wines were “pretty” in the glass.Malbec Texas vs Argentina

Nose impressoins: We all thought the Haak malbec smelled nicer. It was floral and peppery. One description I heard was “wildflower and oak.” The Norton malbec was described as “buttery oak.” We all enjoyed just smelling the Haak malbec.

Taste: Here’s where we were all surprised. Both wines were enjoyable. While the Texas malbec from Haak was “harsher” it wasn’t overly so. One description was “burlap” but that’s not a knock on it, just a description. It was spicier to taste. The Norton was smoother, described as “velvety.” It had a smoother and longer finish.

As the evening progressed we finished to bottle of Malbec from Haak winery and enjoyed it very much. We saved the Norton for consumption the next day. The bottom line is this, the Texas Malbec from Haak holds its own against the Argentina malbec. I would have no problem serving either wine to visitors or simply as an evening drink.

Want to win a trip to the Texas Hill Country?

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As you may have heard Wine Enthusiast magazine announced the Texas Hill country as one of the 10 Best Wine Travel Destinations for 2014 in a recent article. This makes me want to travel the various Texas wine trails even more.

Be sure to checkout Wine Enthusiast reviews of Texas wines.

In addtion to the great article they’ve also announced a contest that will take the winner on a trip to the Texas Hill Country for several days to enjoy great Texas wine and food. Something any of us would want to do at any time even though we’re already in Texas.

The winner gets the following great prizes:

  • Round-trip flights and transportation for two to Texas
  • Up to 8-night accommodations at local B&Bs and winery accommodations in the Texas Hill Country
  • Guaranteed visits at up to 12 wineries
  • Select exquisite multi-course wine-and-food dinners.

 

The winner will get a great itinery to great Texas eateries and wineries such as Flat Creek Estate, Bending Branch Winery, Becker Vineyards, Cotton Gin, The Bistro at Flat Creek Estate, Otto’s German Bistro, Lewis Wines, Pedernales Cellars, Perissos Vineyard and Winery, Grape Creek Vineyards, and Hill Country Bike & Wine. Plus many other cool things.

You can enter the contest at http://buyingguide.winemag.com/features/destinations/2014/texas/contest

Upcoming – Wine making class

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To further my wine knowledge and maybe make a little wine at home I’ve signed up for a wine making class in the Spring of 2014. My wife Carole will also be joining me. The class we chose was Wine Making – From The Vine to Your Table offered at Defalcos in Houston. The class runs six consecutive weeks for 1.5 hours each session. The description of the class is:

De-mystify the winemaking process by making your own personal vintages. Winemaking dates back thousands of years and now more and more Texans are getting into the spirit of the grape (and blackberry, peach, strawberry, apple, honey, etc.). In this class you will produce wine from an easy winemaking kit. The proper methods of using a hydrometer, conducting an acid titration test will be covered, along with fortifying sherries and ports. Get a little sticky by crushing real fruit to make a “scratch” recipe. Note: You must be at least 21 years old to enroll in this class.

We’re looking forward to the class and I will try to sum up my experience each week on this blog. Not sure if the class will give us the wine making bug, but I suspect that we’ll be looking to purchase a small wine making kit once the class is over. If you’ve taken a class before I’d love to hear about your experiences in the comments.

Be sure to come back after March 25th to see my summary posts.

Familia Nueva Cabernet Sauvignon Liberté – 2011

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So as any good redneck would I typically look for something good for “cheap.” I’m always on the lookout for a good wine for $15 or less bottle. I’ll spend a lot of time with ThumbsUpWine, both their website and their app. I’ll visit ReverseWineSnob and check out their recommendations also. Last week while I was in Trader Joe’s the ThumbsUpWine guys app recommended Familia Nueva Cabernet Sauvignon Liberté 2011 from the Paso Robles region in California. Sure enough it was there for $9.99. Could I possibly get a drinkable Cab for under $10?

When I first opened the bottle and poured a glass I was impressed by the nose. Nice and oakey and a little fruity. The first few sips were underwhelming and not too impressive so I decided to let the bottle sit opened for a while and then when I poured another glass I let it sit about fifteen minutes before drinking. It made a lot of difference.178753 The taste went from just ok to pretty good. It was thick tasting but not complex, a little fruit and slight sweetness in the mouth, and a medium smooth finish. It didn’t quickly die on the finish like a lot of cheap wines. Additionally the finish was a little “dusty.” On day two I had the same experience with the addition of a “soft” feel on the finish.

Overall it wasn’t bad for under $10. When so many at this price point are so, so bad this one was a pleasant surprise. Was I blown away? Of course not. It was just a good and pleasant wine, nothing special and not memorable but something I’d drink again. Maybe a good second bottle at a party. I’d rate it 2.5 out of 5. It might be worth keeping a couple bottles around.

Coppola Rosso – Red on the Cheap

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Being somewhat “redneckish” means you have to be cheap. I know that cheap is relative so when it comes to wine if I can find and enjoyable bottle under $20 I consider that to be cheap. I saw and article on MensHealth website titled 10 Best Wines Under $15 and thought maybe I’d find something good. I’d like to eventually get through all 10 of them just to see if I can find a hidden “cheap” gem.

The first wine on the list is Francis Ford Coppola Rosso (2010). MensHealth describes this red blend from Napa Valley as “well-structured, interesting, and always worth the price.” Coppola’s website describes it, “Rosso is made from a blend of Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah from climatically diverse growing regions across California.”  rosso-wine_0I picked up a bottle from Whole Foods just to be sure. While MensHealth stated that a bottle could be had for about $8 it was $14.99 at Whole Foods. We know that Whole Foods never has the lowest price on wine and usually has the highest. Anyhow, it was there and I bought a bottle.

After getting home I popped the cork for a sample. I always like to smell the cork when opening a bottle of red and the cork from the Rosso has a good berry and oak smell. I was intrigued. In the glass Rosso has a nice deep red color and is pleasant on the nose. I thought it had a tobacco smell under the oak. I’m not sure how much Syrah is in the blend but the wine had the “inky” texture and feel to it when I had a sip. The tobacco taste was there along with some berry and smoke. The finish was ok and somewhat smooth but not long lasting and it went right into a plum aftertaste. The first few sips I enjoyed but I quickly tired of it. My wife didn’t care for it at all.

My conclusion? Well, I probably won’t buy it again. It could be ok for a quick pickup to have with a meal and some friends but for the price I’d just grab Cupcake Red Velvet or Ménage à Trois for a red blend. I’ll give it 2.0 stars.

An Independence Day Texas Wine Tour

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Earlier this Spring my wife Carole and I were thinking that it would be cool to hit up a few Texas wineries for tours and tastings. At the time we weren’t aware of many tasting rooms or wineries in the Houston area so we knew we wanted to go to the Hill Country and that it would have to be an overnight trip.

The idea we came up with was to visit Hill Country wineries during the Independence day holiday and we decided to go with some friends who live in Georgetown, TX and would also let us crash at their place. We visited six different wineries between 7/3 and 7/5.

We started off Wednesday evening (7/3) in Bryan, TX at Messina Hof. Wednesday is “Chocolate Night” and for $10/person we were treated to some chocolate and three tastes that were paired it. My wife and I actually got there a little early and tasted some Paulo Cabernet Sauvignon and their “Solera” Sherry. Their tastings are pretty straight forward. You can taste a wine for $2.00 or $4.00 for a reserve wine. The Paulo and Solera are both reserves. The Cab was fantastic and I decided to buy a bottle of it to take on our vacation to California so it could be part of a TX-CA blind taste-off I had planned (I’ll post on this later). For a Texas Cab it was pretty bold and complex and didn’t die on the finish like I experience with a lot of Texas reds.

The Colera Texas Sherry? Well, wow! It’s a desert wine and meant to be so. They describe it as “liquid cinnabon” and that’s about right. I really got the vanilla and cream flavors. This offering is all estate grown and made from the lenoir grape. Messia Hof has really mastered the are of making wines from lenoir grapes in my opinion. Everyone should try this at least once.

That ended our tasting on Wednesday. We headed to Georgetown for the evening and planned our trip for the next day. Mainly researching where the wineries were and determining if they were actually open on 7/4.

We packed a lunch of sandwiches and snaks and decided to start Thursday off with a trip to Pedernales Cellars in Stonewall, TX along 290. We knew this route would take us by multiple wineries. We got there shortly after opening time (I find this a good time to go to avoid the crowds) and were greeted by a friendly staff. At first they weren’t sure if they were giving tours on the holiday but later they fixed us up and we got to tour the facility. Pretty much like all wineries except they boast the “largest underground wine cellar” in the state. After the tour we did their standard tasting which was nine wine tastes for $12.95 including a souvenir glass. As we always do my wife and I shared a tasting. Pedernales CellarsThat was pretty much necessary as we planned on visiting a few wineries that day. We got to taste a few of their award winning wines that day including their Viognier which won Grand Gold at the 2013 Lyons International Wine Competition in France. The only U.S winery to receive such and honor. I also really enjoyed their red GSM blend (I ordered a glass to have with lunch) and two different Tempranillos, the Hill Country and the High Plains. Both would be good to have in any cellar.

After a lunch on the patio at Pedernales Cellars we headed to one of Texas’ biggest wine producers, Becker Vineyards. Becker is the largest purchaser of French and American oak barrels in the state. Becker VinyardsThis place was packed! They were having a chili cook-off on site and the holiday visitors were many. The tasting fee was $12.00 for six tastes and a Becker glass. Because their Viognier was a Sliver medalist we wanted to taste it as a comparison to Pedernales Cellars. It was good, close to the aforementioned but silver is probably a good ranking in comparison. They make a lot of wine, but nothing that really jumped out at me on this day.

Just down the road from Becker is Grape Creek Vineyards. We stopped in there for a tasting and skipped the tour. They have a very nice patio area and a classy tasting room. They also offered six tastes and a glass for $12.00. Of the tastes we all liked the Bellissimo, the Grand Rouge, and Riesling. The Riesling was one of the best I’ve tasted in the state. Maybe the country. We bought three bottles, one to enjoy on the patio and two to take home. The Bellissimo and Riesling were also ones that went to California with us.

That ended the day for us. We made the trip back to Georgetown for an Italian dinner and planned our trip for 7/5. We knew we wanted to have lunch at Coopers BBQ in Llano and planned accordingly. That meant that Fall Creek Vineyards in Tow, TX was our late morning stop. It’s located on the north end of a very, very low Lake Buchanan.  A very nice setting that was the first to remind me a little of Napa Valley. Fall Creek VinyardI guess it was the hills to the north. For tasting at Fall Creek you choose one of three glass sizes (The prices escape me) for their tasting flight. You get to take the glass with you after the tasting. I must say the server James, was on his game. He was the only one there and I guess about 10-15 people were at the tasting bar. He was quick, took the time to explain each wine to us and seemed to be able to keep up with everyone there. I really enjoyed their Chenin Blanc, and the recently released 2010 “Salt Lick Vineyards” Tempranillo.

We were pretty tired after lunch and almost went home to rest. But, we knew that Perissos Vineyard and Winery was just off the route home so we decided to stop by. We weren’t disappointed! I’ve got to say this is the first tasting I’ve done anywhere where I really enjoyed ALL the offerings. I especially liked their “Lucy,” a Roussanne, Viogneir, Muscat blend 100% Texas sourced. The orange zest smell and taste were wonderful. They’re about to run out of this vintage so I’m thinking of adding to my supply of two bottles that I already have. The 2012 Bella, slightly sweet was also fabulous. It’s 100% estate grown of Tempranillo, Malbec, and Viognier. It’s just a really nice sipping wine. And last but not least (or exclusively) I liked the 2010 Tempranillo. They don’t have anymore so my mistake for not buying a couple bottles. It’s 90% Tempranillo and 10% Viognier. So complex and smooth going down. I’ve tried the 2011 and while good I still liked the 2010 better. After our taste we got to meet the Martins who own Perissos. Their passion comes out as they tell the story of how they started in the business. Periossos Vinyard and WineryWe saw it again when they took us privately out to the vineyard and showed us some almost ready Muscat grapes. A small taste suggested some really good wines coming out this year. They ended by showing us the new construction going on adding barrel and tasting space. Knowing that I wanted to join a “Texas” wine club I knew right away this was the one. The wines are good, Seth has a passion for wine making and really seems to know what to do with what the grapes offer. He’s also committed to 100% Texas grapes and this last year 80% of their wine was sourced from estate fruit. I hope the 2013 shortage doesn’t hurt their production too much.

Overall it was a great holiday weekend. We got to see some of the wines Texas has to offer and really feel that the industry is maturing in the state. I can’t wait to see what will come in the next few years.

How Did I Get to this Point?

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My experience with wine is a “new” thing. While growing up in a somewhat fundamental Christian family partaking of alcohol was generally frowned upon. Additionally we had a few family members who were no doubt alcoholics. Despite that, when I got married and my wife Carole and I started a family I was ok with an occasional drink or two. Mostly a beer or mixed drink here or there. When we started having kids we made the conscience decision to not have alcohol in the house. Not because we saw anything wrong with it, just that we felt like we wanted to provide an environment free of it to our children and if we were going to discourage drinking to our children we wouldn’t partake ourselves. As Christians it was a thought out and prayerful decision.

Fast forward 30 years and we’re now “empty nesters.” Our last child, Jordan recently moved out. Our kids (Three married with children of their own) are all making their own household decisions. On a trip to California in 2012 we decided to visit Napa Valley to see Castello di Amorosa. Castello di AmorosaIt’s a vineyard and winery near Calistoga, CA that’s also a castle made with stone and handmade materials. Really a fascinating place to visit. If you get the chance you should check it out. As part of the tour we got to taste several wines and found we really enjoyed some of them. To the point that we ordered a case of our favorite.

That started my journey in wine. I’m not an expert at all. Wine snobs connoisseurs or master sommeliers (Any sommelier for that matter) will find my tastes quite borish I’m sure. But get this, I know what I like. I can smell and taste a wine and I know right away if I like it. I’m learning the terms like “the nose”, “the mouth”, and “the finish.” But still, when experiencing a wine it’s either “this is great” or “this is not so good.”

What do I like in a wine? For reds I like it to have a real oak smell to it along with fruit. I like it to have an impression of sweetness on the lips, boldness or complexity in my mouth, and a long smooth finish. If it dies quick or has a harsh finish I’ll tolerate it but I’m probably not going to drink it again. If I get the impression of “vinegar” I’ll probably not even finish the glass. For white wines I like them off-dry or somewhat sweet. It really depends on whether I’m sipping or eating. I go for rieslings, chardonnays, or blends mostly. Viognier is fast becoming a favorite. I’ll start posting soon about some specific wines that I’ve tried and liked.

Lastly, my journey has brought me to Texas wines. And why not? I live in Texas. I’ve found some that I really like and others that just aren’t up to par. I’ll start posting my thoughts, experiences, and impressions of some Texas wineries and wines I’ve tasted (And bought). Feel free to join in the discussion. I’d like your feedback, especially if you’ve tried the same wines I have and either agree or disagree with my impressions. It’s all a matter of taste.