Wednesday, August 10, 2016

17th Annual Rambling Rosé at Becker Vineyards

One has to appreciate the challenge of doing something year after year, always endeavoring to do better yet NOT abandoning the original concept. Steadily and consistently working toward a goal. Loyally and dependably working to develop and grow no matter the ebbing and flowing of public opinion. Many will be able to grasp this idea but without the perspective of decades of experience; you can not understand the joys and heartbreaks contained within the years.

It is the compounding of the years and crush of change that makes a simple drive through the Texas Hill Country AVA, on Saturday August 8th 2016 that much more heartfelt. The beauty of the winding roads and the rolling hills at the time the harvest is beginning and the winemakers are rejoicing another exceptional vintage! The crushing of the grapes gets underway to vinify another vintage for the waiting masses of Texas wine drinkers.

The Rambling Rose event began in 1999 to celebrating the first vintage of the Becker Vineyard's Provencal! At that time all pink wine was assumed to be 'white zinfandel' by the average wine drinker and Richard and Bunny Becker set out to change the minds of those wine drinkers. Since then this event has become one of the many Culinaria events that take place year round in celebration and support of the culinary arts in South Texas with a special emphasis on the The Farm!  We thank everyone who participated in this worthwhile, enjoyable and easy endeavor

Both seatings for this event were sold out.  The attendees were already rosé wine drinkers and enthusiast. Or, as Vanity Fair put it: "When did it become “a thing”?" From well heeled revelers in the "East End" (of Long Island) drinking pink wines for refreshment earning it the nickname "Hampton Gatorade." To social media posters tagging their exploits with "#roséallday" and from the men "#brosé." This delicious lightly colored wine is hip and trendy; exuding all that is right with the good life, it is here to stay and destined to go the way of French wine culture where more rosé wine is consumed than white wine!  It is great to see that the category of rosé wine is more popular than ever; this is a category of wine that Texas can make in quantity and quality that rivals the best rosé wine in the world.  I salute the Becker's leadership in making this wine and providing this forum to develop our knowledge and experience with rosé wine.

We tasted the rosé wines blind, blind tasting is the only way to accurately judge and assess the quality of any wine.  The picture above shows the eight wines at the start of the tasting.  The colors are beautiful and varied from pale pink, often called salmon, to richer pink hues that can become fairly red in appearance.
My notes and review of the wines are below following the order they were presented with the bottom right wine being the first and the top left being last.

Jolie, Becker Vineyards, Texas 2015
Tempranillo blend.
As it's name suggest this wine looks beautiful!  A flirtatious shade of pink that teases and beckons. Dusty aromas hint at substance with notes of red cherry and rose in bloom round out the attractive scents. With attention grabbing flavors that are a bit tart and tangy. Then the taste experience slips into fruity, strawberry flavors that are fun and underscored with notes of pepper in the finish. Great wine!

Bieler Pere et Fils, Coteaux D' Aix en Provence, 2015
Grenache: 40%, Syrah: 25%, Cabernet Sauvignon: 25%, Cinsault: 7%, Rolle: 3%
Light salmon pink in color and a little funky on the nose with a waft of cherry and lemon zest. Classic flavor profile that is gentle with a sensible amount of lushness. The fruit is sour cherry, with flavors reminiscent of watermelon rind, and notes of strawberry. A wine that seems like the girl next door from a producer who is flashy and flamboyant; interesting dichotomy. The #1 Rosé from Provence France. And only 35,000 cases imported to North America.

High Plains Sunset, Bingham Family Vineyards, Texas High Plains, 2014
100% Mourvèdre
Deeper and darker pink tones proceeding to rusty red color that hints that there is more character and flavor in this wine.  The aromas support this impression with earthy tones with fresh rain over an open field. With less fruit aromas it stands apart from the aromatics of it flight mates. On the palate the fruit is gushing with expression of watermelon, tart cherry, and light acidity. This grape grown in Texas makes beautiful wines that are oh so easy to enjoy, like this one.

Alexander Vineyards, Bordeaux, France, 2015
Very light in appearance with salmon pink colors in the glass.  The nose is closed, mysterious, very subtle. The mouthfeel is wide with sour cherry, plum, with tangy and dusty notes. Made from 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot from the unlikely Bordeaux location of the Texas Hill country.  The winery was opened by Claude Alexander in September 2013 believing that it’s about the quality of wines produced no matter if the grapes are grown in Texas or half-way around the world.

Domaine de la Sanglière, Cuvée Spéciale, La Londe, Côtes de Provence, France, 2015
Light pale pink colors with rose petal aromas very typical of rose wine. Interesting experience of tart fruit in the attack of the wine and sweet fruit in the finish. Enjoyable sour strawberry flavors with a clean and quick finish.

Provencal, Becker VineyardsTallent Vineyard, Texas Hill Country, 2015
100% Mourvèdre
Pale pink hues with pretty coppery hues that are fun to swirl and appreciate. Aromas of carnations in bloom carried on a cool breeze.  The flavors deliver with greater brightness than expected with black and red cherry, strawberry and cranberry. The flavors are of a quality that many winemakers attempt to capture in the bottle but few actually do. Great wine from a great vintage! 

Rosé De Dolcetto, Wedding Oak Winery, Texas High Plains, 2015
100% Dolcetto
Rich pink color that pops in comparison to it's flight mates. The nose is aromatic; cherry and berry fruit notes with fresh blossom overtones. Pretty in it's aromas. The flavors deliver a richness that just feels right, with cherry, apple watermelon, and lemon fruit flavors it is complex and well balanced. Outstanding rosé!
(Note: on the first panel we confused the #7 and #8 wines on the reveal, I was very congratulatory to the Washington State producer for making such an great wine. Turns out it was from Texas and my own Wedding Oak Winery! A happy accident in the challenges of blind tasting.)

Charles & Charles, Columbia Valley, Washington, 2015
Syrah (61%), Mourvedre (12%), Grenache (10%), Cabernet Sauvignon (7%), Cinsault (7%), Counoise (3%).
Pretty pink color and pretty floral aromas. Subtle in the gentle, traditional rose style. The flavor start out with sour cherry and a note pf lime zest. Overall very pleasant, enjoyable and quaffable. The packaging is striking; based on a Hatch Show Print, the legendary poster shop from Nashville, TN created the original label. It’s an abstract American Flag in honor of the tremendous wine heritage and current practice right here in
our great country.

All eight wines are excellent and would make for an delightful and delicious selection for your next bottle of wine.  

Blind tasting is great fun! And if you can get a panel of experienced tasters to talk about their experience it is amazing!  It is no wonder this event is sold out every year. The experience is heightened and everyone learns from the sharing of their own personal impressions on the wine. On the tasting panel with me was: our hosts Dr. Richard Becker who is very insightful in his tasting comments, Rambling Rose co-founder, bon vivant and writer for the SA Current Ron Bechtolthe Becker Vineyards winemaker Jon Leahy who is a very funny guy, author extraordinaire and co-founder of Savor SA web site John Griffin who is unsurpassed in his passion for rosé wine, our very own science teacher Dana Nabors from Alexander Vineyards (Texas, not California) helping us understand why we liked the wines, and with insight and insider information on the French and Washington wines; Kerri Putnam and Adam Eber from Republic Beverage.

The wines were made all the better by the cuisine of Chef John Brand of the Hotel Emma in the historic Pearl in the midtown of San Antonio.  If you are ever in doubt on which wine to pair with almost any meal you can reach for a bottle of rosé wine, it is very food friendly.  The ultimate test that proves this is Thanksgiving dinner; the turkey, the ham, dressing, potato salad, green bean casserole, cranberry relish and everything else on the table will go with rosé wine!  

The next time we are enjoying a glass of rosé wine: let's say a toast to Richard and Bunny Becker! They are the trendsetters and pioneers and we are all very grateful!  CHEERS!!!

PS: Sommeliers....
The days of having one dry rosé wine on your list are OVER. If your list has one or none on it you are behind the times and are probably part of the reason your restaurant is loosing business. At a minimum a wine list must have at least one from Provence France, one from California or the Pacific North West, a sparkling variation and if you are in Texas at least one from here. Bare minimum. Most wine programs should be able to support six or more rosé wine offerings. Otherwise you are slacking. (If you think that your clientele won't buy them; it's not your customers, it's you.)

Monday, January 18, 2016


A Near Perfect Texas Wine Vintage

The Texas Wine Industry will be talking about 2015 for many years to come. 2015 will be our vintage of the century. We had a mild spring, escaping the treacherous late spring frost, we had tame temperatures through the growing season and a later than normal harvest. Growers and winemakers are on cloud nine, they are blessed with quantity and quality. Perfect vintages or near perfect vintages are few and far between, especially in Texas, and it has been incredible to witness. We should all enjoy it and never forget it.

While this vintage is in the glowing sun, shining bright, almost so bright that nothing else can be seen. I want to ask you to look carefully. There just above the horizon is a full moon rising, reflecting the light of this vintage. Yet it's own beauty should not be overlooked. This moon is the industry itself, waxing into maturity, coming off some difficult vintages, lessons learned from past mistakes and turning the tide of consumer knowledge in favor of the grapes that grow best in Texas.

One event that brought this whole picture into focus for me was on October 3rd 2015 at the Pedernales Cellars winery just outside of Stonewall Texas. The special occasion was the release dinner for their new allocated wines with the Kuhlken-Osterberg label. They are only available through the purchase of futures. The dinner was hosted in the winery itself, up the hill from the tasting room. Barrels were moved to the side and linen-covered tables were neatly arranged with shiny happy centerpieces. A classic music trio played for the gathered Texas Wine enthusiasts. An exquisite wine dinner by Sullivan Street Caterers. Everything you could want at a wine event anywhere in the world.

Our hosts, glowing with pride and joy, Larry and Jeanine Kuhlken, who planted their vineyards in the Bell Mountain American Viticultural Area in the early 1990’s, along with their children; David and Julie – along, along with with their spouses, Heather Kuhlken and Fredrik Osterberg. Guest of honor was Master Sommelier Guy Stout and Mistress of Ceremony was Veronique Cecilia Barretto. While the reason for the gathering is the new wine release, this was also a celebration of this incredible team, the and the Pedernales Cellars venture coming up on ten years, and the wine culture emerging in the Hill Country.

This team expertly runs Pedernales Cellars a over fifteen-thousand case winery, with many award winning wines with very high reputation. Having set a high standard already for Texas wine and recognizing that they have not reached their potential; this team brainstormed, designed and created Texas’ first Luxury Wine released “en primeur.

Fredrik Osterberg, with experience in European wine traditions, desired wines that could be cellared and aged to reach their full potential as liquid works of art. David Kuhlken, working with their geographically unique estate vineyards, and now wonderfully mature vines producing amazing fruit, knew that they have the raw materials to create some of the greatest wines in the world. Julie Kuhlken, genius and inspiration for design created an fluid, elegant and breathtaking package with a look somewhat reminiscent of avant garde artist Gustave Klimp.

Tasting Notes, in order of tasting:

2014 Kuhlken-Osterberg, 45% Cabernet Sauvignon, 22% Mourvedre, 22% Touriga Nacional, 11% Tinta Cao & Tinta Amarela.
Seventy-five dollars a bottle

Aromas of violets with vibrant red cherry and hints of pepper, vanilla and cocoa with a tantalizing blackberry scent in the background. The mouthfeel is silky and ripe with the fruit of red cherries and black cherries, a decent oaky vanilla presence with the pepper and cocoa balancing out the elegant finish.

2013 Kuhlken-Osterberg, 30% Tinta Amarela, 30% Touriga Nacional, 15% Tempranillo, 25% Syrah blend. 
One-hundred dollars a bottle

Distinct smoky aromas with the undertones of tar that support the fruit of black cherry with hints of cedar and pepper. The wines bursts with flavor on the palate with black cherry and cranberry fruit, pronounced vanilla, grippy tannins and a very long finish leaving a impression of a firm wine with resolve. This wine is miracle that it exist at all; most of the Texas High Plains was wiped out by freezes and most of the Texas Hill Country was pummeled with hail, however the Kuhlken Estate vineyards was spared and flourished!

2012 Kuhlken-Osterberg, 76% Tinta Amarela, 24% Syrah blend.
One-hundred and fifty dollars a bottle

With shy aromas there are hints of red cherry, and smoke. Like a great old world wine that has a closed nose; this wine explodes on the tastebuds! Bursts of red cherry followed by vanilla and oak with tannins in a rich textural experience that makes the finish long and luxurious.

Years ago I can say I recognized that wine is an aesthetic experience; wine is art. As my education and experience has grown over the years my understanding of the world of wines available deepens; I can say all three of the Kuhlken-Osterberg wines are Masterpieces! Only this team could have come up with these wines and this night. Only this team has dared to kiss the sky and reach for the stars.  Only this team is creating wine that transcends the glass and time of the experience, achieving new heights for themselves and the Texas wine industry. From this new vantage point in shines a bright light on Texas wine with the bright light of the 2015 vintage; everything is clear and the world is within our reach!

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

The Journey

Cliff Bingham in the Tempranillo Vineyard

The Monday after the Blood Moon, I drove up to the High Plains. It is a beautiful drive, I love Texas; the Hill Country is so scenic with the rolling hills and winding roads. As you travel west you go up a series of plateaus, rising in elevation and the terrain evens out to become very flat with the enormous dome of the sky above.  I was amazed by the number of electricity generating windmills along the way. Well over a thousand of them by my estimation.

There are several very interesting cities along the way; San Angelo and Big Springs just to mention two. My cell phone GPS did an excellent job navigating my route. I was able to drive right to the Bingham Family Vineyards.  The appearance is of the brick farm homes in the area because this was the family home up until a few years ago. There are large vineyard plantings in the fields around the house, barn and winery.  The open space in this part of the country makes gauging distance and size difficult.

Puppy sez "They're ripe!"
Greeted by winemaker, Daniel Bingham and then I meet Cliff Bingham, Grape Grower and so much more. I was guided on a tour vineyards looking at Tempranillo, Vermintino and Dolcetto. Meet the neighbor's puppy, cutest ever, and he loved eating the grapes!

My tour of the winery was with Manuel Lechuga, he has been growing grapes and making wine in the Texas High Plains for twenty-eight years!  Manuel worked with Bobby Cox at Pheasant Ridge Winery until a few years ago. Tasting from a wealth of barrels, Manuel showed me a delicious array of wines; Merlot, Tempranillo, Dolcetto, Petite Verdot and wine in OLD barrels; 2009, 2006 and 2004!  Eleven years in barrel! Does anybody outside of Spain do this?  The wines are profound and amazing! (The Dugout, Cab Blend, is a wonderful result of this extreme barrel aging program.)

After this we went to the Bingham Family home for dinner tasting the wines in bottle. There were numerous family members and several wines to taste. I of course, kept up with it all. (No pop quizzes, please.) It was a wonderful evening and as dinner ended and I was heading back to the winery to stay the night. It seemed like the wonders were about to cease. I was in my car following Cliff in his truck, as we turned on to the FM road he stopped got out and came to my car asking; "Do you want to see harvest?" My answer; "YES!!!"

We pulled to the side of the Tempranillo vineyard we had visited in daylight. It was now after 10:00 pm, a cool night, dark; country dark, the only light the flood lights on the tractors working. One pulling the harvester and two tractors each pulling a bin the size of a modest Winnebago, to receive the grapes from each pass of the harvester.  The tractors with bins then rush over to the winery to pour their load into smaller bins, that are still pretty big. This pour was into a series of three bins with Daniel Binghanm standing in front of them. It looked like a Niagara Falls of grapes.  It is hear that I wished I had my cell phone camera, only all the GPS guidance had zapped my battery to 0%.  (I will be taking pictures next harvest.)  At the winery there is a forklift zipping back and forth, giant bins of grapes being pushed, pulled, lifted and hauled. Destemmer crusher whirling, semi-trucks idling while being filled with bins of Tempranillo right off the vines, and a large team of people working in full court press.  This was more exhilarating that watching the Spurs in the playoffs! This scene was a whirlwind, as was the day. As the semi-trucks headed out to the Hill Country where a great winemaker will take over them and make beautiful wines, I went to bed; exhausted from the long day. The Bingham family kept working through the night.

I stayed the next day we discussed our business plans and agreements. I went to check out "the competition" or wineries I should have visited long, long ago. The Binghams and I easily and cordially came together on our Brokerage Agreement. The next morning we loaded samples into my car with an absolutely breathtaking sunrise for this NEW day!

It was a journey to come up here, one that began many years ago. It feels great, right and very promising. Like anyone on a journey; somehow I am surprised that it has not ended but grown into an odyssey better that I could have asked for...

"Make a joyful noise unto the LORD, all the earth!" Psalm 98:4