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

Monday, October 5, 2015

Blind Tasted and Tested...

The first supper where Bingham Family Vineyards wines are served in San Antonio was for my dear friends, the taste makers for San Antonio or as they like to be called; The Varsity Squad. In attendance; Dr. Gary Penny, Dr. Deborah Strus, Lisa Elliott, Tony Cherone, Veronique Cecilia Barretto (full time Sommelier for Pedernales Cellars, Wine Consultant for Folc Restaurant and 'part time' Wine Snob), Gloria Baretto and Ramon Baretto. All experienced wine enthusiasts and foodies.

I gathered them to blind taste the wines from Bingham Family Vineyards against counterpart wines from famous and popular producers from other regions of the world. Not a uncommon practice for wineries and wine professionals to engage in to asses the quality and perceived value of their wines in the glass. And, I will admit more than a little nerve racking when it is your wines being judged.  I did my best to be fearless and put in very serious competition from the 'counterpart wines.'

There were five pairs of wines tasted blind. We tasted each pair and discussed and voted on a preference as we went. The reveal was at the end after all the wines were tasted. Below are my tasting notes for each wine and then a summery of how the group felt.
The group picked Caymus blind and once revealed some recanted their choice, there seems to be love/hate reputation for the Conundrum wines. Blind the Short Rows was thought to be a Riesling or Gewurztraminer. Revealed the group could see the potential for sweet white drinkers, the target audience, all in attendance being dry wine lovers. Short Rows provides an excellent value and held it's own against a popular wine that is more expensive.
The group tied these two up in votes, they are very comparable. I expected the wines to be wildly different with one being a single variety and the other a blend, but I was wrong and very pleasantly surprised. The Cloudbust shows that Bingham Family Vineyards is not only delivering quality but value too! The challenge Texas wineries need to overcome, and we have done it!
The group picked the Orin Swift unanimously. It is the best rose I have tasted this year; it is amazing!  I was tasting blind also and I was SURE it was the Sunset Rose. The two roses are very similar and both are excellent.  Orin Swift is the hottest brand going; the same team who make the Locations wines, the "TX" blend that partnered with Kim McPherson and the bottles FLEW off the shelf! 
The group picked the Turnrow by one vote, everyone loved the floral aromas and found the wine complex and delicious. The Spanish wine was very good and had that old oak note that some liked and some not so much.
The group picked the Dugout by two votes, they loved the complexity and oak notes. The Beringer Knights Valley was the most different; some thought it was a Malbec. Curiously Beringer seems to have change it's style to be less Napa Cab like. Why?  The Dugout taste like the Knights Valley did ten years ago; it is berry nice.

Overall assessment; three winners out of five selections were made for the Bingham wines. In one instance the wine was out of place in flavor profile or price point, and that was the Beringer Knights Valley. I am very encouraged to witness the value (quality and price) that we are offering. The tasters were very excited on the reveal of the Bingham wines and to be the first in San Antonio to try the wines. It was a very warm and enthusiastic reception. I need you to start spreading the word that the Bingham wines are coming to San Antonio, Austin, the Hill Country and surrounding areas! And look for your opportunity to taste them yourself...

My next posts will cover my journey in more detail...
Watch this blog for notice of consumer events and tasting opportunities we will have for you!
Please click the "Join This Site" button over to the right in the "Followers" box to stay in the know.

In the Dallas/Ft. Worth area we have a Tasting Room you can visit:
620 S Main St., Grapevine, Texas  |   phone (682) 651-8668

Or, Join the Wine Club here.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

My New Job!!!

I an very proud and excited to announce I am Representing Bingham Family Vineyards' wines in South and Central Texas!!!  I will be distributing these amazing wines in San Antonio, Austin, the Hill Country and the surrounding areas.  The Binghams are one of the largest growers in the High Plains of Texas. They sell grapes to over twenty Texas wineries; so Texas wine drinkers are likely to have tasted the fruits of their labor before. Some of Texas' most prestigious awards are won by the grapes grown in their vineyards. When I saw that the Binghams were starting to make wine, I was very excited by the prospect, and now, to get to share them with you is a dream come true.

"An adventure of music, children, grapes, and organic crops on the High Plains of Texas." Is how they describe themselves to the world. Cliff Bingham, a fourth generation farmer in Terry County, began full time farming in 1982. Since 1992, Cliff and his wife, Betty have served as pioneers in the Texas organic cotton and peanut markets. They diversified their farming operations in 2003 by planting grape vines. Today the Binghams currently own or manage over 200 acres of wine grapes in the Texas High Plains AVA. They are very pleased to be starting a winery. They plan to continue selling grapes to their winery friends across the state who are producing award winning wines. 

I can tell you they are NO ordinary family; they have eleven children, Betty homeschools them, they are very talented; all play music, some are artist, they all display a love for life, they are taking care of God’s earth, and have a deep and abiding love for the Lord.  All are involved and committed to the winery and vineyards; they work very hard and the Lord has blessed them in abundance. They are an amazing family!

dugout.jpgThe wines I will be selling:

DUGOUT (Cab red blend)
A full bodied blend that combines the scent of aged leather with the bold flavor of cranberry and a buttery finish. It is an oak aged blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc.
The first of six generations of the family settled in the High Plains in the early 1900's and lived in a dugout.
Multi Vintage Blend | SRP 25

TURNROW (TX red blend)
This blend of Mourvèdre and Tempranillo has the fruity taste of strawberries.
Turnrows are single lane dirt roads that divide farms in the flat High Plains where farmers often stop their trucks to visit with the neighbors.
Vintage 2014 | SRP 25

This dry rosé made from Mourvèdre grapes grown on the High Plains of Texas has a distinct flavor of strawberry and a pleasant dark cherry and chocolate aroma.
The flat terrain and clear skies on the High Plains produce some of the most gorgeous sunsets.
Vintage 2014 | SRP 18

CLOUDBURST (dry white)
Trebbiano, Vermentino, Roussanne, Viognier, and Chardonnay with a medium body ending with a hint of apple.
The High Plains has a very dry climate, but when rain comes it very often comes quickly and yet in a very refreshing way.
Vintage 2014 | SRP 18

SHORT ROWS (sweet white)
This wine has a sweet pear aroma that mimics the taste of this wine, ending with a light, bright finish.
Short rows are the shortest rows in a field that signal the end of the workday for a weary farmer.
Vintage 2014 | SRP 15

With more to come in the future! If you know of any retailer, restaurant, bar or wine seller who would like to offer the best wines in Texas; please share my contact information with them: Steven Krueger | (210) 724-9390 |  krueger.wine@gmail.com

My next posts will cover the wines and my journey in more detail...
Watch this blog for notice of consumer events and tasting opportunities we will have for you!
Please click the "Join This Site" button over to the right in the "Followers" box to stay in the know.

In the Dallas/Ft. Worth area we have a Tasting Room you can visit:
620 S Main St., Grapevine, Texas  |   phone (682) 651-8668

Or, Join the Wine Club here.

Friday, October 2, 2015

California's Loss is Texas' Gain!!!

Northwest of Austin, just off Highway 71, down some winding farm roads, across a couple of cattle guards, nestled under a grove of old oak tree is a cool Texas winery that you need to visit...Spicewood Vineyards. This is one of the OG Texas Wineries; founded in 1992 by Edward and Madeleine Manigold with a goal of making the finest wines possible and their very first Chardonnay won a silver medal in a national competition. The Manigolds gave their baby tender loving care for many years until 2007 when the Yates family purchased the property and now joyfully continue the tradition of making fine wines that continue to win State, Regional, National and International competitions.

On Sunday September 27th I had the great pleasure to attended a very special evening that celebrating Todd Crowells, winemaking in his 'new' home at Spicewood Vineyards and his old home Christopher Creek in Sonoma California. Spicewood owner Ron Yates, and Christopher Creek owner Dominic Foppoli co-hosted the event.  They commented on the talents and benefits of Todd's winemaking while regaling the attendees with the fun, funny and entertaining moments of owning and working at a winery. Dominic lamented not having Todd as winemaker on more than one occasion.

It was a great setting in the limestone walled cellar filled with barrels of aging wine and bins of recently picked grapes fermenting, on their way to becoming wine.  In the midst of this wine 'river;' corks were sprung from bottles from California and Texas, the wine bubbled and poured into the many glasses of the eager and enthusiastic tasters. Who savored and enjoyed every drop of wine and every turn of phrase from the storytellers.

Wines Tasted:
Albarino,  Spicewood, Texas High Plains, 2014
Expressive aromas, very fruity almost tooty fruity, quite floral. On the palette the tangy fruity quality abound, with citrus and melon flavors making this wine very enjoyable to drink with it's light crisp finish.

Sauvingnon Blanc,  Spicewood, Estate, Texas Hill Country, 2014 
Nicely and slightly effervescent with aromas of tropical fruit and dried hay. The flavors of grapefruit come through quite enjoyably with a hint of kiwi and a refreshing finish. Made from mature vines planted by the Manigolds in the early '90's; excellent!

Chardonnay, Foppoli, Reserve, Russian River Valley, California, 2011
Mysterious aromas; alluring and beguiling. The flavors are very revealing with pronounced apple, caramel and fruitiness that is just shy of being sweet. Supple feeling on the palette with just a hint of minerals in the finish. A very pretty California Chardonnay that is well made and fun.

Pinot Noir, Christopher Creek, Eastside Vineyard, Russian River Valley, Sanoma, California, 2014
Very smoky on the nose with raspberry aromas. In your mouth the fruity raspberry flavors explode with blackberry fruit following through where the smoky and oak touches come through too the finish.

Pinot Noir, Christopher Creek, "Wine Family" Vineyard, Russian River Valley, Sanoma, California, 2014
Begins with a funky nose showing the raspberry fruit too. The flavors are very delicious with the raspberry fruit and balanced oak and that earthy complexity.  Shows great promise, just needs a little more time in the bottle.

Red Blend, "The Good Guy" Spicewood, Estate, Texas Hill Country, 2013 
(This was a preview of the 2013, made with 31% Tempranillo, 31% Merlot, and Graciano, Cab, Syrah.) Effusive vanilla aromas with smoky and toasty notes with cedar, pepper and a handsome floral flourish. The flavors were a tad more reserved with raspberry, pepper and pleasing coco notes.  Showing the early signs of a great wine that will reward the drinker who has the self control to age it.

Red Blend, Benevolo, Reserve, Napa Valley, California, 2011
Classic single vineyard red Bordeaux varietals – Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petite Verdot, and Malbec. Napa Valley grapes in the hands of Sonoma winemakers! The aromatic qualities of pine and pepper are mouthwatering with nice round plum fruit.  The delicious red and black cherry fruit come through up front and proud with some tangy tannins following.  Secondary flavors of coco, spice and leather add complexity and enjoyment of this pleasurable wine.
A little wine that Todd Crowell missed making and Ron Yates made happen for his winemaker, winery and all of us wine drinkers! California Zinfandel is one of the worlds most unique wines and I love them. This wine has a great rhubarb aroma with boysenberry and cracked black pepper.  The flavors are big and rich with red cherry, ripe raspberry, white pepper and soft vanilla. Pure pleasure.

From here the group of Spicewood supporters, newly initiated, and curious passer bys all adjourned to the elegant Event Center where we further indulged in wine and perfectly paired small plate foods! My favorite was the Good Guy wine with the duck.  All were excellent! And, even better was the conversation with the Yates family and friends. Events like this are hedonistic without a doubt and designed to please all of your senses, but the real je ne sais quoi comes from the interaction of the attendees.  And, the Yates at Spicewood have it going on!

implore you to go to Spicewood Vineyards the next chance you get. With October being Texas Wine Month; you should be going to Texas wineries every weekend! I hope to see you in wine country!

Friday, September 11, 2015


Readers and friends, thank you; I have posted one hundred times on this blog and you have viewed the pages sixteen thousand times.  Many bloggers are more active than me and they have many more pageviews, I know, but I am very grateful for you and the opportunities I have had.  For me it all goes back to the glass and the beauty and artistry experienced from the wine.  I said it best in my very first post here.

I have a lot to learn still and hope you will continue the journey with me as we learn about and from wine.  Over the past years we have had some outstanding lessons:

The two most viewed pages are for the Magnolia Grove Chardonnay and Cabernet made for Starwood Hotels and posted during my time at The Westin. My posts on Texas wines have been very popular; the innovation at Bending Branch, the emergence of Wedding Oak Winery, the closing of Alamosa and the annual Rambling Rosé at Becker Vineyards.  One of my personal highlights in life and post has to be the Sommelier Selection blending at Raymond Winery in Napa Valley. Many great wines and great times are chronicled here.  I will continue to post and learn and share the Lessons in Wine with you.

If you are inclined to; click the "Join This Site" button over to the right in the "Followers" box. And, if you are curious at all, I have two event pages:  Famous for :15 at Francesca's at Sunset chronicle of the 2010 New Years Eve at Francesca's at Sunset (with over 1,700 pageviews!) and the wildly popular Your Last Supper at Francesca's at Sunset for the end of the world New Year's Eve of 2011 with videos! (with over 8,600 pageviews! people LOVE this one.)  More than you ever wanted to know!  Oh, but what fun!!!

Friday, September 4, 2015

Becker Wines; Always Available Near YOU!!!

I am very excited to see Becker Vineyards nominated for American Winery of the Year by Wine Enthusiast Magazine. Their co-nominees are: Abacela (Roseburg, OR) Oregon’s first commercial Tempranillo. (???-SK)  Gramercy Cellars (Walla Walla, WA) darling boutique winery founded by master sommelier Greg Harrington and his wife, Pam. Justin Winery (Paso Robles, CA) Founded in 1981, widely recognized the winery that put Paso on the map. Schramsberg (Calistoga, CA) Celebrating its 50th anniversary this year and branched out into high-end Napa reds with the J. Davies Estate label!  This is some tough competition, all VERY deserving of recognition.

This is recognition that the Beckers and their team have earned, I am convinced they should receive this award.  It will be great for them and it is time for Texas to get recognition as a wine region!

The other aspect that is amazing about this is just how widely available the Becker wines are to us in South Texas.  They are everywhere!  Abacela and Gramercy wines I can not find in San Antonio wine shops.  Justin and Schramsberg I can find at specialty shops like Joe Saglimbeni’s Fine Wine and Gaberiel's.  Granted; outside of Texas, where most of Wine Enthusiast readers reside, they will find Becker wines harder to find.  Too bad for them!  But, for us, we can pick up a bottle of Becker wine and a carton of Blue Bell ice cream from HEB on the way home!  And, you should, get a bottle of Becker wine today and toast one of the nominees for American Winery of the Year!

Friday, August 28, 2015

Screwcaps Age Wine Best!!!

Love them or hate them; Screwcaps are the BEST closure for wine in the bottle. (Period.)

3 Lessons:

Lesson 1.- Blind tasters pick screwcaps, in every single tasting they vote heavily for screwcaps, (a.k.a. Stelvin® closure. Stelvin, which rhymes with Melvin.) Sometimes seventeen to one in favor of the Stelvin® closure. These blind taste tests reveal that wine drinkers prefer the flavors of wine from bottles closed with the Stelvin® closure, tasters comment on the wines being more aromatic and showing more complexity.  Even wine aged in bottle with the Stelvin® closure wins! At this years Vinitaly a selection of top Australian wines matured under both screwcap and cork led to “ground breaking” results during a blind tasting...the international panel of judges voted for the wines aged under screwcap!

Lesson 2.- Stelvin® closure failure rate is virtually ZERO.  And, cork taint is very real; 2 to 5% of bottles with cork closure are ruined because of bad corks. Faulty corks generate a nasty chemical compound called TCA (2,4,6 Trichloroanisole) Cork taint gives wine a musty, wet cardboard character. Then there is the great account of the 1997 Cabernet Sauvignon reserve from Plumpjack; half of the production was bottled with Stelvin® closures and the other half with corks. I have met customers who had one of each and the cork sealed wine was tainted.

Lesson 3.- Time tested, the Stelvin® closure is nothing new. In fact the first screwcap is Patented by Dan Rylands in the UK in 1889 it found its first practical use on whiskey bottles, replacing corks. (When is the last time you used a corkscrew to open your bottle of liquor? Don't you miss the romance???) Then in 1950's the Stelvin® cap was developed in France specifically as a wine bottle closure and is still a registered trademark of French manufacturer Pechiney. In the decades since it's creation many laboratory test have been conducted. Chemical analysis proves that the Stelvin® closure is better for wine in a bottle, time and time again. and again...

One of you is thinking; "well, aren't corks time tested?" And I will refer you to the Chris's writing over at the Grapeful Dregs wine blog; "There are a lot of traditions in winemaking, and sealing the bottle with a cork is one of them, but think about this for a moment: The winemaker nurtures the soil, carefully tends the grapes, waits for just the right amount of sugar content, scrutinizes the fermentation, sterilizes the bottles and then stuffs a hunk of tree bark in the neck of that bottle. Does that make any sense to you? No, me either."

And, if you need more technical information; look here.

Do you have a screwcap experience you would like to share?  Please comment below...

Monday, August 24, 2015

Texas Wineries are Ready for YOU!!!

Mike McHenry driving in the bumper crop of Tempranillo at Wedding Oak Winery!
Bumper Crops, Bigger Wineries, Better Wines, and Awesome Tasting Experiences! Texas Wineries are Ready for YOU!!!  It is time to visit them!

In my time between jobs, I am getting to visit some Texas wineries.  Everywhere I go it is clear and prevalent; they are ready for you.  The teams at each winery are striving to improve your experience. Take Kuhlman Cellars for example; Jennifer Beckmann and the tasting room team have prepared an amazing food and wine pairing taste experience for you. Be prepared to spend an hour in the tasting as you will dive into the chemistry of food and wine pairing, the techniques used in the vineyards and winery used to make their outstanding wines, the new and exciting grape varieties being grown and why they are perfect for Texas. They will get as geeky as you want or simply keep it to the thumbs up/thumbs down level. You will love this whole taste experience in the midst of their newly planted vines and growing winery/tasting room under construction.  Very exciting times in Hye, Texas.

The road less traveled will have surprises along the way like;  Falkenstein Wedding Castle on the park road to Longhorn Caverns. It is hard to imagine there may be a more picturesque drive with the curvy road that goes up and down step hills covered in cedar and oak trees.  Yet it is the destination that makes it all worthwhile, nestled in a beautiful valley is Perissos Vineyards! Seth Martin has planted and grown paradise here on the park road to Inks Lake outside Burnett Texas. The classical grape grower who does his winemaking in the field (minimal techniques in the winery.) Seth has planted and experimented with a wide array of grapes producing some of the best examples of Texas wine in every category along the way. His hard work and dedication has produced great tasting and popular wines, this has allowed him to expand his winery and tasting room.  While a very special place before, now the tasting room has high ceilings with big fans pushing the cool air to the wide open seating area and large windows with views of the vineyards and valley in the background. Indeed this family and winery live up to their name “exceeding abundantly, beyond what is expected, imagined, or hoped for.” You MUST visit this winery and taste 100% Texas!

One of the great things about every wine country is that their food and lodging is world class.  So, not only are the wineries ready for you but the restaurants and hotels are too.  We are seeing this throughout Texas, further proof that we are IN WINE COUNTRY.  Some of my recent discoveries (new to me) are; lunch in Marble Falls at the Noon Spoon Cafe.  All the ingredients are fresh and high quality.  This is one of those places where you feel the love and care that the culinary team put into making each plate, rare in today's world.  The service was attentive and friendly.  I will go out of my way to eat here again. Casual dinner at The Brick in San Saba, delicious pizza and burgers, made to order and of a quality that competes with the best from every large city in Texas.  Dinner experience at Rancho Loma, from finding this place hidden on the backside of rural roads, to walking through the creaky screen door of an old farm house into an hip modern restaurant dinning room.  The cuisine here is as good as you will encounter in San Francisco, Chicago or New York. The service is impeccable. The owners; Laurie, Robert and Zadie Williamson are very gracious hosts, they take time to make you feel at home and a valued guest in the home, which you are. This place seems almost like a dream, almost too good to be real, a experience you must seek out for yourself. (Note; Rancho Loma has sleeping accommodations too.)  If you want to stay next door to a winery, literally next door to Wedding Oak Winery, stay at Dofflemyer Hotel in San Saba.  It is a swanky hotel that would be at home in Napa Valley, with only six rooms, so book ahead, you will be glad you did. And, they leave the most delicious locally grown pecans on your pillow.

You and your friends will in time realize that you LIVE IN WINE COUNTRY!!!  Get out there and drink it in.  Texas is more interesting now than ever, don't miss it.

Do you have a favorite Texas winery?  Please comment below...

Monday, August 10, 2015

Easy Like ... Rosé Wine

People make things difficult.  Sorry, but it is true; from rush hour, the work week, the boss, the in-laws, the land lord, the clerk in the store (who is supposed to be there to help!) and many other people in our lives seem to be there just to make things difficult on you.  Take the author for the Sommeliers; Tom Stevenson, in his authoritative tome the New Sotheby’s Wine Encyclopedia, he describes the rosé wines of Provence France "...exotic is the last word that could be used to describe it's dull, flabby contents."  Admittedly wine making has improved since he pinned these words,  yet there remains his words of resistance that Sommeliers and other serious readers of this book have to overcome to develop their appreciation of rosé wines. In contrast from wildly popular web site BuzzFeed: "Rosé haters are either a) sad and ignorant enough to think that “pink is for girls,” or b) individuals who were exposed at a young and impressionable age to white zinfandel (a sugary, mass-produced excuse for wine that rose to power in 1970s California)".  And, so goes the information back and forth, like a great debate, everyone wants to weigh in and give their opinion.  One of my favorite web sites, Wine Folly, says; "rosé wine is both manly and sophisticated."  The hard numbers show that even with "haters" of this type of wine out there the category experiences sales growth of almost 40% annually.  A number that makes other wine styles green with envy.

The great thing about wine is that no matter what the experts and authors say about a wine; you can still pour the wine in a glass and experience it for yourself.  That is the moment of truth, you look, smell and taste, you experience it and you can come up with your own opinion, independent from whatever the "experts" say.  With rosé wine I find this rewarding because the wine is enjoyable and easy. Like the Commodores hit written by lead singer Lionel Richie, it is "Easy...like Sunday Morning."  Rosé wine is easy on the eyes.  Rosé wine is easy on the nose. Rosé wine is easy on the palate.  Rosé wine is easy to pair with food. And, rosé wine is easy to love.

Which is why the Rambling Rosé tasting is so popular every year.  Celebrating another great vintage of the Becker Vineyard's Provencal and their new rosé Jolie!  This is 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 coming Urban Gardens!  We thank every one who participated in this worthwhile, enjoyable and easy endeavor

It was a beautiful, and HOT Saturday in the Texas Hill Country AVA, Saturday August 8th, 2015.  Harvest has just begun in our wine region and you can feel the excitement in the air!  Harvest time is great because of all the hope and potential coming in from the fields has the team at the winery excited.  The visitors are also excited to be trying the wines in the tasting room and the six rose wines poured blind into their glasses.

Blind tasting is the only way to accurately judge and assess the quality of any wine.  The picture below shows the six 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 being the first and the top left wine being last.

Jolie, Becker Vineyards, Texas 2014
Brilliant and beautiful!  A very sexy shade of pink that shimmers and teases.  The aromas are expressive and seductive with cranberry fruit and a very floral rose petal quality.  The flavors are fulfilling and rich; with strawberry and cranberry, some meaty plum, a hint of minerals and a smack of leather in the finish.  This is the NEW rose from Becker made from primarily Tempranillo grapes and it is very impressive and delicious.  It was the hit of the day! 

Cote du Rhone, J Vidal Fleury, Rhone, France, 2014 

Light hues of pink with highlights of orange and gold.  The aromas has a hint of citrus with some berry notes an impression of cured meat and crushed flowers.  The flavor is tart at first, followed by pleasing richness, filled out by strawberry fruit, some dusty minrality heading to the quick finish.  Great wine for meaty and heavier food pairing opportunities.  Founded in 1781, Vidal-Fleury is the oldest continuously operating winery in the Rhône Valley. ( Thomas Jefferson visited the estate in 1787.)  Combining 230 years of tradition with a state-of-the-art winemaking facility.  The rose is made from 50% Cinsault, 30% Syrah, 20% Grenache. The vineyards are on a mix of calcareous, clay, and sandy soil at 650 to 1,000 feet.  
Provencal, Mourvedre, Becker Vineyards, Tallent Vineyard, Mason County, Texas Hill Country, 2014
Limpid pink colors with the deep hues of salmon pink, very classic rose appearance.  With a subtle, genteel aromas of strawberry and cranberry fruit that is tantalizing.  The delicate approach of the wine continues with the strawberry and cranberry fruit expression being very mellow with a wonderful note of orange peal coming in with the reflection of minrality in a finish that whispers into the distance of your taste buds.  This is a crowd favorite that was immensely enjoyed when blind and meet with cheers when revealed at the end.

Chateau Bonnet, Bordeaux, 2014

Transparent salmon pink hues and a lacy, light and attractive appearance.  The aromas are shy; subtle berry expression and hints of tart apple. The flavors are a little more forthcoming with cherry and berry notes and a richness enhanced by an unexpectedly pronounced herbaceousness.  Over all a very satisfying wine with that surprising bell pepper flavor making it a prime wine for pairing with salads and seafoods.  Château Bonnet has been in the Lurton family since 1897. Château Bonnet, the largest estate in the region, with vineyards consisting of 50% Merlot, 50% Cabernet Sauvignon; 17-year-old vines planted on clay-limestone, clay-siliceous soils.  It offers the best of both “Old” and “New” worlds; it is château grown and bottled in the legendary “terroir” of Bordeaux, France by famed producer André Lurton. AND... sealed by a screw-cap, making them easy to close, store, and travel with.  Easy.

Alexander Vineyards, Bordeaux, France, 2014
Oh so light in appearance with the orange relections of salmon pink and a bright beauty in the glass.  Intriguing aromas of “gunflint” minrality (a kind of smoky note) and the impression of fresh berry fruit.  The flavors start out tart with strawberry fruit that is straightforward and enjoyable with a Lou Bega "Mambo No. 5" flavor experience with a little bit of acid, and a little bit of minrals, and a little bit of fruit, and a little bit of ... hitting the right spot for rose wine; purely pleasurable and easy.  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 of half-way around the world.

Rosé D’Anjou, Sauvion, Loir, France, 2014
Bright pink with a shinny happy appearance hinting at the pleasing and friendly aromas of cherries and strawberries with a blooming floral quality.  The flavors are smooth and enjoyable with hint of sweetness over the strawberry and cherry fruit, ending in a rich finish.  A great wine to step up from white zinfandel and into a more serious and mature wine selection.  Made from 70% Groslot, 30% Gamay grapes from 30-year-old vines planted in schist-clay soil in the Sevre et Maine region best known for their Muscadet wines. Still family-owned, all of Sauvion’s winemaking is done by fourth-generation vintner Pierre-Jean Sauvion. 

All six wines are excellent! Every one of them will make for an easy and enjoyable selection for your next bottle of wine.  The category of rosé wine is more popular than ever, both seatings for this event were sold out.  The attendees were already rosé wine  drinkers and enthusiast.  This is great news because this is a category of wine that Texas can make in quantity and quality that rivals the best rosé wine in the world.  I thank the Becker's leadership in making these wines and providing this forum to develop our knowledge and experience with rosé wine.

On the tasting panel with me was: our hosts Dr. Richard Becker and his son Dr. Joe Becker both are was very insightful in their tasting comments, the 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 from Alexander Vineyards (Texas, not California) helping us understand why we liked the wines, and Nichole Bendele the tasting room goddess of Beceker Vineyards with a great wit and humor with a sharp pallet for wine tasting.  Blind tasting is great and if you can get a panel of experienced tasters to talk about their experience it is amazing!  The experience is heightened and everyone learns from the sharing of their own personal impressions on the wine.

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.  It was a Branzini fish aka European sea bass and it clearly demonstrated how well rosé wines pair with food.  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!  

Do you have a favorite easy to enjoy rosé wine?  Please comment below...

Monday, August 3, 2015

Brennan Vineyards; ready for harvest and ready for the world!

Our cultural buzz seems to be focused on the big cities and the hope that there is some kind of bight future in the urban centers.  However, it is in Comanche Texas, that the past and future are entwined very tangibly and you can feel an synergy where creation and innovation is happening.  I love to visit the area, my Mom's side of the family is from here, it is a great part of Texas.  This is a very rural part of the state with many farms and ranches, where many people work long and hard to put food on our tables.  Then there are the many wind turbines across the region spinning and generating clean electricity.  They are connected to the world via the internet and yet you can drive a few miles further and loose your cell phone signal.  The local realtor advertises 40k starter homes along side the 400k sprawling estates.  Here the present is the past existing side by side with the future with no pretense or conceit.  And, you can see and taste all this at Brennan Vineyards.

On the south side of Comanche, across the railroad tracks, in an area somewhat industrial, somewhat run down and somewhat new, being developed, and vibrant; you will find Brennan's winery with the estate vineyards next door.  It looks and feels like an oasis with giant trees, lush landscaping and sprawling vineyards.  The tasting room is in the historic McCrary House with the state of the art winery a few yards away.  I was treated to a tour and tasting with the wineries talented Sommelier and Director of Marketing, Rebecca Conley.  It was obvious and mentioned that they were gearing up for harvest, their busiest and most stress filled and long hard days that any wineries experiences.  As impressive as the facility is, it is the quality of the wines in the glass that blew me away!  The entire line up of wines is very impressive, expertly crafted and honest wines, tip of the hat to winemaker Tim Webster, great guy, very humble for the talent he demonstrates, he is worth meeting if you get the opportunity.

Highlights from my tasting; while renowned for their Viognier, they are offering a 2014 Reserve Viognier for the first time in a decade!  It is amazing with a classic rich and lush mouthfeel delivering apple, pear and lemon fruit with some subtle stonefruit and long complex finish.  This is a classic and elegant expression of Viognier that should be served throughout the world.

Two of my favorites were from their 4.0 Cellars line; the 2012 Syrah which showed big juicy flavors of black cherry with hints of anise and black pepper, luscious wine. And, the 2012 Mourvedre which has a fascinating aroma of french onion and cherries with awesome juicy flavors of vanilla and cherry and that toe curling velvety finish.

We all love the superheros and quite cleverly they have named their wine made from Nero d'Avola grapes; "Super Nero!"  The 2012  is super smoky on the nose with enticing hints of black fruit. The flavors are complex with a bite of tar up front, big juicy and meaty fruit flavors like plum and wild berries, a touch of coco and more as the finish goes to infinity and beyond!

Yet, there is no denying the super star of the line up is the winemakers choice simply titled "W."  This is a beguiling multi vintage and multi grape blend.  It has the smoky and tar aromas on the nose with the big, rich and lush flavors aggressive on the palate.  Black berry and black cherry fruit combines vanilla and licorice to make a complex and long finish that is outstanding for red wines from the best wineries in the world.  I plan for  some friends to taste this wine blind against some expensive Napa red blends.  My money is on the "W."

Brennan Vineyards is wonderful place, you simply must go, see and taste for yourself.  You will be in Comanche and there is a lot to see and appreciate; look beyond the past, anticipate the future in the wind and realize that it is all bottled up in 750ml bottles of wine for you to enjoy today and tomorrow!

Friday, July 31, 2015

Milestone: Alamosa Wine Cellars Closing

There are events in time that mark the boundary between that time and this time.  Sometimes we see them in hindsight and sometimes they are obvious to everyone when they occur.  This milestone may not be obvious to everyone, so I have appointed myself to draw it to your attention.  Alamosa Wine Cellars is closing; Labor Day weekend; September 6th, last day.  You MUST go visit this winery before it closes!!!

One of the Way Out Wineries (WOW!) between Lampasas and San Saba, it is a bit of a journey and well worth it.  The owners, Jim and Karen Johnson, planted grapes here in 1996, and proceeded to change how Texans grew grapes and made wine.  They were the pioneers out on the frontier of warm climate grape growing and artisanal winemaking, literally and figuratively.

We need to compile Jim Johnson's firsts in Texas; he helped produce Becker Vineyards’ first Viognier in the early 1990s, he was the first to grow Sangiovese and the first to commercially bottle Tempranillo.  The first to plant and bottle Verdelho, and I am sure there are many more.

My fondest memory is attending a Paso Robles seminar in Austin and during the question and answer session there was this couple asking about the clone of root stock the growers were planting on.  This was a much more technical question than the sommeliers and wine pros in the room were asking.  After the seminar I went and meet Jim and Karen Johnson, needing to know who they were.  It has been a pleasure knowing them ever since; tasting their wines, selling their wines, introducing their wines to new customers, hosting wine dinner with them, attending wine dinners and festivals with them.  I am here to tell you that the Texas wine industry is in the place it is today, poised to step onto the world stage, because of the hard work and inspired vision of Jim and Karen Johnson.

If you have not been to Alamosa Wine Cellars; you must go, the clock is ticking.  Jim and Karen plan to sell every last bottle of wine in the tasting room and the property itself!!!  You do not want to miss this piece of Texas Wine history, you must see the vineyards and winery and taste the delicious wines that have a strong sense of the place they are from.  They are offering big discounts on cases and individual bottles through Sept. 6, the last day they will be open. And they also will have fun events up until then, including an intimate retrospective tasting on Aug. 8 that will showcase some of Alamosa’s best vintages over the years, “the stuff we’re most proud of,” Jim Johnson says. Get tickets for the Library Tasting here.

Alamosa Wine Cellars, 677 County Road 430, west of Bend. 325-628-3313, alamosawinecellars.com.

Texas will go on to surpass New York and even Oregon in winemaking.  Texas wines will someday be available throughout the nation and even in other countries.  These milestones will be remarkable and newsworthy when they happen, we will all celebrate!  I for one will look back to this unlikely spot on the a bend in the Colorado river and appreciate it's out-sized contribution it made to the maturing and the direction of the grape growing and winemaking in Texas.  I will be there cheering "Remember the Alamosa!!!" 

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

The Most Innovative Place in Wine Country!

John Rivenburgh, Neal & Janice Newsom, and Dr. Bob Young; celebrating the new release of their
delicious Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon made with 
Newsom Vineyards grapes. 
Where do you think the most cutting edge winemaking and innovation is taking place?  California?  Sonoma? Napa Valley? NOPE.  It is happening in Comfort Texas; that's right, the little town just off IH-10 a little northwest of San Antonio.  Home to the Bending Branch Winery where owner Robert W Young, MD and grape grower John Rivenburgh are co-founders and co-winemakers.  Their combined academic expertise, experience and chutzpah make them a dynamic duo leading a passionate and committed team ready to go out on the limb and grab the brass ring.  

They started with identifying great grape varieties for Texas that no other Texas winery was developing; Picpoul Blanc, a white grape from the Rhône region in France, it is one of the thirteen permitted varietals in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, literally translates to “lip stinger” because it's bright acidity, minerality, and clean lemony flavor. AND... Tannat, a red grape from of the foothills of the Pyrenees Mountains in southwestern France on the Spanish border, famous for making wines that are robust and powerful.  Both grapes have done well for Bending Branch Winery  and they are making world class wines from them.

While great steps for Texas as a wine making region selecting these varieties is just the beginning for Young and Rivenburgh. Early on they built their own fully equipped laboratory. On the fly they can ensure that the chemistry is correct, so their wines will inspire the palate as well as age in the cellar.  Continuing the evolving process they began using Cryo Maceration, indicated by "CM" on the labels, freezing the grapes leads greater pressure on the grapes to break up the cellular membrane and results is the release of anthocyanin (dyes), tannins, flavoring and multiple sugars, making better more flavorful wines.  In addition Bending Branch is the forth winery in the United States to buy "Flash Détente" equipment manufactured by 
Della Toffola in the Veneto region in Italy.  This cutting edge extraction technique involves a combination of heating the grapes to about 180ºF and then sending them into a huge vacuum chamber, where they are cooled. The cells of the grape skins are burst from the inside allowing for 100% extraction of anthocyanins and skin tannins before alcoholic fermentation!  Flash Détente, which translates roughly as “instant relaxation” has great potential for Texas and the larger wine making world and will eventually be just another tool in every well equipped winery and it will be up to the winemaker to decide when to use it or not.  But, the future of winemaking is available today at the Bending Branch Winery.
Huge props to Dr. Young and Mr. Rivenburgh for their vision and leadership, this just covers their most outstanding innovations.  They have created a wine geek's paradise with the many grape varieties in single vineyard bottlings and indicating the different techniques being used; we get to taste and experience the difference in each nuance.  However, you DO NOT have to be a Sommelier to appreciate what they are doing and have fun at the winery; San Antonio Express-News Readers voted Bending Branch Winery The Best Texas Winery!   It is a very fun place with frequent events and parties, not the least of which was the recent Two Tons of Steel concert, which promises to become a concert series!!!  Look for all the winery events here and friend them on Facebook to get the updates as they come out.  I hope to see you at the winery.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Wedding Oak; growing tall, standing out from the landscape

Over 400 years ago a oak tree sprouted here. It grew, slowly at first, then it's strength and stature grew it began to stand out from the landscape. The large impressive oak became the symbolic site of numerous ceremonies and weddings, beginning with Native Americans, continuing with early settlers from the Santa Cruz de San Saba mission of 1758, whose ruins are located upstream on the San Saba River at Menard, and to the locals of today who look to this tree as a testament to the enduring qualities of life and the majestic beauty of all creation.  Great inspiration for this winery's name, after all, like this majestic oak's roots, wine reaches back through time reminding us of all the shared pleasures of life — requesting we slow down long enough to appreciate the blessings of the land while enjoying local food and wine with friends, family and community.

On Monday I got to visit Mike and Lynn McHenry at their Wedding Oak Winery.  An unassuming storefront off the town square in San Saba.  It is a beautiful tasting room with great atmosphere; almost living room like feel that is very comfortable and inviting.  Seemed almost cozy.  Windows into the production part of the winery hint at the larger operation.  Going through the door opens up to the barrels and beyond this is another door to more winery area and beyond that is another door still more winery.  This is a much larger winery operation than it first appears and just a few minutes of talking to Mike and Lynn you will catch on that their aspirations are as big as Texas!  Like their wineries namesake, they are digging in deep roots and growing tall; standing out from the landscape of Texas wineries.

And, their wines are ready for the world stage!  Tasting through their line up convinces me that Penny Adams is making the best wines of her life.  The whites are crisp and clean, refreshing and balanced.  The "Wedding Suite" of wines is the triple treat of delicious wines, easy drinking, and brilliant branding/packaging.  This line should be the 'cash cow' for the winery.  

That being said, their real stunning and brilliant wines are the red wines... a long time favorite of mine is the Terre Rouge, this is made from the grapes grown in Mike and Lynn's High Valley Vineyard, it is a textbook example of grape type matched to geology and location.  The aromas have a floral quality reminiscent to wild roses with cherry and cranberry.  The flavors are bold and bright with sour cherry, raspberry and cranberry with notes of leather and tobacco heading into the complex and smooth finish.  The shorthand on this wine is that it is a Texas rendition of Chateauneuf du Pape, one of the world's greatest wines and one MORE Texas wineries should be trying to recreate. (Soap box to come...)  

Another show stopper is the Reserve Syrah from 2013, it is wisely being cellar aged in bottle right now and will be available next year.  It has 23% Tannat grapes in it and which makes it BIG and brooding.  On the nose there is a pronounced smoky quality venturing into the tar neighborhood. In the flavors licorice comes forward first with black cherry and stony minrality, cracked black pepper and those smoky, oaky flavors.  This is a delicious wine now and in a few more months; the flavors will knit together and become more seamless and more seductive. I can't wait!  

And the other superstar wine I tried was the Harmony Ridge 2012, Tempranillo 57%, Mourvedre 20%, Cabernet Sauvignon 16% and Grenache 7%.  Another example of how great Tempranillo does in Texas!  Expressive aromas with initial flavors on the sour side of the sweet and sour equation.   Lots of black cherry, plum and wild fruit with that dusty Texas minrality and subtle oak.  Balanced and expertly crafted, as good, if not better than many GREAT Spanish Tempranillo blends. 

Take some time and make the trip to San Saba, it is a great Texas town, you can relax and unwind at Wedding Oak, taste their amazing wines and buy a case or two.  You will be glad you did.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Wine Stained Jobs

Last October I left my job at the Westin La Cantera Hill Country Resort as Resort Sommelier.   The resort changed management companies and was closing for remodeling. I was there eighteen years, which amazes me!  It was a great run, we did many awesome things with wine over the years. 
Immediately after the resort I went to work with old friends at Arcade Midtown Kitchen as the General Manager / Sommelier.  This was a blast!  The Owner / Chef; Jesse Perez has incredible flavor profiles and an talent for unexpected combinations.  People love his cooking and it was a very busy and high energy restaurant.  It was unfortunate that Chef has bigger and better opportunities to pursue; so he closed down AMK.  It was sudden and surprising; our regulars where VERY passionate about our closing.  I wish it could have gone longer; I was just getting the wine list into shape and we received the Wine Spectator Award of Excellence as we were closing.  
Today I find myself looking for employment.  I am focusing on a job that will allow me to work with wine day in and day out.  We will see what opportunities are out there.  Wherever I end up;  my plan will be to revive my postings and work here.  No matter what life throws at you there will always be 
lessons in wine!  Cheers!!!