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 " 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!