Friday, October 2, 2015

Film Review: Red Obsession

If you follow any wine news, you’ve probably heard of the growing Chinese influence in the wine market, especially in Bordeaux.  Red Obsession opens with a parade of Bordeaux wine makers, wine critics, authors, and Francis Coppola (!) waxing poetic about the greatness of Bordeaux.  They talk of “magic,” “love,” “soul,” “miracle,” and use musical metaphors.  Just as I was getting impatient with the flattery, the real story begins with a short history of Bordeaux and a fast-forward to the en primeur event in 2010.  En primeur happens every year in Bordeaux.  Critics, journalists, and buyers are invited to taste the unfinished wines before their release.  Based on the response, the chateaux set their prices for the year.  Enter China’s nouveau riche, for whom no price seems too high for their favorite wine.

This documentary covers an amazing amount of ground in a short time.  How did the Chinese become so important in the fine wine market so suddenly?  Why do they love Bordeaux in general, and Lafite in particular?  Is there a downside to this new source of money and attention for Bordeaux winemakers?  Where does this leave Bordeaux’s former largest market, the United States?  What’s next for China, as it is poised to become the world’s largest wine market and a new producer of wine itself?

The filmmakers travel the world and interview an impressive array of experts and industry insiders, looking for the answers to all these questions.  I’ll admit that before watching Red Obsession, my knowledge of the Bordeaux-China connection was limited to the fact that the Chinese really like Bordeaux and are willing to pay high prices for it.  The film is packed with details and explanations that will be interesting even to those more familiar with the subject than I was, such as cultural factors, business interests, and the influence of westernization.  Though the subject seems narrow, the film provides so much context that it also educates its audience about the French wine industry, the Chinese wine market, and the emerging Chinese wine industry overall.  If you have any interest in these subjects, Red Obsession is worth 75 minutes of your time.

(Not Rated, 2013, 75 minutes, Directed by Warwick Ross and David Roach, Narrated by Russell Crowe)

Sunday, September 27, 2015

A Sweet Wine Goes Dry: Furmint from Hungary

Tokaji Aszu is a famous dessert wine from Hungary, made from white grapes affected by the fungus botrytis (known as "noble rot").  For a quick primer on botrytis, here's the Botrytis Cheat Sheet:

(To see the Wine Cheat Sheet in full size…
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Six different grapes may be used to make the sweet Tokaji Aszu, but Furmint is the most important, accounting for 60% of the plantings.

Now you can try this grape on its own in a dry wine.  In 2003 the Royal Tokaji company, which makes the sweet Tokaji Aszu, began producing a dry white wine made with 100% Furmint.

The 2011 dry Furmint has aromas of minerals and lemon, vegetal aromas, and a bit of something spicy and earthy.  On the palate it's dry, with high acid, and flavors which generally match the aromas.  There's also a hint of honey.  It has medium body, noticeable oak influence, and 14% alcohol.

This dry Furmint reminds me of a cross between a Chenin Blanc and Sauvignon Blanc (or Fume Blanc).  It's a good wine, if slightly hot on the finish.  Chill it well.  I found it at Costco for $11, which makes it a great bargain both as a wine to enjoy and as an unusual experience with a largely unknown grape in an even more unknown style.

You may also be interested in:
An eclectic list of good white wines under $15
What Is a Wine Cheat Sheet?
Full Collection of More than 20 Wine Cheat Sheets

Friday, September 4, 2015

Wine Infographic: Madeira Wine Cheat Sheet

Next in the wine cheat sheet series:  Madeira!

See the full collection of wine cheat sheets here.

To see the Wine Cheat Sheet in full size…
…in Chrome, right click on it and select “open image in new tab.”
…in Firefox, right click on it and select “view image.”
…in Internet Explorer, right click on it and select “open link.”

You may also be interested in:
Sherry Cheat Sheet
Spanish Wine Cheat Sheet
Texas Kneecaps (with Bonus Lesson on Semi-Generic Labeling!)
Vinho Verde: Your New Favorite Summer Wine

Thursday, August 20, 2015

top 5 things to know about eculent

eculent opened last year, but I just recently learned about it and ate there last week. I don’t often review restaurants, but this one is unique, local, and has a winery connection!

1.  molecular gastronomy

Some people hate this term, but it’s frequently used to describe cuisine that combines science and art with food. It presents food in unusual forms (powder, foam, gel, freeze-dried) with unusual combinations of flavors. eculent adds visual and auditory elements to create “cognitive cuisine.” Explore the “lab” on their web site for more information about the technology involved in making the food. Sometimes this type of food is considered snobbish, but the manager told us directly that the food is meant to be fun. If an elegant meal can be playful, this one was.

2.  local focus with 3, 8-course seasonal tasting menus

The 3 menus are:

  • “flora” – vegetarian, gluten free, and sourced from within 25 miles.
  • “1845” – Texas-inspired (includes meat of course), and sourced from within 250 miles.
  • “coast to coast” – sourced within 2,500 miles.

When I ate at eculent, my husband and I ordered “flora” and “1845” and shared everything. The menus had several dishes in common. Consider ordering “flora” even if you are not vegetarian. The meat was excellent, but I find that vegetarian tasting menus are often more innovative than ones with meat. A few weeks before dining at eculent I happened to have eaten at the French Laundry, and I was the only person at my table to order the vegetarian menu there. I was happy I did, because I think the limitation of not including meat drove the chef to create more interesting and unusual dishes. I also find that vegetables are more difficult to prepare well and display the skill of the chef more than meat.

The menus range from $95 to $135. Eating here is not cheap, but is a good value for the meal you get. Many people would spend that much on a fancy steak dinner, but for my money this kind of unique and exciting meal is a far better investment. Sometimes people see pictures of tiny, elegant bites of food and worry that they’ll go home hungry. You won’t! Remember, there are LOTS of little plates coming your way. 

3.  home-grown veggies

eculent focuses on farm-to-table eating, so all of the greens for our meal were grown on site. This makes them ridiculously fresh and extra delicious. In keeping with the scientific leanings of the restaurant, eculent uses hydroponic growing systems designed by NASA.

4.  locally made wine

eculent and Clear Creek Winery share the same owner and the same building. eculent is on the ground level, the winery is on the 2nd level, and the tasting room is at the top. eculent serves wine (and mead, port, etc.), but no beer or liquor. All the wine is made on site at the winery, with grapes coming from California and Texas. You can order by the glass or get the wine pairings that are matched with each course of the menu. The night we went to eculent this included a sparkling aperitif, a glass of white wine, 2 reds, a mead, and a port-style dessert wine. I recommend splitting the wine pairings with a 2nd person unless you have a high alcohol tolerance!

Serving only locally made wine in this case is both a blessing and a curse. On the positive side, serving a local product fits perfectly within the farm-to-table ethos of the restaurant and allows wine to be crafted specifically to match the food. On the negative side, the quality of the wine is a step down from the quality of the food. At my meal, between the paired wines and the wines my fellow diners ordered by the glass and allowed me to taste, I tried 7 wines. They were a mixed bag, including a good sparkling Moscato from Texas grapes, a somewhat odd Pinot Gris, a slightly fizzy Pinot Noir, a pleasantly floral Petite Syrah, a very tasty red blend (of Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and Syrah), an incredible orange-spiced mead, and a fine port-style wine.  (Clear Creek Winery will get its own, more detailed post soon.)

5.  it’s in kemah ... yes, kemah

I love the Kemah Boardwalk, but it makes me think of tourism, kitsch, dive bars, and bikers, rather than exotic top-echelon dining. I’m thrilled to discover this unexpected gem in my own backyard. Much of the cool stuff that Houston has to offer is stuck inside the loop, so it’s great to have one more thing to brag about in the Clear Lake area. 

I loved my meal, and I left wanting to return as soon as possible! 

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Profile of the Black Spanish Grape

Check out my latest article for

Profile of the Black Spanish Grape

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Friday, July 31, 2015

Easy Chocolate-Port Brownies

I was tasting wine in Sonoma last week with some friends, who loved a Port-style wine but were hesitant to buy a bottle because they didn't know if they'd finish it before it spoiled. I proposed 2 solutions to this problem:

1)  Keep the bottle in the fridge and have a few sips every night after dinner.  That bottle will be empty before you know it.

2)  Make Port brownies!

I first experienced Port brownies in a wine class, when each week a different student was responsible for bringing dinner for the class. One girl brought these brownies, and we all fell in love with them. They're simple but impressive. Here's how to make them.

Buy a good quality brownie mix, like Ghirardelli. You'll also need Port and some dried cherries. Look at the amount of water (or milk) the brownie directions call for, and measure out that much Port instead. Take some dried cherries - about 1/2 cup, or however much looks good to you - and soak them in the Port while the oven heats up. Continue to mix the brownies according to the directions on the box. (It may work best to remove the cherries from the Port, mix the Port into the the other ingredients, then gently fold in the cherries at the end.) Bake as directed.

For a really impressive dessert, serve these brownies with the Port you used to make them.  The flavors will be wonderful together.  Port, cherries, and chocolate are a perfect match.

For a fancy way to serve them, I like to use this tequila set.  I don't drink much tequila, but this nifty set is perfect for Port and brownies.  It comes with six glasses and a tray, or as single serving pieces.


Thursday, July 9, 2015

Wine Infographic: California Wine Cheat Sheet

Next in the series of wine cheat sheets - California!

See the full collection of wine cheat sheets here.

To see the Wine Cheat Sheet in full size…
…in Chrome, right click on it and select “open image in new tab.”
…in Firefox, right click on it and select “view image.”
…in Internet Explorer, right click on it and select “open link.”

You may also be interested in:
Texas Wine Cheat Sheet
Cabernet Sauvignon Cheat Sheet
Washington-Oregon Wine Cheat Sheet

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Tuesday, June 30, 2015