Thursday, April 23, 2015

Comparing 2 $10 Cabernets from Texas

I'm on record as a fan of both Becker and Messina Hof. I've visited Messina Hof's main location in Bryan a couple of times, and I credit my first visit many years ago with sparking my deeper interest in wine. I'm also a regular drinker of Becker's wines and have converted several friends who have become fans. I often have wines from both producers on hand, partly because they're yummy, and partly for when I need to convince a skeptic that Texas makes good wine!

I decided it was time to do a side-by-side tasting of Texas Cabernets from these two producers.  Both wines are made from Texas grapes and cost around $10 per bottle.  Let's see how they compare...

2013 Messina Hof Barrel Cuvee Cabernet Sauvignon 
2013 Becker Vineyards Iconoclast Cabernet Sauvignon

As you can see in the picture, both wines are "ruby" in color, but the Messina Hof Cabernet is a bit deeper in color with more of a purplish tinge, while the Becker is more reddish and less opaque.  This might indicate that the Messina Hof has fuller body and richer fruit flavor, but you never know until you taste.

The aromas from both wines are similar and fit with what you'd expect from a Cabernet wine. The Messina Hof smells of rich, fresh, ripe blackberries and cherries, with hints of tobacco and vanilla. The Becker Cabernet has more cherry aromas and less blackberry, with an earthy aroma more reminiscent of leather than tobacco.

On the palate, the Messina Hof Cabernet is fruity and easy to drink, with plenty of tannin (as you'd expect from a Cab), and quite a bit of acidity (which is a little unexpected). Acidity gives a wine a lighter impression and keeps this wine from seeming too heavy, rich, or cloying. There's also a smoky, savory flavor on the finish, with a hint of vanilla. The Messina Hof Cabernet is 13.5% abv, and the winery's web site says there is a small amount of Merlot mixed in.

The flavors of the Becker Cabernet differ from the Messina Hof in the ways that you'd expect based on the aromas. It's fruity, but slightly less so, and focuses more on cherry than blackberry. It has a slightly leaner body, slightly less tannin, and more earthiness, with more of a smoky impression on the finish. The Becker Cabernet is 13.7% abv.

It's interesting to note the difference in corks. While Becker uses real cork, Messina Hof uses imitation cork. Though there's an ongoing debate about which is better, for these wines the type of cork makes little difference. The type of cork matters most when the wine will be aged for many years, but these Cabernets are meant to be drunk young. We can tell this in 2 ways:  1) These wines are fruity and easy to drink. Wines meant to age for many years need time in the bottle to mellow, but these wines are already mellow. 2) Wines meant to age are usually found at higher price points, because they have to be at the peak of quality to age gracefully. These Cabernets are good quality, but destined for a different purpose and market.

I can't rank one of these Cabernets better than the other. They are similar, but the differences are a matter of personal preference. Whereas the Messina Hof Cab is slightly heavier, fruitier, and richer, the Becker Cab is a bit leaner and earthier. Both are approachable, easy to drink, and come at a bargain price. You can't go wrong!

You might also be interested in:
Texas Wine Cheat Sheet
Cabernet Sauvignon Cheat Sheet
A Dessert Wine from the Texas Piney Woods

Friday, April 10, 2015

Service Temperatures: Your Secret Weapon for Enjoying Wine

I periodically write articles for  This article (with infographics!) is on their site here:

Service Temperatures: Your Secret Weapon for Enjoying Wine

See all my articles for at my author page.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Getting to know a new grape: Arneis

I love tasting grapes I've never had before! Arneis is a white Italian grape which is not often seen outside of Italy. Even within Italy, it's not often seen as a varietal wine.  Seghesio Vineyards in Sonoma County, California specializes in Italian grape varieties and makes a varietal Arneis which I tasted recently. 

The Arneis grape, also called Bianchetta, comes from the Piedmont region in northwest Italy, and has been used historically as a blending partner to soften wines made from the red grape Nebbiolo. This is not as common today, but Arneis does appear in the white wines of the Roero and Langhe regions.

In the United States, Arneis is mainly found in Sonoma County, California and the Willamette Valley in Oregon. The Seghesio bottle says that Arneis translates to "little rascal," because it is challenging to grow. Seghesio currently has about 20 acres of Arneis in the Russian River Valley.

I tasted the 2012 vintage. It has aromas and flavors of lemon, herbs, and tart peach, along with strong minerality. I suspect, but cannot verify, that it gets a little oak aging. It is dry, with high acid and medium body, and an alcohol content of 13%. This Arneis is refreshing and tastes like an Old World wine, in that it's less fruit-forward and more earthy in its flavors. I'd recommend this wine for people who like old world Sauvignon Blancs and dry Rieslings. It's reasonably priced at $22 and is well worth it for the opportunity to try this rare grape. And it happens to taste good too.

I drank this Arneis with a vegetarian Thai green curry and it paired very well. The wine had enough flavor and body that the curry didn't overpower it, and the flavors complemented each other nicely. Many times you'll see a white wine with residual sugar recommended with spicy Asian food, but this dry white did a great job. I could see it pairing well with many dishes, anything from fish to a well-seasoned pork chop.

I'm not sure whether the Seghesio Arneis is available in the Houston area, since I ordered it from the web site. However, they do ship to Texas! Or if you want to find an example of Arneis locally, I believe Spec's carries a few options that come from Italy.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Wine Infographic: Argentina Wine Cheat Sheet

Next in the wine cheat sheet series:  Argentina!

See the full collection of wine cheat sheets here.

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

You may also be interested in:
Wine Infographic:  Wine Altitude Cheat Sheet
The Wines of San Juan, Argentina
Wine Infographic: Chilean Wine Cheat Sheet

Friday, February 27, 2015

Houston has a Distillery!

I recently toured Houston's first distillery and sampled some locally made spirits! Yellow Rose Distilling launched in 2012 and produces 4 kinds of whiskey and a vodka (plus a few other fun things in limited quantities). They are available for sale in Texas and 9 other states. Tours and tastings are offered every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, and are a fun way to spend an evening. The tours are relaxed and informative with a tasting afterwards, and there's a comfortable bar to relax in before and after the tour.

Yellow Rose's whiskeys are made from organic Texas corn with rye and barley from a variety of sources. This is the food-grade grain storage room...

The fermentation takes place in open-topped tanks, then the result is distilled in this pot still.

After distillation, the whiskey is clear (and strong!).

By law, the whiskey must be aged in new American oak.  You can see the charring on the inside of the barrels. The oak aging contributes color and flavor.

We visited the bottling line...

Then on to tasting!

Yellow Rose produces Blended Whiskey, Outlaw Bourbon, Straight Rye Whiskey, and Double Barrel Bourbon Whiskey. As a wine person, the Double Barrel was the most interesting to me. To make Double Barrel, they age the bourbon a second time in barrels that have been used for Cabernet Sauvignon. This adds red wine aroma to the whiskey and fruitiness to the taste. These are the Cabernet barrels in action:

Yellow Rose also does some fun things with maple syrup. First, they send their used whiskey barrels to Vermont, where a maple syrup producer ages his maple syrup in them. The syrup takes on a whiskey flavor without any alcohol. (Yellow Rose sells this maple syrup in their tasting room.) Then, after the syrup has been bottled, those same barrels are sent back to Yellow Rose, where they are filled once again with Straight Rye Whiskey. The end result - Maple Rye - is a delicious, maple-flavored whiskey.

I'm excited that Houston has its own distillery, and I highly recommend that you take a tour. You'll have fun and taste some great Houston whiskey.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

New article on What is terroir?

I am writing occasional articles for  This one is an introduction to terroir and covers all the basics you need to know!

What is Terroir?

Friday, February 13, 2015

Beer list updates!

Did you know that Houston has 16 craft breweries currently operating (or in development) in the area? I personally know of at least 1 more in the works, and I've tasted a few of their beers, so I'm anxiously awaiting their arrival on the scene! More on that soon I hope...  In the meantime, check out all the great breweries nearby!

Pumpkin ale season may have ended, but I'm still adding to the list.  It amazes me that there are nearly 30 different pumpkin ales available in the Houston area.  Here's the full list, with descriptions, ratings, and pictures. 

Friday, January 30, 2015

Wine Infographic: Washington and Oregon Wine Cheat Sheet

Next in the wine cheat sheet series:  Washington and Oregon!

See the full collection of wine cheat sheets here.

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

You may also be interested in:
Texas Wine Cheat Sheet
Cabernet Sauvignon Cheat Sheet
Wine Altitude Cheat Sheet
Riesling Cheat Sheet

Thursday, January 22, 2015

A Dessert Wine from the Texas Piney Woods

With the increasing fame of the Texas Hill County, it's easy to overlook some of the other Texas wine regions. But the Piney Woods Trail (east of Dallas) has a few hidden gems, including Enoch's Stomp Vineyard and Winery. I visited in 2012 and enjoyed the wines, but only brought home one bottle. (As I recall, it was one of the last stops on the trip, and by that time I was thinking I'd never be able to drink all the wines I had already bought.)

This week I finally opened that lone bottle from Enoch's Stomp: Ellen's Sweet Song, a red Port-style dessert wine. Many Texas wineries make a Port-style wine, but this may be one of the best. Many of the Texas Port-style wines are not fortified, meaning that unlike true Port, brandy is not added to the wine. They achieve a higher alcohol content (usually 18 - 20%) through fermentation alone, which makes them very smooth and perfect for those who like the taste of Port but find it a bit harsh.

Ellen's Sweet Song is made from Lenoir, which grows well in east Texas. Lenoir is an up-and-coming variety to watch. Many Texas winemakers are growing and experimenting with it. I've tasted great and not-so-great examples, but I predict a big future for the grape.

2010 Ellen's Sweet Song

Appearance:  Opaque, deep brick red. The brownish tinge is a result of age, since it's 5 years old now.
Nose:  Very aromatic. Notes of blackberry preserves, raisin, dried plum, vanilla, and almond (almost like in Amaretto).
Palate:  Fully sweet (14% residual sugar), high acid, medium tannin, full body. 17.3% abv.

I don't believe you can purchase any of Enoch's wines in the Houston area yet, but since the Piney Woods is an easy weekend getaway from Houston, I hope you'll visit them sometime! They have a restaurant along with beautiful, relaxing views, as you can see.

P.S.  Yes, that is a Messina Hof tasting glass in the picture! I often use mine for tasting at home, since they're the right size and shape.

You may also be interested in:
Texas Wine Cheat Sheet
Visiting Tara in East Texas and Tasting Stagecoach Red
Lenoir and the Georgetown Winery
Visiting Los Pinos in the Piney Woods
Returning to Messina Hof for my 1st harvest and grape stomp!

Friday, January 16, 2015

Check out my article on rosé at

I'll be writing articles occasionally at  The first one is about the 3 ways to make rosé wine, with infographics (of course).

See it here:

3 Ways to Make Rosé