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 

Friday, January 2, 2015

Wine Infographic: South African Wine Cheat Sheet

Next in the wine cheat sheet series:  South Africa!

See the full collection of wine cheat sheets here.

To see the 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:

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Meet Ferrari (not the car, the sparkling wine!)

Lately, I've been interested in learning about wines from higher altitudes (as you may have noticed from the Wine Altitude Cheat Sheet and the article on wines from San Juan, Argentina), and an invitation I received to taste the wonderful sparkling wines of Ferrari fit perfectly with that theme.

Giulio Ferrari founded the company in 1902, and in 1952 handed it over to the Lunelli family, which still runs it. Fun fact:  by law the name Ferrari may be used in Italy only by the car maker and the wine maker - no one else. 

Ferrari is famous for its sparkling wines made in the traditional method (though it also makes mineral water, Prosecco, grappa, and non-sparkling wines). Only 10% of sparkling Italian wines are made using this method, and Ferrari is the most well known producer. The traditional method is the same as the method used in Champagne and is called Metodo Classico in Italy. (See the details of this process here. Most Italian sparkling wines, like Prosecco and Moscato d'Asti, are made using the tank or Charmat method.)

The sparkling wines of Ferrari have several things in common with Champagne, in addition to using the same process. A second similarity is the grapes, as the wines are made primarily from Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. A third is the soil:  Ferrari's grapes grow mainly on limestone, while Champagne is famous for its chalk, which is a type of limestone.

Ferrari's vineyards are located in the Trento DOC area, within the larger winemaking region of Trentino-Alto Adige in far northern Italy. Altitudes range from 985-2300 feet (300-700 meters). You can read about the potential effects of higher altitude winemaking here, but in this case the most important effects are that it helps the Chardonnay grapes to maintain their acidity, slows the grapes' ripening so the flavors can become more complex, and creates very gentle tannins in the Pinot Noir. Some say the altitude also helps the resulting wine stay younger and fresher longer.

Ferrari's grapes are both estate grown and supplied by local growers in close partnership. No herbicides or pesticides are used, and all the growers are either already organic or transitioning to organic.

Ferrari's sparkling wines come in 3 categories:
  • The Classic Range, including Ferrari Brut and Ferrari Rosé
  • The Perlé Range, including the regular Perlé, the Perlé Rosé, and the Perlé Nero, with about 5-6 years of aging
  • The Riserva Range, including the Lunelli and Giulio Ferrari wines, with 8-10+ years of aging
Despite the similarities with Champagne, these wines do come across quite differently. They give a younger, fresher impression, with less of the richness, heaviness, or breadiness that some people don't like about Champagne. But they maintain the great flavor and complexity that you want from a good sparkling wine. The prices are attractive, with the Classic Range starting at below $30 per bottle. The upper level ranges are also competitive with the prices of top quality Champagne.

I tasted Ferrari's delicious wines at Houston favorite Tony's restaurant, paired with wonderful food, and I've included some of my notes below. I hope you'll try Ferrari for yourself this holiday season. I love these wines, and I don't think you'll be disappointed.

Ferrari Perlé 2007, 100% Chardonnay, $35

Aromas of brioche, apple, peach, floral. Tastes crisp, young, and fresh, despite being 7 years old. This was served with a salmon tower with cucumber, granny smith apple, avocado, and mango. Try it with any seafood or poultry that's light, fresh, and not too strongly flavored.

Ferrari Perlé Rosé 2006, 80% Pinot Noir and 20% Chardonnay, $59

The wine is a beautiful pink-salmon color, with most of the aromas mentioned above, plus ripe strawberry (and maybe candied orange?). It was served with lobster risotto with mushrooms and lobster roe. This is for your seafood or poultry that's rich and a bit more flavorful.

Ferrari Perlé Nero 2006, 100% Pinot Noir, $78

This is similar to the rosé described above, but richer and heavier. Accordingly, it should be paired with food that's one step heavier and richer as well. We drank it with heirloom beet and foie gras soup. The soup was possibly the most surprising dish of the meal, rich and delicious. I like beets, but I had no idea they could taste like this. I ate it all before I even thought about taking a picture...

Moving on to the Riserva Range...

Ferrari Riserva Lunelli 2006, 100% Chardonnay, $59

This wine goes back to Chardonnay, but has more tartness and minerality than the Perlé made from Chardonnay. It's quite rich, with vanilla aromas that come from the 1st fermentation in oak.

Giulio Ferrari 2001, 100% Chardonnay, $100

Due to the age, this wine was a dark yellow color, almost gold, and smelled of roasted pineapple, brioche, honey, pastry, and almond. Amazing.

With the previous 2 wines we ate halibut with caviar, raisins, and kale.

Giulio Ferrari 1995, 100% Chardonnay, $100

I felt so lucky to get to try this one. It was still amazing after 19 years, with aromas of almonds, honey, vanilla, floral, a maybe a little raisin?

For dessert we had a pineapple and white chocolate "candy bar," which was even more decadent than it looks.