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

Friday, June 19, 2015

Wine Infographic: Loire Valley Cheat Sheet

Next in the Wine Cheat Sheet series:  Loire Valley!

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:
An eclectic list of good white wines under $15
Sauvignon Blanc Cheat Sheet
Returning to Messina Hof for my 1st harvest and grape stomp!

Friday, June 5, 2015

Galveston Bay Beer Company is open in Dickinson!

I've been keeping a list of all the breweries in the Houston area, and the list is growing all the time (up to 18 now!). The latest addition is Galveston Bay Beer Company, which I visited yesterday.

Behind this unassuming exterior is a large, comfortable tap room.


Galveston Bay offers many different beer choices, and flights so you can taste a lot of them.
  • Mosaic Smash - an easy-drinking IPA. My favorite of the 2 IPAs.
  • Sunny Day IPA - a stronger, richer, more hoppy IPA. This one was good too, but probably caters to the more serious IPA fans than I am.
  • Wits' End - a great wit beer. I really enjoyed this one.
  • Lifeboat Lime - a pale ale with lime. Refreshing and perfect for summer.
  • Hammerhead - a dark Scottish ale with a hint of coffee flavor like a porter. Very good.
  • The Twins - blonde ales that have been flavored with either blueberry or raspberry. These are fruity, but not sweet. They weren't my favorite, but they're probably a good option for people who are less enthusiastic about beer. 
  • Tart Cherry Brown - a good brown ale brewed with tart cherries. I liked this, even though I have a history of not liking cherry-flavored things.
  • Duck Duck Gose - a light and refreshing sour, possibly my favorite of the night. Gose is a style of German wheat beer. This one had great ale flavors, was nicely balanced, and just a bit tart.


Galveston Bay beers are available in plenty of locations near Dickinson, but visit the tap room if you can, because a lot of great beers are only available there.

Friday, May 22, 2015

2 Surprisingly Different Ways to Make Syrah

  1. Type of Grape
  2. Climate
  3. Winemaker Choices
Recently I tasted 2 Syrahs which perfectly illustrate what happens when you take the same grape, grown in the same climate, and apply different winemaking techniques. These 2 Syrahs come from Chile. One is red, and one is rosé. Syrah is an uncommon choice for making rosé. Apart from reading the label, I'm not sure I'd have known that these wines came from the same grape.

These 2 wines were made by the Emiliana Winery in Chile as part of their "Natura" line, which focuses on grapes grown organically and sustainably. (Full disclosure: these wines were sent to me as samples.)

The primary difference between any red and rosé wine is skin contact. The red wine ferments with the grape skins sitting in the juice. The rosé wine has the skins removed from the juice after a few hours. (For more detail about the 3 primary ways to make a rose winé, check out my article on

2013 Natura Syrah

This red is made from 100% Syrah grapes. It has aromas of dark fruits like blueberry and blackberry, vanilla, and leather. 

On the palate, it also tastes of dark fruits, but with some tartness. It has medium body, medium-to-high acid, a good bit of tannin, and a fairly high alcohol content at 14% abv.

This is a nice Syrah, with the characteristics that are expected from the grape. Like many big wines, it benefits from breathing in the glass (or aeration), or could be held back to age for several years.

2014 Natura Rosé

This rosé is made from 85% Syrah and 15% Cabernet Sauvignon, and the Syrah is clearly taking center stage. It has aromas of strawberry, cherry, some minerality, and a hint of lime. There's also a touch of something herbal or vegetal on the nose, which comes from the Cabernet.

On the palate you can taste tart red fruits, with a lot of acidity, and a bit more tannin than I'm used to in a rosé. The level of alcohol was also higher than most rosés at 13.5% abv.

It's fun to see what happens with less skin contact. The higher-than-average levels of tannin and alcohol in this rosé make sense, since Syrah grapes have thick skins and are known for making big, powerful wines. From the red to the rosé the fruit character changes from darker fruits to red fruits, and the minerality and hint of lime were a surprise. 

This kind of comparative tasting reminds us that the juice from red grapes is clear, and could be made into a white wine. Tasting these wines together, we get a hint of what pure Syrah juice might taste like if it were fermented as a white wine, and we get to experience some Syrah flavors that normally don't get to express themselves. 

The best wine tastings teach you something interesting about wine overall. And often the best way to do that is to select wines that all have several characteristics in common, with just one difference, so you can see how that difference impacts the wine. In this case, the grape and climate were the same, but the winemakeing techniques differed.  For more ideas on how to set up comparative tastings like this, check out my article "Building a Better Wine Tasting."

For more about Emiliana, I wrote a longer post a few years ago about some of their other wines. And I can't mention Emiliana without linking to their extremely cool interactive biodynamic/organic vineyard.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Sixty-One: An IPA Brewed with Syrah Grape Must

Dogfish Head makes exciting and innovative beer, some of which I've written about before (here, here, and here). Ironically, many of their beers are inspired by ancient recipes. This one involves a combination of beer and wine, so of course I had to try it.

The Dogfish Head web site tells me that the idea for this beer, called Sixty-One, came about when the brewery president ordered a 60 Minute IPA and a glass of his favorite red wine. On a whim he poured a little of the wine into his beer and liked what he tasted.

Sixty-One is a "continuously hopped India Pale Ale brewed with Syrah grape must." It truly does taste like someone poured a little wine in your beer, and if you think that sounds awful, you're in for a pleasant surprise. It's actually delicious.

On the nose we have typical IPA aromas like bitter herbs and citrus, combined with rich, fruity black cherry aromas from the Syrah. On the palate we also have some typical IPA flavors, like grapefruit and hops, but with a rich fruitiness. 

Don't worry - it's not sweet at all! But it is strongly flavored. Due to the wine component, it has additional acid and tannin on top of an already strongly-flavored-and-hopped beer. Dogfish Head was wise in this case to leave the abv at 6.5% rather than increase it, as many craft breweries do with their strongly flavored concoctions. More alcohol would have made Sixty-One tough to drink. As it is, it goes down dangerously easily, despite the strong flavors.

If you're either a wine geek or a beer nerd, this is a must-try. (I promise I wrote that without noticing the pun. But I take full responsibility for leaving there after I noticed.)

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 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!

[Correction: This article originally stated that both wines are made with Texas grapes. In fact, the Messina Hof wine is made with Texas grapes, but the Becker Iconoclast is probably not, as it does not state "Texas" on its front label. Becker does make a different, more expensive Cabernet from Texas grapes.]

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.