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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All my articles for Wine Making Talk are available here.

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

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.)