Friday, June 27, 2014

Wine Infographic: German Wine Cheat Sheet

Next up in the series: Germany!  German white wines are wonderful to drink in the summer heat, so now is the time to explore them.  (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 in new tab.”
…in Chrome, right click on it and select “open link in new tab.”
…in Firefox, right click on it and select “view image.”   

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Comparing 2 Texas Viogniers

Almost a year ago I linked to an article about a competition in which wines made from Texas-grown Viognier grapes beat wines from France's Rhone Valley (the home of the grape) and California.  (Go here for the full story of the tasting and a list of winners.)  Viogniers are one of the rising stars of the Texas wine industry, and I've been wanting to get to know them better, so I selected 2 to taste and compare.  I wanted 2 Texas Viogniers that both scored well in last year's tasting, are widely available, not too expensive, and roughly the same price.  So I picked McPherson and Becker.  Both the McPherson and Becker Viogniers are made from grapes grown in the panhandle of Texas (though Becker is based in the hill country).  Both were the 2012 vintages.  Let's taste!

2012 McPherson Viognier

McPherson is located in the Texas High Plains wine region, which is in the panhandle of the state. This Viognier finished 4th in last year's tasting.

  • Color:  Deep yellow.
  • On the nose:  Tropical fruits and floral aromas dominate, along with peach, banana, and some earthy minerality.  
  • On the palate:  The flavors on the palate generally match the aromas on the nose.  Full body, high acid. 13.9% abv.

I really like this one, and at $13 a bottle I will buy it again.  The rich flavors and full body combine with high acidity to make a versatile wine.  (I happened to be eating German food the night I tasted this, and it paired nicely.)  

2012 Becker Vineyards Viognier

This wine finished 3rd in last year's tasting.  The website tells me it also won a silver medal in Lyon, France. Though Becker is based in the hill country, these grapes also came from a vineyard in the panhandle. 

  • Color:  Deep yellow.
  • On the nose:  More minerality than the McPherson, with fruit aromas leaning more toward stone fruit than tropical.  Less fruity overall than the McPherson, but with more floral qualities.
  • On the palate:  As on the nose, there is less fruit character on the palate here, but more floral, earthy, and mineral character.  Slightly higher in acid and lighter in body than the other Viognier.  Higher in alcohol at 14.4%. 

In my opinion, two things detracted from this wine, but only one of them is likely to be the wine's fault.  First, I wasn't crazy about the floral qualities.  This is probably my issue, not the wine's.  I enjoy floral character in wine, but certain flavors put me off and make me feel like I'm drinking perfume.  For example, Gewurztraminer and I have never gotten along.  I know, I'm crazy.  But this Viognier reminded me of the Gewurztraminer flavors that I don't like.  Becker's website says the floral aroma is of violets, so maybe I just don't like violets...  Anyway, it's nothing against the wine. Second and more important, I found the alcohol level too high, causing the wine to be out of balance. Perhaps a richer fruit component could have stood up to such a high alcohol level.  Like the McPherson, the Becker Viognier costs about $13.


I prefer the McPherson Viognier to the Becker, though the Becker performed better in last year's tasting. They're both reasonably priced, so if you're like me and you drink far more white wines in summer than any other time of the year, give one or both of these a try.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Improve Your Tasting Skills: Sauvignon Blanc and Gooseberries

Students of wine always want to improve their recognition of wine aromas and flavors.  A great way to do this is to smell and taste wine while you smell and taste the fruit that the wine smells like. With some wines, this is an easy task, because the fruits are readily available – lemons, limes, apples, peaches, strawberries, etc. Sauvignon Blanc is trickier.

The aroma of Sauvignon Blanc is often compared to gooseberries, especially if the wine comes from a New World wine region like New Zealand.  Gooseberries aren’t common in the United States, so most of us have no idea how they taste or smell.  But I have tracked them down!  Here are some local places where you can get your hands on gooseberries.

  • Spec’s downtown location sells: 

Maintal Gooseberry Fruit Spread from Germany ($4 for 12oz)
Tiptree Gooseberry Preserves from England ($7 for 12oz)
Vavel Gooseberry Jam from Poland ($3 for 16oz)


  • Oregon brand gooseberries in syrup can sometimes be found in grocery stores, in the canned fruit aisle or with the pie filling.

  • IKEA sells gooseberry preserves.  I'm not sure if our local Houston store still stocks them, but you can order them online.  

  • Gooseberries have a secret identity!  They are sometimes called golden berries and marketed as a "super food" in health food stores.  Golden berries are usually sold dried. You can buy them at Whole Foods Market (in the super food section in the health foods and supplements aisles in the center of the store, next to the wheatgrass).  Amazon sells them too, at a slightly higher price.  In Clear Lake, the new Fresh Market on Bay Area sells dark chocolate covered golden berries in the candy/bulk section.

  • Speaking of golden berries, I've noticed in the last few days that one of the varieties of Evolution Harvest fruit and nut mix sold at Starbucks includes them (along with cashews, cranberries, and almonds).    

I've tried the Vavel gooseberry jam, the plain dried golden berries, and the Starbucks mix.  The jam tastes sweet and mild.  The dried berries have a strong, tart flavor more reminiscent of actual Sauvignon Blanc wine, so this would be my top recommendation.  The golden berries in the Starbucks mix are less tart.

Pick up some gooseberries (or golden berries) and improve your tasting skills.  Plus, it turns out they're probably good for you too!

Do you know of any other ways to get gooseberries?  I'd love to try them fresh! 

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Wine Infographic: Spanish Wine Cheat Sheet

I hope you were using your Sherry Cheat Sheet this week for International Sherry Week.

To close out Sherry Week, let's broaden our focus and learn about wine from all over Spain!

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 in new tab.”
…in Chrome, right click on it and select “open link in new tab.”
…in Firefox, right click on it and select “view image.”