Sunday, December 6, 2015

Tasting Tannat from Texas

Tannat is a red grape (Vitis vinifera) native to France and historically produced in France's Madiran appellation.  Its deep color and strong tannins make it popular as a blending partner with lighter varieties, but it is not often produced on its own. 

Some New World wine regions are bucking this trend and producing Tannat as a varietal.  Uruguay has adopted Tannat as its national grape and hopes to become as famous for Tannat as Argentina is for Malbec.  Texas is experimenting with Tannat as well, and I tasted some Texas Tannat when I visited Barking Rocks winery earlier this year.

Barking Rocks is in Granbury, Texas and part of the Way Out Wineries wine trail.  Barking Rocks combines lovely scenery with a friendly tasting room and some delicious wines.  The Tannat grapes are grown in the Texas High Plains and transported to Barking Rocks for vinification.  (Check out the Texas Wine Cheat Sheet for more about Texas wine appellations.) 

Barking Rocks Tannat has a deep, ruby-purple color and aromas of blackberry, boysenberry, sweet spice, cedar, and a hint of savory smokiness.  The nose has lots of rich fruit, but the palate is a bit more tart, while still fruity, with more emphasis on the savory/smoky characteristics.  This is a big wine, with high acid and high tannin, but moderate alcohol at 11.8%.

Aging helps to smooth out the rough edges of Tannat, so this wine undergoes aging at the winery. I purchased it in 2015, and the current vintage for sale was 2008, so the wine was already 7 years old.  I drank it a few months later and enjoyed it as much as when I tasted it at the winery, but this wine could easily age and improve for another 5 years or more.  It costs $25 at the winery.  It's not currently available for sale in Houston, but you can order it from the Barking Rocks website.

For those unfamiliar with this grape, the Barking Rocks Tannat reminds me a bit of Syrah.  The flavor profile and the powerful structure are similar.  However, the Tannat is a bit lighter in alcohol than I'd expect from a Syrah that tastes like this Tannat.  I think that's an advantage, because I often prefer wines in the 12% range, rather than one with 14% or higher abv, simply because they're easier to drink and pair with food.

I'd encourage you to try Tannat and to visit Barking Rocks, especially if you live in the Dallas/Fort Worth area.  It's a short drive to Granbury, which has lots of other fun attractions to round out your day trip.

You might also be interested in:
Texas Wine Cheat Sheet
Argentina Wine Cheat Sheet
The Wines of San Juan, Argentina

Friday, November 13, 2015

Insights from Spain: 3 new grape varieties to know and love

A few days ago I attended a Spanish wine seminar led by Karen MacNeil (author of The Wine Bible), David Keck (Certified Advanced Sommelier and proprietor of Houston’s highly regarded wine bar Camerata), and Mark Rashap (a Certified Wine Educator and host of the “Another Bottle Down” radio show).  The seminar was educational and delicious, but the most exciting part was learning about up-and-coming Spanish wine regions and grape varieties.  Because they come from little-known regions and grape varieties, most of these wines are a good value.  Keep your Spanish Wine Cheat Sheet handy to locate these regions.

Hondarrabi Zuri from Txakoli (pronounced “Chacoli”)
The Txakoli region in northern Spain has been growing in popularity for several years and encompasses 3 DOs (Denominacion de Origen, the name for an official Spanish wine region).  The region produces light, white wines from the Hondarrabi Zuri grape.  Typically these wines have citrus and mineral characteristics, an impression of salinity (though no actual salt), and high acidity.  We tasted Bengoetxe Txakolina 2014 from DO Txakoli de Getaria, which retails for around $19.  

Godello from Bierzo
Godello is a white grape that produces wines with citrus and stone fruit character and some floral influences.  In Bierzo its fruitiness is often balanced by aging on the lees, giving the wine a pleasant smoothness and roundness on the palate.  Because it has thick skins, Godello can give a slight impression of tannin even in a white wine.  As the panelists pointed out, the resulting hint of bitterness is not unpleasant, but more like you’d experience from a good orange marmalade.  We tasted Abad Dom Bueno Godello, Joven 2014, which retails for about $17.

Mencia from Bierzo
Mencia is a red grape which produces wines that Karen MacNeil described as “a lot of frame on a small picture.”  I love this metaphor.  She means that the wines have lots of structure – acid and tannin – but more restrained fruit flavors.  In fact, Mencia’s youthful flavors have a tendency to mimic those of an older wine – leather, earth, savory/gamey notes.  The structure helps these wines to age well. This grape might be compared to a lighter-bodied but powerful Syrah.  We tasted Pago de Valdoneje Vinas Viejas 2014.

I can’t tell you where in Houston to purchase the exact wines we tasted.  But I can tell you that wines made from these grapes are available at the places you’d expect (Houston Wine Merchant, Spec’s, etc.) and I plan to drink more of them!

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Wine Infographic: Syrah/Shiraz Wine Cheat Sheet

The next edition in the Wine Cheat Sheet series - Syrah/Shiraz!  See the full collection 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.”     

You may also be interested in:
Wine Infographic: Australian Wine Cheat Sheet
Sixty-One: An IPA Brewed with Syrah Grape Must
Wine Infographic: Argentina Wine Cheat Sheet

Friday, October 23, 2015

The Story of Phylloxera: How a Tiny Insect Changed the Global Wine Industry Forever

In the late 1700s Thomas Jefferson, a connoisseur of French wine, attempted to grow European grape vines at his home in Virginia.  All of his imported European vines died, and he never knew why.  A century later, the whole world was introduced to the vine-killing culprit.

The tiny insect Daktulosphaira vitifoliae in the family Phylloxeridae (phylloxera for short) comes from eastern North America.  This almost microscopic, pale yellow insect, related to aphids, feeds on a grape vine’s roots and leaves.  Grape vines native to the same areas (such as Vitis aestivalis, rupestris, riparia, and labrusca) have developed resistance to this pest, but European grape vines (Vitis vinifera) have no resistance.

The Nymph Form of Phylloxera Feeds on Vine Roots

For many years, American grape vines were brought to Europe as botanical specimens. Phylloxera insects that hitched a ride on the vines went unnoticed and died during the weeks it took for sailing ships to cross the Atlantic.  All that changed in the 1850s when steam ships reduced trans-Atlantic crossing time to only ten days, a short enough time that the insects could survive the journey. Thus, phylloxera arrived and began its slow march across Europe.

The problem was first noticed in southern France in 1863, when leaves withered, shoots were weak, and grapes did not ripen.  Symptoms worsened for a few years until the vines died.  Pulling up the dead vines revealed that their root systems had nearly disappeared. Once phylloxera was identified as the problem, a cure was difficult to find.  Because phylloxera live on both roots and leaves, have a complex life cycle, and are highly adaptable, they are difficult to kill.  Common pesticides either weren’t effective or couldn’t reach the roots of the plant which were being eaten away.  New techniques developed for combatting phylloxera were ineffective, impractical, or nearly as destructive as phylloxera itself.

Phylloxera on a Grape Vine

The phylloxera epidemic impacted France the most, as it was the largest producer, consumer, and exporter of wine at the time.  But phylloxera eventually spread to all of Europe.  Between 60% and 90% of all European vineyards were destroyed during this time.  In France, wine production fell 75% between 1875 and 1889.  Ultimately the entire global wine industry was threatened.

The resulting shortage of wine affected many countries and wine markets.  At first, the decrease in supply of French wine increased the demand for wine from countries not yet affected by phylloxera, such as Spain and Italy, until phylloxera reached their vineyards as well.  Demand for Chilean wine increased, since Chile’s vineyards were planted primarily with imported European vines.  The shortage also created a market for terrible wine, made from imported raisins, or flavored with the used must (seeds and skins) left over from previous vintages and combined with beet sugar to produce alcohol.  It also inspired a flood of fake wine, poor quality wines labeled and sold fraudulently under the names of famous chateaux.  The wine shortage in France also led to an increase in the popularity of absinthe, a hugely influential beverage of the early 20th century which requires an article of its own.  In Britain, the Scotch industry promoted itself as a replacement beverage and many British wine drinkers switched.

In response to phylloxera, the French could not simply pull up their European vines and replant their vineyards with phylloxera-resistant American vines, because the American varieties produce undesirable (“foxy”) wine flavors.  By 1870 American and French scientists had created American-French hybrid vines which they hoped might resist the pest but still produce good wine.  The resulting hybrids had a weak resistance to phylloxera, but were hardy and produced reasonably good wine.  (Some of them are still grown in the United States today.)

The best option turned out to be grafting.  Attaching a European vine to American roots gives the European vine resistance to phylloxera.  (The rootstock that worked the best came from Texas!) Since the genes for the grapes are in the scion (stem), the grapes are unaffected.  Implementing this solution was another challenge, since France had around 11 billion vines in need of phylloxera protection.  Grafting was not accepted overnight.  It took nine years to prove its efficacy and for the French authorities to approve its widespread use. The finest vineyards were reluctant to graft and replant, since the identity of their wines was closely linked to the old, traditional vines.  These producers fought to chemically treat and save each vine, while the smaller, less recognized producers pulled up their vines, grafted, and replanted all at once.  Some producers smuggled American vines into France illegally and made wine directly from the grapes, despite the less desirable flavor and regulations against this practice. Unlike France, countries affected by phylloxera in later years had the benefit of knowing to graft their vines as soon as the problem appeared.

A European Scion Grafted onto American Rootstock

A few wine regions in the world escaped phylloxera completely.  Soils dominated by sand and schist impede the progress of the insect, as do dry climates.  Chile, bordered by an ocean to the west, mountains to the east, desert to the north, and the Antarctic to the south, has never been invaded by phylloxera, though to this day any imported vines must be carefully checked and quarantined.  A quarantine is in effect in South Australia, because it hasn’t yet experienced phylloxera, though neighboring Victoria has.  The island of Cyprus, the Spanish region of Jumilla, and a handful of vineyards in France, Portugal, New Zealand, Greece, England, and the pacific northwest of the United States have also escaped this costly pest so far.

However, the danger is still present, as evidenced by the disaster that struck the California wine industry in the 1980s and 1990s.  Many vines had been grafted onto rootstock beneficial for production, but with a low resistance to phylloxera, under the assumption that the insect was not present in the area.  Phylloxera struck, killing many vines, causing many more to be replaced, and ultimately costing the California wine industry more than one billion dollars.

Ironically, a phylloxera infestation can bring about positive changes.  The need to dig up and replant vines provides an opportunity to change grape varieties to better suit a particular vineyard, or adjust the density of the plantings.   Grafting itself can be helpful, because the grower can choose a type of rootstock which thrives in the specific soil and weather conditions of the vineyard.

Does grafting affect the taste of the wine?  Opinions differ.  While some top wine critics say they cannot taste the difference between grafted and ungrafted grapes, others claim that the ungrafted and pre-phylloxera vines make better tasting wine.  One possible reason for any flavor difference might be that ungrafted vines may produce lower yields.

Phylloxera is the most destructive crop epidemic of all time, and it changed the wine industry forever. Today 85% of the wine grapes in the world come from European vines grafted onto American rootstock.  Despite the enormous costs, phylloxera acted as a catalyst for a huge growth in grape vine knowledge, the chance to improve viticultural practices in established vineyards, a more resilient global wine industry, and in many cases better wine.

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Thursday, October 15, 2015

Did you know Louisiana makes wine?

A friend from Louisiana recently gave me my first Louisiana wine.  Although I knew that most states make wine, I had never seen one from Louisiana and wouldn't have thought it had a good climate for winemaking.  I do know quite a bit about wine from east Texas, but I hadn't considered that Louisiana is right next door, and there are strong similarities!

Like east Texas, Louisiana struggles with high heat, humidity, and Pierce's disease.  As a result, Louisiana, like east Texas, grows several hybrid grape varieties which can withstand these conditions and is experimenting with various winemaking techniques and styles to see what best suits these atypical grapes.  

Louisiana has 7 wineries:
  • Amato's Winery in Independence, LA
  • Casa De Sue Winery between Baton Rouge and New Orleans, LA
  • Feliciana Cellars Winery in Jackson, LA
  • Landry Vineyards in West Monroe, LA
  • On Cloud Wine in Shreveport, LA
  • Pontchartrain Vineyards in Covington, LA
  • St. Amant Winery in Amant, LA
You can see them on a map here.

I tasted Zydeco Rosato from Pontchartrain Vineyards.  Pontchartrain makes wine from estate-grown grapes as well as grapes imported from California.  Zydeco Rosato is an unusual blend of estate-grown Blanc du Bois, estate-grown Cynthiana/Norton, and California Syrah.

This rosé has an orange hue with aromas of peach, strawberries, flowers, a hint of citrus, and a hint of something vegetal.  Unfortunately there's also an aroma of burnt rubber.  This is a common side effect of using too much sulfur dioxide as a preservative.  The good news is that this aroma "blows off" in a minute or two and then the wine smells and tastes fine.

Zydeco Rosato is dry, with medium body, high acid, and oak influence which gives it a taste of vanilla on the finish.  The tasting note on the web site describes the wine as having a "hint of madeira."  Madeira is a fortified wine which is intentionally oxidized (exposed to oxygen) and maderized (exposed to heat), conditions which are normally considered faults in other wines.  So it's unusual to see a wine compare itself to madeira, but I do smell and taste an impression of madeira here.  It comes across as a hint of nuts and caramel, which is highly unusual in a rosé, but tasted fine if a little strange.  I enjoyed drinking Zydeco Rosato with a variation on this recipe for Winter Pasta (I made it with arugula and basil).  A bottle will cost you about $13.

Can I recommend this wine?  Yes and no.  No, because it's technically flawed and has some odd flavor characteristics.  Yes, because I have a lot of affection for wines like this, from small wineries in out-of-the-way places that are doing unexpected things with unusual grapes and blends.  These wines express their local character in a way that sets them apart, and though they may not be perfect, they're definitely fun and interesting to drink.


Friday, October 2, 2015

Film Review: Red Obsession

If you follow any wine news, you’ve probably heard of the growing Chinese influence in the wine market, especially in Bordeaux.  Red Obsession opens with a parade of Bordeaux wine makers, wine critics, authors, and Francis Coppola (!) waxing poetic about the greatness of Bordeaux.  They talk of “magic,” “love,” “soul,” “miracle,” and use musical metaphors.  Just as I was getting impatient with the flattery, the real story begins with a short history of Bordeaux and a fast-forward to the en primeur event in 2010.  En primeur happens every year in Bordeaux.  Critics, journalists, and buyers are invited to taste the unfinished wines before their release.  Based on the response, the chateaux set their prices for the year.  Enter China’s nouveau riche, for whom no price seems too high for their favorite wine.

This documentary covers an amazing amount of ground in a short time.  How did the Chinese become so important in the fine wine market so suddenly?  Why do they love Bordeaux in general, and Lafite in particular?  Is there a downside to this new source of money and attention for Bordeaux winemakers?  Where does this leave Bordeaux’s former largest market, the United States?  What’s next for China, as it is poised to become the world’s largest wine market and a new producer of wine itself?

The filmmakers travel the world and interview an impressive array of experts and industry insiders, looking for the answers to all these questions.  I’ll admit that before watching Red Obsession, my knowledge of the Bordeaux-China connection was limited to the fact that the Chinese really like Bordeaux and are willing to pay high prices for it.  The film is packed with details and explanations that will be interesting even to those more familiar with the subject than I was, such as cultural factors, business interests, and the influence of westernization.  Though the subject seems narrow, the film provides so much context that it also educates its audience about the French wine industry, the Chinese wine market, and the emerging Chinese wine industry overall.  If you have any interest in these subjects, Red Obsession is worth 75 minutes of your time.

(Not Rated, 2013, 75 minutes, Directed by Warwick Ross and David Roach, Narrated by Russell Crowe)

Sunday, September 27, 2015

A Sweet Wine Goes Dry: Furmint from Hungary

Tokaji Aszu is a famous dessert wine from Hungary, made from white grapes affected by the fungus botrytis (known as "noble rot").  For a quick primer on botrytis, here's the Botrytis Cheat Sheet:

(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.”)

Six different grapes may be used to make the sweet Tokaji Aszu, but Furmint is the most important, accounting for 60% of the plantings.

Now you can try this grape on its own in a dry wine.  In 2003 the Royal Tokaji company, which makes the sweet Tokaji Aszu, began producing a dry white wine made with 100% Furmint.

The 2011 dry Furmint has aromas of minerals and lemon, vegetal aromas, and a bit of something spicy and earthy.  On the palate it's dry, with high acid, and flavors which generally match the aromas.  There's also a hint of honey.  It has medium body, noticeable oak influence, and 14% alcohol.

This dry Furmint reminds me of a cross between a Chenin Blanc and Sauvignon Blanc (or Fume Blanc).  It's a good wine, if slightly hot on the finish.  Chill it well.  I found it at Costco for $11, which makes it a great bargain both as a wine to enjoy and as an unusual experience with a largely unknown grape in an even more unknown style.

You may also be interested in:
An eclectic list of good white wines under $15
What Is a Wine Cheat Sheet?
Full Collection of More than 20 Wine Cheat Sheets

Friday, September 4, 2015

Wine Infographic: Madeira Wine Cheat Sheet

Next in the wine cheat sheet series:  Madeira!

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.”   

You may also be interested in:
Sherry Cheat Sheet
Spanish Wine Cheat Sheet
Texas Kneecaps (with Bonus Lesson on Semi-Generic Labeling!)
Vinho Verde: Your New Favorite Summer Wine

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

All my articles for Home Brew Talk are available here.
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 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.”   

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 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.”   

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.

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 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.”   

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 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.”   

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