Friday, December 9, 2016

Counterfeit Wine is Fascinating

Buying fake wine is not a problem you or I are likely to have, but it is fascinating nonetheless. Unscrupulous people have created fake bottles of rare, old, or expensive wines by blending together other wines and putting them into bottles made to look like the real thing. These counterfeiters age the bottles and labels, and sometimes buy bottles of the real wines to drink and refill with their imitation blend. To do this successfully takes a lot of wine expertise and a lot of startup money. These people are usually looking to make a buck, but they seem to also get a kick out of the prestige of circulating with the top collectors, critics, and writers of the wine world and offering up impressive (fake) bottles for tastings and auctions.

So many aspects of this are fascinating to me:  the process of creating a believable fake, the way the counterfeiters ingratiate themselves with collectors and experts so that the bottles they produce will be accepted as authentic, and the forensic detective work that can unmask the frauds. Another attractive aspect may be that I don't expect to ever have to worry that a wine I'm buying is a fake, for the simple reason that I doubt I'll ever buy a wine so expensive that a wine counterfeiter would bother to fake it. Creating a fake wine is only worthwhile at the very top of the wine market, where wealthy collectors are spending thousands per bottle.

I can recommend a great book and a great movie about fake wine. The Billionaire's Vinegar is an excellent wine detective story that begins with a bottle supposedly once owned by Thomas Jefferson. A wine aficionado will recognize many of the names and places, but no wine knowledge is necessary to enjoy the story. (A movie of the book has been listed on as "in development" for several years. Matthew McConaughey was set to star at one time.)

A great documentary about another massive wine fraud is Sour Grapes, which is currently available to stream on Netflix. Here's the trailer:

Either of these would be a great way to spend a few hours during your holiday time off, and the book would make a great gift.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Wine Infographic: Port Wine Cheat Sheet

Next in the wine cheat sheet series:  Port!  Port is a great wine to keep around during the holidays. It's a warming, celebratory drink as well as a festive gift.

The full collection of wine cheat sheets is 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:
Easy Chocolate-Port Brownies
A Dessert Wine from the Texas Piney Woods
Sherry Cheat Sheet

Sunday, November 6, 2016

A Beer Aged in Sherry Casks

The annual International Sherry Week goes from November 7th through 13th. (The Sherry Cheat Sheet can help you navigate the complex world of sherry and find something fun to drink.) This year, I celebrated Sherry Week with an ale aged in sherry casks. UK brewer J.W. Lees matures its Harvest Ale in barrels previously used for sherry.


Friday, October 21, 2016

Mint Beers for All Seasons?

I’m on record as a fan of herbal flavors in beer (see Lavender Beers for Summer), and I love all things mint. I recently came across my third mint-flavored beer, and they say three’s a trend, so it deserves a post. These three beers could not differ more. One is thick, dark, and bitter. One is sour, tart, and earthy. One is light and crisp. Here’s a rundown on each:

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Moravia in Texas

Last weekend we went to the Houston Slavic Heritage Festival, as we do most years. This year it celebrated the food, music, and crafts of the Ukraine, Czech Republic, Croatia, and Poland. I drink beer at the Slavic Fest (it goes perfectly with sausage and sauerkraut!), but being there reminded me to drink my bottles of wine from the Moravia Winery in central Texas.

The Moravia Vineyard and Winery is named (I assume) after the town in which the vineyard resides, Moravia, Texas (though the winery's address is in nearby Schulenburg). Moravia, Texas was founded in 1881 by Czech and Moravian settlers, who named the town after the Moravian region of the Czech Republic (or do we call it Czechia now?). This region of the Czech Republic produces more than 90% of the wine in that country, so it makes perfect sense to name the winery after the town named after the region.

The Moravia Winery grows Blanc du Bois (white) and Black Spanish/Lenoir (red) grapes, which it produces in a dry style. It also makes a sweet rosé. These lesser-known grapes flourish in regions near the Texas gulf coast where humidity and Pierce's disease wreak havoc on other grape varieties. (For more information, check out "Introduction to the Grapes of Texas" or "Profile of the Black Spanish Grape." Disclaimer: the link to the Black Spanish profile leads to an article I wrote for Home Brew Talk, and it contains a few errors introduced by their editors, which is why I no longer write for the site.)

Earlier this year I bought a bottle of Moravia's 2014 "Red Wine Cervené Vino Rosso" at the Urban Harvest Eastside Farmers Market and a bottle of 2014 Blanc du Bois at the downtown Houston Spec's. Both were around $20. (Google translate says that cervené means red in Czech.) I stuck the bottles in the wine fridge and nearly forgot about them until I saw the Moravia region of the Czech Republic mentioned at the Slavic Fest.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Wine Infographic: Italian Wine Cheat Sheet

Next in the wine cheat sheet series:  Italy!

I've covered Chianti before, here.  The full collection of wine cheat sheets is 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.”  

Friday, August 19, 2016

Lavender Beers for Summer

I am a well-documented lavender freak. I love the smell, I love the taste, and I always have to try any food or drink that contains it.  I’ve written before about lavender cocktails (here and here), I love my lavender earl grey tea, and I own a lavender cookbook. So of course I was excited when one of the new-ish Houston-area breweries – No Label in Katy, TX – released their “Forbidden Lavender” ale. Then I started noticing other beers that incorporate lavender and decided a post was in order.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Cider + Wine = Something Different to Drink This Summer

When I was sitting at the bar at J. Henry's a couple of weeks ago, I noticed a funny looking wine bottle in their cooler. I asked to read the label, and then I knew I had to try it. It was Grafter Rosé, a small-batch cider from Texas Keeper, made with 91% Rome Beauty apples and 9% Tempranillo grapes from Texas. (Sorry the picture is orange. I was having living room lighting issues.)


Friday, July 22, 2016

Beer Infographic: Map of Houston-Area Craft Breweries

I've had a list of Houston craft breweries that I've been updating for a quite a while, but I decided we needed a map. Here's the map with the list below it.

I count 29 30 31 38 craft breweries in the Houston area, either currently open or planning to open soon.  Did I miss any?

To see the map 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.”  

And here's the list with links:

11 Below Brewing (Houston)
8th Wonder Brewery (Houston) 
Apogee Brewing (Houston) 
B-52 Brewing (Conroe)
Baa Baa Brewhouse (Brookshire)
Back Pew Brewing (Porter)
Bakfish Brewing Co (Pearland)
Bearded Fox Brewing (Tomball)
Brash Beer (Houston)
Buffalo Bayou Brewing (Houston) 
City Acre Brewing (Houston)
Copperhead Brewery (Conroe)
Cranky Britches Brewing (Friendswood)
Cyclers Brewing (Montgomery) 
Eureka Heights Brew Co (Houston)
Fetching Lab Brewery (Alvin)
Fire Ant Brewing (Tomball)
Fort Bend Brewing (Missouri City) 
Galactic Coast Brewing (Dickinson) 
Galveston Bay Beer Company (Dickinson)
Galveston Island Brewing (Galveston)
Great Heights Brewing (Houston)
Holler Brewing Co (Houston)
Ingenious Brewing (Humble)
Karbach Brewing (Houston) 
Lone Pint Brewery (Magnolia) 
No Label Brewing (Katy) 
Platypus Brewing (Houston)
Running Walker Brewery (Richmond)
Saint Arnold Brewing (Houston) 
Saloon Door Brewing (Webster)
Sigma Brewing Co (Houston)
Southern Star Brewing (Conroe)
Spindletap Brewery (NW Houston)
Texas Beer Refinery (Dickinson) 
Texian Brewing (Richmond) 
Town In City Brewing (Houston Heights)   
Under the Radar Brewery (Houston)

Friday, July 15, 2016

Happy 200th Post!

I started this blog in September 2012 and just reached 200 posts. To celebrate, here are some of the most popular posts, plus a few that are just my favorites.

The wine cheat sheets are always the most popular posts, which is good since they're the main reason I started the blog. Here's a link to all 26 wine cheat sheets (and more coming soon!).

Other very popular posts include:
Top 6 Things to Know About Wine Vintages
Smelling, Swirling, and Training Your Nose
Acid 101
Tannin 101
Is your wine over the hill?
Wine Glasses: What Kind, Why, and Where to Get Them
Would you drink wine with a moldy cork?
Introduction to the Grapes of Texas
The cheapest, easiest, laziest way to cook with wine

And definitely the best beer post is:
The Ultimate Guide to 51 Pumpkin Ales in Houston

Here's to 200 posts and many more to come!

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Wine Infographic: Bordeaux Wine Cheat Sheet

Next in the wine cheat sheet series:  Bordeaux!

I'll be the wine educator on a river cruise through Bordeaux in 2017. Want to come along? We have spaces available!

If you're interested in learning about Bordeaux, you may also want to check out the French Wine Cheat Sheet and the Botrytis (Noble Rot) Cheat Sheet.

The full collection of wine cheat sheets is 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.”  

Friday, June 17, 2016

Experiencing Bordeaux in Books and Movies

When I travel, I like to learn as much as I can about the place I'm visiting before I go. A fun way to do that is through books and movies. Here's a collection of fiction and non-fiction books and movies I'm interested in reading and watching before I visit Bordeaux in 2017. (I'm assembling a group to go on a tour, and we still have spaces available. Email me if you're interested!)

I've marked the ones I've read or seen (*) and added a personal review, and I'll update this post as I make progress on the list.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Visit Granbury, taste great Texas wine.

Recently I wrote about the grapes that are thriving in Texas (Introduction to the Grapes of Texas). Roussanne is one of them. This white grape is native to France and appears in the white wines of France's Rhone Valley. It also appears in the red wines of the region, since it is one of the few white grapes allowed to be blended into Rhone's red wines in small quantities. Roussanne is primarily found in southern France, but its presence is growing in Texas, particularly in the Texas High Plains AVA.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

A Simple Greek Meal with Greek Wine

This week kicked off a project relating to the history of wine, which I’ll be working on for the next year and a half. (More on that soon.) To mark the occasion I decided to drink a wine from one of the oldest winemaking countries in the world. The Greeks have made wine since at least 600 BC or so, and possibly much earlier.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Sorting Out the Names: A Brief History of Bordeaux

The names of the regions in and around Bordeaux can be confusing. For one thing, Bordeaux is the name of a city, a winemaking region, and a wine. In addition, many names get tossed around in relation to this part of France:  Bordeaux, Aquitaine, Gascony, Gironde, Dordogne. Let’s take a brief trip through history that will help us figure out what everyone is talking about.  Here’s the general area in question:

The city of Bordeaux and surrounding areas.

Friday, May 6, 2016

The cheapest, easiest, laziest way to cook with wine.

Okay, I know what I'm about to say sounds bad, and I'm the first one to advocate for drinking good wine and serving it correctly. But when it comes to cooking with wine, I just don't have the time (or the budget) to be a perfectionist. So I've developed some strategies to get the great flavors from cooking with wine without any of the hassle.

The general rule is to not cook with any wine that you wouldn't want to drink. You might open a single bottle to put into the dish you're cooking and to drink while you eat it. Or, if you're cooking with the leftovers from an open bottle from a few days ago, you'll want to make sure you preserved that bottle properly, using a vacuum or gas system and putting the wine in the fridge.

This approach is admittedly not that hard, but I have a few issues with it, because maybe I'm cheap and/or lazy. First, I'll spend about $15 on a bottle of wine to drink with dinner. I won't do it every day, and I'll spend more on special occasions. I'm reluctant to pour a $15-a-bottle wine into spaghetti sauce. If I spent the money and chose the wine, I want to drink it! And if I'm supposed to always cook with wine I would drink, then we have a problem.

Second, I cook dinner for my husband and myself 4 or 5 nights a week. This requires a lot of both planning and improvising. Sometimes I plan a meal and use a recipe; sometimes I make it up as I go along from whatever we happen to have in the house. Sometimes we're drinking wine with dinner, sometimes not. Figuring out which bottle of wine to cook with complicates things, not in an insurmountable way, but in an "I worked all day and need to cook something healthy and fast and I don't want to deal with one more thing" kind of way.

Ideally, it would be nice to have a couple of different types of wine on hand for cooking (red, white, etc.), without having to plan ahead, without having to worry about an open bottle spoiling, without cringing as you pour some of your yummy $15 bottle into the pan.

Here's how you do it!

Friday, April 22, 2016

Introduction to the Grapes of Texas

Now is a great time to get interested in Texas wine. Texas is the 5th largest wine producer in the country with more than 300 wineries and growing fast. Texas has more wine history than most people know -- vines were planted in Texas in the early 1600s, which is earlier than they came to California. In the early 1900s transplanted Texan Thomas Munson played an important role in solving the worldwide phylloxera crisis using rootstock from Texas grapes. The Texas wine industry today is often compared to the California wine industry in the 1970s -- the winemakers are still experimenting to see what works best in the climate, the quality ranges from very high to low-but-improving, and the wine is generally undervalued. Check out the Texas Wine Cheat Sheet for an overview of Texas' wine regions.

Most people think about wine in terms of grape variety. Learning about the grapes of a region is a good beginning for learning about the region's wines, but it's especially important in Texas because winemakers here are still figuring out what grapes grow best. In Burgundy winemakers have spent hundreds of years perfecting the wine identity of the region and the marriage of grape to vineyard site. In Texas these are open questions. So far, wineries and grape growers in Texas have tended to take one (or a combination) of the following approaches to their grape selection.

Friday, April 8, 2016

Wine Infographic: Champagne Cheat Sheet

Next in the wine cheat sheet series:  Champagne!  The most important thing is if it doesn't come from the Champagne region in France, it is not Champagne.  Just call it sparkling wine.

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:  French Wine Cheat Sheet (new and improved)
Wine Infographic:  Loire Valley Cheat Sheet
Tour Bordeaux with a French Wine Scholar in 2017

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Top 4 Things to Know About Super Tuscan Wines

If you’ve explored much Italian wine, you’ve heard the term “Super Tuscan,” but you may not have known what it means. It doesn’t mean a really good Tuscan wine...although it might also be a really good Tuscan wine.  

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Attention Clear Lake: We have craft cocktails!

Clear Lake just got its first Prohibition-era, speakeasy-style bar for craft cocktails. Preamble Lounge and Craft House in Webster is open now, with a grand opening celebration planned for April 1. I stopped by this evening for a drink and was very happy with what I found - and even happier that it's 5 minutes from my house.

Located in an unassuming strip center between 2 movie theaters -- the Cinemark on one side and the NASA Dollar Cinema on the other -- Preamble has a classy modern-industrial interior to rival anything inside the loop.

More importantly, the cocktails are really good. I tried the Garden Gimlet (a basil-infused gimlet that was perfectly not-too-sweet) and the Bee's Knees (made with local honey and lavender). Both were delicious, although the gimlet was my favorite. I also got to preview the house red wine, which has a good balance of fruitiness, acidity, and oak, moderate tannins, and should please many palates and complement a variety of foods. Speaking of food, the menu is still in the testing phases, but should be rolled out soon.  The beer taps are stocked with a variety of local craft fare.

Preamble has a dress code on Thursday through Sunday evenings (casual all other times). I think it's cool that they've added this touch to recreate the more glamorous feel of a bygone era. I'll be interested to see how it works for them, since I'm not aware of any other bar that does it. They currently have a well-curated Pandora station playing, but live music of all types is on the agenda.

I'm excited to welcome Preamble to the neighborhood, and excited that our Clear Lake horizons are expanding!

Friday, March 11, 2016

Wine Infographic: French Wine Cheat Sheet - new and improved!

The original French Wine Cheat Sheet was one of the first wine cheat sheets I ever made, more than 3 years ago. I've gotten better at it since then! Here's the new and improved version.

This kicks off a greater focus on French wine in my personal tasting and studying, in preparation for being the wine educator on a river cruise through Bordeaux next year. Want to come along? Find more info here:  Tour Bordeaux with a French Wine Scholar.

The full collection of wine cheat sheets is 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, February 25, 2016

Tour Bordeaux with a French Wine Scholar! (updated with new discounts)

Join our group on a river cruise through Bordeaux in October 2017!

More info...
  • AmaWaterways has created a great itinerary with a lot of wine tastings and activities. They plan the itinerary and run the cruise.
  • Travel with your own French Wine Scholar - me! I will be on the trip to provide additional educational opportunities, answer your questions, and help you get the most out of your experience. 
  • The ship holds ~150 people, but our group-within-a-group of ~15 will allow a more fun and personal experience, and you'll be able to get to know your fellow passengers and wine enthusiasts better.
Itinerary:  8-day/7-night "Taste of Bordeaux" cruise
Sailing Date:  October 26, 2017
Cruise vs. Cruise+Land:  I am doing just the cruise, but you have the option to extend the trip by a                                              few days on land either before or after the cruise.
Air Travel:  You may arrange your own air travel, have our travel agent book it for you, or purchase                       it through AmaWaterways.

I just booked my flights with AmaWaterways, and they are offering spectacular deals!

What are the discounts?

  • Discount on Double Occupancy Cabins:  $1000 off per person through the end of March.
  • Discount on Single Occupancy Cabins with Windows Only:   The single supplement is waived, so you pay the same price to have your own cabin!  This discount is good until they sell out of that cabin type.

Are you interested?

If you're interested in this trip, contact me! If you may be interested in future trips, please let me know that too.  I'll keep you posted on upcoming plans.

Happy wine travels!

Thursday, February 11, 2016

An Organic Bargain from Chile

I've written a couple of times before (here and here) about Emiliana in Chile.  Emiliana produces organic grapes which are farmed sustainably, and some of their wines are biodynamic.  (More on biodynamic wine here.)  I liked the wines I had tasted so far, but I had never tried Emiliana's Sauvignon Blanc.  So when I saw it in Fresh Market today for $10, I had to try it.

Emiliana's Natura Sauvignon Blanc comes from the Casablanca Valley in the Aconcagua Region in northern Chile (check the Chilean Wine Cheat Sheet to see where that is).  Its aromas are fresh and crisp, with lime, grapefruit, and grassy notes.  Like most Sauvignon Blanc, it has a bit of vegetal character (like asparagus or canned mushrooms).  The flavor is dry but fruity, crisp and tart, with tropical fruit and citrus notes.  Overall it's well balanced and has a nice finish.

I drank it with a spinach and mushroom crustless quiche, and it was perfect.  

You really can't do better than this for a $10 Sauvignon Blanc.  This one is going into my regular rotation.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Egyptian Travels and Wine Tasting

I just got back from 12 spectacular days in Egypt, and I cannot say enough good things about the trip. It was a cruse down the Nile, and now I'm totally sold on river cruising. If you need any recommendations for an Egypt visit, post your questions in the comments!

Ahem...back to wine... Of course I researched wine in Egypt before I went. Egypt has thousands of years of winemaking history, going back to the earliest ancient times. Today, Egypt is a primarily Islamic country, which means many Egyptians drink no alcohol. However, Egypt does have a small wine industry, and I tasted and brought back some samples.

The History of Wine in Egypt

Images from the tomb wall of Kha’emwese in Thebes, c. 1450 BC,
showing winemaking in ancient Egypt.

The knowledge of winemaking came to Egypt from Mesopotamia around 3500 BC – more than 5000 years ago. As early as the Old Kingdom period (2650 - 2152 BC), winemaking scenes were painted and carved on tomb walls. The inscriptions tell us that wine was produced in the northern part of Egypt, the Nile delta, and five different types of wine are mentioned as being desirable to take into the afterlife. A few New Kingdom (1500 - 1000 BC) temples also show grapes and wine as offerings to the gods.

Grapes and wine as offerings to the gods in the Temple of Horus at Edfu.

The average ancient Egyptian drank more beer than wine, which was more of an upper-class beverage. However, wine was important as a drink for pleasure and one of the only medicines available. If used as a medicine, wine was often mixed with herbs, spices, or plant extracts.

Most wine in ancient Egypt was probably red, but newer evidence suggests white wine may have been made as well. Because wine in ancient Egypt was stored in clay jars called amphorae, we can study the wine they drank by analyzing the residue of wine remaining in the jars. This may be a tiny amount which has been absorbed into the porous clay.

When Christianity came to Egypt (around 33 AD or soon afterwards), monasteries were founded and produced wine for communion. Later, the spread of Islam to Egypt (in the 600s AD) greatly reduced the amount of wine produced, since Islam prohibits drinking alcohol. But not all Muslims follow that provision, and some amount of alcohol has always been produced in Egypt and widely available.

Wine in Egypt Today

Egypt's climate is too hot and dry to produce wine in most areas. The Nile delta in northern Egypt receives an average of 1-8 inches of rainfall per year, but the central and southern parts of the country average near zero. Grapes can only be grown in the wetter regions of the delta and near the sea, which moderates the heat.

One of the biggest producers of wine in Egypt is Al Ahram Beverages Company or ABC (owned by Heineken), which produces beer, wine, and spirits. One of their most popular wine brands is Omar Khayyam. For the 12 days I was in Egypt, we drank mainly Omar Khayyam Red. We brought back a bottle of red and a bottle of white (both from the 2013 vintage).

Omar Khayyam Red is made from the grape Bobal, which is a lesser-known variety of Vitis vinifera and originates from Spain. The wine has jammy aromas of raspberry, blackberry, cherry, and cedar. It's dry, with a smoky finish, and moderate levels of acid, tannin, and alcohol (12.5%). This is a fine, everyday sort of wine. It isn't showy and probably wouldn't win awards, but it tastes good, it's well balanced, and it can pair with a wide variety of foods. We drank it and enjoyed it with dinner most nights.

Omar Khayyam White is made from the grape Sultanine Blanche, which is usually a table grape. However, it makes a pretty good wine. It reminded me a bit of a Chenin Blanc or a Chardonnay. It's an old world style, with lots of mineral aromas, lemon, almond, and a bit of oak. It's dry, with high acid, medium body, and a slightly higher perception of alcohol than its actual 12.5%. The Omar Khayyam website describes it as "simple, clean and fresh" and says it "needs to be drunk young." I'd agree with those statements. Like the red, the white was also perfectly fine, but the red was better.

And Beer Too!

Egypt also makes beer, and it's pretty good. The two most popular are Stella (no relation to Stella Artois) and Sakara, both owned by ABC/Heineken. Stella is a light lager, which is extremely refreshing in the heat. Sakara Gold has more flavor and more bitterness. We liked both, but preferred Stella.


Sakara is named after the Step Pyramid of Djoser at Sakara (sometimes spelled Sakkara or Saqqara), which is older than the more famous Pyramids of Giza.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

New Projects and Travels Afoot...

I've been posting less of late, because 2 new projects have been taking up my time. One is wine related (hopefully more on that soon). The other is travel related. Here's a hint that relates to both:

I hope to be back on a regular posting schedule in several weeks.  Cheers!