Unplanned Insomnia, Fresh Start

I NEVER have trouble with insomnia. I can sleep just about anytime and anywhere, but tonight I just couldn’t. After a few games on the phone and staring at the darkness, I remembered that nothing helps me sleep like a glass of red wine. I don’t know why, but it does.

That brings me to my next point. Over the last few years Julie and I have purchased a LOT of wine. Texas wine, mostly, and we have yet to make much of a dent in the cellar stock… so I went rummaging through my shelves of wine looking for just the right bottle to open. I wanted something I haven’t opened at home before, but also something that I would be pretty sure would satisfy my “appetite”.

If you know me well, you know that I like bold – but not turpentiney – red wines. I have a good Chateau Neuf de Pape waiting on the top shelf, but I need to let that wait a lot longer. I also have some really nice Texas Tannats (Westcave and Bending Branch) that would satisfy me quite nicely, but I want to open those when I can share and see people’s eyes light up and their jaws drop. Yep, they are that good.

I have at least two bottles of Hilmy Politics and Religion… 2010, that is. OMG those are yummy, but I want to share them as well. There’s William Chris Junkyard Dog. Again, that’s for knocking people’s socks off. Then there’s my prize collection of Sandstone Cellars Touriga. That’s a little too much for a nightcap…

To tell you the truth, I really want a Cabernet Sauvignon, but I honestly don’t have many. I quit buying Texas Cabs a while back because they just weren’t “right”. Especially when I can get a nice Napa Cab for so much less…

Note: I DO have some really nice Texas Cabs, but they are older Pleasant Hill and library Messina Hof bottles that I don’t want to open just yet.

Then I spotted a bottle that I forgot I had. Bending Branch 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon from Newsom Vineyards grapes. Let’s see… I have never been disappointed with any bottle of Bending Branch anything that I have opened at home, so I pulled it out and noticed at least one more bottle below it. Hmmm. I must have bought two for some good reason…

I wish I hadn’t smashed the screen on my Surface Pro because I really want to do a Visual Tasting. Definitely a solid Cabernet Sauvignon with just a little bite to it like I like yet still presenting good fruit. Now I wish I had a steak to go with it. Yet it still works well as a blogging companion tonight. I apologize for not being able to describe it very well, but I’ll do what I can. The nose is blackberry on top of a black cherry base. The tannins present well on the nose, giving it some earthiness without overpowering the fruit. Celery. Very faint celery is how I perceive the tannins. I LIKE celery, so it’s a good thing.

The mouth feel is dry, but not because the tannins overpower the fruit. I can barely feel the alcohol except in my throat – I didn’t even look to see the content of it. Tannins are definitely unfolding as the back of my tongue is happy and not cringing.

It actually finishes wetter than it starts with the earthiness still hanging around.It’s a long, smooth finish. And I’m ready for another sip.

Maybe we need to treat Texas Cabernet Sauvignons like we do old-world Cabs. Buy them early and let them sit. Just about every winemaker and wine writer I have met agree that for some reason, Texas wines do much better when they are allowed to age in the barrel and bottle instead of being pushed out the door.

That’s one thing I really like about John and the Bending Branch family (and many other Texas winemakers) – they do it right.

I will sleep well now.

Turning Friends into Fans, Pedernales Cellars

Julie and I visited Pedernales Cellars way back (OK, just over a couple of years ago…) when we started visiting Texas wineries. That’s even before I started writing about Texas wine. Pedernales was the last of several wineries we visited, and if I remember accurately, right after our first visit to Becker.

We were disappointed with the wines we tasted, but our assessment may have been influenced by our tasting guide who seemed totally disinterested and not at all knowledgeable about the wines. It was also the first winery that we didn’t buy any wine from on a visit. And we never went back.

I did have some of the 2010 Reserve Tempranillo at some wine event (I can’t remember where ATM) last year that I really liked, but we still didn’t go back. That is, until we met Dora Lupo.

We met Dora at an event at Hilmy Cellars where her husband and my brother from another mother, Vinny, works. It didn’t take long for Dora and Julie to become BFFs, so we had to visit her at Pedernales. That was actually earlier this year, but they were so busy and we were running late that we didn’t really get a lot of time to taste, except that we were very impressed with the Viognier.

Since this weekend was an us time with no particular schedule, we decided to stop by Pedernales and say HI to Dora. We arrived not long after they opened and although they were already pretty busy, Dora opened up the last unoccupied bar area and gave us a personal tasting tour of the latest Pedernales wines, assisted by Carrie, who was anything but disinterested and unknowledgeable about the wines we were tasting. In fact, Carrie and I compared tasting notes when Dora, the Cellars’ tasting room manager, was called away.

When we had arrived, I told Dora that we had to taste the Grand Gold Champion Viognier. She offered to takes us straight to the Viognier, but I had smoked a small cigar on the way and wanted to wash that out, so she served us the Albarino. Very refreshing, very smooth, and a great summer wine. Next was their Rosé, a blend of Sangiovese and Tempranillo; good, but I’m not a big Rosé aficionado.

Now for the Grand Gold… Dora told us that Pedernales only submitted their 2012 Reserve Viognier to the Lyon (France) International Wine Competition because they knew it would be a blind tasting. If you’re the underdog in being recognized for excellent wine, as Texas wines often are, you want the judges to taste blind – not knowing the source of the wine while they taste and judge. This is a Bottle Shock moment for Texas, you know! Grand Gold.

… and I can’t argue with the French on this one. There was a very subtle hint of oak in the nose, so I had to ask about the oak used – six months on new French oak. I would have expected much more oak on the nose with that length of time in French oak, but the hint was perfect. The mouth was as close to perfect as I have tasted. I had to take some time to do a Visual Tasting…

Pedernales Cellars 2012 Reserve Viognier

Pedernales Cellars 2012 Reserve Viognier

One thing to point out is that all of the aromas in the nose were present in the flavor, but shifted a little; the lighter citrus and floral aromas pull back some in favor of the darker citrus and hints of honeydew melon. And the finish was an extension of the flavors with very little dropping off.

We cheated on the normal tasting order.. Julie decided to stick to whites, so Dora poured her a glass of their Moscato Giallo, a fortified dessert wine, and I told her to go ahead and pour me a taste before I graduated to the red wines. Oh My God.

I was completely fixated on the luscious nose when Julie took her first sip, so I didn’t notice that I repeated her first comment when I took my first sip. I looked at Julie and asked, “Did you get this EXPLOSION of flavor when the wine touched your tongue?” She gave me the look and said, “You didn’t hear me tell Dora?” Ummm no. (sheepish grin).

Yeah, we are completely hooked.

I tried the Merlot, and have to say that it was greatly understated. Is that an oxymoron? Nevertheless, it came across with very little of the tannin structure I normally expect with a good Merlot. It would be a great starter “red” for a new wine drinker. Good flavor, not too strong, and not too harsh for the weak-of-palate.

The 2011 Reserve Tempranillo made up for the Merlot, of course. What can I say but all Tempranillo? Oh yeah, I took some of that gem home with me.

Here’s the complete surprise. Pedernales Cellars’ highest price reserve with is the Kuhlken Vineyards Reserve, a $70 bottle that I swore had to be a Bordeaux blend. I handed the glass to Julie, who had been “hanging around” with the Moscato Giallo while I tasted the reds, and she quickly identified Malbec with her exclamation of “Chocolate and black cherry”. Nope.

The Kuhlken Vineyards Reserve is 100% Tempranillo. I don’t know what the winemaker did to transform Tempranillo into a convincing faux-Bordeaux, but he fooled me.

I do have to say that after Dora told me it was Tempranillo, I finally picked up a hint of it. I’m sure that other tasters with far more refined palates than mine will taste the Kuhlken Vineyards Reserve and declare that I’m full of feces and I won’t argue with them, but for me it was well worth the price to be fooled like that. Three to go, please.

It takes a LOT to get me to join yet-another-winery-club, but our visit at Pedernales Cellars today convinced me that they belong on our short-list.

Thank you, Dora!!

An Afternoon With Family

I have been a bit AWOL from the “Texas Wine Scene” for a while. Sometimes life takes turns that force you to change your focus, and ours has taken a few lately.

Last October I started a new gig on my day job and started working 60+ hour work weeks, unfortunately with no extra hours pay. It’s probably the most challenging project I have ever been a part of and I’m already pissing people off, so it means I’m making an impact. But by the time Saturday comes (if I’m not working), I’m not in the mood to sit at a keyboard.

The latest turn came in March while we were spending a weekend with two of our kids and their significant others. We were doing some limited winery hopping and while we were taking a break at Hilmy Cellars, Julie received a call from her dad telling her that he had been diagnosed with small-cell carcinoma in his lung. The doctor didn’t say much about it to him except that it was “treatable”. We soon learned that there is a distinct difference between “treatable” and “curable”. Needless to say, we have spent a lot of time in Louisiana with her dad.

While Julie was on the call, the Hilmy family gathered around her to offer comfort, thoughts, and prayers for his health and strength and peace for Julie.

Today was Julie’s first trip to Hilmy since March and she shuddered a little remembering the last time when she walked in; however, Neldie was quick to greet her with a hug and a smile, and we were right at home.

Hilmy Cellars is just far enough from our home to keep them from getting tired of us, but close enough for a day trip if we can’t get a room in Fredericksburg for the night, and it’s my choice getaway. I don’t mean to demean any of the other wonderful wineries on the Fredericksburg 290 wine trail, and when Julie and I had more free time to visit wineries, we would often winery hop so we could keep up with everyone; however, right now the majority of our traveling is to Louisiana, and the very little that we do for us, we just want to go somewhere and hang out.

We just happened to have a weekend free, and Hilmy is hosting a release party for their 2012 wines, so we made a (quite literally) last minute decision to hang out. Fortunately I was able to snag a room at a hotel in Dripping Springs – still close enough to not fret about being too tired to drive after a day at the winery.

I have been following the evolution of some Viognier that Erik Hilmy has been working with and preparing for bottling, and have had several tastings from the tanks and barrel and telling anyone who asked that unfiltered in the tank, it was the best Viognier I had tasted to date. Naturally, I have been eager to taste the final bottled versions, the “naked” Viognier and the oaked Viognier, and the Doo-Zwa-Zo, a Viognier – Chenin Blanc blend. We were also (literally) treated to the new “The Temp”, a Tempranillo – Merlot blend.

These are newly bottled wines, so they will be undergoing quite a lot of change over the next few weeks – good reason to buy several bottles so I can follow their continuing evolution.

The naked Viognier is clean and pretty. It’s bone-dry, but my palate still sensed sweet – not uncommon, but always welcome; and it takes the white wine gold medal for today.

The oaked Viognier seems to be experiencing more bottle shock than the naked, but I only say that because I tasted a “glass blend” a couple of months ago that absolutely knocked my socks off. Right now the oaked Viognier is on par with every oaked Texas Viognier I have tasted, so I have very high expectations for it over the coming weeks and months. Hmmm, I think three bottles to take home may not be enough.

Hilmy Cellars 2012 Oaked Viognier

Doo-Zwa-Zo is Hilmy’s off-dry (semi-sweet?) Viognier – Chenin Blanc blend just in time for summer. If Erik hadn’t taken delivery of a gazillion tons of these jewels from Bingham Family Vineyards (a personal favorite Texas grower), I may have faulted him when I learned about the blend. However, the two varieties pair well in this new summer refresher and round out the tasting menu at Hilmy quite well.

Now for The Temp.  When I tasted it, I was reminded of my first taste of the 2011 The Temp (yes, that’s the name) – lots of fruit up front with a reasonable (almost underbearing?) tannin structure. What was strange with 2012 was that I could sense, but not really taste the effects of the Merlot in the blend. In fact, had it not been written on the tasting menu I wouldn’t have known what grape was complementing the tempranillo so well. The merlot seems (to me, at least) to be adding some “lower end” tannin structure to the tempranillo, which already has good high-end (for lack of a better description) tannins. What I get is balance. Here’s my Visual Tasting of the 2012 The Temp:
Hilmy Cellars 2012 The Temp

This surprised a couple of the Hilmy tasting guides because it doesn’t look as “smooth” as they think The Temp tastes, so I poured another glass and validated the VT. What I realized is that balanced and smooth are different but potentially confusing. To me, a smooth wine is one whose flavors – as I described it to Julie – have been sleeping together for a while and have become entirely inter-incorporated. They have merged into what initially may come across as a single new flavor. Balanced, on the other hand, are flavors that are a perfect match, but haven’t really slept together. They aren’t fully comfortable with each other, so they still express their individuality more than the more mature, comfortable flavors. What this means to me is that, given time, The Temp is going to be very smooth. Yeah, I’ll be taking some home to sit for a while with my 2011 collection of The Temp.

Bending Branch 2011 Estate Tannat – An Unexpected Preview

In May of 2011 I wrote about the most incredible Texas wine I had tasted, the Bending Branch 2009 Texas Tannat. In that article I told the story about my first introduction to Tannat, Bending Branch, and John Rivenburgh with the words, “This is the grape that’s going to make Texas,” at the Hill Country Roadshow. I also did a “live tasting”, by blogging about the wine as I tasted it straight from the bottle, and after opening up.

Continue reading

Hilmy Cellars Winemaker’s Dinner with Bob & Susan Wonacott

Every winery has its own personality. I know, I stated an obvious fact to anyone who has visited more than one winery in Texas, but it’s one thing I want to highlight in this article. Since Julie and I tend to spend hours at most wineries we visit, we are able to pick up on a winery’s personality while we interact with the owners, winemakers, winery staff, and by watching the people who “hang around”.

A winery’s personality is very important if the owners want to “grow” their wine club – an important part of a solid long-term winery growth and stabilization plan – because the personality of the winery along with the consistent quality of their wines become the primary attractors. I don’t place as much importance on location because it serves more as an initial entry or barrier than it does on long-term club membership. Continue reading

Hilmy Cellars – A Preview

Julie and I headed to Fredericksburg early this weekend with Mandy, our middle daughter. Julie and Mandy were on a mission to get Hill Country winery Christmas ornaments, and I played chauffeur.

We stopped at Hilmy Cellars on our way in because we haven’t had a chance to spend time with Erik and Neldie since they opened in March. Of course my decision to stop in was spur of the moment, so we had no idea whether they would be at the winery and/or available; however, we love the whole crew at Hilmy, so we were guaranteed a good visit. Continue reading

Santa Maria Cellars 2011 Malbec

I have been hearing that the 2011 wines will be stunning because of the drought we had in Texas, but I expected that we would have to Wait until 2013 to find an array of Texas Red Wines made from those grapes. My first taste of ’11 wine was from Saddlehorn Winery – a delicious dry Black Spanish wine unlike ANY I have tasted before. It was smooth and smoky and a wine l could share with anyone. Continue reading

In and Around the Fredericksburg Food and Wine Fest

This was our first year to attend the Fredericksburg Food and Wine Fest, so Julie and I didn’t know what to expect from the various events at and around the festival. When we pored over the event list for the festival itself, we decided to check out the Friday evening Celebration of Food and Wine at The Herb Garden and the Patron’s Brunch on Saturday morning.  The festival also offered a “Vintner’s Experience” Saturday afternoon during the festival hours that we bypassed – we had a full-enough schedule already! Continue reading

On the Patio with Don Pullum and Carl Money (Visual Tasting)

Julie and I bumped into Don Pullum this evening after the last session today at TEXSOM and were invited to meet with Carl Money, the owner of Pontotoc Vineyard – who we mentioned in the May article about the new wine trail being kicked off this October. We had been eager to meet Carl, and when Don mentioned that we would also have the opportunity to get an early taste of the 2011 Tempranillo that will be debuted tomorrow at the Grand Tasting, our eagerness elevated to excitement. We barrel-tasted the Tempranillo when we visited Pontotoc last May, and it was already aging quite well. Continue reading

Bluebonnet Trail: Retreat Hill Cellars & Impromptu Visual Tasting

Amazingly enough, this road trip was not my idea.  Julie had noticed that the Bluebonnet Trail wineries were hosting a wine pairing weekend and giving away wineglass charms at each winery, and also noticed that there are two wineries on the trail that we haven’t visited, so we could kill two birds with one stone.

Our first stop: Retreat Hill Cellars.  Julie and I have been here a couple of times before, but had missed being able to taste the popular 1836 Riesling. We soon found out why they sell out so quickly (review and visual tasting to come) and were able to grab two of the last three bottles in stock. I also tasted the Alamo Red, a blend of Texas grapes. Continue reading