Tuscan Winemaker’s Dinner @ Duchman Winery

We were very excited to be able to attend the first bi-monthly Tuscan Winemaker’s Dinner at Duchman Winery. We hadn’t been there in a couple of months, so we enjoyed catching up with the people we’ve befriended there, and were eager to meet Dave Reilly, the Winemaker.

As I’ve written before, I’m a bit of a Duchman fanboy. Not that I don’t care for other Texas wineries, mind you, but the 2008 Dolcetto was my first taste of absolutely wonderful wine from our great state, so the opportunity to meet Dave was quite a treat.

We arrived a little early, so we went to the tasting center to try the Vermentino, a wine that was featured on the March #TXWine tweet/chat/tasting. I’m not a huge dry white fan, but this was good. I think it makes a good aperitif – so it was perfect before dinner.

When we made it to the dining room, Melissa Hale and Bill Elsey were pouring their ’09 Trebbiano while they served a two-cheese hors d’oeuvre. It was an interesting pairing and I liked the cheeses, but I liked the Trebbiano more. In fact, I had to put my glass down so I’d still have my faculties for dinner. Julie was already giving me signals that I was talking too much.

The seating arrangements may have been OK for the rest of the people there, but Julie and I felt like the place settings were much too close together, and we were grateful that one of the places next to us was not occupied so we could pull the chair and spread out a little. We’re not quite the svelte Austin-vegetarian-health-nut types.

Soon after we settled into the chairs they made general introductions and, more importantly, started delivering the first course, a striped bass. I’m a fish lover so I was pretty happy, especially paired with Duchman’s ’09 Vermintino. I’ve never had wine with fish before, so it was a new experience, and I learned that a good white does for fish what a good red does for steak. Julie doesn’t care for seafood in general, but she was determined to give the fish a try, hoping that the Vermintino would help it be palatable for her. It didn’t work, so I got an extra serving of the bass while she looked forward to the next course.

During the first course, our hosts offered Dave up for general Q&A, so not seeing anyone else beckoning him over, I was able to quench my curiosity along with my appetite. Unfortunately, I don’t remember offhand all the questions I asked – if I do, I’ll write about them for sure – but Dave was very informative and friendly.

Now if you’re serving a good red, I’m ready for some steak, but the chosen pairing (by the chef, not the winery staff) for the ’09 Dolcetto was a grilled pork tenderloin and pork belly. The tenderloin was pink, and I heard more than one person question whether it was actually done, but the chef’s representative (his wife, I think), assured us that it was properly cooked. An interesting texture for cooked pork, but I ate it because it was there. I liked the pork belly much better, but Julie’s portion was mostly fat and skin. If we had been at a restaurant, I would have sent hers back and requested some meat on her plate, and probably asked them to cook the tenderloin more just to be sure. It’s a personal preference thing, mind you – some people like rare steak while others like theirs well done. A caterer’s nightmare, we are.

Now about the Dolcetto: I like the Duchman ’09 Dolcetto even more than the ’08, and that says a LOT. Much smoother on the tongue while maintaining the full flavor I have come to love. We could have stopped right there and kept pouring the red as far as I was concerned…

But it was time for “dessert”. Again, we’re pretty basic kind of folk, so having a close relative to bleu cheese and toast for dessert was slightly disappointing; however, the Orange Muscat saved they day. They could have served that by itself – especially since it’s the only part of dessert we enjoyed. Well, the toast was OK, but hard to consider that dessert.

An extra treat for us at the first dinner was a taste of Dave’s unlabeled “hill country blend”. It’s a combination of various locally-grown grapes – I didn’t make a list of the varieties, or I’d tell you; however, I know there was some Cabernet from the vineyard that he owned before joining Duchman. I found it to be very spicy and tannic for my taste, but there was such a complexity of flavors that I am eager to try it again after giving it some time in the bottle.

Once our dinner was consumed, we were treated to a tour of the “cellar” with Dave hosting. He let us taste various in-process wines while telling us about them. That’s a pretty amazing experience, tasting the unfinished wine while having an idea what it will taste like when bottled.

Of particular note, we tasted the ’10 Zinfandel that’s nearly ready for the bottle (I think). Since Julie and I have only been visiting Duchman since September of last year, we didn’t realize that they had released a Zin before. Dave told us the story about why the ’08 and ’09 vintages have not been released, and why it was very likely that the ’10 would be released first, then the ’09, then maybe the ’08. I would mostly likely give a poor and incomplete version of the story if I tried to recount it here, so suffice it to say that there’s hope for the ’08 and ’09, but don’t try to rush them. I’m sure the ’10 Zinfandel will be released, and it will be good.

A funny thing, though, is that after having tasted the wines before, during, and after dinner, there were some of us (present writer included) that were conversing among ourselves about how best to “finish” the zinfandel before bottling. My opinion was that although it was a bit heavy in tannins, it would finish just fine in a bottle – perhaps four to six months. Another guest who I will refer to as “Zin man”, mostly because I don’t remember his name but partially to protect the strongly-opinionated, insisted that Dave should finish the zinfandel in “neutral oak” to calm the tannins and mature the flavor. Once our opinions were cast between us, we called Dave over to have him judge which was better, and Dave proceeded to point out that the sample we were drinking was about 40 degrees. He didn’t need to say anything else for me to realize that I’m a wine lover, not a wine maker, and for the most part I don’t know what I’m talking about. Zin man wasn’t convinced, however, and I ended my participation in the debate with the comment that given my love for Dave’s product so far, I will leave the winemaking to him and continue to enjoy my part as the consumer.

I have to say that even with the issues we had with the chef’s course choices, Melissa, Bill, and Dave hosted a wonderful evening. I look forward to May.


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