I’ll Have Mine On The Rocks

Wine on the rocks? What did you say? That’s right people. Wine on the rocks. I had my first Tincho during my recent trip to Fredericksburg. We visited one of the coolest stores/wine bars I’ve ever been to called House.Wine. You walk into an amazing furniture store and in the back is an awesome wine bar and lounge. Imagine lots of cozy and chic leather pieces with a plasma big screen playing old Humphrey Bogart movies on the back wall. I could have stayed there all day. We walk in and meet Jennifer who coincidentally used to live right here in Houston (and even more coincidentally right across the street from my current house). She gave us the grand tour and told us all about the store and said that we must try a Tincho. It was their most popular cocktail and all the rage in Argentina. A voice pipes up from a couple sitting at the bar assuring us that it is delicious. The best part, she says, is that you can take your drinks to go in Fredericksburg and walk down the street with them. While that was indeed fantastic, the best part of the Tincho was the drink itself.

What exactly is a Tincho? This deliciously refreshing cocktail is shockingly simple. Introduced by an Argentine wine maker, this little number is apparently the most popular happy hour cocktail in Buenos Aires. The wine is called New Age White (there is also a New Age Rosé) which is a slightly effervescent blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Malvasia. The back of the label has a picture on it so when the bottle is turned around you see a painting of a woman. This chilled wine is poured over ice and finished off with a squeeze of fresh lemon. The alcohol content in this wine is only 9% so it doesn’t sneak up on you quite as quickly as some other wines might. The bartender told us they had tried to make this with other wines but it was never the same. This was the only wine it seemed to work with. This was seriously one of the most refreshing drinks I have ever had the pleasure to imbibe. This would be a great cocktail to serve guests at a summer party. It sure helps beat the heat… especially Houston heat which I believe is in a class all its own. I have checked online and Spec’s appears to carry New Age White so if you’re looking for a bottle I would check there first. I highly recommend trying this one at home! Salud!

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SoVino: Round Two

After the little preview I got while out with Andrew for my birthday, I had to make a second trip to SoVino and see what else it had to offer. The whole experience was fantastic! Both owners (Manfred Jachmich & Elizabeth Abraham) were there mingling with patrons (which I loved) and couldn’t have been any nicer. I think it is great that they are so involved with their business. This time I went with three friends and we had dinner as well as wine.

The food menu is as creative as it is delicious. We started with the Bruschetta and then I had the Roasted Beet Salad with Goat Cheese and Pistachios. For my entrée I ordered the Mussels which were really good. They had an excellent flavor and I would definitely order them again. They were served over a polenta cake with a mushroom ragout. Mmmm mmm. My friend Catherine ordered the Short Ribs served over Gruyère polenta. Wow. Next time I am there and feel like drinking red wine… watch out! Short ribs all the way! AJ and Lauren split a Pizza and the Shrimp and Grits which was very tasty but really spicy so watch out if you don’t like spicy food! If you do, you’ll love it!

Speaking of wine… let’s get to the good part! First of all, let me say how great our waiter/wine guide was. His name was Jesus and I hope that some day you are lucky enough to have him as your server. We had such a wonderful time talking about the wines we were trying and you could tell he was genuinely interested and excited about the wines that they offer. He had a great knowledge of all of them and even wrote down a few more suggestions for me to try on my own. Since a bottle doesn’t go too terribly far with four people, we were fortunate enough to get to try several of the white wines on their list. We actually started with some sparkles (Catherine called ahead and they had it waiting on ice for us at our table) for a belated birthday toast for me and then also for a congratulatory toast for Lauren and AJ who just got engaged. We had plenty of reasons to celebrate!

We definitely got the night started off right with the Lucien Albrecht Cremant d’Alsace Brut Rosé which is a sparkling wine made from 100% Pinot Noir grapes. This rosy French treat was crisp with light flavors of strawberries and cream. It was fruit forward but not too sweet. Overall, it was very enjoyable. After we were done toasting, we moved on to still white wine. We began with the 2006 Alexana Pinot Gris by Revana Family Vineyards. This is a fairly new winery and this was their first Pinot Gris and it was lovely. It had flavors of citrus and honey with just the slightest hint of creaminess. I think it was lacking a little in structure but it was still good. They have a vineyard in Napa where they produce Cabernet Sauvignon but this was a project out of Willamette Valley, Oregon which is known for great Pinots. Interestingly enough, the owner of the winery, Dr. Revana, is a local cardiologist here in Houston. Next we tried the 2007 Whitehaven Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough, New Zealand. I really enjoyed this wine because it was drier and sharper which I prefer. It definitely had some grassy flavors going on and Lauren made the comment that it smelled like Christmas trees while Catherine said it tasted like cactus. I plan on trying this one again at home. Jesus was kind enough to bring out a few little tastes for me so I could sample a few other wines. One I honestly can’t say that I was crazy about but I am really glad that I tried it because it was by far one of the most different wines I have ever tasted. It was a 2007 Colomé Torrantes from Salta, Argentina. It had a soapy, bitter taste (think arugula) and the most interesting part was that the flavors hit the roof of my mouth and not my tongue. I thought I was going crazy but he said that he thought the same thing and Catherine agreed with me as well. I had just never tasted a wine like that in my life. He said that he did not like it the first time he tried it but it has grown on him and now he quite enjoys it. I would try a glass again just for research purposes but I don’t believe I’ll be buying a bottle any time soon to drink at home. He also gave me a little taste of the 2007 Graffigna Pinot Grigio which he said is currently one of their best sellers. It is from San Juan, Argentina and I can see why it is popular. While there really isn’t anything extraordinary about this wine, it was very crisp and clean and tasted like you were biting into a fresh green apple. It is a perfect summer wine. When they brought out our dessert (Cranberry Bread Pudding and S’Mores… yum and yummier) they also brought out a dessert wine for us and it was really good. We had the Two Hands, Brilliant Disguise Moscato Sparkling 2007 from Barossa Valley, Australia. Dessert wines are still fairly uncharted territory for me so I was glad to have the recommendation. So far I have no complaints!

SoVino has quickly become one of my favorite Houston wine bars and/or dinner spots. The atmosphere is right up my alley and you can’t beat the food and wine selections. While the wine list isn’t huge, I believe they are going for quality over quantity as every wine I have tried there has given me something to write about and I can’t say that for a lot of places. The staff is friendly and knowledgeable and I can not imagine going there and not having a fabulous time. I will definitely be back soon!

Sweet Sweet Summertime

Masi Masianco Pinot Grigio

So maybe this wine isn’t so sweet but it sure does remind me of Summer. Thanks to Kaleb at Cork Café for introducing me to this lovely little Italian treat. While I have lately come to enjoy the lighter whites, I took to this one even more than usual. I think it’s because it was not what I expected. I believe the little twist comes from the blend of the pinot grigio grapes with verduzzo grapes (25% worth). So while you are still getting the classic white fruits of the pinot grigio you also get the pleasant surprise of almond and pineapple flavors along with a little bit of creaminess brought in by the verduzzo. The bright acidity is balanced out by just a hint of brown sugar sweetness that lingers on the tongue. I felt like this wine had more structure than most pinot grigios I have tried. If you are looking for a refreshing Summer staple this wine definitely fits the bill. It would be a great accompaniment with many foods as well. I believe you should be able to find a bottle for around $15 in stores. Salute! 

Delightful… Delicious… Delovely

Ella said it best… “Delovely” is the most accurate word I can think of to describe this delectable 2005 Carneros Chardonnay from Domaine Chandon. Typically known for it’s delicious sparklers, Chandon deserves recognition for its still wine as well. I was quite impressed. The price tag isn’t too bad either… $17 at Spec’s in Houston. Worth every penny. This golden California variety has delicate aromas of lightly buttered toast, toasted marshmallows and vanilla bean crème brûlée. Makes you want to lick your lips, doesn’t it? Mmmm hmmmm…

Once it makes its way into your mouth you are flooded with flavors of vanilla custard and crispy sugar which go back to those toasty aromas of brûlée and marshmallow. The flavors are slightly oakey and not too sweet at all. The acidity in this wine is very well balanced. The bottle notes state that it also offers layers of apple and orange blossom. The apple flavors are very mild, subtle and definitely red rather than green which is what I usually equate with white wine. I’ll be honest, I have no idea what an orange blossom smells or tastes like so I’ll have to take their word on that. All I do know for sure is that I will buy this wine again. And again.

A Gift From The Wine Gods

If you have ever found yourself enjoying a scrumptious glass of wine only to find bits of what looks like dirty, dried fruit specks lingering in the bottom of your glass consider yourself lucky! While sediment may not look very appealing (I mean who likes dirty wine, right?) it actually usually means that you’re drinking some pretty good stuff. Wine sediment can be an indicator of several things: the wine is quite old (lucky you) and great care was put into creating that bottle. Over time, the tannins and pigments in the wine start to break down and thus create the sediment in the bottom of the bottle. It often means that little or no filtration was used during the winemaking process which allows a wine’s personality and flavors to develop over time. Due to this, sediment can be found in some newer vintages as well. If you happen to imbibe a bit of the good stuff don’t worry, it won’t hurt you. While it may not taste all that great, it is believed to be full of antioxidants. While sediment is usually associated with red wine, it can sometimes be found in white wine as well in the form of tartrate crystals. This just means that the wine was once exposed to very cold temperatures, perhaps while being cold stabilized.

If you can see the sediment in the bottle but would prefer to keep it out of your glass there are a few things you can do. First, stand the bottle upright rather than keeping it over on its side before serving. If you can do this a full day in advance, that will give the sediment plenty of time to make its way to the bottom of the bottle. To take this one step further, you can also decant the wine, which just means pouring it into a separate serving container. Not only does this prevent sediment from making its way into your glass but it also allows the wine to open up and breathe. When pouring the wine from its original bottle into the decanter, watch the neck of the bottle closely to make sure you don’t let any sediment flow through.

The moral of the story is that if you find a few speckles in your glass go ahead and give yourself a pat on the back because obviously you know how to pick ’em! Consider it a little gift from the wine gods!

When Will I Ever Learn?

I need to stop telling myself that I do not like things. Often I am wrong and that limiting sort of mindset has been keeping me from enjoying all sorts of delicious wines over the years. Well, consider me reformed. I came to this realization last night in the refrigerated wine cooler at Rice Epicurean (their wines are overpriced by the way). I was just looking for something nice and light to help me wind down my very long day. I had a little talk with myself as I perused my options. Do I go with an old favorite or do I branch out and try something new so I can write about it on my blog? I’ll be honest… I put a lot of stock in the blurbs on the back of bottles. I don’t know quite enough (YET) to feel comfortable with using the clues on the front of the label (i.e. vintage, region) to be able to feel like I know what a wine will taste like. Hey, I’m getting there. Anyway, I had already decided I was going to be adventurous and I just needed to read a few labels to figure out which wine I wanted. The label on the back of the 2006 Hogue Fumé Blanc enticed me, despite its claim to be “fruit forward”, so I tried it. Wise choice.

Honestly, I can’t say that I always agree with the descriptions after tasting a wine. That leaves meHogue Cellars disappointed. This one was right on the money which left me thrilled because it was all I was hoping it would be and exactly what I was looking for last night. The wine promised crisp flavors of lemon zest and herbs with a fruity (this is where I learned my very valuable lesson) yet dry finish. I have been telling myself all this time that I really did not prefer “fruity” wines. I liked “dry” wines. Wait… wine can be BOTH???? I get smarter and smarter every day. As I unscrewed the top (yes this is acceptable these days) and poured my first taste I swear I saw the tiniest bubbles in my glass! It could have just been the pour but I truly believe there were some lingering. Regardless, anyone who knows me knows how I feel about bubbles in my glass – they always get a thumbs up. I was off to a good start. My first sip was so delicious that I wanted to take many more sips immediately. I restrained and took my time. I enjoyed my wine with a light salad and it went very well with that. The winery recommends it with chicken salad or raw oysters. I believe it would be fantastic with either, especially the oysters. Yum. This wine is from the Columbia Valley region of Washington State and has a delicious price tag as well, coming in at around $11 a bottle. You can’t beat that. It is fermented in a tank rather than in barrels so as to keep that refreshing acidity. This is definitely a wine I will go back to. I enjoyed it so much and was extremely pleased with the acuracy of its description. Bravo Hogue Cellars. I applaud you.

Cheers!

 

Demystifying White Wine

I used to only equate white wine with Chardonnay. It was the only white wine I ever bought and I felt like I was really branching out because I would try a new one every once in a while. I was under the horrible misconception that I didn’t like any other type of white wine because it was all just too sweet. Well that’s just ridiculous.

I think I finally started exploring other whites after visiting a few restaurants that offer wine pairing suggestions on their menus. I love it when restaurants have this because it gives me a chance to try new wines without risking too much because I already know they will go with what I am eating. One Houston restaurant that offers this type of menu is the Glass Wall in the Heights area. Their menu is ever changing because the chef uses local ingredients and creates his menu based on what is in season and available locally. I love it. They have wine pairings under every single item on their menu. The last time I was there I tried a Pinot Gris that was out of this world. It was an Oregon wine by Wine By Joe. I know that sounds like it would have been made in someone’s basement but please do not let the label throw you. This wine isWine By Joe fantastic. It is crisp and clean and just makes you feel like you’re in the midst of Springtime. You can buy this wine for about $19 online or if you can find it in a store. If you order straight from the vineyard you will get it for $14. I tried to find it at Spec’s here in Houston and they didn’t have it – nor had they ever heard of Wine by Joe. That’s their loss because it’s delicious. This wine offers flavors of pear and apricot with grassy undertones and a hint of vanilla. Very fresh tasting. It was paired with crab cakes and what a wonderful combination that was!

So this wine really opened my eyes to the fact that I like Pinot Gris! Interestingly enough I had always turned my nose up to Pinot Grigio. I thought it was the sissy white wine for little girls, not real wine drinkers like me. How silly did I feel when after a little research I learned that Pinot Gris and Pinot Grigio are the same thing… color me embarassed. Pinot Gris is the type of grape but it’s just called Pinot Grigio in Italian. Californian versions are also called Pinot Grigio sometimes because the wine tastes more like the Italian varieties than say the French which are a bit sweeter and not quite as dry. So basically whether the label says Pinot Gris or Pinot Grigio you are dealing with the same grapes. Tomato Tomahto as they say.

While we’re on the topic of the same wines posing under different names, let’s talk about the mysterious Fumé Blanc. What is Fumé Blanc? I’ll tell you. It’s the exact same thing as Sauvignon Blanc. Robert Mondavi is actually responsible for coining the phrase Fumé Blanc when his Sauvignon Blanc wasn’t selling. He saw that the French versions like the Pouilly-Fumé and Sancerre were being widely accepted and enjoyed so he just took the Fumé and threw it in front of the Blanc and the rest is history. Fumé literally means “smoke” but it’s not because of the flavor of the wine but because the fog in the vineyards looks like smoke. You learn something new every day!

If you are stuck on one wine like I was I seriously suggest broadening your horizons and trying some new things. There are so many wonderful wines out there waiting for you! You’ll probably be surprised at what you find.