Little Neck Clams & Vouvray

A Saturday afternoon throw down– clams, some homemade Pumpernickle bread and some Vouvray.  Five very happy people standing around the pot, pulling out hot clams and cloves of garlic and washing it down with Pierre Archambault 2015 Vouvray.  Happy campers just trying not to fork each other in the midst of finding the clams!   I love Saturdays!!

Sometimes You Get Surprised!

 Big Companies Still Make Good Wine!  Surprise!IMG_1634

Chateau St. Michelle is the oldest winery in Washington state.  Two million cases produced a year.  That is Big.  Huge.   Very mainstream.  However, I cannot lie…I’ve heard they make consistently good wines.  Further looking reveals they were the  Wine Enthusiast magazine’s Winery of the Year in 2004.   I found it  necessary  to get off the beaten path and back onto the wine super highway

I was rather taken aback by this glass!!!  This Chateau St. Michelle Riesling has big flavors of lime, bruised apple, peach and nectarine jumping out of the glass.  Honey and notes of petrol, to me, and minerality, to others, kind of clinging to the edges.  Screaming acidity — ya, I like it like that!  So, I turn the bottle around and look at the back label for more information.  ABV 12% and they have a sweetness scale!  According to the label,  this wine is balanced right smack in the middle of Medium Dry and Medium Sweet.  I consider that to be waaaaaay too sweet and I am not sure how this bottle ever made it into my shopping cart.  But it wasn’t too sweet, at all.

That screaming acidity that I loved kept any sugar in the wine from being cloying and tongue coating. The wine was refreshing.  My wine instructors have pointed out several times that acid has that effect in wine.  I have often found with inexpensive wines, sweet is still just sweet.   In this case, my mouth’s perception was on the dry side.  That was the real surprise.  And the price is surprising too!  $10.   Available everywhere.

An extra knowledge tidbit…  

When you look at this Chateau St. Michelle Columbia Valley Reisling label, it says, “100% Vinifera Rootstock”.  The fine wine grape species, Vitas vinifera, is susceptible to a microscopic, sap sucking aphid called phylloxera.   Sadly, the aphid was introduced to Europe in the mid 1800’s because it traveled on some vines sent from the United States. Within 3o years the aphid had made its way through much of the Old World vineyards causing almost complete destruction.   Although the aphid  was native to US soils, our native species of grape vines were resistant.   

To our good fortune, several horticulturists worked on this phylloxera problem and  found that those vitis vinifera vines could be grafted onto a variety of hybridized American root stock  and become resistant to phylloxera. Let those aphid suckers choke on that American Sap! (I think that is how it worked!)  This grafting technique seemed to be very effective.  European vineyards replanted their beloved vines onto the new American rootstock and the vineyards thrived.  All was well until the aphid crossed the ocean again in the early 1900’s and attacked all those wonderful vitis vinifera vines that we had imported from  Europe.  So we had to make the same changes here — European originated Vitis vinifera vines grafted onto hybridized American rootstock.  And just to be sure you understand, although our native species of vines were resistant  to phylloxera, their grapes were not particularly wine worthy.   The vitis vinifera species is the hands down, fine wine making  winner.  Thank God for good science!!!

So, if we were grafting all those vinifera vines onto non-vinifera rootstock, why does the label say “100% Vinifera Rootstock’?  It appears those sap sucking aphids don’t survive well in the sandy, desert soils in Columbia Valley Washington.  Chilean wines are also planted on their original vinifera rootstock.  The Mosel area in Germany, the Greek Islands  and some scant acreage in Montalcino, same way.  Areas of Australia remain phylloxera free due in parts to their soils and also their strict laws regarding the movement vineyard equipment, planting materials, and vines from area to another. 

So, to all my friends looking for some daily consumption wine…grab some chopsticks, order in some dumplings or a little tuna tartare or salmon.  Or just pour.  Pouring is good.  And  $10 to pour a  Chateau St. Michelle  Riesling means you can be downright cheerful about it!!  I love good surprises!

If you want to try a higher tiered Riesling from Chateau St. Michelle, give Eroica a shot.  This wine has been a partnership between Chateau St. Michelle and the Dr. Loosen Estate in Germany since 1999.  Better vineyard site selections mean enhanced flavor and minerality.  $22.  Still a great deal!


Young & Refreshing

Casal Garcia Vinho Verde hits the marketing mark with its ‘young and refreshing’ title on their label.  This inexpensive wine (okay, it’s actually cheap) is perfect for your summer parties!!!   It has everything you desire for a hot afternoon– crispness, a little effervescence, and a 9.5 alcohol by volume so Aunt Marge can enjoy two glasses instead of one.  And with this lower alcohol, I can enjoy a glass before dinner before moving on to a serious Red!! Excellent for date night or a mass  gathering.  My friend Laura lives to keep this stocked in her fridge for company!!  ($6-8 and available almost everywhere!)

Entry Level Cabs-Less than $15

Michael Pozzan Alexander Valley Cab 2014 is easy to drink and its acidity allows it to pair well and show well with a variety of red meats and even red sauces.  It has a long finish   This wine doesn’t scream of vanilla or baking spices even though it enjoyed 12 months in French Oak. .  It’s around town for $15ish. That’s a good deal compared to Silver Oak which also hails from Alexander Valley.  In addition to sourcing the very best fruit, it also undergoes much longer aging.  The 2012 Silver Oak is just being released this week.

Sterling Vintner’s Collection 2014 is a super soft, super smooth Cab.  I think a lot of people would really like it but it’s almost a little flabby for me. It’s got the tannins but the acidity is lacking. But don’t worry, no one will spit it out.  And the nice thing about Sterling is the Vintner’s Collection is their entry level Cab.  The winery offers multiple higher tiered selections. Their Napa Valley Cab is still less than $20.  That might be your best everyday bet.

Penfolds – Real Australian Reds!

I receive an average of two invitations a week to various tastings or seminars around Houston. I am beyond grateful for every opportunity to taste wine. It helps me improve my tasting skills, helps me find potential wine for our restaurant and allows me access to some wines that I would never, ever, ever, not-in-a-million years, consider for daily consumption. But that is still helpful because if they have carried an astronomical price, these wines have been deigned exceptional by both experts and consumers. Tasting exceptional wines helps you differentiate what makes some wines so expensive and award winning while other wines are just not.

Some tastings are held in nondescript ballrooms or banquet rooms. Some are held in an area of a restaurant and are jammed packed with people from the trade, elbow to elbow and glass to glass, angling to get to the tables to obtain an ounce of wine to sample. And once you sample that ounce of wine in your glass, how in the heck do you maneuver over to the spit bucket when their are six people between you and it. I frequently bring my own red solo cup and then its just a matter of managing my purse, my cup, my wine glass, some wine literature, and a pen. It can occasionally feel like a cattle call — not that I’m complaining!!

And on a very rare occasion, I am invited to tasting that is as good as Christmas morning. You know, a child’s Christmas, before you had to actually do all the decorating, shopping and cooking. This is the kind of tasting where you receive a three course lunch in a unique and lovely room and are served by waiters with impeccable manners. There are about 20 people at the table and the wines are leisurely discussed. In addition, you have DLynn Proctor, a handsome Wine Ambassador for Penfolds talking about the winery, the company culture, the history and future goals of the company, and leading the discussion about the wonderful wine themselves. DLynn is also a bit of a celebrity (Totally my opinion! Not his!) because he was one of the “stars” of the movie Somm and makes any suit he wears look amazing! He is wine knowledgable, articulate, friendly, humble and a former Marine. Those attributes alone give him cache in my book. He obviously has cache with others members of the industry, because as a Wine Ambassador for Penfolds, he brings excellent wine to the table.  This was evidenced by the only two Master of Wine Sommeliers in Houston being in attendance to taste along with many other Houston wine luminaries.

IMG_1250So onto the wines.

Penfolds Eden Valley Riesling Bin 51 (2014) — I’ve posted about several Rieslings on this blog that offer good value. This Riesling is in the $30 price range and it was delicious. Eden Valley, Australia offers a cool climate for these grapes to grow and ripen while preserving their juicy acidity. I truly regretted having to spit and dump my leftovers. I could have lingered all afternoon with this wine.

Penfolds Cabernet Sauvignon Bin 9, (2013?) – I think I want to order this one for our restaurant, George’s Pastaria. A multitude of flavors in a plush velvet case. This is a wine my customers would enjoy. The grapes are sourced from Coonawarra on the Limestone Coast of Australia, giving the wine the regional attribute of mint/eucalyptus flavor. Love it. ($22-25)

Penfolds Barossa Valley Shiraz Kalimna Bin 28 (2013) – My glass was filled with long legged purple staining. The wine was opaque and the cassis and vanilla flavors leapt out of the glass and coated my tongue with purple-y goodness. Be sure to bring your wine wipes for your teeth after this one! ($30-ish)

and, finally, drum roll please….

Penfolds Grange (2011) Penfolds finest Shiraz!! Perhaps one of the finest Shiraz!! This 2011 release marks the 61st vintage of Penfolds Grange. Penfolds Grange is the pinnacle wine from Penfolds. Its success is on par with Bordeaux, Burgundy and California cult wines. Grapes are sourced from the best vineyards in Barossa Vally, Adelaide Hills, McLaren Vale, and several others, to make this exceptional multi-vineyard blend. Although single, (monopole) vineyards are currently the rage to express their unique terroir, Penfolds makes their iconic wine to the same template style year after year. This commitment to a single style has been very successful for Penfolds.

I am not going to wax poetic about what I found in the glass, because other people can do that so much better than I. I can only tell you it was beautifully balanced, more restrained than the Kalimna Bin 28, dark red cherry, red meat and peppercorn flavors, and it call all be yours for approximately $750/ bottle or thereabouts!!

We tasted several other Penfolds Cabernets and Shiraz. If you have any questions let me know!

IMG_1251The Rainbow Lodge (2011 Ella Blvd., Houston) was a cozy but masculine venue for this event. The restaurant is housed in a log cabin that is over 100 years in age.  It has some beautiful outdoor terraces,as well.   The restaurant is well known for its steaks, wild game, chops and gulf fish. The food prepared for us was excellent. My venison was tender and flavorful. The dessert, Chocolate Grenache Torte, has me salivating just thinking about it.

And if I do win the lottery, I will buy Penfolds Grange.  Just saying!

In Case You Were Asking “Where is the Cab?”

Black  Coyote Reserve 2006 Napa Valley

It is ten years old and it has aged beautifully!  Although this wouldn’t fall into my everyday consumption, this wine is available at Specs in limited quantities (I checked!!).  This is in the $60-$70 range and I feel it was very good for the price.


A big, Napa cab with flavors of dark berry, dark ripe plum, with some cocoa and baking spice.  The flavor was robust and the tannins were smooth and velvety.  It was so darn easy to enjoy this wine.

The label puts the alcohol at 15.2%, but the leeway on labeling alcohol by volume is 1.5% in either direction.  I felt this one was close to 16%.  At that alcohol level, I recommend and advise that you enjoy it with food!  Something hearty such as red meat, whether steak, brisket, roast in red wine, or lamb.  Enjoy.

Chablis…The Other Chardonnay!!

I have a difficult time finding a Chardonnay that I like.  They are often too round, too full bodied and taste too much like Butterscotch, or, if from Burgundy, they are too expensive.   Very lovable, but expensive.
Chablis hits the right summer notes EVERY time.  Crisp, lemony melon.   Long finish.  Perfect with seafood, salads with chicken, oysters     And I get excited when I find a half bottle on a restaurant wine list.  Perfect to share with a good friend over a summer lunch.  Benjy’s on Washington Avenue has a nice half bottle list.  My friend, Melone is going to enjoy being introduced to this wine!  She always lets me choose, because she knows I’m  a little adventurous!

So when you go to your wine store, look for a Chablis or Premiere Cru Chablis. NO Petite Chablis–despite sounding small and boutique, Petite Chabis is the bottom of the barrel, so to speak.

Grand Cru Chablis is the pinnacle of Chabli.  It comes from ONE perfect 250 acre parcel of southwest facing hillside,  that is divided into seven vineyards —  Les Clos, Blanchot, Bougros, Valmur, Valdesir, Preuses and Grenouilles.   The soils in this parcel are comprised of ancient marine fossils, and mineral rich clay.  This lime studded (Kimmeridgian Clay) soil gives wine a chalky minerality that sets it apart from lesser quality Chablis.  Some of these Grand Cru wines may age in oak, but it will never be overwhelming.  Grand Cru vineyards make fabulous wines that are typically  not for everyday consumption pricing.  At least not at my house.

The William Fevre 2014  basic Chablis that I enjoyed with lunch is $22-27 a bottle.   And in between, you have the William Fevre Premier Cru ‘Les Lys’ for $30-33.  (Premier Cru is also seen as 1er Cru). The pinnacle William Fevre Grand Cru ‘Les Clos’ is typically $50-65.

I  can’t encourage you enough to add Chablis to your wine drinking repertoire.  It’s typically un-Oaked (or only lightly Oaked) flavor is taut and it thrums with fresh, clean minerality. Big flavors but still polite and delicate.  It really is the other Chardonnay.  The precise, trim, angular sister to anything you’ve tried from California.