Category Archives: Wine

Crios Torrontés 2011

IMG_2045It didn’t take a trip to Buenos Aires to become interested in the Torrontés variety, there are reasonable offerings domestically and even a few noteworthy tries from Texas vineyards. However, I definitely leveraged being in Argentina to ask questions and find little-exported renditions of the native white grape known for its aromatic qualities and ‘mouthful of floral’ flavours.

Now that summer is upon Houston, my bent toward red wines is balancing out with an occasional white. This Torrontés caught my eye after a long walk in the steamy afternoon which by coincidence (or not) landed me directly in front of our Home Depot sized wine store.

On the pour the Crios is very pale yellow, almost beige, which is typical across Torrontés I’ve tried. Initial scents of honeysuckle and freshly squeezed lemonade, however after the wine came closer to room temperature I picked up a little fleshy apricot and nectarine. On the first taste I was surprised by a slightly effervescence however there were no tell-tale visual signals. Moving on, I noticed distinct honey and pineapple dominance which did not subside over time. However as the wine warmed up a bit, the honey and pineapple loosen up their death grip to let in mango with plus one Meyer lemon. When the wine makes its way down you are left with an echo of tropical fruit and an fading shale quality, which only prepares you for the next sip.

Torrontés always presents as sweet to me initially, however I think this is a mind over tongue trick since there are so many tropical fruit flavours that register initially. The residual sugar is not very high, nor is the acidity, which makes for a pleasant solo-sip, particularly when the temps start to rise.

I might focus a bit more on Torrontés this summer, it noticed more and more imports available, almost rivaling the whites from Australia and New Zealand. I’m starting to wonder if Torrontés is the new Sauvignon Blanc.

Crios Torrontés 2011 | Specs, Downtown HTX | $11.95

Plonk

IMG_2029I sat next to the owner of Plonk on a flight out to California. We had an interesting chat, he gave me his card but since his restaurant was outside the loop I didn’t give it much more thought; call me an inner loop snob. A few weeks later friends living close to Plonk also recommended it which I categorized as nationalism at a neighbourhood level but it was enough for me to schedule a group outing.

I’m glad about that.

Atmosphere
Plonk is located in the Oak Forest area of Houston; a lovely, sedate neighbourhood with huge trees and well-kept, mid-century ranch homes. Finding Plonk is a bit of an adventure; you know its at 43rd & Ella but it could be any of one of the strip centers and since there is no sign, you just start at one and work your way through. For those who want clearer directions – NW corner, behind the Wells Fargo.

The interior is amorphous; clean and shiny but lacking any atmosphere. The patio is likewise generic; a functional, blank canvas on which you will paint your own atmosphere.

Drink
There are pages of wine and beer selections covering just about all varieties of both; its an impressive list for the venue size; half of the selections were familiar, the other half, not so much. I asked wine girl for a lighter white with some personality. She brought out this Austrian white : Bründelmayer Grüner Veltliner Kamptaler Terrassen 2012. Slightly effervescent with a clear green apple focus, a whisper of white pepper and lemon with  a chalky goodbye. A enjoyable sip solo, however aggressive enough to pair well with an order of roasted sprouts. I’ll likely pick up a bottle for further investigation.

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Food
The food options are broken down into small plates and large. Since we were mostly drinking we ordered a few small to share. Of note were the roasted brussell sprouts, which were simply prepared – salt, pepper and lemon. The simplicity worked well with the flavours in the Austrian white, lemon combining with green apple, black and white pepper merging in spicy harmony.

Service
Service follows a different, more spontaneous philosophy which they more than adequately cover when you walk in – its table service but not exclusively. They will try to get to you but if its taking too long just go to the bar and get your own. This may not sit well with people used to being waited on but for me the focus was on my friends, so I could not have cared less. In our 3 hours at Plonk all of the bartenders come to our table at least once and our glasses were rarely empty for more than 5 minutes. The bartenders/servers are knowledgeable, friendly and decent at sensing the mood and pace of a table.

Price
The wine/beer prices are reasonable and comparable to other wine bars in the city; you can expect a glass of wine to be between $8-30, depending on variety and year. The food prices however, I found to be somewhat expensive; $8 for one roasted scallop? It was definitely good but not $8 good. Stick with the sprouts at $6

Drinks: May 2014

Plonk | 1214 W 43rd St. @ Ella | HTX 77018

 

Chateau Ksara

IMG_1993I probably shouldn’t spend time in Middle Eastern groceries, my impulse buys can quickly add up. However, exploration is key to my personality so I rationalize the expense like that.

I’ve tried loads of Israeli wines, most I liked, however some can be rough around the edges. I had not ever tried a wine from Lebanon, so I tossed this bottle into my cart with the rest of the impulse buys. So much for just going out to get a jar of tahini.

Chateau Ksara 2008, is a blended red from the Bekaa Valley region of Lebanon; its 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot and 10% Petit Verdot. I’m not certain I’ve ever had Petite Verdot on its own, but I imagine its flavours are mostly like Petit Syrah, judging by the flavours in the wine.

Visually this wine is deep, dark red with purple and brown hues, slightly cloudy. On the nose, ripe plum captures your full attention, blackberry jam slightly distracts, fresh cut tobacco entertains and oddly, a little sun-dried tomato before the curtain closes. On the first taste dried currants head-butted my taste buds followed by a soothing fresh red plum with a zany but appealing ‘stony’ quality that would appear, fade and then reappear. Definitely a dry, medium-to-full-bodied experience with a finish bordering on tangerine zest and cinnamon astringency.

I liked it. If you are going to give it try, I’d recommend a 1-2 hour decant first or maybe running through an aerator. I think next time I’m going to try it with some Lamb Kebabs, its a little to powerful on its own.

Chateau Ksara 2008 | Phoenicia, Downtown HTX | $19.95

Giacomo

More friends leaving Houston for San Francisco. I’m wondering just how many people can fit into the city by the Bay. While the departing will have infinitely better Italian choices at their destination, we decided to give a local, casual Italian venue, Giacomo, a try for their farewell. Mostly, we were happy with the experience.

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Atmosphere
Its a small space on the fringe of the massive, over-hyped and overpriced mixed-use complex anchoring Westheimer and Kirby. Warm tones, reasonable noise levels and a upbeat, casually sophisticated, non-scene feeling.

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Food
Eggplant Rolls : These were good but as always, a misnomer. The eggplant is simply a container for the ricotta and mozzarella filling and a willing surface for the tomato-cream sauce and fresh basil chiiffonade.  Heavy, yes, but delicious; its hard to go wrong with a tomato-cream sauce.

Roast Pork Bruschetta: Toothy morsels of savory roast pork, chewy smoked mozzarella, all sitting atop a olive-oil broil up of bread rounds with a dash of roasted fennel. Easily a meal in itself, it appealed for its combination of textures and its range of flavours.

Orecchiette Giorgione: Good but not good enough for me to try again. I liked the freshly made orecchiette, however the spicy lamb meatballs were not very spicy and slightly over cooked. The rapini was undercooked and landed in the bowl as a single tangled up blob. A goat cheese round placed top dead centre was good and I liked that I could mix as much as I wanted in each bite.

Roasted Brussell Sprouts : Very good and I will reproduce the olive oil, garlic and pancetta combination at home. These could have been roasted a bit more, I think the inherent sweetness of the sprouts when roasted would have better complimented the salty pancetta.

Wine
Giacomo2Montemercurio Vino Nobile di Montepulciano :  I asked server to bring me her personal favourite bottle of red and this Sangiovese arrived. Bright bing cherry, ripe black plum mixed with a distinct and pleasant grassy undertone, Sahara-dry with a long finish. It paired perfectly with each of the appetizers and the main, peacefully co-existing and at times taming down the richness.

Service
Excellent. Apps came out in 15 minutes, wine glasses were never empty, we were given enough time to schmooze, sip and nibble before the mains arrived.

Price
Middle of the road. 2 apps, 1 side, 3 mains and one bottle of Sangiovese – $150

Dinner: April 2014

Giacomo| 3215 Westheimer | HTX 77098

Pairings: Zinfandel and Breakup Mole

The rules about buying alcohol in Texas on Sunday break down like this: you cannot buy hard liquor, you can buy beer and wine but only between the hours of noon and 10p. That is unless you live in a “dry county”, then of course, you can’t. Wine shoppes are closed on Sunday but you can buy wine in a grocery. I fail to see the logic in these rules but I can work with a 10-hour window to get to a grocery.

Breakup Guy read my Breakup Mole post and liked, he will be assisting in tonight’s research. He also wanted me to know –  “Its not me, its just these girls, they’re crazy!”.

Actually, I disagree. They aren’t crazy but I have observed they are shamelessly manipulating him. He just hasn’t crafted an efficient exit strategy from relationships with people who want him to be something he isn’t and likely never will be. Unnecessary drama ensues and bad feelings rain down like toxic confetti. He’s the guy with minimal possessions and a serious need to take on more physical challenges; marriage is a back burner issue. Better he quickly filter out those who cannot accept that mindset.

And now on with more important topics. I had a one Zinfandel in storage and acquired another. Tonight’s subject are:

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  • Plungerhead Old Vines Zinfandel 2009
  • Giana Zinfandel 2005

IMG_0050First lets visit the plate. Its the same chicken mole with a bit of cilantro and sour cream as last night. However I added a cilantro-currant rice and some fresh cayenne pepper. And now the wines.

Giana Solo

  • Deep red bordering on maroon
  • Smooth,  full bodied, moderate tannins but not at all bitter
  • A mouth full of black cherry, black currant and ripe plum
  • Undercurrent of pepper but not as strong as some Zins
  • Long, pleasant finish

Giana with Mole

  • Brilliant, the pepper flavors  in both the wine and mole create a seamless experience. Actually for just a moment the pepper flavor gets hotter then dissipates, an interesting sensation.
  • The chocolate and cinnamon in the mole pair well with the cherry and plum flavors in the mole.
  • The cilantro-currant rice and source cream are actually necessary to tame down the wine/mole pepper ascension. I think without one or the other the experience would be too fiery.

Plungerhead Solo

  • Deep red almost purple,
  • Smooth, medium bodied with moderate tannins, not bitter.
  • Flavors  range from bing cherry and red twizzler to a little blueberry and blackberry. However this is not “Jammy”, its more along the line of fresh fruit.
  • A little pepper but the spice is more  nutmeg or cinnamon
  • Medium finish mostly I’m left with a blueberry with some cinnamon astringency.

Plungerhead with Mole

  • Also brilliant, the fresh fruit flavors counterbalance the weighty mole and the cinnamon finish to the wine bonds immediately with the cinnamon and chocolate in the mole.
  • The pepper in the mole works with the wine flavors as a enhancement but there isn’t the pepper burst we had with the Giana.
  • The rice and sour cream don’t add or detract from this wine, it was fine with or without.

In the end, it really depends on what experience you want and what flavors you prefer but I don’t think you can go wrong with either of these wines when pairing with mole.

It was interesting that Breakup Guy didn’t identify the flavors in the wine as much as the memories he associated with the flavors. The Plungerhead reminded him of a camping trip he took with his brothers in southern Alabama. Later, he told me that they stumbled across wild blackberries on that trip and those blackberries became a staple.

Funny how taste can be a strong memory recall agent.

Plungerhead Old Vines Zinfanfel 2009 | Kroger Medical Center | $16

Giana Zinfandel 2005 | Storage

Oakley Wines

I give Sister a hard time about living in Cincinnati but the reality is that Cincinnati is a full-service city and she can do just about anything I can do in Houston, just on a smaller scale. Now that paved roads, electricity and running water are available almost everywhere in Cincinnati, it makes it easier to have specialty wine shops, such as Oakley Wines.

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First impression – I loved it. You simply have to love a place that offers drinking lessons for free!

There was a wine tasting in progress and it was packed with happy samplers when we stopped by after lunch. Oakley Wines is very small which  made it a little challenging to navigate with the large crowd but everyone in the store simply moved aside unprompted as we browsed from shelf to shelf. Nice people those mid-westerners.

Despite its small size, it packs an impressive variety into its shelves. We were on the hunt for Rose and poof, there were many interesting options aside from requisite French variety. We picked a French – Bieler Pere et Fils and an Italian – Riecine, both around $15. The Italian was good:  very dry, floral and herbal which is typically the French style. The French was also good: more residual sugar, very fruity leaning heavy to the strawberry/cranberry.

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Next time I’m in the Cincinnati area visiting Sister, I’ll be sure to request a return visit to Oakley Wines, I sincerely doubt there will be any objection.

Oakley Wines | 4011 Allston St   | Cincinnati, OH 45209

Pairings: New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc

Ah, the battle of the Sauvignon Blancs!

While in the Marlborough region of New Zealand I went on a wine tour. Half of the people on the tour were 28 and under and it rapidly turned into the party tour and was characterized by excessive tasting and snappy banter. I think I had a good time. At least the pictures would indicate so, however I don’t remember what I liked from the tour, save a few blurry pictures of wine bottles I probably took while I was laughing my ass off. I deleted the pictures of myself, I’m still unclear on who took those with my phone.

Anyway.

Back in Houston,  we’re a more sedate tasting group. With just one additional research assistant, we present our combined scientific data now before we finish off the lot and start taking blurry pictures and laughing our asses off.  Our subjects:

  • Forefather’s Sauvignon Blanc | 2011 | Marlborough, New Zealand
  • Momo Sauvignon Blanc | 2011 | Marlborough, New Zealand
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No Pairings

Forefather’s

  • Great acidity, crisp and bright
  • Relatively dry
  • Its light body and finishes quickly
  • Fruit, light but mostly on the tropical side; we say guava, pineapple and green apple
  • Unlike most SB’s we did not pick up any mineral flavors
  • Slight smell and taste of bell pepper (seriously, and we like it)
  • Pale, pale almost vampiric in color.

Momo

  • Good acidity, balanced.
  • A little more residual sugar but not sweet
  • Strong body that lingers
  • Fruit; strong papaya, peach, red apple, plum
  • A little mineral; shale
  • Smells of agave and tropical fruit
  • Golden color

Israeli Salad

  • IMG_1109For those who don’t know Israeli salad its just diced cucumbers, tomatoes with extra virgin and a squeeze of lemon. For this experiment I added a little Israeli sheep feta.
  •  Forefathers was good with the salad, its bright notes, lighters flavors and low residual sugar worked with the subtle flavors in the salad.
  •  Momo went Kill Bill Vol 2 and landed successive roundhouse kicks to the salad’s face. The tropical fruit and body in Momo are just too strong for the salad’s lighter, earthy flavors.

Tuna-Avocado Sushi
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  • Forefather’s pairs extremely well with this, its acidity joining forces with the creamy avocado and its lighter flavors enhancing the delicate tuna. Even its light residual sugar counterbalances the soy sauce I used.
  • Momo to sushi: “Really? You are just a piece of fish wrapped up in a rice coat and I am the Momo.” I think if it had it been a Spicy Tuna or Cajun Roll, it might have gained more respect.

Pork Dumplings

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  • Forefather’s: Just OK. Its acidity breaks through the doughy case of the dumpling just fine but its fruit flavors become unfocused against the savory flavors of the pork.
  • Momo: Brilliant. It has enough acidity to work well with the dumpling’s case and its heavy body and strong tropical flavors, particularly the papaya, pair well with the garlic and ginger in the filling.

Garlic-Herb Boursin with Pita Chips

  • Forefather’s: The acidity worked well against the creaminess of the Boursin but then It IMG_1105totally lost it’s shit and mumbled something about never coming back  – ever again!
  • Momo: Better, the stronger tropical flavors of the wine work well with the garlic and the acidity cuts through the richness. But, there is some discord with the herbs used in the Boursin. It was better with less Boursin and more Pita Chip.

Surprising results since I was not expecting SB to hold up with meat-ginger-garlic flavors in the dumplings but I completely expected the Boursin to pair across the board.

Forefather’s Sauvignon Blanc | Spec’s Downtown | $17

Momo Sauvignon Blanc | Spec’s Downtown | $15