Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Are California Chardonnays Worth Aging?

Winemaker Brian Talley Says Yes and Brings Proof 

Talley Vineyards grapes come from the Arroyo Grande and Edna Valleys, close to San Luis Obispo, California. Despite being towards the center of the state, this is one of the cooler growing areas. That means grapes stay on the vines longer, yet even then, they still aren’t all that sweet. Winemakers love that kind of vineyard because they get flavorful grapes that still have plenty of acid. What does that mean for us?

Talley’s wines don’t have to be old to taste good. We also tasted five delicious Chardonnays that were brand new. The important thing about these wines is that they have generous acidity and restrained fruit. In other words, they are far more reminiscent of a European wine. These wines are targeted at food and there are precious few from America’s west coast that can make that claim. That’s especially true in the $16 price point of Talley’s Bishop's Peak Chardonnay. Its apple aromas and palate cleansing tartness made it a perfect match up with our avocado fundido (avocado, queso fresco, chorizo and handmade chipotle masa chips). Some people automatically disdain things that are popular, like Chardonnay.

One last thing. The Talley family make have been farmers in the Arroyo Grande Valley since the mid-1940s. To this day, their production is still focused on vegetables. Wine is just a part of what they do. Brian Talley is an unusually thoughtful and introspective man when it comes to his family’s farming concerns. Our talks ranged over water rights, biodynamic growing methods, ways he keeps his workers happy, and how well he catalogs what is becoming a library of older family wines. When ace sommelier June Rodil came over to greet us (we had lunch at Second Bar + Kitchen), Brian launched into a discussion about Burgundy wines that showed much more than a passing understanding of their subtleties. In a day when we are all interested in who is getting our hard earned money, the Talley family seems a good candidate.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Oz Clarke Picks a Few Texas Favorites (Me, too)

So, as I mentioned in the last post, Oz and I ended up tasting about 50 wines. At the end of the night, we put our heads together to make some picks. We started to take a picture of a whole selection of wines that would fit the bill, but Oz was concerned that so many were from one winery. So he chose his favorites, and they were: Duchman Vermentino (best of the night), Becker Prairie Rotie, and Dickson Port. I am in complete agreement on these three. The real revelation for me was the Duchman, a bottle that will easily compete with Italian versions.

Several wines came in as close second places. Oz also loved Llano Estacado’s Viviana and both Becker’s Cabernet Franc and rosé called Provencal. There were three others that I loved, Kiepersol’s Semillon, Becker’s sweet Viognier called Clementine, and Haak’s Reserve Blanc de Bois, which is an amazingly vibrant version of the wine, one which hides all of the wine’s weaknesses and reveals all its strengths.

Oz’s feeling at the end was that many of Texas’s wines were playing it safe which was causing them to make perfectly palatable but boring wines. But the wines listed above rocked his evening. Congratulations to all.

We stuck with the best of Texas foods, as well. My wife bought a variety of cheeses and meats from Antonelli’s Cheese Shop in Hyde Park. Be sure to try the Lonzino fennel and juniper flavored Pork from Niederwald and the Trappist style Birdville cheese from Granbury. We also had two splendid grass fed Texas rib-eye steaks from the Meat House in Westlake. No one went hungry.

A note here. One of the best wines of the night was one Oz didn’t get a chance to taste. We had two bottles of Lone Oak’s 2003 Merlot, a good candidate for a history setting wine. We opened the first and it was old and dead. With so many wines in front of us, I just put the other one away. I opened the second bottle a few days later and it was simply spectacular. Two older vintages (2003 and 2002) of Fall Creek’s Meritus were also holding up beautifully. Most of the library wines I opened I didn’t show because they were not age worthy wines to begin with and all were somewhere between unappetizing and ruined. I was especially bummed over two bottles of Becker 1998 Cabernet-Syrah, a wine I might have listed as top five all time Texas wines. Today, it’s brown and dead. Oh well. Don’t save wines forever.

Finally, many of the wines were helpfully chosen and assembled by Russ Kane and Denise Fraser. Thank you both. From this selection, I added wines that I thought had to be potential choices for Texas best, as well as older wines from my library. We may have missed a few of Texas best, but not many.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Oz Clarke on Texas Wines

In the middle of October, 2010, I got a phone call from Oz Clarke’s publicist asking if I would like to join him in a private tasting of Texas wines. He had read my book, The Wine Roads of Texas, and was anxious to learn more about what was happening in Texas wines.

We had a nice time together. He was supposed to stay for about three hours and ended up staying for eight hours. (Pity the poor driver who had to wait! Oz gave him some of the best wine so he could console himself when he got home).

All during our tasting, Oz was throwing out some wonderful advice for the wine makers and grape growers of Texas, so at about midnight, I asked him to give a short talk that would be as if the collected Texas wine industry were there in my office, prepared for Oz’s opinions. That is the recording you see here.

There was a technical problem. My only film camera operates for a maximum of one minute. So Oz had to stop and restart every minute. I have edited out those moments where he gathered his thoughts about Texas wines between recoding snippets, but have done zero editing on the content. While what he says won’t please every single winemaker or grape grower in Texas, Oz stated his case from the heart, truthfully and with what had become over our time together, great faith in the potential of Texas wines.

On a personal note, Oz was a charming and genteel man with an incredible background. He was a singer and actor in London’s West End theaters, a chorister with several of the top choirs in England, a rock’n’roll musician with an album out on EMI, a TV presenter with over 6,000,000 viewers (show will soon be on BBC America), and an author of over 20 books. He was funny and casual until it came to wine, then he was meticulous, careful and very knowledgeable, all without ever being fussy or snobby.

There will be more to come about this interview, including his choices for the best wines of the tasting (mine as well) and interviews with the grape growers responsible for the wines we selected.

For more on Oz, go to or check out his most recent books, “Grapes and Wines,” “Let Me Tell You About Wine,” and “Oz Clarke’s Pocket Wine Guide 2011.”

Enjoy the video!!


Monday, May 10, 2010

Vodkas and Skulls: Talking to Dan Aykroyd

Dan Aykroyd spends more time than you might guess in Austin. The man known for his comedic masterpieces like Elwood Blues of the Blues Brothers, Beldar Conehead, the "wild and crazy" Festrunk boys, Fred Garvin-Male Prostitute, and Julia Child (“Oh, I’ve cut myself!”) is also a very smart businessman. That’s why he’s coming to town this time, to publicize his Crystal Head Vodka. Turns out he’s a big distributor of wines and liquors in his home country of Canada.

After asking him what appealed to him about Austin, he raved, “Oh, I think one of the greatest guys in the world lives here,” he said. “John Paul DeJoria (Austin resident, and founder of both Patrón tequila and the hair care company, John Paul Mitchell Systems) let me distribute the Patrón line in Canada, and we’ve done really well with getting Canadians to try premium Tequilas.”

Aykroyd was clearly ready to talk. In fact, I just let him run on what he loves about Austin. “And it’s beautiful,” he continued. “You’ve got that great capital with pink marble and I love the architectural integrity of the whole city. Austin still feels like the old west and you can feel the German influences. Plus, of course, there’s the incredible tradition of the Vaughan brothers, Antone’s, the music, Freddie King, and Clifford Antone’s contribution to world culture.”

Aykroyd’s Crystal Head Vodka is his current passion. But why Vodka? There’s a million of them on the North American market (Crystal Head is also sold in the U.S., including right here in Austin). “It originated with the package,” he said. “John Alexander is a wonderful artist from Beaumont, Texas. He has exhibited in art museums all over. He’s a great Texas legacy and one of America’s most venerated portrait and landscape artists. Well, he had always wanted to do a bottle that celebrates the Day of the Dead and with the belief that the spirits are still alive. I was interested, so, he sat there in two minutes and drew up this beautiful bottle. And It looks like one of the Crystal Skulls. So I said Wow, let’s do a spirit. But it had to have purity and so it had to be a clean spirit. So we made what maybe the cleanest vodka in the world.”

“We went back to the basic Russian recipe by getting the best water in Newfoundland. It was the sweetest and purist we found anywhere in the world, from pristine aquifer waters. We also use sunset wheat with peaches and cream corn. We have now reached 1,000,000 bottles. Our vodka has no glycol, no citrus oil, no fusil oil. Others add these chemicals to mask the alcohol. Ours has no impurities. It is the one to step up to if you want the very best. It’s pricey, but it is the best and purist you can buy. Then people save the bottles. They are art works. People put M&M’s in them, silver spangles, cover them with leather, all sorts of stuff.”

Aykroyd likes to drink his own Vodka on ice, with a bit of lime and mint.

We talked for about 20 minutes. At the end, I thanked him for all the times he made me laugh. He still wanted to talk about Vodka.

And you can talk about Vodka with him, between 4pm and 6pm today at the Twin Liquors on 1000 E41st.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Do you like to tour Texas wineries?

Greg Cobb, an Associate Professor at Texas A&M University took the time to map the locations of Texas wineries and the results are fascinating.

We knew there was a huge cluster around the Hill Country because folks with enough spare money to be able to dump a wad into a hobby end up with a place in the Hill Country. (Most commonly heard joke in the Texas wine business: How do you make a small fortune int the wine business? Start with a large fortune.) But check the amazing growth of wineries north of Waco and east of Wichita Falls.

In any case, this interactive map is a huge help for anyone that likes to tour Texas wineries. This is something the folks at Texas A&M should be proud of, a smart way to further a vital piece of Texas tourism. Bravo to Dr. Cobb!

Here's the URL for the map.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

World Wide Guinness Day

Today, people around the world will drink over 10,000,000 pints of Guinness. Tomorrow, heaven only knows how many pints will be downed in the name of St Patrick.

The man in charge of making all of that incredible brew for the last fifteen years is Fergal Murray. I had the chance to chat with him yesterday. We all know the story of the great brew, but most won’t be aware of its universal consumption. “Guinness has 49 breweries around the world,” he said. “Twenty are in Africa and Nigeria is or biggest market there.”

I asked the question that wrongly nags the Guinness folks. Maybe it’s an urban myth, or maybe it’s a matter of corporate dirty tricks by a competitor. But, I figured, let’s get it out of the way. Is Guinness made differently for different markets? The answer was a yes and no. “Guinness has two main variants,” Fergal explained. “All of the keg beer - the type you get in better pubs around the world - is made in Dublin. In the rest of the world, especially Africa and Asia, it’s not really about going into a pub. They like to use bottles. Nigerians love the Extra Stout, which has been there for 150 years. It’s the same recipe they’ve had forever. And some people might think the African version may be taste a little different, stronger.”

At least Guinness will never make a Lite beer, right? “Well, actually, in Ireland, we make what we call Mid-Strength which is only 2.8% alcohol (regular Guinness is 4.2% alcohol), because we got so many requests from people who wanted a lighter brew they could enjoy during the week. But that’s mostly about the alcohol. As rich as our draft is, it’s only 125 calories, which is less than a lot of supposedly light beers.”

And, for the record, they also make other premium drinks like Smithwicks, Harp and Red Stripe.

We wrapped up the conversation with a question about whether Fergal wished the emphasis on drinking Guinness wasn’t so targeted on St. Patty’s Day. He laughed. “Were going to start off by expanding to the rest of the month,” he said. “We are the official beer of March, not just St. Patrick’s Day, but March Madness and everything else.”


Just for fun, I though readers might like to know how Guinness describes the task of the person pulling your brew.

Pouring the Perfect Pint

1. Clean dry glass - preferably with branded logo and the 20 oz pint

2. Hold glass at 45 degree angle and never allow the spout to touch beer or glass

3. The Pour - pull faucet down and allow beer to fill glass - you will see the surge commence

4. The Settle - allow the nitrogen bubbles to create the theatre and wonderful surge event creating the beautiful creamy head

5 The Top Up - the Beer has settled (distinct gap between dark liquid and head) and the glass is topped up slowly to create a domed effect with the head proud of the glass

6. The Presentation - Give the creation of the perfect pint to the adoring customer

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Meet one of Burgundy's great winemakers

Anyone interested in the great wines of Burgundy should consider the last minute addition of the renowned Jacques Lardiere, Director of Winemaking at Maison Louis Jadot. Lardiere oversees the production of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Gamay wines for the value lover like his ubiquitous Macon-Villages and my personal favorite the luscious Fixin. But, as befits one of the best Burgundy houses, he also makes some of the world’s most prized and expensive ($500+) wines.

But the most important thing about Mr. Lardiere is that he is a most charming, intelligent and thought-provoking dinner partner. A lucky few will have the opportunity to do just that at 7pm, Wednesday, March 3rd at Mirabelle restaurant in Austin. It’s being done as a benefit for the superb annual confab of The Texas Sommelier Conference.

The dinner will run $85, a small price to pay for the chance to taste seven Burgundies including two Premier Cru Burgundies and the Grand Cru, Corton Pougets, not to mention Mirabelle’s reliably great food. I don’t often write about winemaker dinners; there’s usually several each week somewhere in Austin. But this one is different. Make it if you can.

For those who can’t, Lardiere will be available and discussing Jadot’s wines from 5pm-6:30pm at the Austin Wine Merchant, which will also be offering tastes of several Jadot wines.

Again, if you have any interest in Burgundy wines, Mr. Lardiere is one of a handful of people with encyclopedic knowledge of nearly every vineyard in the appellation. Added to that, he doesn’t spend all of his efforts and time on the normal $50-$500 Burgundies. He also knows where the bargains are. Highly recommended.