Category Archives: restaurants

Tasting Schramsberg Brut Rose 2006 (with Deb Harkness at Wink)

Last night I went to Book People to see fellow wine blogger and NYT bestselling novelist Deb Harkness speak about her fantastic novel, A Discovery of Witches.  Go buy it.  Right now.  It’s OK, I’ll wait.

Cool.  Anyway, after the talking and the signing, Deb and I went to Wink for some wine and conversation, which were equally delicious.  I will comment at this point that, while Yelpers reference issues with attitude and portion size at Wink, our experience included an exceptionally warm, gregarious staff and what I considered reasonable portions.  But then, we just had wine, cheese and dessert, so I’m not sure my portion size wisdom is worth much.  I was very pleased with the host and our server, however – we had actually intended to just go to their wine bar, but when we stumbled in to the restaurant first, the host walked us over to the wine bar… and then offered us a table at the restaurant if we preferred.  We did, as the wine bar was packed.

When reviewing Wink’s list online, I had my eye on the Schramsberg Brut Rose 2006, as I (1) love sparking wine SO MUCH, (2) love Schramsberg SO MUCH and (3) thought it was really reasonably priced on their list at $60.  Seriously, it practically retails for that.  (Please don’t tell Wink.)

THEN, when Deb and discussed, I discovered that she had never tried Schramsberg’s vintage wine, which had me agog with horror (on their behalf, and hers), PLUS 2006 is when she started blogging, so it was… let’s be honest.  It was Wine Fate.  Sometimes Wine Fate takes hold of your life, and it’s senseless to struggle.  Just let go, and let wine.

Schramsberg was the first winery in California to make sparkling wine, let alone methode champenoise (meaning in the style of the Champagne region) sparkling, and I still think their vintage bubbly rivals great Champagne.  They’re a Napa house, though the 2006 Brut Rose contains grapes sourced from Mendocino, Napa and Sonoma.  The 2006 vintage was 68% Pinot Noir and 32% Chardonnay.

Dear, dear readers – it was SO GOOD.  This wine was a perfect, glittering jewel box of salmon pink, with pinpoint bubbles that never quit.  The nose was of the most flawless wild strawberry on Heidi’s mountain.  I confess I did not linger there because I so desperately wanted to taste… the palate was crystal clear and whistle-clean, yet simultaneously creamy and slightly spicy, with complex flavors of strawberry, apple and nectarine, and a finish that could go all night.  Sublime.

We ate “lightly,” ordering the Texas cheese plate (which included CKC Farms Baby Caprino, Sand Creek Gouda, Texas Gold Cheddar, and Bosque Blue), and then going on to dessert.  We had fun tasting the wine with the four cheeses, agreeing that the Baby Caprino was the best match for the wine, though the other cheeses were also very delicious.  The cheddar was beautifully nutty, and the blue was fabulously rich and pungent.

Based on our experience with the cheese, we were excited about pairing the wine with Wink’s chevre cheesecake, which sits on a shortbread crust with a riesling syrup reduction, little balls ‘o pear, and candied pecans.  We also got the Wink trio, which included their flourless chocolate cake, creme brulee and lemon merengue pie/confection.  But mostly I need to tell you about the cheesecake.

The chevre cheesecake was, on its own, resplendent in its perfection – and with the wine, it hit a superlative level that blew us away.  The tanginess of the chevre, balanced with the buttery shortbread and then mixed with the pear and the frosted nuts… THEN combining all THAT with the creamy yet crisp wine, with the pear coaxing out more of the Chardonnay than we had tasted before, transforming both the food and the bubbly… it was one of those alchemical pairing experiences, when 1 and 1 make 3, that all wine & food lovers treasure.

The other three desserts paled in comparison with the above, so I won’t bore you with it – but I will mention that the bubbly did a great job with the intense chocolate cake, gratifying me in my memory that Schramsberg Brut Rose is an awesome chocolate wine.

Deb and I talked of everything under the sun, including wine blogging, feminism, fiction, academia, Texas, motherhood, self-actualization and cowboy boots.  The whole evening was a blast, and I am so grateful for a world that has Deb Harkness in it, both for her whip-smart, generous self and her engaging, complex fiction.  Can’t wait until next time!

 

Grape Harvester’s Soup

Last weekend we picked my father-in-law up in Cuero and drove him to San Antonio to Do Something Fun For A Change. While Cuero (Turkeyfest Capitol of the World) is certainly a thriving metropolis in its own way, I thought Dad was a bit bored with small town life, so we went to the Leonardo da Vinci exhibit at the Witte Museum, which I recommend highly. Worth the drive from Austin if you’re planning a fun SA day trip.

What I was looking forward to more than anything, though, was going back to the Liberty Bar, which wins the Wine Scamp prize of Most Interesting Food That I Can Mostly Afford In San Antonio, as well as Least Plumb Building. It’s tough to get both prizes in the same restaurant, let me tell you.

I ordered the Grape Harvester’s Soup for a starter, the Cold Roast Lamb Plate for lunch, and their apple pie for dessert. The pie was tasty, though inexplicably contained raisins, but the crust was on the doughy side and the apples were kind of crunchy. Still.

The soup took me by surprise, I will say. It most resembled this recipe from Olney than any other recipe I’ve found online. I had no idea of what to expect, except that the server said it had tomatoes and onions, grape juice and wine. The first two were perfectly evident, though not the last to – this tasted more like a tomato-based onion soup than anything. It was good, but I won’t be dreaming of it for weeks, per se.

What made me wonder about this version of the soup was: apart from tomatoes and onions arguably being in season when grapes are harvested, why would this be a traditional dish for farm workers? It’s very light, and doesn’t seem like the kind of dish I’d be looking forward to after a long day of stooping, picking, and hauling. Most other recipes on the Interweb include stewing beef, making the soup more hearty. But Richard Olney was well-known for his traditionalist French cuisine, right?

Have you ever had Olney’s grape harvester’s soup? Do you know anything about its history? I’m terribly curious!

kicked in the pants

Thanks to an impromptu chat with a wise new mother, I was suddenly inspired to throw off Preggo Prohibition and Freaking Have A Glass Of Wine Already (my words, not hers). Yeah, mothafuckah……! (flips the upside-down bird at abstinence) Take that! I’m BACK!

Since the rapidly growing criatura is the size of a turnip this week, we’re celebrating said humble root vegetable with take-out Thai food and a Jaboulet “Parellele 45” Cotes du Rhone Rose 2007. Makes sense in my head, anyway.

After ordering the Scamp household classic Thai food comfort order (spring rolls, pad thai, red chicken curry), I toddled off to World Market for some wine, thinking vaguely that they might have chilled wine. It’s been so long since I opened my cellar closet door, I couldn’t even remember what was in there, and I certainly haven’t been keeping anything cold.

WM doesn’t have a cold box, unfortunately, but I enjoyed browsing anyway and I bought a couple of wines from their Wine Speculator Top Whatever List display (an 05 Lehmann Shiraz and a Mosel Riesling), but for tonight’s momentous occasion I grabbed the Jaboulet Rose for only about $11.99, which is reasonable if not ridiculously cheap for said bottle.

I mostly went to WM because it was quite close to the restaurant, Blue Bamboo, which is the Thai place closest to my house. They’re both in this ridonkulous strip mall on Highway 71, and I was mitigating the guilt over my splurge on Wednesday’s dinner by not driving all over creation. For the record, in Texas this can be a challenge. I have found some decent inexpensive everyday wines at WM, so I have to give it at least a B- as far as a wine shop goes.

Blue Bamboo gets a C, I think, after their second chance. It took a Really Long Time to get my take-out order, and their pad thai is stunningly bland, though the red curry was acceptable and the spring rolls had nothing particularly wrong with them. I’ll try eating in the restaurant before I give up on them completely, but Thai Spice in Lakeway is much better, for the same money or less.

The wine wasn’t cold when I brought it home of course, and the bean was insisting on food immediately upon my arrival home. What’s a wine lover to do, in this situation? Unless you have a way cool insta-wine-chiller, I recommend the method indicated in the photo.

The Jaboulet CDR Rose is a charming salmon pink in the glass. Nose of grapefruit, raspberry, and strawberry, with a hint of herbal-greeniness. On the palate, this mutha is TART, with flavors of strawberry lemonade with mineral ice cubes. Nice body and comfy mouthfeel. A tasty rose, complex for its price point, but not too involved.

With the pad thai, which needed lots of lime to bring it to life a little, the wine’s fruit just disappeared, leaving all the tartness and mineral – rather not The Thing, if you understand me. With the curry, however, which was much spicier and had that sweet-creamy richness of coconut milk, the fruit was much more forward. It was kind of like the tartness, and to some degree the mineral, was so busy fighting the hot pepper that it never made it to my tongue.

The wine is made up of 50% Grenache, 40% Cinsault and 10% Syrah, according to Jaboulet’s website. I’m not going to gabble on about the French region of Cotes du Rhone just now because it’s late and my womb treats everyone better when I get some good sleep. More than one post in June, though – I promise!

Tasting Leeuwin Estate Art Series Cabernet Sauvignon 1997

Found this wine at the Cowboy Steakhouse in Kerrville, a city I rarely visit except during the Folk Festival. Fredericksburg is really my Hill Country dining destination of choice, but when I saw in Kerrville’s dining brochure that this restaurant had the most extensive wine list in the Hill Country, I just had to go.

Truth in advertising, y’all. I could have been more impressed by the food (my strip steak was correctly cooked to temp but could have been more much flavorful), but the wine list at the Cowboy Steakhouse is really impressively extensive. According to their website, they’ve got over 600 labels on the list, and that’s quite plausible based on the list I saw. They also have multiple verticals (a collection of the same wine from many different years), some dating back to the 80s. The Ferris family has been in the restaurant business since 1977, so I suppose all that collecting could have happened slowly and over time. At least I hope so, or I hope they have pockets as deep as Micheal Bloomburg.

Leeuwin 97 CSAfter dithering extensively over the pages and pages of wine available, I found a 1997 Cabernet from Leeuwin Estate in the Margaret River district. They make the best Australian white wines I’ve ever tasted, but I confess I had never been blown away by their Cab. Nonetheless, I was excited to find this aged red on the wine list for only $59.

Great deep black ruby in color; little no brick red on the edges. First up in the glass, menthol, redfruits, pine tar and cassis show in the nose. The palate showed great smooth raspberry jam and a hint of red Swedish Fish. The finish of green tobacco and cigar box is remarkably smooth, with rounded, soft tannins.

As it opens up, a musky limburger aroma shows up and the menthol strengthens into eucalyptus and cedar. Some green olive scents are evident, as well. The palate develops into licorice and coffee, with kirsch, graphite, green pepper and black olive. The flavors are exceptionally well-integrated. With steak, even the smooth tannins recede, and a cocoa-cassis syrup element peeks around the corner.

Leeuwin Estate was part of Robert Mondavi’s  attempt to break into the Australian wine region in 1972.  Dennis and Tricia Horgan founded this winery, located in arguably the best wine region in the country, with Mondavi’s guidance.  They have three labels: “Siblings,” meant for drinking young, “Prelude,” meant for drinking within a few years of release, and “Art Series,” meant for aging.

The winemaker’s notes predict an aging period of 7-10 years, but the 1997 Leeuwin Cabernet Sauvignon is in its prime at eleven years and counting. If you can find any (and it looked like the Cowboy Steakhouse had about 10 bottles left), I suggest you run, don’t walk, for a corkscrew.

Label image lifted from http://www.leeuwinestate.com.au/

WineBat Tales: The Rhone

French Wine mapLast Monday was the WineBat Rhone tasting at Green Pastures. Six wines were presented for blind tasting, accompanied by some light apps, which were delish. Check the compiled results of the tasting here.

Food included charred beef with truffle oil and manchego, bacon-wrapped cherry-stuffed quail breast, blackened oyster with chimichurri, and dates stuffed with boursin — the latter of which was a huge hit at my table! There was a nice big crowd for this tasting, as you can see.

CrowdDamon told us ahead of time that we would have one Rhone-inspired new world wine in the mix of six, so I was on the look-out for that one, but I confess I didn’t peg it. Here is a list of the wines we tasted, from my most favorite to my least. The first three, to be fair, were pretty-much tied for first place with me:

Tasting TableE. Guigal Hermitage 1999, $70-110: 100% Syrah. Plummy, with a huge stank on it. Funky delicious barnyard aromas of manure and wet hay, with raspberry fruit and a whiff of bermagot. This is a monster nose, very heady and interesting to sniff. On the palate, black pepper, raspberry preserves and violets. Scratchy tannins, but a very stylish wine. I represented Guigal when I worked for a distributor, but I’ve never had a chance to taste their Hermitage. This was a knock-out, a beautiful example of the way the French can make a Syrah that has just as much power as an Australian Shiraz, but frequently much more fascination.

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Tasting The Crossings Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2005

The Crossings Sauvignon BlancI can’t get enough of that tasty, tasty New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc.Nothing else quite compares; white Bordeaux can come close, with its filigree minerality and level-headed conjoined twin Semillon. Chilean SB is lemony and fun-loving, bright and fresh as a debutante. There are excellent Cali SBs out there, too, though I’m not a Fume Blanc fan these days. But it’s New Zealand that takes this short-lived, sassy grape and gives it a steroid-injected makeover worthy of Oprah and What Not to Wear combined.

I had a glass of this wine for $7 at Mars Restaurant, at their new location on South Congress, while sitting on their huge patio on a beautiful Texas late-summer afternoon.The sun was dimpling through the huge live oaks, and it was not sweltering. Divine!

Yellow straw in color.Luxurious nose of sweet gooseberry, perfumed honeydew melon, and very green grass.SweetTart lemony flavor on the tongue evolves into fresh pink grapefruit, with a mineral bite to it of almost-bubbles. A Crystal Light tanginess traipses along the mouthwatering finish. Feels like the Goddess of Spring just slapped my mouth awake with a newly-mown lawn and a bag of Ruby Red grapefruit. Continue reading

Pairing Perfection

Peanut butter and jelly. Car and driver. Movies and popcorn. Wine and food. Each of these pairs are lesser without the other. Sure, they can stand on their own if need be, but when joined, the whole is MORE than the sum of its parts. Case in point:

My husband and I had a lovely night out a week or so ago, stopping off at a wine bar for an aperitif, and then dining at Ciola’s in Lakeway. I had researched Ciola’s before for a potential company dinner I was asked to organize, and had wanted to go there for a while. Their menu looked interesting and their wine list was very well written. Back in my wine rep days, I did a lot of wine list analysis, and the wine list at Ciola’s shows a lot of careful, thoughtful selections.

Ironically, though, I didn’t really order wine off the list. Liberty School Cab labelOur waiter happened to be the wine steward, Tommy Williams, Jr., and once we ordered our entrees he told us about some wines he was pouring that weren’t on the by-the-glass list. One was a Vermentino, which he particularly recommended with my linguine & clam sauce, so I took the leap of faith (not a very big leap, considering the list) and acquiesced. T wanted a Cab, though, so he ordered a glass of the Liberty School Cabernet Sauvignon , always a solid choice.

The calamari we ordered for starters was very well executed: the squid was tender, the breading was light and crunchy, and two dipping sauces came with: a marinara and an aioli. Both delicious, but I stuck to the marinara… there’s something semi-obscene about dipping fried food into mayonnaise sauces, even if it is fish.

T’s Rigatoni Genzano was a heck of a meal: large chunks of Italian sausage, with what looked like quartered peppers. His Liberty School Cabernet Sauvignon (didn’t get the year) gave sweet oak and blackberry aromas, with some green pepper and clack cherry notes. The color (difficult to see in the very romantic lighting in the restaurant) was a nice dark red with some garnet highlights. Soft tannins on the palate with a black pepperyness, and big currant flavors. Slight taste of raspberry, as well. Overall, a rich & soft Cabernet with a very decent finish for $9 per glass. Tom liked how his wine tasted with his food; I could see how the green pepper of the wine matched nicely with the red peppers in his dish, but I thought the bite of the Italian sausage wasn’t all that flattering, wine-wise.

MY wine and food pairing, though, was phenomenal. Continue reading