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Harken Back to an Old School Chardonnay

Harken Back to an Old School Chardonnay

Remember those buttery, over-oaked California chardonnays that were so woody you felt at risk of getting splinters with each sip?

It started the ABC — anything but chardonnay — movement, which drove American chardonnay makers to using stainless steel barrels instead of oak. The resulting wines may have been crisp, with no hint of oak or malolactic fermentation, but what were they really? Too many weren’t rich like chardonnays of old, they weren’t as clean on the palate as sauvignon blanc, and they weren’t very attractive in their indecisiveness. They also weren’t Chablis, either, but that’s another matter.

For every reaction, there’s a counter-reaction, right? Remember all those bad pinot noirs that appeared in the wake of “Sideways” and the forced improvement in some merlots?

Well, the folks at Harken Wines in Parlier, California, certainly remember why people loved barrel-fermented chardonnay, and they’re leading the drive for its resurgence. Their 2015 Harken Chardonnay is purely old school, rich with flavors of buttered toast and ripe pear leading to even more butter on the finish. And it’s priced at an attractive $11 to $13 a bottle.

Harken succeeds because it manages to do what the mass producers of chardonnay forgot. There’s enough balance in the wine, so the oak and malolactic flavors work well with an enjoyable acidity, making for a wine that you can drink by itself or pair with food. It’s a great partner for something as fancy as crab cakes with avocado or as casual as hot buttered popcorn.

So, if you missed an old-fashioned California chardonnay, given Harken a try and welcome a taste of the past brought into the present.


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It’s Napa Cab Time at J Prime

It’s Napa Cab Time at J Prime

J Prime Steakhouse, 1401 N. Loop 1604 W., is hosting its first horizontal wine tasting at 6 p.m.  July 8.

Inglenook“Together we will compare six Cabernets from multiple Napa Valley wineries to fulfill the ‘horizontal tasting’ experience,” the steakhouse says. “Wine enthusiasts, start planning for an evening made to enlighten and unwind – you may even find a new Cabernet favorite!”

The lineup includes:

  • Stag’s Leap, Stag’s Leap Vineyard, Cabernet Sauvignon, Stag’s Leap District 2012
  • Cade, Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon, Howell Mountain Napa Valley 2011
  • Hall Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley 2012
  • Trefethen Cabernet Sauvignon, Oak Knoll District Napa Valley 2012
  • Hess Collection Cabernet Sauvignon, Mount Veeder Napa Valley 2011
  • Inglenook “Cask” Cabernet Sauvignon, Rutherford Napa Valley 2012

The price is $35 a person. Light appetizers will be served. Call (210) 764-1604 for reservations.

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Lone Star Spirit: A Wedding Oak Sampler

Lone Star Spirit: A Wedding Oak Sampler

wedding oak sangiovese

Here are five wines from Wedding Oak Winery worth seeking out. The winery doesn’t have distribution, so you can find them largely at the winery in San Saba, online at or at specialty Texas wine shops, such as the Grapevine in Gruene:

2014 Terre Blanc

Find out why people are claiming Texas has the perfect climate for Rhone-style whites. This blend of Marsanne, Viognier and Roussane is crisp and clean with a medium body and a bright citrus finish. Lush. Pair it with tagine or other Moroccan dishes with chicken or warm spices.

wedding oak label2014 Viognier

I’m a sucker for whites with a clean finish, and this is an excellent example of why they’re so refreshing in our Texas heat. Stone fruit reminiscent of Hill Country peaches predominates on the flavor profile. Pair with roasted chicken, stuffed trout and Floribbean dishes.

2013 Sangiovese

Only 1 percent of this wine is made with Petit Verdot, and yet that pungent grape makes its presence felt – and welcome, at that. It adds a tart edge to a wine that’s otherwise 75 percent Sangiovese and 24 percent Tannat. Flavors include bright cherry with a touch of Texas spice. Try this with a meaty lasagna, pizza with anchovies or chicken Parmesan.

2013 Tioja

This blend is made from 74 percent Tempranillo, 15 percent Tannat and 11 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, and it showcases the excellent fruit owner Mike McHenry grows in the Hill Country. Smoky cherry flavors dominate with a pleasant vanilla touch. Pair with paella, a rib-eye or a bacon burger.

2013 Syrah Reserve

Mix 77 percent Syrah with 23 percent Tannat for a rich, medium- to full-bodied red that is full of dark fruit flavors, from currant to plum, with notes of tobacco and coffee. The pleasant finish lingers. Pair with pulled pork with a low-sugar sauce or leg of lamb.

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Becker Weekend: Bluebonnets, Bluegrass, BBQ

Becker Weekend: Bluebonnets, Bluegrass, BBQ

It’s coming right up, and if the bluebonnets actually make an appearance, it’s going to be a perfect weekend at Becker Vineyards in Stonewall.

Texas BluebonnetsThis Saturday and Sunday (March 14 and 15), the Annual Bluebonnets, Bluegrass, and B&B features winery owner Richard Becker’s brother Robert with his Bluegrass Band The Woodstreet Bloodhounds.  Guest banjo player will be the renown Eddie Collins of Austin. The event is complimentary (no cover charge); no reservations required.

Chef Jayson Cox will have barbecue with sides and trimmings for sale at the winery to enjoy with the music.

Co-authors of “BBQ Lovers Texas,” John Griffin and Bonnie Walker, will be signing and selling their book on the winery verandah Saturday from 11:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.

As always, the gift shop and winery will be open with plenty of wines to taste and shopping for great one-of-a-kind items.

 May 2 & 3 Annual Lavender Festival

It’s time again for the Lavender Luncheons at Becker Vineyards.  There will be Lavender Luncheons, presentations on uses of lavender, artisans selling lavender products, and lavender cooking demonstrations.  Need a break from the lavender?  There will also be wine tasting and general winery tours available.  The event is complimentary; parking is $5.

May 15  The annual Culinaria Luncheon will be at Becker Vineyards, but tickets and information about the culinary luncheon and festival are available at or 210-822-9555.

New Wines Released:  Malbec Reserve 2012, Tempranillo Reserve 2012, and Dry Riesling 2013.


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Bending Branch Winery Brings Home the Gold

Bending Branch Winery Brings Home the Gold

COMFORT – Bending Branch Winery is rolling in gold.

bending branchThe Hill Country winery recently won three Best-of-Appellation Double Gold Medals and one Gold Medal for four Texas wines from Appellation America, an online source of information on North American wines and wineries. Its Best-of-Appellation program recognizes the distinctive character and “sense of place” of wines produced in different regions and appellations.

“Being recognized for Best of Appellation (BOA) wines for four different varietals grown in Texas is a milestone for Bending Branch Winery,” said Robert Young, a founder of Bending Branch and co-winemaker with John Rivenburgh. “We are particularly thrilled that our Estate Tannat and Picpoul Blanc achieved BOA recognition.

Bending Branch won a total of four Best-of-Appellation Double Gold Medals, signifying exceptional expression of regional character/quality, including the following three Texas wines:

  • 2012 Picpoul Blanc, Estate (Texas Hill Country) – bright acidity dances on your palate with tastes of tropical fruits and sweet citrus layered with hints of honey and cream.
  • 2011 Tempranillo, Newsom Vineyards (Texas High Plains) – often referred to as the noble grape of Spain, Tempranillo has earned its accolades as one of the preeminent red varieties of Texas. It has classic notes of espresso grounds, sweet pipe tobacco, with rich bing cherry and raspberry notes.
  • 2011 Tannat, Estate (Texas Hill Country) – Tannat, a Southern French native, is a signature grape for Bending Branch, offering black cherry and raspberry flavors and hints of white pepper and Indian spice.

bendingbranchwinery_tannatBending Branch also was awarded a BOA Double Gold for its NV Souzao, Silvaspoons Vineyard, AVA Alta Meza, in Lodi, California.

Its 2011 Mourvedre, Reddy Vineyards (Texas High Plains), won a Best-of-Appellation Gold Medal. The Mourvedre has a nose of violets and rich dark berry fruits, and raspberry and rhubarb flavors complimented by star anise, vanilla and chai spices.

“Every Texas winery acknowledges that Bob Young and John Rivenburgh are leading the charge in the growing excellence of Texas wines,” said Clark Smith, author of “Postmodern Winemaking.” “Rather than sheepishly following the received wisdom from California, they apply thorough study to the suitability of novel varieties and new technologies, and then follow up with courageous investments of both capital and attention to detail.  Realizing that the perceived quality of all local wines is critical to their success, their experiments are geared to benefit the whole industry throughout Texas.  Appellation has rated its Estate Tannat and Picpoul Blanc and the Texas High Plains Tempranillo among the best wines produced in America.”

Bending Branch Winery, a boutique winery near Comfort in the Texas Hill Country AVA, is a sustainable practices and organically focused operation with 20 acres of vines comprising 16 grape varieties, including its signature varieties, Tannat and Picpoul Blanc. It produces wines from both Texas and California appellations.

For more information about Bending Branch Winery, visit the website at

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A Winning Combination: Chefs & Cellars

A Winning Combination: Chefs & Cellars

Chefs and Cellars wine glass

San Antonio chefs paired up with cellar masters Sunday night for an event staged by Culinaria every year near the beginning of the fall season.

This winning combination invites wine collectors to bring out rare and wonderful bottles to share while chefs and their crews do some pretty fancy footwork marrying food to wine.

This event, at $300 per ticket, is one of Culinaria’s most sought-after and usually sells out early. Surprisingly, it doesn’t call for dressing up — business casual is the stated attire. But there’s nothing casual about the expectations of the guests who gathered in the skills kitchen of the Culinary Institute of America, San Antonio.

Our table had high expectations of (as well as confidence in) our cellar master, wine expert and Vintages 2.0 owner Fernando “Woody” de Luna, a longtime wine writer and certified wine educator as well as wine retailer who recently marked 35 years in the wine business in central Texas.

Ceviche of Clams and Mexican Bay Scallops

Ceviche of Clams and Mexican Bay Scallops

De Luna is respected especially for his great knowledge and appreciation of Old World wines, especially the Rieslings of Germany, Alsace and Austria, the wines of France — especially Burgundy and  Champagne — as well as Spanish Rioja and Sherry and Italy’s Tuscany and Piedmont.

Our chef, Jesse Perez, is the chef and owner of Arcade Midtown Kitchen at the Pearl. His menu reflected his love of Southwest and interior Mexican flavors and spices, locally sourced ingredients, such as Bandera quail, Mexican sea scallops, lamb and more. His starter was a Ceviche of Clams and Mexican Bay Scallops, a cool but crisply flavored mélange of tender, marinated scallops with a chamomile and green-apple sauce, brioche crouton and citrus.

While one might expect that the chef and cellar master had put their heads together over many tastings and discussions to come up with the pairings, Perez simply asked for the wine list, brief explanations of what de Luna planned to bring — then did some footwork on his own.

“There are two ways to pair wines with food — you can contrast the flavors or match them,” Perez said at the beginning of the meal. His decision was to match them. Hence, the chamomile and green-apple flavors in the ceviche, which echoed the bright, crisp flavors of the Pierre Gimonnet Brut NV Blanc de Blancs Cuis 1er Cru Magnum.

Lineup of wine from Woody del Luna of Vingates 2.0

Lineup of wine from Woody de Luna of Vintages 2.0. Photo courtesy Vintages 2.0

De Luna’s first offering for the evening and was not one of the big-name brands of the Champagne region. Rather it was a grower Champagne, which means it is a product of the men and women on their own estates, growing their own grapes, as de Luna described. This was a beautiful, balanced sparkler well-suited as an aperitif all by itself, as well as a worthy companion to the bright colors and fresh seafood in the appetizer.

Fernando "Woody" de Luna

Fernando “Woody” de Luna

The courses continued with similar success. Bandera Texas Quail with Smoked Chile was served with a spectacular and rare 2010 Schloss Gobelsburg Riesling Tradition Kamtal Magnum, from Austria. The wine was dry, yet the fruit gave an impression of sweetness that was a good foil for the dark chile sauce as well as the spicy bite of a white bean hummus.  The food was well thought out — and a delicate little chicken-fried quail leg-quarter was a table favorite. But in this case, the wine was the wonder: Its complexity of flavor, acidity, vinous characteristics and more cascaded over the palate and unfolded “like a waterfall” as de Luna described it. “I love the purity of wines in the Old World,” he said. It was sheer gold in a glass.

Butter Poached Cold Water Lobster and Prawns

Butter Poached Cold Water Lobster and Prawns

In the next course, Perez came back with a lovely Butter Poached Cold Water Lobster and Prawns, an excellent choice for the 2006 Chablis Grand Cru Vaudesir Domaine Billaud Simon Chablis, France Magnum.

Chablis is a wine that, for me and most other Old World wine enthusiasts, is one of the best expressions of the Chardonnay grape. (The other being blanc de blancs Champagne.) The elegance of this Grand Cru wine, dry yet so full in character, vibrant minerality and other expressions of the famous terroir, showed that a Chardonnay doesn’t have to sparkle to be a classic accompaniment lobster.

Also, as de Luna pointed out, this wine, which comes from vineyards at the northern limit of the region, is one of only seven vineyards allowed to carry the Grand Cru designation.

While the lobster in this dish was sweet and tender, even this classy crustacean was nearly upstaged by Perez’s inspiring (as in, let’s go home and make some now) Gazpacho Blanco and Toasted Almonds that provide the brothy foundation for the dish. The “untraditional garnishes” included some unusual grapes that Perez had picked up at Central Market that day, called ‘witches fingers.” Dark and purple they were — and elongated. But their witchy presence was an artful addition to the white gazpacho.

Perez chose lamb — barbacoa, chop, loin and belly — for his third course. The rich meat was surrounded with an array of grilled and roasted vegetables that added color and tamed the fattiness of the course. The tender and flavorful barbacoa seemed to be a table favorite — “I’d buy a couple of pounds of this and take it home for breakfast tacos,” said one approving guest.

Chef Jesse Perez

Chef Jesse Perez

Spain was the Old World region from which De Luna chose his wine. A 1998 Gran Reserva 904 La Rioja Alta, Haro, Spain, Magnum was the kind of red wine that lamb wants — as the Spaniards know so well. The wine was a sleek version of this famed Spanish red, robust and smooth and was compatible with each of the versions of lamb on the plate.

We ended this culinary cruise with a cheese board, Sweet and Savory, which ranged from an excellent ricotta cheesecake brownie to the chef’s selection of cheeses, fruits and nuts. A fun surprise was to find a bit of dark, fragrant honey in the comb that was provided by one of our table mates, Robert H. Holliday. His longtime hobby of beekeeping added an intensely sweet ending to this meal.

With the cheese board came de Luna’s second Riesling of the evening, the 2001 Erdener Pralat Riesling Auslese Gold Kapsule Weingut Monchoff, Mosel, Germany. The “Auslese’ in the name lets you know that this is one of the sweeter styles of the wine, and with the rich cheeses and nuts, it was a fine match.

As the evening drew to an end, the various tables, set up throughout the kitchen and dining areas, each  custom  decorated by the hosts, gave out with loud cheers for their wines, chefs and crews. It was praise well-deserved.

Other chef/cellar master teams included chef/restaurateur Jason Dady with Phil Seelig and Hien Nguyen; John Brand, chef of Omni Hotels restaurants Las Canarias and Ostra with Gabriel Guajardo; chefs James Moore and Jeff White with Dr. Richard Becker of Becker Vineyards and Geronimo Lopez-Monascal, executive chef at NAO, with Dr. Joe Becker, Becker Vineyards.

Tipperary Cocktail, from Arcade Midtown Kitchen, a barrel-aged concoction with a supersized, hand-hewn ice cube.

Tipperary Cocktail, from Arcade Midtown Kitchen, a barrel-aged concoction with a supersized, hand-hewn ice cube.

To reach Fernando de Luna at Vintages 2.0, call 210-410-0296.


Photos by Bonnie Walker

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Summer Wine: Roses and Rosé Strewn About

Summer Wine: Roses and Rosé Strewn About

By Cecil Flentge

Rose bottle rose 2I am as guilty as anyone of misquoting Shakespeare when writing about rosé wines.  You could try something about “Putting the rosé in your cheeks …” but that sounds too much like I am a lush and that is just out of style.

“It rosé to the occasion …” is rather obscure and Neil Diamond’s lawyers would be all over me if I used “Cracklin’ Rosie.”

But this one is simple, it has roses on the label, roses on the cork, roses imprinted in the name, the bottle is a rose, and there is a very nice French rosé inside the bottle.  So I have to be describing the new arrival at “my” H-E-B, Cote des Roses.

This is from the Gerard Bertrand family of wineries ($13) and is sourced from the Languedoc in southern France.

Fact:  The bottle is clear glass to show the copper tinged, pink of the wine.  A cantaloupe, peach, and über-ripe pineapple fragrance which is a departure from the cherry-watermelon of many rosé wines.  The aroma is echoed on the palate with a mineral finish that is reminiscent of pink sea salt (maybe a rosé de sel?).  Dry, fruity and flavorful throughout.

An imprint of a rose on the bottom of this rose is a wonderful signature.

An imprint of a rose on the bottom of this rosé bottle is a wonderful signature.


Feeling:  My companion’s immediate reaction to “What does this wine make you think of doing?” was “Drinking it while I admire the bottle.”

It is an unusual bottle with the base being a dramatic imprint of a rose and it did bring to mind giving it as a gift wrapped in green tissue, inverted, so that you could present a ‘rose.’

But to more immediate gratification, serve with scallops or shrimp, maybe wrapped in prosciutto, maybe just crumbled bacon on a seared scallop – ah, the salty-crispy bacon, the sweet, unctuous, scallop, all enrobed in the peach-melon of the wine … bon appétit!


Cecil Flentge is a San Antonio wine educator for professionals or novices and a restaurant/bar consultant. Restaurant events or home tastings. Questions? Email

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Get a Taste of Italy in the Hill Country – Duchman Vermentino 2010

Get a Taste of Italy in the Hill Country – Duchman Vermentino 2010

duchmanBy Cecil Flentge

Duchman (pronounced Duke-man) Family Winery in Driftwood, Texas, specializes in wines made of grapes commonly thought of as Italian. Sangiovese of Chianti fame and Montepulciano, which is grown extensively in the Abruzzo region, are two examples. Their Vermentino (pronounced ver-mehn-TEE-noh) follows in the same vein. Most famous in northern Sardinia, this Texas edition is both a surprise and a delight (pronounced Good!). It is available at Twin Liquors for about $12.


Made from 100 percent Texas grapes grown in the Texas High Plains AVA (American Viticultural Area), this robust white evokes lime and citrus blossom on the nose. It has the appropriate mouthfeel, a smooth viscosity found in classic Vermentino wines, and the flavors flow to pear, lime and grapefruit with a nice minerality lingering in the finish. The alcohol does not give any harshness, even though it is high at 14.4 percent, and that is a side benefit of the rich presence of the grapes’ glycerol. Overall, a nice Vermentino from a new area.


This so calls to be a brunch wine! Delicate enough to caress lobster or shrimp salads, robust enough for a plate of braised clams, and crisp enough to mingle with the tastes of the sea in oysters on the half shell. But just chill it and taste the welcome that it gives.

Cecil Flentge is a San Antonio wine educator for professionals or novices and a restaurant/bar consultant. Questions? Email



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Old or New: A World of Difference

Old or New: A World of Difference

Troy Knapp is executive chef at Hyatt Hill Country Resort & Spa as well as a certified sommerlier

Troy Knapp is executive chef at the Hyatt Hill Country as well as a certified sommelier.

By Troy Knapp

As complicated as wine can be, there are two major categories into which most wine fits, and with an understanding of this simple concept comes a better comprehension of what to expect from the diverse world of wine.

I know it sounds almost too easy, right?  It all comes down to this simple fact: Does the wine come from the Old World or the New World?  Sommeliers use this question in their repertoire to help them identify what a particular person’s palate is partial to and discover what may pair with a specific dish.

The Old World, as applies to wine, consists of: Italy, France, Germany, Spain, Portugal, Greece, Austria and many other wine regions in Europe.  When wine is made classically from the Old World, it will display some aromatics that are associated with the earth.  Whites from these regions typically have a strong foundation of minerality.  An underlying commonality of chalk, stone, wet stone, slate, or even oyster shells from the soil can give a presence of synergy with the land.  Old World reds can display notes of tobacco, mushroom, forest floor, soil and even a dampness quality that is primary to floral- and fruit-driven qualities and naturally finish dryer than their New World counterparts.

The New World consists of: USA, Canada, Australia, South Africa, New Zealand and South America’s regions of Chile and Argentina.  Due to a modern style of wine and warmer climate, a higher perception of fruit and a touch of residual sugar may be present, all contributing to a fuller mouth feel and perceived sweetness.  Some may display subtle earthy notes, however they are secondary to the fruit characteristics.

Now, there is always an exception.  You can have a New World wine made by a producer with a respect for the Old World or an Old World producer making a wine that is engineered to lure the palates of those who prefer a New World style — it depends on the market.  It’s a matter of the manipulation, or lack thereof, during the winemaking process that can make these differences.  If you seek out wine that is more traditionally made, then it is more likely to hit the classic markers.  Your local wine shop specialist or restaurant sommelier can assist you with this.

Which do you prefer: Old World or New World wines?

Which do you prefer: Old World or New World wines?

I personally gravitate towards Old World or cooler climate New World wines when pairing with food.  The body and alcohol are typically a little lower with the acidity being a little higher; these attributes relate well with food.  When the weather cools, a New World wine can really hit the spot and can be preferred when drinking without a meal as they can be rich, unctuous (without being overly sweet) and full-bodied.

Ready to taste the difference?  Try a well-made New World wine versus a classically made Old World wine of the same grape variety side by side.

Here are some examples to try:

  • New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc vs. White Bordeaux or Sancerre
  • Domestic Pinot Gris/Grigio vs. the same from Northern Italy or Alsace France
  • Domestic or Australian Riesling vs. the same from Germany or Alsace France
  • Domestic Chardonnay vs. White Burgundy
  • Australian Shiraz vs. Northern Rhone Syrah
  • Californian Cabernet Sauvignon vs. Left Bank Bordeaux
  • Domestic Merlot vs. Right Bank Bordeaux
  • California Pinot Noir vs. Red Burgundy

Tasting them in a blind format will eliminate any preconceived notions, so place the bottles in brown paper bags and mix them up. Can you decipher which is which?

More importantly, you’ll be able to identify which one you prefer.  Wine is all about personal preference and utilizing this tip will certainly help you in understanding what you like.  Next time you are ordering a bottle to accompany a nice dinner, you can simply say, “I am looking for a red from the Old World.”  You’ll have easily narrowed it down to a selection that is more likely to please your palate, because “”old” and “new”  can make a world of difference.

Troy Knapp is executive chef at the Hyatt Hill Country as well as a certified sommelier.

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Cabanero Wine: Robust, Rowdy, Habanero-Infused

Cabanero Wine: Robust, Rowdy, Habanero-Infused

By Cecil Flentge

In the early ’90s I occasionally used a wine from the long-past, local San Antonio Winery that was simply called “Jalapeño wine.” It was a white wine with jalapeño added, not awful, worked well in deglazing a pan to make a slightly spicy sauce.

There is a California winery of the same name that does something similar and wineries in several other states, including Texas, making wines with some Capsicum derivative.  At Dry Comal Creek winery they pour a white wine in a shot glass that has a jalapeño slice in it to make their Shooting Blancs, available daily at their tasting room.  So when I heard that HEB was about to release a red wine and spicy habanero pepper blend, I was curious.

HEB has done consumer taste tests with their object to make a wine to pair with our ubiquitous Mexican/Tex-Mex/Central American food flavors.  We have all heard one lament or another about “wine doesn’t go with Tex-Mex” and while there are options out there, they are rarely on the wine list in those restaurants.  HEB apparently took this as a challenge and created Cabanero, a blend of California Cabernet, Petit Verdot, and Syrah infused with habanero spice.

Yes, it has a little spice from the habanero pepper.  But the spice level is just enough to warm you on a cold day.

There is a little residual sugar but less than many White Zinfandel wines and with the dishes that this wine was crafted to match, the light sweetness can be a pleasant addition. HEB recommends you pair this wine with Chicken Mole, Carne Asada, Xic Tic En Cochinita Pibil, Flan, Carnitas and Tamales.

They have started advertising Cabanero and it should be in stores now or sometime soon.  Regular price will be $11.

Tasting and reviewing a wine that is unique is more difficult than a more usual Chardonnay or Tempranillo because you do not have the history of how others of the genre taste.  The only way that I could measure the wine was to taste it paired with the dishes recommended.  So I drove to a favorite spot, El Jalisco on Blanco Road, and with a companion ordered Carne Asada and Chiles Rellenos.

I had chilled the wine, though there is no temperature detail on the bottle, because all wine should be chilled to one degree or another and if I had it too cold – well, it would warm up in time.  However, from my experience, I do recommend that you serve it after 45 minutes in the refrigerator (about 55-60 degrees).  Sniffing the wine there is a cherry, cinnamon, and meaty pepper fragrance with a whiff of a candied note.  It is a light aroma but persistent and sipping the wine brought a soft cherry, ripe red chile-pepper flavor that starts slowly to warm your mouth and throat with the moderate capsicum burn.

Just before our dishes arrived and we sampled the chips and salsa with the wine.  This salsa is a fresh tomato style and the wine brought the tomato flavor to the fore when I tasted the combination.  Now, a disclaimer, I am not a fan of fresh tomato and my companion did not have the same experience so maybe I am just a bit sensitive to that flavor.  It would not be a negative anyway, just a point of interest.

Cabanero and Carne Asada is a very good match.  El Jalisco also served some sautéed ‘wild cactus’ with the Asada and it also went very well.  The Chiles Rellenos started with a roasted and peeled poblano pepper covered with toasted cheese, no breading, not fried and the beef filling is savory, not sweet.  Pairing it and the Cabanero brought out the fruity qualities of the wine and a return of the light candied aspect.  The refried beans were an excellent match with the Cabanero, the best of what we tried, like they were made for each other – which I guess they were.

Will we see other unconventional wines from HEB?  That is for the future to show, but this is an ambitious experiment that is worth a look.


Cecil Flentge is a San Antonio wine educator for professionals or novices and a cooking instructor. Restaurant events or home tastings.  Questions? Email

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