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Wine: Thinking Inside the Box

Wine: Thinking Inside the Box

By Cecil Flentge

Box wine, bag-in-box, evenflo bottles for adults.  Yes, that is what I am telling you.  But what would you expect?  I already have jumped the natural cork boat for the screwcap bottle, is it that much of a surprise that I might try the dark side of wine – the box?  I have tried several and the most important thing I have learned is that they are not all bad.  A few are quite pleasant and you cannot beat the convenience or price.  The labeling is different than it used to be.  A box wine was called, “Juicy White” or “Burgundy” (even if it was from California).  It was made by, wait, let me get my magnifier, the print is just too small, oh here it is, AmalgaMuck industries.  Vintage?  We don’t need no vintage!  But times change and now we have a winery that also sells wine in glass bottles, doin’ da box!  Why?

They’re cheaper to produce and that means cheaper to buy.

They’re lighter, so even if the box holds the volume of four bottles of wine, it isn’t that heavy.

They stay fresh longer, so if you only drink a glass a day you can enjoy the last glass as much as the first.

If you do the math, there are 20 to 24 glasses per three-liter box, so at least three weeks to consume.  No problem because the wine does not have air in contact with it until it is in your glass.  The oxygen in air is what makes the wine taste bad after a few days.  But a regular bottle?  Five or six glasses at one a day?  Man, the last two glasses will be a little tangy! Or you will just throw it away. (You could still cook with it.)  Wine in a box will last at least six weeks after you open it.

Big House, Unchained Naked Chardonnay, California 2011

Available at H-E-B for $18/3 liter box

This particular wine has the hardest to open box-spout arrangement I have encountered.  Most of them have a punch out circle and a fold-out flap.  You punch the hole and move the flap to pull the spigot forward.  Then move the flap back to hold it in place.  This one just has the hole and my blunt digits could not do the job so I opened the top of the box, pushed things out where they needed to be, taped the top closed.  Then, since it is a Chardonnay, I needed to chill it.  You have to give four hours at least to chill that big a bag of wine, so plan ahead.  On the other side, once you have it cold, you could take it out on the patio and it will stay cold for an hour or more.

But this is a huge preamble to the main event, how does it taste?


A light yellow wine in the glass with moderate fruit on the nose.  Apple, lemon, and a hint of pear notes that repeats on the palate.  Decent weight on the tongue with persistent fruit flavor throughout the short, dry, finish.  The wine is not bone dry, but it is not one you would casually call sweet.  Since I know you are thinking it, no, there is no metallic/odd/chemical/whangy taste at the end.  I know because I was in an anticipatory cringe expecting it to happen!


I am working at making dinner, yes – a guy slaving over the hot stove for his honey!  It makes me want to taste something cold so I do and it feels nice.  I do not have to think about, “But if I open a bottle, I won’t be home until late tomorrow night and then I am out with friends the next and it will go bad by the time I get back to it.”  I just get me a glass, or a half glass, or a glass and an eighth, and relax. It matched well with a lightly curried chicken and at 90 cents a glass, a steal!


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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Value Pinot Noir That Works? Lindeman’s Makes It

Value Pinot Noir That Works? Lindeman’s Makes It

By Cecil Flentge

Shopping for wine is both a hobby for me and a necessity.  You have to resupply if you re-consume.  But I do enjoy the process – looking for new wineries, unusual grape varieties, wines from wineries I have visited, great prices — it is still a game to me.  However, looking for Pinot Noir from a less-usual wine region, only a year and a half old, at a bargain-bin price, is not what I set out to do.  But there it was, go figure.

Lindeman’s has been making wine for a long time with their first plantings of Riesling, Verdelho, and Shiraz grapes in 1843.

This wine is sourced from multiple vineyards and is 100 percent Pinot Noir grapes.

Lindeman’s Bin 99 Pinot Noir, South Eastern Australia 2011

Available at CostCo Liquors (open to anyone) for $3.99.  Yes, 3.99!


Fresh red cherry, hints of raspberries, and a sense of terroir – the earthy stamp given to a wine by the soil, sun and sense of place where it was grown, all expressed on the nose, if lightly.  Red fruits, cedar, grapefruit on the palate with characteristically light tannins were moderate and clear.  As the wine evolved it showed staying power and a bit of fresh saddle-leather aroma.  The grapefruit stayed on the medium length finish with the earthy cherry persisting.  As young as it is,  it may improve for 6-12 months.  While I do not recommend long cellaring, it should hold for a few years.


What I feel like is I got away with something!  Pouring this wine with dinner I was already casting my mind to what else I would probably have to open when this wine proved unworthy.  But as critically as I approached it, I first found nothing wrong, then I started to like it, then with the broiled pork chops seasoned with thyme, sage, and celery seed powder it just blossomed!  My wife and I kept stopping and saying ‘this is really matching well’ during dinner.  Baked potato – potato salad with a vegetable stock and cream dressing was still able to co-exist with this properly constrained wine.  If you can enjoy a red wine that does not come in like a Viking invasion, one that lets your meal participate instead of cringing at the edge of the plate, try the Bin 99!




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Wine Review: Santa Rita Cab Tastes Great and Promises More

Wine Review: Santa Rita Cab Tastes Great and Promises More

By Cecil Flentge

Santa Rita Winery, Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon, Maipo Valley 2009

I like good wine.  I like to save money.  I love good, inexpensive wine.  So when I looked in the cellar for something to go with what I call ‘Salsabury Steak’ (hamburger, Italian sausage, salsa – made into a patty) the wine right in front of me beckoned. A Santa Rita 2008, I found it scrumptious, I wanted more.  But now the wine on the shelves is the 2009, would it be as good?


This estate-grown Cabernet Sauvignon comes from vineyards located in Chile’s Maipo Valley, just south of Santiago.  As you take in the aroma, you get a hint of smoke and cedar, then the ripe cherry laced with earthy minerality.  The flavors built as I sipped with cherry, coffee, and grilled radicchio bringing depth and richness.  The tannins are there but subdued by the balanced acidity and long finish where, after a few minutes, there was a definite cocoa component. I expect that this wine will improve for a year or two and hold for several more.

Widely distributed, this wine is available at HEB for $9.


With or without dinner, this wine was the ever comfortable friend that told my tongue just what it wanted to hear.  The match with the richly flavored beef and pork patty was perfect.  The spicy salsa took nothing away from the wine and the wine wooed a bit more fun out of dinner.  Trying 2008 sent me looking; the 2009 tells me I can relax and depend on this winery.  So buy a case!

Cecil Flentge is a native Texan who tours wine regions, offers wine education classes, and writes an eNewsletter about wine and food. Contact him at



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Wines That Please — In Any Season!

Wines That Please — In Any Season!

By Jeremy Parzen

Wine makes a great gift for Dad.

Five years ago, it would have been unimaginable to give dad wine for father’s day. Back then, in the age before the millennial generation decided that it would make wine its favorite luxury beverage, we still bought our fathers ties, golf clubs, and Weber grills and smokers to celebrate their “special day.”

But fast forward to the summer of 2012 and many of those dads are millennials themselves. And even those who still belong to generation X have come to understand the vital importance of wine in society today.

If you’re planning to give Dad a groovy bottle this year, look beyond the predictable Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot that the baby boomers still drink. After all, who wants to drink tannic, highly alcoholic, concentrated, chunky and immature Napa Valley Cab in the Texas summer, with temperatures already hitting 100 degrees and beyond.

Here are some interesting, food-friendly wines currently available in our market, at prices that sit nicely within a gift-giving budget — even if you’ve got two dads!

Vincent Girardin 2009 Sauvigny-les-Beaune

This bottle is what New Yorker’s call “outer borough” Burgundy, a great introduction to Pinot Noir from its most famous appellation (Gabriel’s Superstore, $27.99).

Mongeard Mugneret 2009 Fixin

Fixin is one of Burgundy’s “best kept secrets,” a village located adjacent to the more famous Gevrey-Chambertin (Gabriel’s Superstore, $28.99).

Castelgiocondo 2005 Brunello di Montalcino

Brunello is Italian for “perfect gift for dad.” We’re not sure how Gabriel’s managed offer to this obscenely low price for a modern-style Brunello (and wine pundit favorite), but we’re not asking any questions (not on the floor; ask a salesperson; Gabriel’s Superstore, $25).

Château Pradeaux 2007 Bandol Rosé

Rosé isn’t exactly what comes to mind when you think Dad but this year think “pink”: this classic producer delivers muscular, austere expressions of rosé from Mourvèdre from Southern France (Saglimbeni, $37.99; everything 20 percent off Friday and Saturday).

Fontanafredda 2008 Briccotondo Barbera

The Italians like to chill their Barbera in summertime and this wine, with vibrant acidity and wild berry fruit flavors, is ideal for summer grills (Saglimbeni, $17.99; everything 20 percent off Friday and Saturday).

Jeremy Parzen, author of the blog, believes that “food and wine are exegetic tools that help to attain a more profound understanding of the human condition and experience.” He resides in Austin with his wife, Tracie, and their 5-month-old daughter, Georgia.

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Troy Knapp on Wine: Show a Little Respect

Troy Knapp on Wine: Show a Little Respect

Troy Knapp

Troy Knapp is executive chef at the Hyatt Hill Country Resort, including Antlers Lodge. He’s also a Certified Sommelier and Certified Specialist of Wine. His wine column appears regularly in SavorSA.

Most of the products we eat or drink take an under-appreciated path before arriving on our dining room table.  As a chef, I feel as if I am a shepherd, seeking the best-quality product and consciously taking care of it by showcasing it simply in the best possible way. Wine is no different.  For those who work the vineyard and oversee the wine-making process it is truly a labor of love.   Below I have listed a few techniques that will allow you to enjoy wine at its full potential by simply giving it the attention and respect it deserves.


A good-quality, tulip-shaped crystal wine glass will benefit in more ways than one.  First off, crystal is rough compared to glass although not easily detected by the human eye; under a microscope it is quite noticeable. With your fingertip you can easily feel the friction on the rim of a crystal product and even play a subtle ringing hum that cannot be replicated on the perfectly smooth glass product. When wine is swirled in crystal, the rough surface will create more agitation and intensify the aromatics or as we say (volatize the esters) essentially, making it more enticing to the nose.   I find that a medium-to-large tulip-shaped glass is the most universal and will allow for enough room to swirl while concentrating the bouquet.

Seasoning the glass

Always give your glassware a sniff before using as residual chlorine or soap that was not properly rinsed off will most definitely interfere.  Make sure the glass is rinsed thoroughly and aired dry. If you are in a restaurant, ask for a new glass.  Dust can easily work its way into your glass during storage so an easy way to completely enjoy wine without the distraction of foreign remnants is to simply “season it.” To do this, add a tiny amount of the wine you are about to drink to your glass and roll the stem of the glass in your fingers while tilting it.  Essentially you want to cover the entire interior of the glass with the wine.  Then, dump it out.  Remember, I did say use a tiny amount.

Then fill up your glass with confidence in the purity of what you are going to consume.  This is also a good technique when transitioning to a new wine that may have a noticeable dominant character that will stand out in the new wine where it doesn’t belong.  Pouring an un-oaked Chardonnay into the same glass that previously contained a highly aromatic Gewürztraminer is a good example of when the “seasoning” element will help.  Rinsing with water will only contribute to dilution, so I don’t recommend that.


This is a big one. We typically pour whites at refrigerator temperature, which is too cold and reds at room temperature, which is too warm. Ideally most whites should be around 45 degrees and most reds at 55-60 degrees. Freestanding wine cellars are great to have as you can generally “set it and forget it.”  Another way to achieve this is to remove your whites from the refrigerator a full half hour or so before consuming and the opposite for reds, as these can benefit from a half-hour of refrigeration. Light-bodied reds can benefit from a more aggressive chill, however the tannin in big powerful reds will be more pronounced when chilled. So, a  slight chill to simply bring them down from room temperature is the objective.

Aeration and Decanting 

Most wines benefit nicely with aeration.  The interaction with oxygen will allow for the wine to emerge and show its full potential.  Pouring the wine into a wide-bottomed decanter and allowing it to rest will require some patience yet will be sure to enhance your drinking pleasure. The million-dollar question is how long? It can range from a half an hour to half a day.  There is no perfect answer as there are so many variables that come into play.  Most wine will definitely benefit from at least a short decant and it can be quite exciting to sip on the wine slowly as it develops and evolves with time in the glass.

Don’t be afraid to decant white wines for a short while as well.  Even sparkling wines can go through a subtle transformation that some will prefer.  It will dial the bubbles back slightly and ultimately showcase the core of the wine.  A narrow-bottomed decanter would be the preferred vessel for sparkling, as you wouldn’t want to spread the contents too thin and overly dissipate the sparkle.

For those with little patience, aerators come in handy and will allow you the benefit of aerating as you go.  You can simply pour a glass at a time through these small devices that will create a fairly viscous interaction with oxygen and open the wine up quicker, while allowing you to preserve the wine in the bottle for later.


If you want to store wine overnight there are a few things you need to know.  We just covered decanting and accelerating the interaction with oxygen. In this scenario, however, we need to do the opposite and minimize the exposure to oxygen as much as possible.  Most wine left out at room temperature will most likely be undrinkable the following day.  The refrigerator will slow down the rate of oxidation and therefore preserve the wine longer than if it was left at room temperature.  Some even put their reds in the refrigerator to achieve this.  Wine preservation argon works quite well and will add several days of preservation to your open bottle.  It can be purchased at wine shops for about $10 and is good for around 120 uses.  Another method is to consume half of the contents of the bottle and store the remainder in a half-sized 375 ml .bottle.  If the half-size bottle is topped off and filled properly, it will have minimal exposure to oxygen and allow for another day or two of quality drinking.

So pay homage to the winemakers who give us this wonderful beverage by sipping slowly and most of all — enjoy it at its full potential with others who will appreciate it.



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Spectacular Brilliance: A Small Price for Lasting Memories

Spectacular Brilliance: A Small Price for Lasting Memories

Troy Knapp is executive chef at the Hyatt Hill Country Resort, including Antlers Lodge. He’s also a Certified Sommelier and Certified Specialist of Wine. His column, Spectacular Brilliance, appears monthly on SavorSA.

By Troy Knapp

Troy Knapp

Thanksgiving and other memorable holiday dinners are priceless, so, for Pete’s sake, don’t skimp on the wine!

To save a few dollars in these occasions that are few and far between would be, in my opinion, the wrong place.  Yes, great wines come with a cost, however I’m sure, you will discover the extra money is well worth it.   For these rare holiday occasions when friends and family come together, why not seek out something truly special that will enhance the experience?

When making holiday selections, quality always overrules quantity! I’ll never understand the fixation with buying cheap food or wine.  This is the one area in life that I’m not willing to skimp. Quality comes with a cost and requires you to seek it out.  “The best you can afford,” is a great motto to live by.  Conscious food is what we need to strive toward, as it not only tastes better, it is significantly better for the environment as well as our health.  So, when it comes to the Thanksgiving table, look for all-natural turkey, lots of beautiful, organic vegetables and of course, great wine!

Riesling, Gewürztraminer and Gamay (Beaujolais) are frequently purchased to accompany the Thanksgiving table as they have a good relation with the traditional dishes we all love.  There are a wide variety of these wines, so beware of some common misconceptions.  You can easily find many of these wines in the “$10 and less category” that will be quaffable, however, they pale in comparison to what these varietals can offer.

Riesling  is quite an amazing grape variety; ranging from common and unexciting wine to truly extraordinary examples that are very well respected in the world of wine aficionados.  Grand Cru Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Sylvaner and Pinot Gris (known as Tokay) from Alsace in France are all great options for Thanksgiving dinner.

The wines of Alsace France are typically full bodied and dry where as the sweeter styles hail from Germany and the residual sugar is wonderfully contrasted with bracing acidity.  These wines typically start in the $40- $60 price range and can be found at a specialty grocer or wine shop.  Germany has a complex system of classification and reading the label can be intimidating.  A little research, or simply asking for assistance in the wine shop, will go a long way in finding your selection.

Beaujolais Nouveau is released every year on the third Thursday of November.  This wine is readily on display at most markets and meant to be consumed young. However, I recommend you seek out premium bottling of Beaujolais from one of the ten specific village/sites that have been awarded Cru status. “Cru” is a French term that refers to “growth place,” so wines from certain “Cru” regions have strict standards that result in depth and complexity not found in common Beaujolais bottling.  Ask for Morgon [moor – gah] or Moulin au Vent [moo-lahn-ah-vah].  Both of these bottlings typically start in the $30 price range.

Pinot Noir pairs rather well at the Thanksgiving table, and Premier Cru or Grand Cru Red Burgundies are simply spectacular.  Pinot Noir from Germany and New Zealand are not as abundant, however, both are well worth tracking down. Both options are much lighter than their California counterparts and showcase the delicate and lighter side of Pinot Noir. For something in the middle try Oregon Pinot Noir.  It is readily available and shares a common elegance as other cool climate pinots.  This region offers characteristics between the earth-driven wines of Burgundy, France and the fruit-driven Pinots of California.  A great choice for a group of diverse palates.

Regardless of your selection, quality should be the focus and will certainly be worthy of a few extra bucks.

My most memorable dining experiences are those with special friends and family, enjoying conversation over great wine.   My wife and I will always remember a few specific bottles that we shared long ago.  They were supported by great ambience and hold a place in our memories.  We look forward to drinking these same wines on special occasions, especially during the holidays; just as hearing a piece of music can bring us to a certain place in time, wine shares a similar relation.   Pulling a cork from a special bottle is like opening a time capsule, our senses connect with memories and thoughts are re-lived.

So seek out that special bottle.  It’s a small price for lasting memories.

From my family to yours, in health and happiness, have a happy Thanksgiving.


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Stock Show & Rodeo Wine Competition: Raising the Bar

Stock Show & Rodeo Wine Competition: Raising the Bar

By Cecil Flentge

The San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo is still a few months away,  but this past Monday 44 judges reviewed 686 wines to decide the gold, silver and bronze winners for the 2012 Wine Garden.

As a wine judge for each of the two previous competitions I was impressed at the friendly, but very professional, organization of this latest event.

For a list of winning wines, click here.

As the volunteers have improved, so have the wines.  I was told that 30 percent of the wines entered would retail for $30 or more.  That shows wineries and distributors are taking the Rodeo competition as seriously as the athletes and exhibitors do in their respective competitions.

I was part of the judging team at one of the nine tables arranged to divide the tasks.  My team tried 11 different groups of wine, almost 80 wines total, yet we only tried wines from seven categories – less than 12  percent of the wines entered.

The good news for me, and for consumers following the rankings, is the wines were better overall.  The top wines were very good, as they usually are, but even wines that did not receive a medal were pleasant.  This again reflects the status that the Stock Show and Rodeo has developed for the Wine Garden.

The Wine Garden is in its third year and will offer for sale the 38 gold medal wines by the taste, the glass or the bottle.

Judges sniff and ponder a white wine category in Monday's Stock Show & Rodeo Competition.

There is also the Champion Wine Auction where you can bid on the celebrated wines.  The funds from this and the Wine Garden fund scholarships for Texas youth.  Some of the scholarships are specifically designated toward viticulture for students attending Texas colleges and universities with programs supporting viticulture.

Awards and scholarships for this year will add more than 300 new scholars to the program.  Currently, there are more than 1,600 active scholarship recipients from the Rodeo in 90 colleges and universities throughout Texas.

Judges were selected from the wine business including distributors, restaurants, and a couple of wine writers.  There were also a few experienced wine aficionados to represent the local consumers.

In the process of determining the winners, the judges used 3,500 glasses to taste wines from 173 American wineries from Texas, California, Oregon and Washington.  Moving that much glassware is a big task and it was accomplished by the over 90 wine committee volunteers who were constantly bringing glasses, removing glasses, washing glasses and refilling glasses.  Salute to them!

Raise a glass at the rodeo to support scholarships.  The San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo will run Feb. 9-26, 2012.

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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Lange Estate Pinot Noir Is Lush Yet Elegant

Lange Estate Pinot Noir Is Lush Yet Elegant

Lange Estate Winery and Vineyards Willamette Valley Pinot Noir 2009

Fact: Lange Estate uses Pinot Noir grapes from all over its vineyards to make this wine, which has been bottled with a screw cap.

Twist it open and pour a taste into your glass. The garnet color, translucent in the glass, is what you’ll notice first. Then welcome bright red fruit on the nose with a small touch of earth and cocoa powder.

One taste will fill your mouth with the flavors of Bing cherries and ripe raspberries, cranberries, a hint of warm spices, with both earthy and mineral qualities in the mix, all of which give the wine a lush quality that’s filtered by the elegance that is a hallmark of good Pinot Noir. The finish lingers with a silky whisper.

Though two years old, this Oregon wine seemed a little young and tight upon opening, so you may want to let it air a bit.

The wine sells for about $17 a bottle at Costco.

Feeling:It’s hard to describe how a good Oregonian Pinot Noir makes you feel, other than happy. That’s the gift this wine imparts while there’s still some in the bottle.

Have it with stuffed mushrooms or pork meatballs and let that little giddy feeling continue.

For best results, chill this down to about 55 to 60 degrees (French cellar temperature and the correct temperature for all Pinot Noirs, if not all red wines). Then enjoy.

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Wine to go with Osso Buco: A Match Made in Italy

Wine to go with Osso Buco: A Match Made in Italy

By Cecil Flentge

You’ve loved it on Italian menus, and maybe even made it yourself. Now that the weather shows a slim promise of cooling, let’s talk about a  hearty Italian stew.

Meaty veal shanks are the main ingredient in osso buco.

Ossobuco or osso buco (sometimes seen as “bucco”) is Italian for “bone with a hole” (osso bone, buco hole) or “marrowbone”, both a reference to the marrow hole at the center of the cross-cut veal shank.

The original version is ‘ossobuco in bianco’ (Osso Buco with White Sauce), which does not use tomatoes. Then there are many modern versions that do use tomatoes, simply called Osso Buco. But time marches on and it is now quite common to find this dish made with pork shanks (whole or cross-cut), lamb shanks or cross-cut legs of beef or venison.  There is even a movie named Osso Buco.

No matter how you approach it, Osso Buco is the ‘black tie and tails’ version of a pot roast, so it is easy to do though it takes some time.

Osso Buco with Tomatoes, Olives and Gremolata (Recipe)

But what wine?  So many will work, both white and red, and it does vary with the type of Osso Buco.  No matter what country a recipe originates, you will find the same countries wines will be a safe bet.  All of these wines will make you happy with your Osso Buco, as well-matched wine and food always will — so on with the Italians!


La Maia Lina Chianti Classico, Tuscany 2008:
The little pig on the label does not tell you ‘buy me’, but you should.  CostCo for $11.

Fact: Sangiovese is the primary grape for Chianti and this medium red-colored example shows why they never will change.  A ripe cherry nose with cedar and a whiff of raspberries.  The palate echoes the cherry, blended with a ripe plum, and enough tangy acidity to keep it all fresh.  After it has been open 30 minutes you get a little aroma of black raspberry jam.  The finish trails a bit with cherry, mineral and plum.

Feelings: This is why I like drinking wine.  You can open this one and have a glass while you cook your Osso Buco, while you dine, while you clean up, and relaxing with a book before bedtime.  If you follow this outline you will probably be ready for bedtime!

Sasso al Poggio, from Piccini winery, Tuscany 2004
The 2004 is the current vintage of this ‘Super Tuscan’ offered at CostCo for $13.  An excellent opportunity to see how wines develop with some age.

Fact:  Sangiovese, Merlot and Cabernet bring the red color, age brings the caramelized pear color, and together they made a lovely brick red.  Vibrant cherry, plum, and wild strawberry on the nose with smoky, earthy undertones.  Cherry, mushrooms and an almost meaty component blends with toasty notes for your palate.  Deep black cherry served on wood-baked bread linger with the minerality on the finish.

Feelings:  Use the good china and polish the silver.  Drag out that tablecloth and light some candles, open the wine a few minutes before you serve that rich and fragrant dish.  Let the wine tell you stories of Italy, the scent of wild oregano and the statues hidden in marble, as you dine.

Ramitello, Biferno, from Di Majo Norante 2008
From the Molise region, about 200 miles east of Rome.  Super value for $11 at CostCo.

Fact: Dark garnet red in color, there is black cherry with a touch of aged woodpile in the enticing aroma.  Tasting brings forth cherry, coffee, mineral-earth and a bit of green Poblano pepper. The acidity works well to keep the wine interesting and the finish leaves you with dried cherries and coffee.

Feeling: This wine demands attention.  It is like your friend that you have spirited conversations with over dinner, you look forward to the experience.

Ruffino, Modus, Tuscany 2006 
Another of the ‘Super Tuscans’ with Sangiovese, Merlot and Cabernet available for $20.

Fact: An attractive and dramatic label enfolds a dark red wine from a well known winery.  Dark cherry, graphite, and cedar were pleasantly presented in the aroma with earthy accent.  The first taste repeated the cherry and cedar while later there was more of the minerally graphite and a little vegetal seasoning.  Tannins were chewy in this full-bodied red, but all were balanced.  One note is to decant this wine twice before serving to awaken the scents and flavors.  Alternatively, buy a couple and put them away for two or three years to see how it matures.

Feeling: Somewhat akin to petting a tiger.  You can feel the warmth and see the beauty, yet the power is still leashed.  Be patient, it will relax as you do.

Caparzo, Brunello di Montalcino, Tuscany 1998 
Locally, the 2004 vintage is available at Gabriels Superstore for $49 and is rated as highly as the 1998, though it may be more approachable after 2012.

Fact: When first opened there was a toast, black cherry, dried strawberry nose.  A few minutes later that was joined by warm red soil and raked Fall leaves.  The flavors of red berries, soft tannins, and rich minerals coat your palate.  It stays rich and flavorful through the finish, the cherry blending with espresso and chocolate.

Feeling: Ah, your favorite Aunt that always told those wonderful stories!  That is what this wine mimics as it tells different stories to your palate and nose, weaving its magic into your dinnertime, sorely missed when it has gone.


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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Talking About Grapes: the Texas Hill Country Wine Roadshow

Talking About Grapes: the Texas Hill Country Wine Roadshow

Nichole Bendele, left, of Becker Vineyards, pours wine for sampling.

By Cecil Flentge

Texas Wine Month got a head start Thursday with a series of tastings, dinners, and seminars in Dallas, Houston, Austin and San Antonio.

In San Antonio, panelists at the Pearl, for the Texas Hill Country Wine Roadshow,  joined their counterparts in the other cities as they met with wine professionals, business people and wine aficionados. No surprise: Their focus was all about the the ripening quality of wine from the Texas Hill Country AVA (American Viticultural Area).

During a seminar at the Pearl Studio, a panel discussed some history of the progress and development of wines in the Hill Country, as well as their goals and aspirations for the future.

Dr. Richard Becker

Dr. Richard Becker, of Becker Vineyards, one of the pioneering winemakers in the Texas Hill Country, outlined the process of trying many grape varietals to find what works with the climate and soil.  He used an example of single vineyard wines as part of the refinement in their experimentation, showing the differences in flavor and complexity of wines from neighboring areas.

When questioned, Becker stated that factor may define smaller AVAs in the future.  This is a slow process, but part of Becker’s goal is to “make wines that will compete on the world stage.”

This determined attitude was echoed by Dr. Robert Young, of Bending Branch Winery in his presentation “In Search of the Hill Country Wine Zone”.  He spoke about different soil compositions and the need to site the vineyards carefully, with higher altitude being the key to success.  “We are all trying to find the sweet spot, the right place with the right grape.”

None know this better, though sadly in hindsight, than Sabrina Hauser, of Dry Comal Creek Vineyard.  She was speaking for her father and winemaker, Franklin Hauser, and outlined the initial successes Dry Comal Creek had before Pierce’s Disease laid waste to their vines.  Pierce’s is carried by the Glassy-winged Sharpshooter.

But, that experience prompted the Hausers to “cowboy up” and find a way around the problem.  Their vineyards are at a lower altitude that is much more prone to this pest, so they looked for other grapes that could resist the disease. They found a great one in a variety called Black Spanish. Now, they have planted Black Spanish grapevines (aka Lenoir, Jacquez) which are thriving. The latest harvest brought in record tonnage.

This grape has a venerable history. It goes back at least 150 years in Texas and it was already thriving when Val Verde Winery was established in 1883, outside of Del Rio.

Hauser also offered a unified theme of improving Texas wines:  She referred to the 1976 tasting that pitted California wines versus French wines as dramatized in the movie “Bottle Shock”.  “The goal is to be in a ‘Bottle Shock’ tasting, but with Texas wines,” she said.

Lofty goals and hard work may be paying off for the 30 wineries in the Texas Hill Country AVA.  In the most recent quarter, national wine magazines Wine Spectator and Wine Enthusiast have had multiple articles about the Hill Country.  Checking the Wine Spectator’s online rating lists, Texas wines were found with ratings from 85 to 90 on their 100-point scale, ratings that wineries anywhere would be proud to receive.

So is it time to try Texas wines again?  Sampling wines offered at the seminar. I found Tempranillo, Tannat, and Grenache-based red wines that were delightful.  More of the same delight was to be had with white wines from Viognier, Rousanne, and a bright and tangy Picpoul, which may be the perfect match for Gulf oysters.

So, yes, Texas wines are developing well — and as the vines mature, so will the wine.

For more information about Texas Wine Month activities in the Texas Hill Country, click here.

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