Big California Abounds at Brenner's on the Bayou Wine Fest this Saturday

Categories: Wine Time

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Photo by Jeremy Parzen
Brenner's on the Bayou wine director Armando Dawdy personally selects the wines for the restaurant's annual Wine Fest, now in its sixth year.
"A robust, powerful wine with a big personality and a generous finish," reads the winemaker's tasting note for Saved, a California red blend created by legacy Napa grape grower Clay Brock and celebrity tattoo artist Scott Campbell, who's known for work that adorns the likes of Sting and Courtney Love.

"It is big, bold and rich... An eclectic blend of grapes... with distinct oak flavors -- French oak for vanilla and coconut; American oak for caramel, créme brûlée and coffee."

Weighing in at 15.2 percent alcohol (wow!), most wine tradespeople would agree that Saved, with its body art-inspired packaging, is the embodiment of the "big" California style: Fruit forward, concentrated and dense, with oaky flavors and high alcohol content.

And it's one of the wines to be featured this Saturday at Brenner's on the Bayou's sixth annual Wine Fest (check out the event details).


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In Pursuit of Balance: California Winemakers Take Houston by Storm

Categories: Wine Time

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Photo by Jeremy Parzen.
In Pursuit of Balance co-founder, grape grower, and winemaker Jasmine Hirsch of Hirsch Vineyards.
Houston was literally buzzing yesterday with Californian winemakers and wine industry super stars who had come to Texas to pour their wines at the In Pursuit of Balance tasting (commonly known by its acronym IPOB).

From the morning seminars and afternoon tastings at El Parador to the late-night after party at Public Services Wine & Whisky, Houstonians -- and many Texans who had traveled here for the opportunity to taste -- interacted with some of America's best and brightest Chardonnay and Pinot Noir growers.

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Photo by Jeremy Parzen.
IPOB co-founder and celebrity sommelier Rajat Parr (right) with Houstonian Natalie Vaclavik, who recently launched a new wine distribution company in Texas.
The group was formed in 2011 by legacy grape grower Jasmine Hirsch and celebrity sommelier and author Rajat Parr to champion California winemakers who embrace a leaner style of wine.


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"Houston Becoming a Major Culinary Destination," Says Leading U.S. Wine Writer Jon Bonné in IPOB Tasting Preview

Categories: Wine Time

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Image via In Pursuit of Balance.
San Francisco Chronicle wine columnist Jon Bonné (right) with California Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grower David Hirsch at the In Pursuit of Balance tasting in San Francisco last year.
In the interview that follows, leading American wine writer and author of The New California Wine (Ten Speed 2013) Jon Bonné shares his impressions of the Houston wine and food scene and offers a preview of the In Pursuit of Balance (IPOB) tasting, which will be held in Houston on March 30.

Bonné will be leading guided tastings and seminars on the day of the event and he will also be speaking about his book and the "New California Wine" movement at a dinner at Paulie's on Sunday, March 29. (Visit the In Pursuit of Balance site for tasting details and contact Camerata for reservations for the Sunday dinner.)

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David Keck Launches New Wine Class Series at Camerata

Categories: Wine Time

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Image via KeeperCollection.com.
Beloved Houston sommelier David Keck shares his insights into the finer points of Pinot Noir this Saturday at Camerata.
Pinot Noir. It's not just a grape anymore. It's a brand.

Ever since the 2004 buddy film Sideways, grape variety-obsessed American wine consumers have found comfort in ordering their "Pinot" by grape name.

And when they say "Pinot," they don't mean Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, or Pinot Grigio (which is often and sadly abbreviated as "PG"). No, they mean "Pinot Noir," black Pinot ("black," for the record, is the original "red").

But as any self-respecting wine lover quickly learns, Pinot Noir varies in substance and style depending on where it is grown and vinified and who does the growing and the winemaking.

In Burgundy -- Pinot Noir's original gangster -- it's used to make some of the most expensive wines in the world today. And whether it's produced in an "old" or "new world" style, it nearly always manages to express a "sense of place," as they say in the wine trade.

In Champagne, it's used mostly to make a sparkling wine. Yes, that's right: The number-one grape in Champagne, where most of the wine is white, is actually red.

In California, some would say that the folks out there "like it hot." Many growers there are now shifting toward a leaner and more acidity-driven style. But the powers-that-be still like their Pinot Noir in a big, lush, and often alcohol-charged expression.

Head up to the cooler climate of Oregon and you'll find Pinot Noir growers who align themselves with their counterparts in Europe.

The variations in the tide of Pinot Noir grown and vinified in the world today are myriad. Even the professionals have trouble keeping up with it all.

Then, in walks David Keck, owner of Houston's popular wine bar Camerata and one of the city's most beloved sommeliers.

He's launching his monthly wine education series this week on Saturday at the bar with "Around the World in Pinot Noir."

"Taste some spectacular Pinot Noirs," writes David in a preview, "learn about their regions, flavor profile and backstory behind the family that nurtures the vines. Camerata will be closed to the public during this class to designate their full attention to wine education."

The class takes place this Saturday, March 21, from 2:00-4:00 p.m. and costs $60.

For more info, contact Camerata.

Five Houstonians Head to Dallas for Master Sommelier Exams

Categories: Wine Time

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Photo by Jeremy Parzen.
From left, Master Sommelier Jesse Becker from Chicago with Master Sommelier candidates Ben Roberts, Travis Hinkle, David Keck, and James Watkins. Hinkle, Keck, and Watkins, along with two other Houstonians, will be taking their Court of Master Sommeliers theory exams on Monday in Dallas.
Roughly 600 wine professionals from across the United States applied last year to the Court of Master Sommeliers, said Master Sommelier Jay Fletcher who sits on the court's board. Five years ago, he noted, that number was closer to 100.

The allure of the court, with its coveted pin and the professional cachet that it confers upon the wearer, has become so strong that it simply cannot accommodate the overwhelming number of aspiring Master Sommeliers.

That's only made the competition more intense.


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"Wine Lists in Gay Bars Don't Have to Be Bad": Montrose Beverage Director Hal Brock Shakes Things Up

Categories: Wine Time

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Photo by Jeremy Parzen.
Boheme beverage director Hal Brock was disappointed by the dull wine lists in Montrose and decided to change that.
Of all the nightlife hotspots in Montrose, Boheme on Fairview might have the most diverse crowd. Even on a chilly evening in February, you'll find a balanced mix of gay and straight couples, singles (men and women), and a preponderance of young southeast Asian expats who, like many Houstonians, come for the cozy patio bar.

It's no surprise that the clientele at this smart cafe and bar is a cross section of the city's anatomy, mirroring the heterogeneity that makes it such a great place to live.

The only thing that seems out of place is its ambitious wine program.

"When I was single and I was going out in Montrose," said Boheme beverage director Hal Brock (who's now in a relationship), "I couldn't understand why no one at a gay bar could write a good wine list."


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A Houston Sommelier on Top of the World in New York City

Categories: Wine Time

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Photo by Jeremy Parzen.
As the wine director of Danny Meyer's new Manhattan restaurant Marta, former Pappas Bros. sommelier Jack Mason has reached a pinnacle of the wine trade.
As Houston's allure as a leading international wine destination continues to grow, a number of New York restaurant pros have found their way here.

Pappas Bros. Steakhouse sommelier Steven McDonald is one of them. The San Antonio-born wine stud made a name for himself working at the Michelin-starred Ai Fiori in Manhattan before returning to Texas a few years ago.

Vanessa Treviño Boyd is another. Today, she is the beverage director at the swank Lakeside Country Club in Memorial. But before she came back to her native Texas, she had worked as the wine director at Adour at the St. Regis Hotel in New York, where the celebrated French chef Alain Ducasse once wowed Manhattanites with his spectacular cooking (now closed).

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Chateau Owners From France Visit Houston for a Huge Wine-Tasting Event Featuring More than 60 Bordeaux Wines

Categories: Wine Time

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Photo by Mai Pham
A representative from Bordeaux pours wine at the Mostly Cru Classe Bordeaux Tasting in the Rice Crystal Ballroom.

If you're a lover of old world wines, specifically Bordeaux wines from France, you'll want to pay attention, because next week, on Tuesday, January 20, a delegation of more than 45 Bordeaux producers -- many of them owners and winemakers -- will be coming to Houston for an extravagant tasting event of more than 60 "mostly" Cru Classé Bordeaux wines from the 2012 vintage.

"2012 is considered a classic vintage," says Bear Dalton, Spec's fine wine buyer, and one of the organizers of the event. "That means that when you taste the wines from the different properties, the wines will show the true character of that particular terroir," he explains. "The 2009 and 2010 Bordeaux vintages were really great, but when you taste them, the vintage takes over, and you taste less of the differences exhibited by each of the properties."

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10 Tips for New Year's Eve Bubbles

Categories: Wine Time

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Photo by Jeremy Parzen.
Some of the world's greatest sparkling wines, like this Franciacorta made from Pinot Noir, are rosé.
As you head this week to your favorite wine shop to pick up sparkling wine for the New Year's Eve celebration, here are some tips that will help you get the most out of your sparkling-wine experience.

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10 Things Every Self-Respecting Wine Lover Should Know About Prosecco

Categories: Wine Time

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Photo by Jeremy Parzen.
Top-tier Prosecco "DOCG" is produced in the townships of Valdobbiadene, Conegliano, and Asolo (above).
Can you imagine a wine world without Prosecco? Just a few decades ago, Prosecco was hardly known beyond the city of Venice where it is liberally consumed and the province of Treviso where it is produced. Today, exports of Prosecco rival those of Champagne, in both volume and sales numbers.

The Prosecco boom of the 1980s and 1990s is owed to a handful of forward-thinking négociant producers who envisioned its potential in English- and German-speaking markets.

But recent changes in appellation regulations and deceptive marketing practices have created growing confusion among consumers and tradespeople alike.

Here are 10 Things Every Self-Respecting Wine Lover Should Know About Prosecco.

10. In 2009, three townships were included in the newly created Prosecco DOCG, the highest designation in the Italian appellation system: Valdobbiadene, Conegliano, and Asolo, hilltop towns that abound with steep slopes ideal for growing Glera grapes for Prosecco.

This story continues on the next page.

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