MWWC #30: Obscure

This month’s wine writing challenge was picked by…well, me!  As last month’s winner for my glass-shattering tales in my Winestory, I got the honor of picking this month’s theme: OBSCURE.

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For full disclosure, Jeff helped me pick OBSCURE–and he was right, it was the word I was looking for in my quest to hear about the often-forgotten grapes.  What I sent to Jeff was a long rambling email about how I was enjoying Lori and Mike of Draceana Wines posts about Cabernet Franc and their push for #CabFrancDay.  I love Cabernet Franc, from the moment that I tasted it!  But a lot of people have not heard of this delicious grape and even fewer know of other Cabernet grapes, like Ruby Cabernet.

Side note: Grape Creek makes a delicious blend of these three Cabernet grapes, Cabernet Trois, which I highly recommend if you’re in Texas and/or can get your hands on some!

This got me thinking: I wanted to hear from everyone that one varietal that they love that perhaps few outside the world of wine have experienced.  Everyone (wine drinker or not) has heard of Chardonnay, Shiraz, the main Pinots (note: any snarky comments about me lumping Noir and Grigio into one will be ignored!), Rieslings, Cabernet, Merlot, and even (shudder) White Zin, but there are thousands and thousands of varietals out there–what about them?

Btw, this was all pretty much in my nebulous (his word, not mine–ha!) email to him.  Thankfully, he recently moved to Texas and was able to decipher my ramblings and come up with a–in my humble opinion–great word.

So it is in that spirit that I wanted to tell you about my favorite OBSCURE wine, actually wines.  There are four in fact, because well, go big or go home.

Gewürztraminer, Viognier, French Colomabard, and Dry Riesling

ANOTHER SIDE NOTE: I know Rieslings are not obscure and were in my list above, but DRY Rieslings are a bit harder to find…that is my story and I’m sticking to it.

At the time I introduced to each of these wine I was working at the wineshop.  I was very leery of white wine because I lumped them all (I know, bad Shezza!) into two categories: Chardonnay (gag!) and exceptionally sweet Rieslings (not so much gag as too sweet to drink more than a ½ glass!).

But as I worked my way down the tasting bar, my tastebuds discovered there was actually a wide variety in flavors and sweetness levels of white wines–far more than I ever imagined!  Along the way I found four wines that not only stood out, but that I would actually consider drinking–a HUGE feat at the time because, honestly, if it wasn’t red or bubbles, I did not drink it!

ONE MORE SIDE NOTE: I pulled the first three pictures from each winery’s website, as 20 years ago I never dreamed I needed pictures!

Bell Mountain Dry Riesling  /  Fredericksburg, Texas

bell-mountainWait?  There is such a thing as Dry Riesling?  Growing up in a German town, I was exposed to Riesling very early in life.  Not that I was drinking it, but it was the very first wine varietal that I knew existed (not that I even knew what “wine varietal” meant at that time!).  My first tastes of Riesling were Spätlese and Auslese, so I was delightful surprised when I tried the local Dry Rieling from Bell Mountain (exceptionally local, as the vineyard butts up to the part of the ranch!).  What surprised me was the fruitiness of the wine without the sweetness.  This wine, like many grown in the area, has very peachy overtones–both in the bouquet and the finish, which is dry and crisp.  It pairs well with lighter foods and soft cheeses, but can be enjoyed all by itself.

For the trivia files:  Being the star of German wines, there are many different ways to classify Rieslings based on region and sweetness at the time of harvest.  Wine Folly does a great job of explaining it, if one was interested in jumping into the deep end of the Riesling pool!

Llano Estacado Gewürztraminer  /  Lubbock, Texas

lew-gewurztraminer-webAs you may or may not know, gewurz means spice in German and this wine is perfect for spicy foods or heavy cheeses.  It has a very floral bouquet, with a medium mouthfeel, and tastes of honeysuckle with a bit of warm spice on the finish (allspice, perhaps?).  Personally speaking, I think it is delicious but is on the sweeter side, even for a Gewürztraminer, and best paired with food.

For the trivia files:  Gewürztraminer grapes are actually pink to red in color not white!

 

 

 

Becker Vineyards Viognier  /  Stonewall, Texas

becker-viognierI think it took me three glasses of Viognier to be able to properly and without hesitation say Viognier (as opposed to my German heritage which allowed me to say Gewürztraminer without any issues the very first time!).  What I found in this Viognier was a dry wine that I could truly enjoy without all the oaky/buttery flavors that are synonymous with Chardonnay.  While you would expect to find peach, this Viognier smells of apricot and honeydew.  It is full bodied, with a honeysuckle and apricot finish.  I think this a perfect wine for red wine drinkers who hate Chardonnay but are looking for an occasional white wine to enjoy.  Honestly, I can’t say what food this pairs well with because I usually just pair it with a glass 😉

For the trivia files: Viognier is genetically related to Nebbiolo and was nearing extinction in 1965 when only 8 acres were planted in the Rhône.

Dry Comal Creek French Colombard  /  New Braunfels, Texas

IMG_0993-1Like Viognier, French Colombard was a wine I had never even heard of prior to tasting it.  I was actually introduced to Dry Comal Creek’s French Colombard several years after I started working at the wine shop, but given its obscurity in the wine world except as a blending grape, I thought it worth a mention.  Dry Comal Creek make two versions of this, although I believe the Bone-Dry isn’t always available.  What I enjoy about the French Colombard is the long lingering flavors of tropical fruit.  It is medium-to-full bodied and has a touch of sweetness while drinking.  However, the sweetness does not linger–just the fruitiness (which probably doesn’t make any sense until you try this wine).  The Bone-Dry version is just that: less sweetness while drinking and a much drier finish with less fruity lingering.  Both versions are very mild and easy to drink.  I think they both pair well with light snacks, appetizers, fish/seafood (especially the Bone Dry) and just drinking on the back porch.

For the trivia files:  It was traditionally grown in France to distill into Cognac and Armagnac and because of its natural sweetness is used to sweeten baby food (presumably before it’s distilled…)

So that’s my tale of venturing into the world of the more obscure grapes, and in so doing, I even learned how to enjoy white wine.

Cheers y’all!

 

MWWC #29: My Winestory

In this month’s wine writing challenge, John of Pairs With: Life challenged us to tell our Winestory, aka what lead us down the path of awesomeness that is wine writing.  Technically, I just dabble in the wine writing while drinking a lot, but here goes:

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Picture it: Fredericksburg, Texas 1994.  I was home from college for Thanksgiving break and a job opportunity presented itself.  My cousin had been offered a job at a local wine tasting room and declined because she was working at a winery (Grape Creek Vineyards) at the time.  She told me to go apply.  Having fell in love with red wine from the Riojas just the year before (read all about it here!), I marched (okay, drove….around the block 4 times looking for a parking spot) down to said wine tasting room and asked about the job.  My interview went something like this:  have you ever worked in a winery or wine tasting room before?  No, but I like to drink wine and honestly, isn’t that half the battle?  Can you wash dishes?  Of course, who says no to that in an interview?! Great! You’re hired!  (okay, it was slightly more in depth than that, but not much).

My first job?  Try all the wine on the bar available for tasting.  After all, how you could describe a wine you’ve never tasted before?  So I tasted and tasted and tasted some more.  Nearly every Texas winery was represented.  Right now, my inner wine-geek wants to name them all, but my inner OCD is afraid I’d miss someone and it would drive me nuts.

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Job 2?  Washing a lot of glasses.  TONS and TONS of glasses!  I only mention this because Thanksgiving weekend is the busiest weekend in the store and there were a lot of people in the tasting room that weekend.

Job 3?  Cleaning up an entire rack of dropped glasses.  The truly sad part was that I just hand washed and hand dried them all (sigh).

So, for the first few days that’s all I did: taste wine, wash glasses, and clean up (although thankfully the breaking of the glasses significantly decreased!).  But….I also listened.  I listened to my coworkers describe wine.  I saw how customers reacted to their descriptions and I noticed that whatever each worker liked best is what sold best on that day because they got excited about it and could get the customer excited as well.

I was determined to channel that excitement, but it wasn’t as easy as it looked.  First of all, I preferred (and still do) dry, spicy full bodied reds.  But I quickly discovered that wasn’t actually a popular choice amongst the majority of our customers.  They were looking for something fun.  Something easy to drink.  Something to walk down the street with while shopping (oh yeah, you can do that in Fredericksburg!).

Thus, I had to change tactics.  And instead of trying to get people excited about the wine that I liked, I tried to get them excited to find that special bottle of wine in the store that was going to make them love wine.  I started listening and asking them a lot of questions .  After awhile I realized I was good at something other than just washing and breaking glasses:  I was good at wine pairing.  Not just pairing wine with food, but with people:  finding that one  bottle that was going to make a them a wine lover.  Being a fellow beer-lover as well, I couldn’t fault the non-converts who just wanted to stick to beer.  But for everyone else, I tried to focus on creating an ambience where it wasn’t just about the wine, but was about having fun and allowing customers to go on their own journey to be able to proclaim “I love wine!”

Sometimes it was a challenge, especially when snobby wine people came in insisting that they only like [insert trendy wine region here] and they’d never like any that came from Texas.  They were the most fun to convert.  Did it always happen?  No! I was a wine peddler, not a miracle worker!

The other thing I really loved was getting to know the winemakers.  They are truly an amazing group of people.  We often had special tastings on the weekends and would invite the winemakers to join us to tell our customers about what makes their wine so special.  It was like getting a sneak peek behind the curtain!

But you’re here to hear how I got into wine writing–so let’s fast forward a few (or more) years when I decided that I needed a change and moved to New York City (with 7 cases of Texas wine, 3 cases of Shiner Bock, and a warning from my brother not to get pulled over for speeding otherwise I’d be arrested for bootlegging!).

I have to admit, it was nice to be able to walk into a wine store and just browse, but after some time, I started missing the wine-speak: the geeking out over a great $10 bottle or splurging on the bottle of bubbles.  I missed talking about wine. And then one day serendipity struck and I was followed by The Drunken Cyclist.  Of course, I immediately followed him back because I knew that anyone with the slogan: I have three passions: wine, cycling, travel, family, and math. had to be amazing–and I’m not just saying that for the vote!!.

A few weeks later, I noticed that he put up a Wine Writing Challenge (#10, I believe) and I thought why not?  I didn’t really consider myself a “wine writer,” but I didn’t want to pass up an opportunity to do what I love most with wine: share it.

The rest, as they say, is history.

So that’s my WINESTORY…and I’m sticking to it.

🙂 Shez

PS–Okay, I can’t let it go, so I’m going to apologize if I missed anyone and maybe check back regularly to see if I’ve added more…or feel free to comment if you know of any that need to be added!

Texas Wineries when I started working at the wine shop, Texas Wines, Etc., in no particular order and as best I can remember after over 2 decades of consuming copious amounts of wine (but that’s a story for another time!):

  1.  Grape Creek Vineyards
  2. Bell Mountain Vineyards
  3. Becker Vineyards
  4. Sister Creek Winery
  5. Texas Hills Vineyards
  6. Dry Comal Creek Vineyards
  7. Fall Creek Vineyards
  8. Val Verde Winery
  9. Messina Hof Winery
  10. Llano Estacado Winery
  11. Cap*Rock Winery
  12. McReynold’s Winery
  13. St. Genevive Winery
  14. Spicewood Winery
  15. Wimberley Valley Wines
  16. Piney Woods Country Wines
  17. Homestead Winery
  18. La Buena Vida Winery
  19. Inwood Estate Vineyards

Go Texan.

This Monthly Wine Writing Challenge (#12) theme is LOCAL.  And I’m so thankful to The Drunken Cyclist for issuing a reminder, or rather letting everyone know that it’s not too late….because honestly, I thought it was too late!

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As I might have mentioned a time or thirty, I used to work at a wine shop and tasting room specializing in Texas wines.

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When I started, it was a summer job and there 33 Texas wineries.  Now a few (and by a few I mean 20) years later there over 275 Texas wineries.  So here are some fun facts about Texas wines (thanks to Texas Wine & Grape Growers Association):

The first vineyard was was planted near El Paso in 1662 by Franciscan Monks–making it one of the oldest in the United States.

Texas ranks fifth in wine production in the United States and has 4,400 acres of family owned vineyards.

Texas has eight recognized American Viticultural Areas (AVA).

  1. Texas High Plains: Located west of Lubbock in the Panhandle at an elevation of 3000-4000 feet, the climate of this appellation is very dry. While the AVA encompasses over 8 million acres, there were approximately 3500 acres dedicated to grape growing in 2005.
  2. Escondido Valley: This appellation established in 1992 covers 50 square miles in Pecos County in far West Texas, located near Fort Stockton
  3. Texas Hill Country: Located west of Austin and San Antonio, this appellation, like Texas, is large. It is the second largest AVA in the USA, containing more than 9 million acres. Two smaller appellations, listed below, have been designated within the Texas Hill Country due to the unique microclimates they embody. Many wineries are located in this scenic area.
  4. Bell Mountain (within Texas Hill Country): Designated in 1986, it is the first established AVA in Texas, covering five square acres about 15 miles north of Fredericksburg.
  5. Fredericksburg (within Texas Hill Country): This viticultural area covers about 110 acres with approximately 60 under vine.
  6. Mesilla Valley: Located at the far western tip of the Texas border north and west of El Paso, this area is hot and dry with a long growing season and approximately 40 acres of cultivated grapes.
  7. Texas Davis Mountains: With about 50 acres planted with vines, this west Texas appellation is cool and wet at an elevation ranging from 4,500 to 8,300 feet.
  8. Texoma: Located in north-central Texas, this area contains approximately 3,650 square miles along the Texas-Oklahoma line.

Texas produces about 3.0 million gallons of wine yearly.

The Texas Wine industry has an economic impact of nearly $2 billion annually (yeah, that billion with a B!).

The oldest continuously running winery is Val Verde, which was started in 1883 by Frank Qualia–and is still owned by the Qualia family today.  Btw, their Don Luis Tawny Port is amazing (I mean, you could disagree with me, but you’d be wrong!).

How does this relate to me?  Well, see AVAs #2, 3, and 4?  That’s my home and I will happily tout the wineries therein.  Every time I am home, I will go back to my wine shop and see what’s new in the area and, of course, try some of my favorites that I have been drinking over the last 20 years, such as Becker, Grape Creek, Texas Hills, Sister Creek, Dry Comal Creek, and Fall Creek.

Of course, there are many more.  But these guys were around when I started working at the wine shop and they will always be my go-to wineries when recommending wineries where one can get a great tour and the opportunity to taste some of the best wine that Texas has to offer.  

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Great wine can be found all over the state–but since this post is about local and local to me means home, I’m sticking with the Hill Country wineries.

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There are two others that I would be terribly remiss in not mentioning: Bell Mountain and Chisholm Trail–to me, they are more than just wineries, they truly are home.  You see, right next door to the ranch sits Bob & Evelyn’s beloved Bell Mountain Winery.  In fact, the hill where our house sat?  It’s on their poster.  I mean, you can’t get more local than that.  Unless, of course, you’re talking about Paula at Chisholm Trail, who purchased the land for her vineyard from my great, great uncle Hugo.  It was her 1994 Merlot that actually made me give non-blended merlots a chance.  While, they are still not my favorite grape by any stretch of the imagination, I will drink, and even (gasp!) purchase them from time to time–and that’s all thanks to Paula!

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When I moved to NYC, I moved with the bare necessities: the pupcicle, my books, 3 cases of Shiner Bock, 5 cases of Texas wine, and a bit of furniture and clothing.  After my brother closed the door of the U-Haul, he hugged me and whispered “drive carefully because if you get pulled over, you’ll be arrested for bootlegging.”

Thanks Bubba, but I have NO INTENTIONS WHAT-SO-EVER of selling any (or even sharing!) anything in those 8 cases!!  I don’t think I have ever driven more carefully in my life!  Because, of course, I had Momma and the pupcicle with me, but also because I had no intentions of having my precious cargo confiscated!

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