Fine French Wines, Going Once…

Have you ever wondered what $300,000 worth of French wine might look like? And no, it doesn’t resemble all the containers piled on the docks at Marseille, or even a single bottle of Domaine de la Romanee-Conti. If you’re excited by this prospect, you’d better grab ye olde checkbook and head to Lewis & Maese Antiques and Auctions next Wednesday Nov. 7. Be prepared to run the table. 

And speaking of tables, also being auctioned is a table used by the late U.S. Secretary of Commerce Bob Mosbacher to entertain former President of the Soviet Union Mikhail Gorbachev, former Vice President Dick Cheney, former British Prime Minister John Major, former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, former Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Perez, former President of Mexico Carlos Salinas, former Vice President Dan Quayle, former Secretary of State James Baker and former Saudi Ambassador Prince Bandar, all in a single night at his River Oaks home. The 2004 occasion was the 80th birthday of his former boss, President George H.W. Bush. 

The wines and items from that home are being offered at the request of Mosbacher’s widow Mica. A preview party and wine-tasting is scheduled this Thursday from 5-8 p.m.  Potential bidders can view the lots online at www.lmauctionco.com or www.liveauctioneers.com.  The auction and the preview party are open to the public. General auction house preview times are Monday and Tuesday, Nov. 5 and 6 from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. and auction day from 2 p.m. until 6:30 p.m. 

“Bob had collected wine for years and had an affinity for French Burgundy and Bordeaux,” explains Mica Mosbacher. “When we dated, he wined and dined me and always brought a bottle of his favorite wine for us for dinner. He loved to cook, and we ate pasta and spaghetti with La Tache (one of my favorites). Later we named one of our King Charles Spaniels La Tache.   At our wedding he served Petrus… We served a rare Petrus to the King and Queen of Spain at a private dinner.  Secretary Baker says that wines give him a headache except for good wine, so whenever he or Susan came to dinner we broke out a good wine.” 

Proceeds from the wine collection and the table and chairs will be donated to the Mosbacher Institute for Trade, Economics and Public Policy, Bush School of Government and Public Service, George H.W. Bush Presidential Library at Texas A&M University in College Station.  

Auction items include the $300,000 fine wine collection and works by artists Raoul Dufy, Pablo Picasso, Paul Signac, Alexander Calder, Henri Matisse and William Wissing.  Also featured are Minton and Wedgwood china, Lalique, Baccarat, Waterford crystal and sterling silver serving pieces.  Other important items include four Greco-Roman stone sculptures dating back approximately 2,000 years. Each sculpture will be auctioned in individual lots.

The New Revolver Brewing in North Texas

We all know spies come in from the cold. But apparently Texas beer guys do too.

That’s what I figured out yesterday in Granbury, a resolutely charming town in north Texas. And I did so by meeting the guys behind Revolver Brewing, a serious effort at introducing a profitable new craft beer to the Lone Star brewing scene. How serious? The Irving-born, A&M-educated brewmaster, Grant Wood, just wrapped up 16 years in Boston doing that job for Samuel Adams. And the manager (more like managing partner, really), Rhett Keisler, convinced his father to get behind the vision to move Rhett and his family home to Texas from a finance career in Toronto.

“We’d just had three hard winters there, shoveling snow,” Rhett offered as we recorded a segment for the Delicious Mischief radio show. “And my position was evolving in a way that would mean at least three more. Coming home to Texas sounds mighty good when you’re in a situation like that.”

We were chatting in a small, none-too-interesting office at Revolver, though only after Wood had given me a tour of the large new construction housing the brewing facilities. Just about everybody knows one or more “homebrewers” these days, and many of us have visited the first efforts of such people when they decide to go pro, but Revolver is not one of those. Plans call for a grand opening in October, starting off with brewery tours driving on-site sales plus distribution by the keg to the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex. Considering Wood’s recent work, helping Sam Adams grow from a regional craft beer with strong New England roots to a phenomenon that appeals to all patriotic, beer-drinking Americans, the sky must feet like the limit at Revolver.

Thanks to his father’s 30 years with Marathon Oil, Rhett grew up in an odd assortment of locales, ranging from Ireland and Singapore to Midland and Houston. The latter city, he says, always felt like home, since that was where he went to junior high and high school. In keeping with his southern roots, he joined a financial firm in Florida – only to have them ship him off to Canada. After a trip through Germany with his brother, during which more than a few excellent brews were consumed, he started dreaming about applying his business expertise to a product he truly loved.

For his part, Wood majored in food science in College Station and graduated looking for a job. He ended up making picante sauce in San Antonio – an important task, to be sure, but not one that made him happy. He sent out his resume and ended up getting a call from that city’s Pearl Brewing Co., signing on as a lab technician, and later moved on to Lone Star. It was during these years that, as he puts it now, he discovered “how cool beer is.”

Making beer for two iconic Texas brands no doubt caught the eyes of the similarly iconic folks up in Boston. And that took Wood far from Texas, to yet another version of cold winters. When he spotted a notice about a startup in Granbury, the chance to do what he did back home was too good not to at least talk about.

“I learned a lot at Sam, and we made some really good beers,” Grant tells me. “But when I met Rhett, I could tell we have a lot of the same ideas about doing things right, about what a great beer should be and how it should be made. It’s supposed to taste like where it comes from, so in our case here in Texas, that means the Southwest.” He ponders a moment, then allows himself a smile. “Doing what I do, you have to be an artist and a scientist at the same time.”

The fact that Revolver is based in Granbury has a lot to do with Rhett’s father, Ron Keisler, who is active in the new business and now lives in nearby Pecan Plantation. The location for the 6,000-square-foot brewing complex  on 16.5 acres provides, according to Rhett, the perfect opportunity to live and work in the country – but also enjoy easy highway access to a large (craft beer-loving) metropolitan area. Whether Metroplex residents visit the brewery to buy Revolver or the brewery sends it closer to them, both the financial transaction and emotional relationship are waiting to happen.

Rhett and Grant are particularly enthused about Revolver’s water supply – it’s right there, 450 feet below the brewery in the Trinity Aquifer. Not only does this make it convenient, but it gives any beer made here a “local-foodie-artisanal” seal of approval, as do many other ingredients the partners intend to use. On top of that, the water is soft, pure and delicious. Think of all those beer commercials on TV showing steams of pure water dappling over rocks in the bright sunlight, and then just imagine that beneath your feet. That’s what the Trinity Aquifer brings to this beer.

A lot of words get tossed around in the brewing industry, as they do in wine, having to do with the amount of product that gets made. So yes, size does matter. And Rhett says he’s perfect happy to be considered a “micro-brewery” since projections call for Revolver to make only 1,500 barrels of beer its first year. Tasting three of those initial brews with the guys in that office tells me that Texas beer lovers have a lot to look forward to.

“Budweiser will probably spill more in a day than we’ll sell in a year,” Rhett laughs with considerable pride. Even here in size-obsessed Texas, I realize, bigger is definitely not better when it comes to our beer.

Photos: (top) Rhett Keisler and Grant Wood among the new Revolver tanks; (below) Hanging out the Revolver shingle just outside Granbury.

Texas Wines on the Rise

By COLLIN WILLIAMS

Spec’s can proudly boast that we carry the largest selection of Texas wnes in the country! Through our long-standing partnerships with the local wineries, we have been able to support the Texas wine industry and bring to our customers every imaginable selection of wine from the state.

Those people who know Texas wine realize the vast improvements in quality and styles that these vintners have been producing over the past few years. Now, it seems, new wineries are starting every year allowing for more competition and ultimately better wine!

Recently, Spec’s brought on a new edition to our team with Sam Clark. Along with his extensive knowledge of the wine industry, Sam has a passion and an in-depth understanding of the Texas wine industry. As our Texas wine buyer, Mr. Clark has been able to bring us many new and stunning examples of wines from the state. However, one of his latest projects comes in the form of an ode to all of our Texas hunters.

“El Pavo” and “Muy Grande” are two of our brand new wines from the prestigious McPherson Winery located in Lubbock. At an amazing everyday price, these wines are unbelievable and really deliver a sense of Texas pride.  Plus, these wines should be a great suggestion to our customer’s who love to hunt as they depict the image of two of the most popular game animals in Texas.

“El Pavo” is an Italian grape varietal blend of Dolcetto, Barbera, Montepulciano, Refosco, and Sangiovese. Featuring a picture of a trophy Texas turkey on the label, this wine is medium to full bodied with tons of spicey notes and a red fruit flavors. This wine would pair perfect with the lighter meat dishes and especially your game birds.

“Muy Grande” is a blend of Tempranillo, Mourvedre, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and Grenache. The name references the huge record-setting deer on the label. Full bodied, well-intergrated tannins, and plenty of red and black fruits, this wine is very sumptuous and will pair nicely with your heavier meats like brisket and gamier dishes like venison and boar.

Collin Williams is a wine buyer at Spec’s Wines, Spirits and Finer Foods.

 

Russ Kane, Texas Wineslinger

I spent an hour or so yesterday with my good friend Dr. Russell D. Kane, one of the first people I met when I moved to Texas more than a decade ago who took Texas wines seriously. Then as the leader of the Wine Society of Texas and now as the author of The Wineslinger Chronicles: Texas on the Vine (Texas Tech Press, $23.96), Russ makes a convincing case that the wines of the Lone Star State deserve to be respected far behind any pride we might take in such things existing at all. 

Happily for readers like me, Wineslinger isn’t one of those geeky diaries filled with jargon, tasting notes and detailed descriptions of malolactic fermentation. Like so many things about Texas, Texas wines come down to some mighty memorable stories, whether it’s the first Spanish padres planting grapes for their sacraments near El Paso to the Texas scientist who saved the French wine industry from phylloxera in the 1800s to, of course, to the pioneers who braved derision in the 1970s because their chemistry sets told them wine grapes would do well here. Most tellingly, Wineslinger is a tale of an industry learning all its lessons the hard way – all the way to determining which grapes Texas ought to be growing. 

“We spent 30 years trying to convince people we were Bordeaux and Burgundy,” laughs Russ. “We aren’t Bordeaux, and we sure as hell ain’t Burgundy. It’s amazing to me that we took so long to figure that out. I guess if you plant a hundred acres of something, it’s hard to change your mind.” 

Across the Wine Countries (yes, plural) of Texas, slow attrition has seen the standard-issue cabernet, merlot and chardonnay be replaced by tempranillio and albarino from Spain, sangiovese from Italy, and even some syrah and roussanne from the hot-climate valley of the Rhone. This evolution of Texas wines should, Kane says, change the image of the wine business in Texas in less than a generation. 

Here are some Texas wines (and how much you’ll pay for them where) that Russ says you should taste right now to embrace this future. A lot more good reading on the subject (and personalized copies of his book) can be found on Russ’ website, www.vintagetexas.com 

McPherson Cellars Albariño 2011

(Texas) – Winery: Lubbock, TX. Scents of peach, pear and tropical mango with a silky soft texture and yet a crisp finish.  Castaño Prado Vineyards – Terry County (Texas High Plains AVA). $11.36 at Spec’s Smith Street. 13.6% Alcohol. 

Haak Vineyards Blanc Du Bois 2011

(Texas – Dry Table Wine) – Winery: Santa Fe, TX. Dry clean crisp style with citrus and stone fruit and a hint of musk (Vineyards  in SE Texas & Gulf Coast). $12.41 at Spec’s. 12% Alcohol. 

Duchman Family Winery Viognier 2010

(Bingham Family Vineyard  – Texas High Plains AVA). Winery: Driftwood, TX. Fruit fresh with unoaked apricot, peach and citrus. $13.67 at Spec’s. 13.8% Alcohol. 

Alamosa Wine Cellars Viognier 2010

(Texas Hill Country AVA) – Winery: Bend, TX. Rich old-world style carrying subtle oak from Alamosa’s estate vineyard (Tio Pancho Vineyard). The tropical fruit, white peach fruit long finish. $17.99 Houston Wine Merchant. 13.2% Alcohol 

Becker Vineyards, Provençal 2011

(Texas Hill Country AVA – Dry Rosé)  Winery: Fredericksburg, TX. Light bodied with salmon color from limited skin contact from Rhone varietals, yields soft stone fruit and delicate red berry nuances. $11 Central Market. 12.4% Alcohol. 

Duchman Family Winery Dolcetto 2009

(Bingham Family Vineyard – Texas High Plains AVA). Winery: Driftwood, TX. Agreeable, medium-bodied red varietal wine with crisp red fruit character, hint of smokiness and tart cherry finish. $13.46 Spec’s. 13.0% Alcohol. 

Alamosa Wine Cellars, Texacaia  2010

64% Sangiovese, 25% Tannat and 11% Petit Verdot (Texas Hill Country AVA).  Winery: Bend, TX. Flavors of dark cherry, crisp, moderate tannins and crisp finish. $15.99 Houston Wine Merchant. 13.3% Alcohol. 

Becker Vineyards Reserve Cabernet-Syrah 2010

60% Cabernet, 40% Syrah, (Texas Appellation). Winery: Fredericksburg, TX. Concentrated fruit dominant red wine driven by blackberry, chocolate, vanilla, and cedar.  $13.46 Spec’s. 13.7% Alcohol. 

Tranquilo Cellars, “Tranquilo” Red Table Wine 2010

(Texas Appellation). Winery: Lubbock, TX. Tempranillo-dominated Spanish-style red blend gains complexity thru Grenache, Mourvèdre and other Rhone varietals includes tart cherry, dusty earth tones, and floral notes on the nose. $14.95 Central Market. 13.5% Alcohol. 

Llano Estacado, Tempranillo 2010

(Newsom Vineyards – Texas High Plains AVA). Winery: Lubbock, TX. Smoke, cedar and tobacco combine with dark black cherry qualities. $15.78 Spec’s. 12.3% Alcohol. 

Messina Hof Papa Paulo Port, Private Reserve 2005

Messina Hof Vineyards (Texas Appellation). Winery: Bryan, TX. A “fermented” Port-style wine made from local Black Spanish Grapes. Dark mulberry flavors, sweetness and vanilla/chocolate aromas. $22.31 Spec’s. 18.5% Alcohol.

Spanish Whites for Hot Texas Summer

 

The first time I traveled to Galicia in northwest Spain, I was young, ignorant of most things and, by all remembered evidence, not nearly thirsty enough. There I was, traveling through vineyards producing what – four decades later – would emerge as America’s hottest white wines, and I didn’t even bother to try a glass. For that, I’d have to wait until the grapes called Albarino (alba-REEN-yo)-and Godello (go-DAY-yo) had come into their own. 

It was a different world back then, in the final days of military dictator Francisco Franco, but even then Galicia felt different from the rest of Spain. You’d catch a slow-moving, narrow gauge train from somewhere else – anywhere else, whether Madrid, Barcelona or down south in Sevilla or Cordoba – and come up through what is mostly hot, dry countryside into a world of Atlantic-borne rain. Which works out just fine, near the ocean, because you feel suddenly cold and start ordering Galicia’s single most famous dish every place you go – the stew known as caldo gallego. I made the trek northwest to visit the cathedral that had attracted millions of religious pilgrims throughout the Middle Ages and still does today, spotting the soaring twin spires of Santiago de Compostela rising above the deep green forests and fields. On my next trek to Galicia, I suspect my gaze will stick closer to the ground.

As American wine lovers, particularly those of us in Texas, have embraced spicier and spicier Latin and Asian cuisines, we’ve created a bit of a quandary. Chardonnay just doesn’t taste right anymore – especially that heavy oaky, buttery California style that, happily, most producers are moving away from. And Italian Pinot Grigio (a terrific white wine, done right) has evolved with the market toward tasting like cold water. Drier Rieslings, Viogniers and especially the scarily named Gewurtztraminer remain excellent choices, but even the driest Riesling can’t shake the image of being “too sweet.” All this has created an opening for the light, crisp yet subtlely floral notes of Galicia’s Albarino and Godello.

 Known across the border in Portugal as Alvarinho or sometimes Cainho Branco, Albarino was probably brought to the Iberian peninsula by Cluny monks in the twelfth century. Its name “Alba-Riño” means “the white from the Rhine,” and many have figured it to be a Riesling clone originating from the Alsace region of France. It’s also suggested sometimes that Albarino is a close relative of the French grape Petit Manseng.

Godello is the native white-wine grape of Valdeorras, one of five Galician Denominaciónes de Origen. (Rías Baixas, the home of Albariño, is another.) Yes, the Atlantic Ocean influences the climate, but Valdeorras is a full 100 miles inland. The rock-hard terrain is mountainous, inhospitable to growing almost anything except grapes – which, as we’ve been told again and again, need to suffer to make good wine. The harsh landscape gives Godello its distinctive character. With both with fresh lemon and wildflowers in its flavor mix, a great Godello combines the minerality of a fine Chablis with the acidic snap of a Sauvignon Blanc. 

Some great beginnings, according to Spanish wine buyer Collin Williams at Spec’s, include La Cana and Laxas for Albarino and Abad Dom Bueno and Gaba do Xil for Godello. These wines range in price from $11.99 to $15.99. They taste like the Old World’s gift to the New World expressed in white wine.

 

The 26th Annual Sandestin Wine Festival

There’s nothing quite like a wine festival at the beach. And while I’ve heard of one or two others across the country, for the past two decades I’ve been a zealot for the Sandestin Wine Festival – held at the golf and beach resort of that name on the lovely piece of northwest Florida known as the Emerald Coast. That name, of course, is inspired by the see-through Gulf water that, at almost any time from sunrise to sunset, takes on a shimmering blue-green hue.

This festival was, is and perhaps always will be about wine – unlike many that weave the magic words “Wine and Food” or at least “Food and Wine” into their names. There’s even a “retail tent” for buying bottles to take home after you’ve wandered up and down the aisles for several hours of dedicated tasting. This year, however, there was the strongest presence I’ve seen yet for edible as well as drinkable goodies.

Borrowing a page from other successful wine festivals, Sandestin has also added a “reserve tasting” and wine auction to raise money for local charities. I attended this event for the first time yesterday, and with food from area restaurants (including familiar names like Carrabba’s and Ruth’s Chris, as well as the eateries on the Sandestin property), it was a great way to while away an afternoon heated by bright sunshine but cooled by delicious spring breezes.

One of the culinary highlights was provided by a young chef who works for the resort, serving up gumbo he said was made with duck confit and garlic andouille. Now I’m pretty picky about my gumbo, not least because I love my gumbo best, but this stuff was amazing. I almost regretted all the room I’d “wasted” on sliders, sushi, ceviche and grilled scallops, when I could have simply declared it the Sandestin Wine & Gumbo Festival!

And just when the late afternoon temperatures were peaking beneath the tasting tent, along came the San Gelato Cafe. While a simple-enough food and drink outlet with three locations (the Village at Baytowne Wharf at Sandestin, the Silver Sands Factory Stores and the Boardwalk-Okaloosa Island in nearby Ft. Walton Beach), the real Italians behind San Gelato actually make the stuff  masterfully enough to sell to national Italian restaurant chains. Yum!

When you get right down to it, though, I always love hanging out with the chefs best. This year, for the first time ever, there’s an impressive Culinary Pavilion staged by the folks at Coastal Living, which along with Saveur is one of the few magazines I actually read. Here we see chef Johnny Earles, who for 20 years ran his own place called Criolla’s on fabled Highway 30A, doing a demo for his current home, Seagar’s Steakhouse.

And while I’ve known Johnny Earles for years and remember his Louisiana-Caribbean food at Criolla’s very fondly, I’d only heard about and read about but never met chef Irv Miller – until I interviewed both chefs together for my radio show. They’d cooked here and there together and separately, like neighbors, for many years – and like most chefs who’ve shared trenches and tuna, they were even more fun together than separately.

After several legendary stints around Destin, including the beloved Bud & Alley’s, Chef Irv moved to Pensacola in the late ’90s to open Jackson’s Steakhouse. And he’s been going great guns there ever since. In the land of Gulf seafood, the two chefs I admire most find themselves “beefing up” the seafood selections… at prime steakhouses. Go figure! But quickly, thanks to the wonderful Sandestin Wine Festival, I finally got to catch these two great chefs in the same place at the same time.