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Wine Club Reunited: Spanish Heavy Hitters, White Flights, Napa Finds and Cajun Cuisine

Picture a group of very driven, professional folks that have a passion for wine, like to have fun, enjoy off the beaten path wines and make sure to not take ourselves too seriously.  The last part a total 180 from what you would expect a somewhat serious wine club to look like especially from a group representing a snapshot of corporate America.

We tried taking ourselves too seriously in the beginning where we voted members in, selected favorite wines and then tried to store them for the right period of time before opening and officially voting on our favorites. That all changed one fateful night of tasting Turley Zinfandels where we threw all decorum out the window and had an amazing time.  There may or may not be a YouTube video that you will never find capturing our version of MC Hammer’s “Can’t Touch This.”  Throughout the years, we changed the goal of the club to enjoying wines we haven’t had before while putting the emphasis on fun.  And, you know, I ended up learning and retaining a lot more knowledge.

As most groups go, life got in the way for awhile and we had not met in a few months.  When Peter and Jen revived the group, I was excited. I walked in with my Spiegelau glasses and no idea of what surprises were in store.

It turns out we were having a Mardi Gras theme with homemade Cajun food.  Our hosts wanted to do a Spanish red theme, but knew that it wouldn’t match the food, so another theme was added to go with the dinner.  We started with wines that would go well with spicy food.  Our first line-up included the following:

 

  • Chateau Bonnet Entre-Deux-Mers Blanc 2011 – a blend of sauvignon blanc, semillon and muscadelle with grapefruit, minerality and a little hint of sweetness.  Great wine under $10.
  • Chateau Guibon  2011 – lots of pear and melon with a nice balance from the blend of Semillon, sauvignon blanc and muscadelle.  This wine is led by the Semillon and is more muted than the first.  Another nice white under $10.
  • Leyda Sauvignon Blanc 09 – lots of citrus with lime, grapefruit and green apple.  Great minerality and nice finish. Also in the $10 range and a great bargain.
  • Villa Maria Reserve Wairau Valley Sauvignon Blanc 09 – lots of grapefruit, exotic fruit and grassy notes. 
  • Merry Edwards Sauvignon Blanc 07 – I am a big fan of Merry Edwards wines – especially the Sauvignon Blancs and Pinots – this had the same minerality and citrus notes, but unfortunately had lost some its essence with time.

 

Then it was truly showtime – a line-up of highly rated Spanish reds, all from the highly-rated 2004, of which I have not had the opportunity to try.  Our line-up was:

  • Bodegas y Vinedos Alion Ribera del Duero 04 – inky black with blackberry, chocolate, spice and some floral notes.  Incredibly rich and yummy.
  • Baron de Magana 04 – priced under $20, this wine had notes of oak, blackberry, current and graphite. Very earthy.
  • Bodegas El Nido Jumilla Clio 04 – it took some time in the glass for me to appreciate this big wine.  I tasted mocha, cardamom, cinnamon and something that was almost port-like.
  • Vall Llach Priorat 04 – lots of blackberry, herbal notes, chocolate, coffee, peanut brittle, vanilla, minerality and spice.  I really liked this wine and it changed in the glass through the course of the evening.
  • Numanthia ‘Termanthia’, Toro, Spain 04 – this was an incredible wine by one of the best Spanish wine makers out there.  It was complex with black and red fruits, eucalyptus and as smooth as silk.  My absolute favorite of the evening.
  • Dominio Pingus Ribera del Duero Flor de Pingus 04 – definitely needed more decanting time, but had notes of cherry, chocolate, oak, smoke, sage, licorice and coffee. 

 

And if we hadn’t tasted enough great wines, one of our participants had just returned from a trip to Napa, so out came the Guilliams Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon 07 and Seavey Cabernet 09.  And that was a fabulous end to our evening and a foggy start to a Sunday morning.


Winebow Wines of Summer: Fun to Be Had Off the Beaten Path

When I received a package from Winebow with Summer whites that were off the beaten path, I was totally stoked. I gathered a group of my closest wine buddy girlfriends, we assembled a spread to match and we were off to the races. The pack included Pinot Grigio and Riesling as well as Vermentino and Torrontés from several regions. We tried the following wines:

  • Tilia Torrontés, Argentina 2011 – $10: We tasted herbs and honeysuckle with a floral nose.
  • Clean Slate Riesling, Mosel 2011 – $10: This one had some residual sweetness but notes of lime and peach with minerality.
  • Root:1 Sauvignon Blanc 2011 – $12: This was the group favorite with tropical fruit, grapefruit, grassiness and mineral notes.
  • Vitiano Bianco (Vermentino & Verdicchio) Umbria 2011 – $12: Tropical, fruity and very light in body from Umbria, a region I had not experienced yet in Italy.
  • KRIS Pinot Grigio, delle Venezia 2011 – $14: This was a very fruity pinot grigio that stayed true to the variety.
  • Argiolas Costamolino Vermentino, Sardinia 2011 -$16: Very crisp with tropical fruit. This wine had a bit of effervescence at the finish.

This was a fun reminder that there are bargains and new regions to try once you step out of your usual wine comfort zone.


Moet Hennessy Portfolio: Taking Dallas By Storm

I recently attended a trade event at the Mansion on Turtle Creek hosted by Sigel’s featuring the Moet Hennessy portfolio available in Texas.  When I received the invitation, a few things caught my eye.  First, Manuel Louzado from Numanthia was on the list and I love, love, love his wines.  Second, Cloudy Bay winemaker, Sarah Burton, who recently hosted ##nzwineday, was also in attendance so I wanted to talk to her about that event and her experience.

It was a star-studded winemakers line-up featuring Cape Mentelle, Chateau de Sancerre, Chandon, Numanthia, Lapostolle, Newton, Cheval des Andes, Cloudy Bay and Terrazas de los Andes.  Most of the vineyards had their wine makers in attendance.  I was in heaven.

I tried a number of wines that day, but I thought I’d give you some of the highlights that I really enjoyed.  You can find all of these at Sigel’s if you want to “taste along.”

Moet Hennesey Cloudy Bay Sarah

Cloudy Bay Pinot Noir 07 – If you read my recent column about my New Zealand wine experience, you’ll note that I was very impressed with the Pinot Noirs.  This one continued that trend for me.  It was spicy with cherry notes and an earthiness that made me want more. 

Moet Hennesey Cape Mentelle

Cape Mentelle – I really enjoyed the Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon blend from this Australian winery, but the 04 Cabernet stood out to me.  It showed very well with notes of blackberry, tobacco and a nice balance.

Moet Hennesey Chandon

Chandon – What can I say?  I’m a sparkling girl and the Etoile Brut was elegant with notes of hazelnut, apple and citrus.  I had a great conversation with winemaker, Tom Tiburzi, and he told me about how this blend changes yearly based on what he feels will work the best from the grapes as opposed to his other more value-oriented sparkling that must stay true to what consumers expect.  I also tried the Extra Dry Muscat Cannali, which is definitely the perfect off dry sparkling wine with Asian food.

Moet Hennesey Chat de Sancerre

Chateau de Sancerre had two wonderful whites.  I first became a fan of this after Scott Barber from the Commissary served it at an event.  I tried the Chateau de Sancerre white, which had floral and citrus, but with the minerality that I like in a Sancerre wine.  Then I tried the Chateau de Sancerre Cuvee du Connetable.  Wow – complex, while intense, creamy, almost buttery with mineral notes and vanilla.  Bravo!

Moet Hennesey Lapostelle Line Up

Lapostolle – I have a soft place in my heart for them because they have a very drinkable and affordable Sauvignon Blanc that becomes my wine of choice when we go to Punta Mita.  However, I had never ventured out of their value wine category.  I really enjoyed three of their wines.  The first was the Borobo, a blend of five different French varietals, originally put together due to a bet between two winemakers to see if a blend could be made from two vineyards.  The winemaker upped the ante and blended three.  Trust me – he could and it’s good.  The second one is Canto de Apalta, a fabulous Bordeaux blend that will debut in May and retail for $19.  This has been described as the “baby Apalta,” one of the top cuvees and rated #1 by The Wine Spectator in 2008.  You should discover this when it launches and quickly.  It is a fabulous deal.  The final wine was the los Apalta, the flagship wine I described before.  Lots of blackberry, cherry, spiciness and a velvet finish.    

Moet Hennesey newton

Newton Vineyards – Winemaker Chris Millard was representing this popular Spring Mountain winery.  If you are a chardonnay fan, you should try the 09 unfiltered chardonnay deemed as a “non-Chardonnay drinkers” Chardonnay.  Lots of almond and a very nice wine either with food or without.  Then we jumped to the 08 Puzzle, a red blend that changes yearly-  hence the name.  This was a wine with finesse, elegance, silkiness, cherry, licorice, vanilla, chocolate and mocha. 

Moet Hennesey Terrazas

Terrazas de los Andes – I had the chance during a wine event in 2011 to try the value and mid-range wines, so I immediately asked for the Afincado Malbec.  I tasted vanilla, blackberries, oak and some floral notes.

Cheval des Andes – Would love to have tasted the fruits from the partnership of Terrazas de los Andes and well-known Chateau Cheval Blanc in Bordeaux, but alas, they had no more wine. Next.

Moet Hennesey Numanthia

Finally, Numanthia and Manuel Louzada.  I had the chance to talk to Manuel about a wine group that I belong to and the second and third-growth tastings that we did of iconic wines.  His wines were fabulous in every tier.  I loved his descriptions of the three wines.  He talked about the Numanthia Termes as being geared to capture the vibrancy and the loveliness of the fruit with “newbie” vines between 30-50 years old.  The 08 Numanthia, featuring vines between 60-100 years old, is built to deliver massive power and elegance.  Louzada compared this to the body of an athlete with “beautiful lines outside, massive character inside.”  It’s an elegant wine and wonderful.  But then we moved to the 07 Termanthia.  He described it as one of the few vineyards where “all the stars aligned.” I admit it – I had to stop him to “take a moment” to savor this wine.  It’s velvet, it’s silky, and it is dark.  I smelled truffles, mocha, chocolate, black fruit and this was just of a bottle not decanted for long.  Also, I was fascinated with the story of the vines being compared to the city of Numanthia that survived a 20-year siege only to come under attack again.  The city decided it would not be taken and essentially they burned it with everyone inside.  It’s called the Numanthia resistance.   These vines have survived their own resistance – through pholoxia, through extreme temperatures and through hard growing conditions.  Viva de Numanthia and long live these grapes!


New Zealand Pinot Noirs Worth Noting

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I was invited to participate in the New Zealand Wine Day #nzwineday this past week.  We were sent six wines to taste that represented the region.  I logged on at the appropriate time and experienced a technical difficulty that happened for many bloggers.  We were supposed to see a simulcast by Cloudy Bay winemaker, Sarah Burton, but instead we saw colored bars.

The whites were what I consider very traditional New Zealand wines.  The grass, the grapefruit, the tanginess known in New Zealand sauvignon blancs rang true.  The chardonnay had an off taste to it so I’m not sure if that was the wine itself or the bottle shipped.

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We tried the following:

  • Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc
  • Cloudy Bay Te Koko 06
  • St Clair Sauvignon Blanc Reserve 09
  • Kumeu River Chardonnay 07
  • Seresin Rachel Pinot Noir 07
  • Escarpment Pinot Noir 08
  • Craggy Range Le Sol Gimblett Gravels Syrah 07

My favorites were the Cloudy Bay Te Koko 06 and the Pinot Noirs.  The Te Koko had depth, passion fruit, citrus and a complexity to the wine that I wasn’t expecting.   The pinot noirs blew me away because I had never had New Zealand Pinot Noirs before.  I never expected the depth of fruit, but with a vegetal overtone that was very nice.  The Craggy Range Le Sol Gimblett Gravels syrah was also a big, deep red that was elegant and powerful.

My take-away is that New Zealand reds are definitely worth exploring.


Arnaldo-Caprai Grecante Grechetto, Cloudy Bay and Terrazas de los Andes Reserva Malbec Wine Reviews

I gathered a group of good friends together right before the Thanksgiving holiday with the purpose of sampling several wines — many off the beaten path of the California staples they normally enjoy.

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The first that we tried was an Arnaldo-Caprai Grecante Grechetto.  Grecante Grechetto is a white wine made in Umbria, Italy, from the indigenous Grechetto grape.  It was a well balanced and fruity wine, but had enough acidity to be soft.  This was a new grape to me, and it will definitely be on my list of refreshing white wines that I will buy in the future.

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The second wine was the 11 Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc, known as one of New Zealand’s top Sauvignon Blanc classics.  I discovered this by chance on a wine list several years ago and it was one I would always order when I could.  This wine had a stronger grapefruit taste than I remembered, but it still had notes of stonefruit, grass, pine nut and lots of acidity.  Our gang of four was divided on this one, but I still am a fan.

Terrazas Malbec

The third wine was the 09 Terrazas de los Andes Reserva Malbec.  This was a very concentrated wine with notes of licorice.  I liked its smokiness and this was one that unified all four tasters.  And, since Malbec is one of the fastest growing grapes in the U.S., this is an affordable and tasty way to try one.


Decent Glass of Wine At A Chain Series: Russo’s Coal Fired Italian

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As a part of my ongoing and often sporadic “Can You Get a Decent Glass of Wine from a Chain Restaurant” series, I was invited to Russo’s Coal Fired Italian Kitchen, a chain of more than 25 Italian restaurants.  I’d never been to Russo’s before and so I made the ride to Richardson, TX, with my friend, David, who graciously agreed to be a part of the taste experience.

This series started after I told my husband that I did not want to meet him for drinks after work at Mi Cocina due their very pedestrian wine list.  While I have been pleasantly surprised  with the results of this series (I’ve had two good experiences at Cafe Express and The Olive Garden),  I wasn’t sure what to expect from a pizza and pasta chain.  Again, I found that I need to check my pre-conceived notions at the door.  

We were warmly greeted by Chris Demers, director of operations for Russo’s, who began talking passionately about the wine program.  Russo’s offers twelve wines by the glass — one prosecco, five whites and six reds — and ten of those rotate monthly.  All of these wines retail for $7 for a 5 oz. pour.  When we visited the restaurant, there were some other specials including Ferrari Carano for $6 and Masi for $9.  Demers has a background of helping bring The Wine Loft, a national wine bar concept, to fruition so when he came to work at Russo’s he immediately overhauled the wine program.

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He told us that, overall, Richardson (Dallas) wine drinkers were adventurous and while he needed to have some traditional Italian Chianti’s and Pinot Grigio’s on the menu, people were also willing to try Argentian Malbec and Chilean Sauvignon Blanc.  After checking his website, we realized the list Demers has is different from the Russo’s wine list.  That is by design.  Half of these wines aren’t available via retail as he’s trying to encourage a positive adventure in wine for his diners.  It is paying off — since he overhauled the wine program, sales are up over 50 percent.  There has only been one exception — Mark West Pinot Noir.  He tried to replace this crowd favorite and quickly realized it was a sacred cow.

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Here’s the line-up that we had the night of our tasting:

White:

  • Cavit – Lunetta Prosecco 09.  I tasted peach and pear with a mineral ending.  A very nice drinkable sparkling to start your meal.
  • Castegio – Pinot Grigio 10.  This is a crisp and tart pinot grigio.  This grape isn’t my usual first choice in wine, but it was a good representation.
  • De Martino – Sauvignon Blanc 10 (Chile).  This was my favorite white.  Lots of citrus and pineapple, but with the minerality that I like.  If I tasted this blindly, I would have said this was a sauvignon blanc from New Zealand.  Note this one is very hard to find in Dallas.
  • Alias – Chardonnay 09 (California).  Loved the story behind this project by eight un-named wine makers who wanted to make a good wine.  This was made in Old World style with lemon, tropical fruits and honey, but without being a butter bomb.  This was David’s favorite white and a very nice chardonnay.
  • Chateau Ste. Michelle – Riesling 10 (Washington State).  Always a critics’ favorite — especially at this price range — this had lots of stone fruit flavor and was a great value riesling.

Red:

  • Mark West – Pinot Noir 09 (California).  The people have spoken.  No comment.
  • Ruffino – Sangiovese 10 (Chianti).  You have to have a by the glass chianti, but there are much better options on the list.
  • Ca’Momi – Merlot 09 (Napa).  This is one of them.  A big jammy, food-friendly wine with notes of plum, cherry and menthol.  A really nice merlot and David’s favorite red.
  • Altos – Malbec Classico 10 (Mendoza).  A very nice representation of a Malbec with vanilla, mocha and chocolate. 
  • Blackburn – Cabernet Sauvignon 08 (Paso Robles).  Run, do not walk and see if you can find this wine in Dallas (if I don’t buy it all first).  This drank like a $30 cab and was off the charts good.  Big notes of plum, cherry, earth and menthol.  

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We also got to sample a few of the menu items, prosciutto with buffalo mozzarella, which I didn’t try because I’m allergic to pork, and the spinach and artichoke dip, which was off the charts good.  My advice for you is to come from 3-6 for Happy Hour or on Wednesday’s when wines are $5.  Order the dip and the Blackburn and savor the fact that not only can you get a good glass of wine from a chain, but you have found a cabernet that is a fantastic price to taste ratio.

Salud.


Nine Walks, Craggy Range, Casillero del Diablo & Montecillo Reviews

When you have a blog that is your passion and a job that is your paycheck, it is no surprise which one becomes the priority.  Since the end of August through October, I have been traveling to Stockholm, which didn’t leave me much time to try some of the review wine that was sent my way.

When some friends, Peter and Jen, invited us over for a night of cards, great food and wine, I knew there would be a group of wine lovers who would be able to give me lots of good feedback on wines from a number of regions.  Thus, we popped open the corks and began to taste.

We first tried the Nine Walks Sauvignon Blanc.  It had tropical and citrus notes combined with some herbalness.  It was a very crisp wine and at $11 a bottle, tasted much more expensive than its list price.

Wine Tasting Craggy Range Better

We then tried several wines from New Zealand’s Craggy Range, a vineyard that I was already familiar with for its Te Kahu label.  The first wine was the 2010 Te Muna Road Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc.  Lots of green in this wine — but complexity came from hints of vanilla.  The 2010 Kidnappers Vineyard Chardonnay, which was made in an Old-World style without lots of oak, had notes of lemon, almond and some depth. Hands down the favorite was the 09 Te Kahu Gimblett Gravels Vineyard.  A Bordeaux blend of merlot, cabernet franc, cabernet sauvignon and malbec, it was a great red with notes of blackberry, deep fruit, sandalwood and tobacco. 

We then moved to Chilean wines and tried the full line from Casillero del Diablo, the flagship line of wines from Concha y Toro. The story behind these wines is fun.  At the end of the 19th century Don Melchor de Concha y Toro, a successful businessman and vineyard owner, discovered his wines had been stolen from the “casillero” (cellar) under his house.  To keep folks from stealing more, he created a rumor that his cellar was haunted by the devil.  These wines are also affordably priced at $12.  We tried several including the 10 chardonnay, 10 pinot noir, 09 syrah, 10 merlot, 10 carmenere and 10 malbec.  The group favorites were the more traditional Chilean wines including the carmenere with its notes of plum, chocolate, oak and spiciness and the malbec with blackberry and mocha notes.

Wine Tasting Montecillo

We then delved into Spanish wine.  The first one was the 07 Montecillo Crianza Tinto. This was nice with notes of dark blackberry, vanilla and smoke.  The second wine was the 03 Montecillo Rioja Reserva.  This was a rich cherry, spice, vanilla and dark fruit that I really enjoyed.

Wine Tasting The Aftermath

After dinner, the wine shipping boxes became the most coveted thing with the under 7 group proving that imagination can still win over iPads, Play Stations, iTouch and all the other latest technology.  Seemed an appropriate nod from the kiddos — especially with many of the wines tried made from an Old World-style.


Food/Wine Matches Made in Heaven: The Mustard Surprise

A long-awaited gathering of our wine club took place this month with a fun theme – food/wine matches made in heaven.  Ok, technically that wasn’t the theme, but when it worked, it was a good description.  We were all assigned food pairings to bring and the wine was taken care of by the couple hosting the party.  Because my husband was out of town and I don’t cook, I begged for ingredients that required little to no assembly.  So, I came bearing foie gras pate, a baguette and black truffle butter.

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The format was to pair two wines with variations of one food.  Our first pairing was an Old World Chablis (08 Isabelle et Denis Pommier Chablis) and a traditional oaked chardonnay (09 Neyers Carneros) with  smoked and fresh mozzarella.  Hands down the smoked mozzarella went best with the Neyers and we all couldn’t come to an agreement about the Chablis pairing due to the citrus/mineral notes.

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Our next pairing was my favorite – fabulous yellowtail and tuna sushi along with blinis and caviar matched with  Iron Horse Sparkling and 10 Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand.  I liked them both, but was surprised how versatile the sauvignon blanc was with the sushi. 

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The next pairing was a surprise to us all.  We tried sausage (veggie and Italian) paired with Dijon mustard and then just crackers with mustard coupled with 08 Domaine Zind Humbrecht Pinot Blanc and the 07 Chianti Castilla.  Who would have thought that my second favorite pairing would be Dijon mustard and crackers? 

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We followed with black bean burgers with a sour cream/lime sauce with onion rings paired with 10 Les Plautiers Du Haut Brion White Bordeaux and the same Chianti.  The onion ring paired well with the white, not the red.  The black bean burgers, which were fantastic on their own, were even heartier with the chianti.

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We then matched a guacamole and tenderloin with chimicurri sauce with a 05 Samuels Gorge Syrah and the 05 Abel Rioja.  I personally liked the tenderloin and rioja pairing better, but it was interesting to see what flavors the guacamole brought out in both wines.

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Next, we paired a simple grilled piece of baguette with black truffle butter with a 05 Chauvernet Chopin Nuis St Georges fer Cru Burgundy.  This was a classic example of the symphony in your mouth that happens with the right food and wine pairing.  Divine.

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Our last pairing was a foie gras with a 05 Chateau La Tour Blanche Donation Osiris.  Bliss on a cracker and another example of a food/wine match that had to be made in heaven.


Dallas’ Most Interesting Wine List is at a National Hotel?

Last month I attended the Texas/New York Gridiron wine challenge had the opportunity to sit at a table with Hunter Hammett, sommelier for the Dallas Fairmont Hotel.  Surprisingly enough, our conversation shifted to wine and he told me about the Fairmont’s wine list which he had totally overhauled including a large number of Texas wines.  I was intrigued, so I asked Hunter if I could spend some time with him learning more about the list.

He’s an agreeable guy and very passionate about wine, so I found myself in the totally revamped Pyramid Restaurant & Bar at the Fairmont – with a tasteful local focus on Texas products and a rooftop garden.  I was handed the list, which received a Wine Spectator 2010 Award of Excellence, and like a kid in the candy store, I started perusing.  As Hunter hand-selected the 250 wines that are on the list, it was important find a variety of on and off “the beaten path” wines at any price that patrons would love.  I especially enjoyed the Underrated Reds and Underrated Whites sections that had a number of wines I have enjoyed in small little wine bars or across the country.  I never expected to see them at a restaurant in a national hotel.  You’ll also find grapes you’ve probably never heard of nor had the opportunity to try like Aligoté, at least in Texas, until now. 

Gruet was one of the selections on the Underrated Reds list and I mentioned that I had never tried its still wines.  In short notice, I had a glass of the 06 Gruet Pinot Noir Cuvee Gilbert in hand.  Hunter also had a large selection of wines that are positioned by varietal vs. region to encourage experimentation of all different types of grapes from around the world.

Of course, because this is Texas, you will find the usual big suspect Cabernets -we all know that restaurants have to carry these to please certain patrons.  Also, I believe that having some of the big steakhouse wines gives people the trust factor to try other wines that may not have considered otherwise.  

Wines that are sustainable, organic and environmentally farmed are given special consideration.  You’ll probably see a future focus on building out the French section of the list in 2011.  Hunter’s credo, like The Wine Century Club, is to broaden the wine drinking scope at every opportunity.  I, for one, look forward to my trip around the world with his wine list as my guide.




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