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Blanc du Bois – never heard of it?  Well, it’s a grape that was originally developed at the University of Florida in the late 1960′s as part of a project aimed at creating table grapes that would ripen early and were resistant to disease.  The grape that was developed somewhat resembled a German Riesling – spicy and full of citrus flavors.  In addition to being resistant to Pierce’s disease, the grape was robust enough to withstand the extreme weather conditions in Florida.

As the grape became commercially available, Haak Vineyards and Winery began to experiment with it.  Locaed in Santa Fe, Texas in the Gulf Coast near Galveston, the climate in that region is hot and dry.  Today, Raymond Haak crushes more than 40 tons of Blanc du Bois and it is his best-selling wine.  In addition to the grapes that he grows, Haak purchases fruit from other growers around Texas.  He makes two distinct styles  (as well as a Reserve): semi-sweet that typically has 2-3% residual sugar and a dry wine.  He really has paved the way for other wineries to work with the grape and his wines are often considered the benchmark having won numerous awards.

I’ll admit this was the first time I had ever tasted Blanc du Bois and I had high expectations having read up on the history of the grape, Haak Winery, and the many awards that this wine has won over the years.  Well, let me tell you I was not disappointed.  The 2007 Haak Vineyards Blanc du Bois Semi-Sweet is a masterpiece.  It is filled with tropical fruit aromas and at first sip had a Fino sherry-like quality about it.  It was complex with great acidity and just a touch of honeyed sweetness to remind you that it is a semi-sweet wine.  While I enjoyed this as dessert on its own it is not overly sweet and would pair well with Asian dishes or other spicy foods and a variety of cheeses.

The wine is predominantly available at the winery but I purchased a bottle at Whole Foods in Austin.  Well Raymond, you’ve got a new supporter of your wines and I intend to spread the word.

Malbec

I don’t need to tell you that in recent years Malbec has catapulted from playing a cameo to a full-blown leading role.  The grape’s history as primarily a blending grape is long overshadowed by the excellent wines coming from Argentina, particularly in the Mendoza region.  In fact, Malbec has sort of become synonymous with Argentina; think Malbec and one immediately associates the grape with the South American country – and that is great for the local industry and for marketing those wines.

The Becker Vineyards 2007 Malbec is a really well-made wine at an affordable price.  It tastes like many Argentine Malbecs (more on that later) with flavors reminiscent of coffee, chocolate, and peppery spice.  This is definitely a go-to wine as the weather gets cooler and pairs exceptionally well with grilled meats, stews, game, or hearty sauces.

What is interesting about this wine aside from the complexity and the beautiful label is that on the back label are the words, “For Sale in Texas Only.”  Now what on earth does that mean you ask?  Well, it means that this particular wine does not have enough grapes from Texas to have an appellation listed on the label.  Now I am definitely not the first person to write about this topic, but I think it is an important point to clarify for consumers.   The fact is that this wine could be made from imported grapes, juice, or even wine – or some combination thereof.  So while this wine was “made” by Becker – and aged one year in new American oak barrels at the vineyards – the provenance of the grapes is unclear.  There is a chance that it tastes reminiscent of Argentine Malbec because it is, in fact, made from grapes grown in Argentina.

One of the critical issues facing the Texas wine industry is that there simply is not enough grapes or planted acreage to meet the needs of the 200+ wineries.  The rocket-fueled growth that we’ve seen over the last decade has shifted the supply and demand scale forcing wineries to look elsewhere for grapes.  Hopefully in the future there will be new acreage planted so that quality grape-producing areas can grow commensurately along with the wineries that harvest from them.

Last night we went to Hudson’s on the Bend, an Austin institution that has been around for twenty-five years, for Austin Restaurant Week 2009.  Hudson’s featured a three course menu for $35 and you could add wine pairings with each course for an additional $15.  Cha-ching – can you say amazing deal?  The food at Hudson’s is universally accepted as some of the best, if not the best, in the Austin area.  Simple yet elegant preparations and presentation with seasonal produce and a focus on wild game, the menu is nothing short of sheer carnivore bliss.

My first course was duck Diablos – little nuggets of heaven that included smoked duck, jicama, jalapeno, and figs in balsamic all wrapped in bacon.  Slightly sweet, crisp, and luxurious they were served on skewers stuck into a halved green apple and accompanied with a sweet chili dipping sauce.

For my main course I had the pecan grilled venison and my wife had the Shiner Bock marinated ribeye.  The venison was perfectly medium rare served with green chili mashed potatoes and al denté summer vegetables.  The meat was slightly smoky from the wood and the Chipotle Beer Blanc sauce added another level of complexity.  The dish was great – don’t get me wrong – but the ribeye stole the show.  The ribeye was served with a rich Madagascar green peppercorn sauce, which you could put on a car bumper and it would still taste sensational.  The meat was so tender and flavorful that it didn’t need any sauce, but boy was that sauce perfect.

For dessert I had a berry flambe that had a hint of orange liqueur served atop homemade vanilla bean ice cream.  It was light and refreshing and the perfect ending to an amazing meal.

Restaurant week is still going on for another couple of days, so head on out to Lakeway for some killer food that is entirely affordable.

Having just returned from the Westin La Cantera in San Antonio I would be remiss if I didn’t tell you about the wonderful meal we had at Francesca’s at Sunset.  For starters, the restaurant is in a magnificent setting perched high atop the hotel with 360 degree views through huge windows overlooking the Texas Hill Country.  The meal started with an amuse-bouche of local tomatoes and micro-greens in a balsamic/basil oil dressing.  For an appetizer, I had a perfectly roasted quail accented with a blackberry-bourbon reduction and zucchini.  My wife had the local field greens with pecans, cherry tomatoes, and strawberry vinaigrette.  For our main course we had the crab cakes – each portion consisted of two of the largest lump crab cakes I’ve ever seen and must have been 90% crab.  They were accompanied by a light ragout of sweet corn, asparagus, and local shitake mushrooms.  For sweets we had homemade raspberry and passion fruit sorbets – the perfect ending to an amazing meal.  While the food was delicious, the service was equally orchestral making for a complete dining experience.

Oh…and let us not forget wine.  One of the great things about this menu and wine list is the focus on local produce, meat, and wine.  We each had a glass of McPherson Cellars Viognier.  If you’ve been reading my blog you know by now that I hold this winery in very high regard.  Well, the Viognier reinforced why I love this winery so much and how the folks at McPherson are producing top-notch wines across the board.  It was crisp and refreshing with just enough citrus flavors and sweetness to play off the crab – the perfect complement to the meal.

Francesca’s also has a Farm to Table Experience that features produce from Uncertain Farms based in Seguin, Texas not very far from the hotel.  Additionally, some of the courses are paired with Texas wines for a Texas wine and food pairing experience.  The fact that the restaurant prominently features so many Texas wines both by the glass and bottle should be a model for others to follow.  I am certainly not the first person to point this out, but it is important for restaurants to highlight local viticulture for the industry to continue to flourish.  I tip my [ten gallon] hat to Francesca’s and hope to have the opportunity to dine there again soon!

As I attempt to work on future blog posts, I decided to twist off the cap of McPherson Cellars’ wonderful 2007 Tré Coloré Rhone Valley blend made from 58% Carignane, 30% Mourvedre, and 12% Viognier.  I took a sip and my first reaction was, “Oh my god, if a Cotes du Rhone married a Cru Beaujolais and they produced a baby wine, THIS is what that wine would taste like.”  Light hearted and a ton of fun just like its mom, Cru Beaujolais, and somewhat formal yet elegant like its dad, the Cotes du Rhone.

I recently reviewed McPherson’s amazing 2008 Rosé and this is another standout from the winery.  It has tons of fruit, great structure, and silkiness from the Viognier.  It smells like freshly-baked strawberry pie and with each sip I wanted more, more, more.  Clearly I need to take a trip to Lubbock so I can visit the property and see first-hand the winemaking at McPherson.

This is not Kim McPherson’s first rodeo, but let me tell you he is making some killer wines.  A UC Davis alum, he was the winemaker at Llano Estacado founded by his father, Dr. Clinton “Doc” McPherson.  Kim was also the winemaker at Cap Rock Winery and in 2000 started McPherson Cellars as an homage to his dad.  His wines have won numerous medals and he works with grapes that thrive in the Texas High Plains climate or as he calls it “planting to the land.”  With a focus on Rhone Valley and Italian varietals both on their own and in blends, the bottlings are elegant and wonderful examples of the world-class winemaking coming out of Texas.

I popped open the 2008 Dry Comal Creek Demi-Sweet French Colombard and this is, without a doubt, a party in a bottle.  With 5% residual sugar it is light and refreshing – slightly frizzante like a “Moscato D’Texas.”  Flavors of white peaches and citrus burst out of the glass with a slight minerality to the wine that rounds it out.  I bought this bottle on a recent visit to the winery and have been waiting for the perfect occasion to open it.  That perfect occasion happened to be that I was just thirsty.  And man, did this quench my thirst.  If you are looking for a great wine for your next get together or just want something crisp and delicious to drink on a summer evening, I highly recommend you pick up a bottle of this wine.


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Ahhh…Rosé wine – that often overlooked section in your supermarket or wine shop.  Fellow Texans: “Hear ye, hear ye”; go forth and get a bottle of 2008 McPherson Cellars Rosé while it is still 100 degrees outside.  This is the Woody Allen of wines – and I mean that as a huge compliment: dry and witty, yet lighthearted; it will keep you coming back for more.  It is complex enough to make you ponder life, relationships, and loneliness.  But when you peel back all the layers of the plot, it is simply just a love story.  Visually, it is deep red like a bowl of fresh cherries or even Hibiscus tea.  Strawberries and hints of cranberry on the palate from the Grenache (16%) with enough tannin and boldness from the Syrah (84%), this is a great food wine.  And if you’re looking for a value…come on now – this wine is the real deal!

“Why does man kill? He kills for food. And not only food: frequently there must be a beverage.”
Woody Allen, ‘Without Feathers’

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