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Where wine is on the table everyday

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Day 87: Thanksgiving Was a Winner – by a Landslide . . .

The votes are in – tallies have been counted – it’s official by a landslide . . . another Thanksgiving has come and gone.  Just like that – the leftovers are eaten or made into a yummy looking soup (Cathy – the pictures made us hungry!) – out-of-town guests are all back home safely – daughter #1 and daughter #2 are tucked in at their respective universities.  Most folks are ready for a new week of work.  (OK, that may be a stretch!) And, we’ve settled in for another night of Sunday Night Football, The Amazing Race and The Food Network!

We’ve previously mentioned our trip to Napa and Sonoma back in 2008 and one of the places we visited was Simi Vineyards, and it is still one of our favorites to this day.  In fact the day we visited, the temperatures were ideal for an outdoor picnic and so we enjoyed a terrific lunch under huge trees in a garden setting.  Of course, we enjoyed our dining with some wine from Simi!  Over the years, we’ve enjoyed Simi Cabernet Sauvignon as well as other varietals.  Because Simi is so readily available in stores, you might think that it’s just another commercialized wine–and nothing could be further from reality.

We still remember Thanksgiving 1984 – we’d moved into our first home–9607 Poynes in Houston to be exact–and we were hosting Thanksgiving for both sets of parents and other family members as well as new neighbors.  The day was your typical south Texas November–a cool morning followed by a beautiful afternoon.  The turkey was on the “Old Timer” smoker and the rest of the food was coming together.  As the afternoon progressed, the bird cooked pretty well considering the wind, but it was obvious that this bird was going to need some additional attention before it was set to be carved!  Unfortunately, as the day wore on, Brian began feeling less than healthy and after taking the turkey off the smoker and putting it in the oven ( in a roasting pan), he ended up curled up in a ball on the bed–not sure what the bug was that day–and the turkey was left to be finished in the oven.  As the heat of the bird mixed with the heat of the oven, the juice of the turkey spilled into the roasting pan creating a smoky mess–at the exact moment that the turkey juice was meeting the hot surface of the roasting pan, Brian was carrying Bob the Cat down the hall to the litter box.  There is NOTHING worse than holding a cat when the smoke detectors go off.  We’re not 100% sure why it went off the way it did but Bob’s claws went deep into the skin (prompting a quick release) and the house filled with a heavy odor of turkey smoke!  Unfortunately, Jean was left to fend for herself with the help of family members.  To this day, we really don’t know what caused Brian to get sick on that Thanksgiving day, but all well that ends well, and the food from family and friends was terrific.  Unfortunately, in those days, we had NO idea how good wine could taste, so when we got to this point of the day, it was our decision to open our favorite bottle of German white wine–a Spatlese that we thought was ‘the bomb’!  Little did we know at the time that this was actually a DESSERT wine!  Long story short, the dinner went really well, Bob the Cat was no worse for the wear and health returned to the family.

Not that tonight was like the evening back in 1984, but we’ve learned a few things about wine in the past 20+ years.  Tonight’s 2008 Simi Landslide Cabernet Sauvignon is and has been one of our favorites.  The 2007 vintage was off the charts phenomenal, and the 2008 while having a huge reputation to live up to from the previous year, still managed to satisfy those of us who really enjoy good wine!  Upon opening this bottle, the most remembered scent was a “mustiness” that doesn’t ring true to what we are used to – warm and inviting aromas of sweet black cherry, cassis, plum, blackberry, raspberry, dark roasted coffee, brown sugar, vanilla, and smoky mineral notes. On the palate, dark berries and plums meet up with roasted coffee accents. The entry is big, full, and rich, followed by a focused middle and a youthful finish with a slight grip and dark roasted offering. So, although we were disappointed, we would both buy and try this wine again in a heartbeat – maybe we just got a bad bottle – sadly that happens some time.

Although the wine for tonight fell short – our Thanksgiving did not – it was a grand time to see family and friends alike.  To our family – thanks for a wonderful couple of days – hope to repeat next yer!

After you’ve packed away the Turkey – please remember to celebrate responsibly and recycle when you ever possible – by the way . . . heads up, the Christmas season is here in full force!


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Day 81: Not So Much . . .

There is something about this time of year that makes us smile.  Whether it’s the thought of spending time with our daughters or visiting family – or stopping for a bite to eat and a night cap at a local business – the atmosphere spells “HOLIDAYS”.  Thanksgiving has always been the ‘traditional’ beginning of the Christmas season.  There was a time (we know, we’re dating ourselves) when you didn’t get to see ANY holiday decorations until the day AFTER Thanksgiving.  It was a ritual, and an unwritten  law, ‘thou shalt not promote thy Christmas until thouest hath finished Thanksgiving.’  A little over the top?  Perhaps, but true.  Ask anyone born in the 70’s or before and they’ll tell you that rarely  –  if ever  –  did a store ‘reveal’ it’s Christmas displays – let alone their after Thanksgiving specials–a week, a month, a half year before the actual shopping day . . . AFTER Thanksgiving.

Something happened in the early 1980’s – we were newly married and remember walking into one of those “supercenters” and being amazed and astonished by the sheer volume of Christmas decorations and “deals” for the holiday shopper.  It has only gotten worse since then.  We know that’s a matter of opinion, but from where we sit, it’s become LESS about the HOLIDAYS/CHRISTMAS and more about getting stuff.  Don’t get us wrong – we LIKE stuff, especially if it’s red and comes in a wine bottle . . . BUT, and we’re kind of on the same path from earlier this week, if all we are doing is opening early to make the sales that we would have made the next day at a much more reasonable hour – then what gives?  Is this what the Holidays have degraded to?  Not so much.

Thinking back to the days of no shopping malls – no outlet centers – no regional strip centers – just good old fashioned Main Street businesses that supported their community; worked hard for their customers and gave back to their community.  Today . . . not so much.  Just like the retail business, it’s more of a ‘what do I get out of it ‘ mentality – as opposed to what can WE do to make the place better.  Times sure do change – for the better?  Mmmm–not so much.

Tonight we sampled a 2009 Forefront from Pineridge Vineyards.  Now, what’s cool about Pineridge Vineyards is that they are not set in the status quo . . . in fact bringing reduced vine spacing from Burgundy to the Napa Valley and introducing Dijon clones to Carneros established a new level of winemaking excellence in the States. The experimentation with clones, rootstocks and winemaking techniques, which continues today, allowed for constant learning and improvement. From vineyard to bottle, the winery has continually embraced innovation in the pursuit of ever higher quality.  They challenge the status quo with ForeFront. Their adventurous spirit joins decades of knowledge and expertise to produce an array of intriguing, high quality wines. Wines that are modern and distinctive. The nose of this wine – very nice; fruity but not too much with lots of oak . . . you can’t be misled when you get a snoot full of oak and black cherry!!

The taste; however, turned dark and ominous – could it be?  Two nights in a row with a thumbs down?   The taste was missing something – fruit, oak, smoke, cedar, tobacco . . . anything please, but NO, the taste and finish of this wine was a big “THUMBS DOWN” –  which is really a bummer because the fruit for this wine was sourced from two different and distinctive appellations. The lush taste and bright characters of Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah from Lake County elegantly balance the dark berry fruit and deep complexity of the Napa Valley Cabernet and other Bordeaux varietals.   BUT, it just doesn’t deliver.  Too bad . . . we were really thinking that this could be a magnificent wine.  This wine we got at HEB for $13 and don’t think we will purchase again.

Alas, just like the early shopping times this wine falls short on our list and it’s ‘Not So Much’ when it comes to a recommendation . . . so as you get ready to enjoy your Thanksgiving with your favorite wine, please remember to enjoy it responsibly and recycle whenever possible.

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Day 76: A Cut Above . . .

Back in 2008, we enjoyed a superb trip to Napa and Sonoma in California, and one of the tasting rooms we visited was at Francis Ford Coppola’s Rubicon Estates Vineyard.  Most people who enjoy wine know that Mr. Coppola has been in the wine making business for close to thirty years.  Let’s face it, wine making takes money and very few people other than those who are extremely successful have the money to A.) buy a vineyard and/or B.) make wine.  Even here in Texas, most of the new wine makers are Doctors – Neurologists – Radiologists, etc . . .  Why?  Because they have the capital assets to make the investment.  Wine making is NOT for the faint of heart.   The weather – rain, or lack of it, wind, sun, or too much of it, too cool, too hot – not enough days above this temperature or too many days below that temperature .  .   .the grapes weren’t harvested on time; they were harvested too early .  .  . we could go on and on.  And we aren’t even in the business.  The bottom line is that it IS a business and it takes MONEY to make the business go.

We digress – – the tasting room at Mr. Coppola’s Rubicon Estates is in a word – AWESOME.  A two-story building right out of – you guessed it, a Hollywood movie!  In fact, it’s SO out of a Hollywood movie, that on the second floor of the building is a late 1940’s model Tucker automobile in mint condition.  You movie buffs may recall a movie that Mr. Coppola made in the mid-1980’s starring Jeff Bridges as Tucker, The Man and His Machine.  We’re pretty sure that of ALL the Tucker’s left in existence, Mr. Coppola owns the majority of them.  The movie, while biographically significant, didn’t fare all that well at the box office.  We’ve watched it a number of times and find it fascinating from a historical perspective.  Imagine .  .  . the “Big 3” Automakers trying to put someone out of business?  Anyway, this film is, in our opinion, Mr. Coppola’s nod to the passion of perfection.  Our guess is that he has used this mantra in the wines that come from his vineyards.

Today, Mr. Coppola has a significant variety of wines .  .  . their basic entries are the “Coppola” labels; their mid-level wines are the “Director’s Cut” and their premium wines are the ‘Rubicon Estates’.  When we enjoyed their tasting room, we sampled the mid-level and premium wines which is what led us to this evening’s sampling.  Tonight we enjoyed a 2009 Director’s Cut Zinfandel from the Dry Creek Valley of Sonoma County.  This is a beautiful wine – which is available at H-E-B for less than $17 a bottle.  If you like a good Zinfandel or you’ve NEVER tried a Zinfandel, this may be your wine of choice.  The nose on this one is so subtle–the pepper and spice; the cranberry and currants; the cinnamon and nutmeg – – WOW, what a combination!  The taste was every bit as delicious as the nose was enticing.  An amazing taste of fruit with a hint of oak–a smooth taste that we paired with roasted potatoes and grilled pork tenderloin.  You won’t have to go to Hollywood for this wine or even audition to buy it.

One of our all-time favorite movies – directed by Mr. Coppola – is The Godfather.  It’s a cinema classic that has stood the test of time.  Tonight’s sampling of the 2009 Director’s Cut Zinfandel is a classic that has the potential to withstand the test of time.  It’s delicious, affordable and ready for enjoying right now.

Please remember that whether you enjoy this wine or any others, enjoy them responsibly and remember to recycle whenever possible.

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Day 38 – When In Napa . . . the Cave is Cool!

Shortly after getting married back in 1983, we took a driving trip west from Houston that included a stop in Carlsbad, New Mexico.  Brian had never been to Carlsbad Caverns and Jean remembered going on a family vacation years ago, so it seemed like good place to visit.  Now, if you’ve never been to Carlsbad in the middle of the summer – it’s hot; real hot.  So the thought of going down into a cave where the temperature stays at a constant 63 degrees seemed almost luxurious.  We started down the walkway – civilized with handrails for our safety and could immediately feel the temperature starting to drop.  We marveled at the rock formations, the stalagmites and stalactites (do you know the difference between the two?) protruding from the floor and dropping down from the ceiling.  As we continued our descent, the temperature dropped rapidly as did our light, now only coming from the walking path provided for our convenience.  Can you imagine what it must have looked like when the first spelunkers searched the caverns?  Not knowing if their next step would be their last?  Not knowing why the air inside the cave was so pungent – bat guano will do that!  One thing was certain . . . this place was cool.  Not just the temperature, but the entire experience was amazing, and as we continued our stroll down into the belly of the cave, we came upon and entered this huge room that looked like – well, it looked like a lunch room in a school cafeteria.  And guess what?  It was a lunch room and it was the ‘stopping point’ of the tour, so people could say they ate lunch or a snack or dinner in the cave.  We were so impressed – we bought the post card of the lunch room (yes, we still have it – tucked in one of those many tubs in the garage!).  And before we left to back up to the surface, we placed a call on pay phone (don’t see those much anymore) to Jean’s Mom, Margaret who was celebrating her birthday!

One of the best parts about enjoying wine is meeting others who share a common bond.  The more we get ‘into’ wine, the more people we meet who are either ‘into it’ as much as we are or are on their way.  As a result of the successful Chamber program called, Shining Stars Under 40, Brian got to meet the Publisher/Owner of BobcatFans Magazine, Rick Koch, and at their first face to face meeting in Brian’s office, a bond was struck on one topic – wine.  Rick had just gotten back from a trip to Napa Valley with his wife, Tiffany . . . celebrating their tenth anniversary.  Tonight we had the opportunity to share a bottle of wine that they enjoyed on their trip to Napa.   From the conversation, we learned about this winery where every part of the wine making process (except growing the grapes) is done in a cave and they don’t ship the wine out of the cave until it has aged to drinking perfection.  So they shared with us a 2005 Jarvis Vineyard’s Lake William blend from Napa – and what a treat it was!  Upon opening, the color in our glasses was a deep burgundy.  A quick swirl confirmed the sugar content must be impressive because the legs were long and plentiful!  Since it had been chilled prior to opening, we sampled it chilled and then warmed it up in the glass with our hands and sipped again.  It’s amazing how a wine can change from a chilled temperature to room temperature, but it’s one of the many fascinating things about enjoying a bottle of wine.

The wine has lots of fruit on the nose along with some oak, vanilla and some spice.  The taste gave some real nice black cherry and when it had warmed to room temperature, there was a really nice peppery finish to it.  Combined with some delicious Italian food from Ilario’s (this is a brand new restaurant in Kyle and well worth the visit – tell Steve, the owner ‘Hello’ from us), the wine held up to pasta, vegetables, garlic, lasagna and bread.  As we enjoyed the wine, we shared our love of wine and learned of their love of wine – and as we’ve said numerous times, the best part of enjoying wine is enjoying with other folks who enjoy it as well.  Even better was learning from Rick and Tiffany about the way the wine was made and the tasting experience they enjoyed . . . down in the cave – in Napa.  And while we didn’t enjoy any wine during our trip to Carlsbad Caverns, we did make a brief return trip to the same place three summers ago.  Amid a rare desert rain storm, we sat in the car in the parking lot having a glass of wine with good friends outside the cave eating cheese, crackers, fruit and hummus while enjoying a bottle of wine.  We missed the bats that night, and Jean didn’t get her neon mining hard hat (complete with light) – but there’s always time for another road trip.

So, whether you’re at Carlsbad Caverns or in Napa,  California – when you get a chance to go into the cave – go for it – it’s a really cool place!

Please remember to enjoy your wines responsibly and recycle whenever possible.

Stop by Ilario’s in Kyle and meet Steve the owner – it’s definitely worth it! Great food and friendly, attentive service!