Wine is Fine at Vino Vino Austin

Like Austin, TX itself, local wine bars have grown in numbers the last few years.  Vino1I have visited several in the Austin area and like any business, some stand out more than the others.  Vino Vino is one of the best and there is no shortage of positive press to back that up. “One of the Best Wine Bars in the US”, “Best Wine List”, “Best Place to Sip Wine” are just some of the accolades Vino Vino can claim.  It comes as somewhat of a surprise when I do encounter other wine enthusiasts and professionals in the area not familiar with Vino Vino.

I am not a regular at Vino Vino in Austin and haven’t been able to participate in as many of their wine events as I would like or try the paella made fresh every Sunday.  However, it is still one of my favorite places to kick back and drink a glass or two of wine.  Wine tastings are some of what make Vino Vino stand out.  Yes, other wine bars have tastings, but how many have 48 different Rosés (“Pink Fest”) in one tasting?  What wine bars have a Spanish wine tasting and have Spanish winemakers, grape growers and experts on hand to share the intricacies of the regions wine, its unique flavors and characteristics?  You are always getting a little something extra when you visit.  Educating your customers is a necessary and fun element to a good wine establishment in my opinion.

Jeff Courington, the main man of Vino Vino takes personal interest in finding the right wine for his customers.  If your interest is Chardonnay, he will bring several over and have you taste them, getting your feedback and helping you find the right one for your palate.  Jeff is old school or old world in his preference for European wines.  You won’t find anything from California, Washington or Texas here.  The staff is knowledgeable and helpful and has guided me in making a few selections as well.  Some of the most unique and interesting wines I have ever had were at Vino Vino.  Forget the book sized wine list with hundreds of choices, instead you’ll find a small variety of handpicked selections that is always changing.  I enjoy trying new wines every chance I get and this suits me just fine.

Vino Vino is located at 4119 Guadalupe St. between 41st and 42nd right next to the Hyde Park Gym and a stone’s throw from Central Market.  Vino Vino has your typical wine bar layout with a long wooden bar on the right, wood flooring and plenty of tables.  Some of the wine is stored on racks that line the inside walls.  Overall, a cozy atmosphere and low lighting for those looking for a romantic night out.  Wine by the glass will cost you $9-$15 on average, but save $2 a glass by going to Happy Hour 5:30-7pm.  Vino Vino also offers more than the prerequisite cheese plate with a full menu such as Wagyu Beef Sliders($5), Mussels and Fries($14) and Pumpkin Cake w/Vanilla ice cream($8) as random examples.  Unfortunately, I can’t comment on the food and fine dining aspect as the only thing I have ever sampled was a blue cheese plate.  The most important thing to me in a wine bar is the wine after all.

If you live in the Austin area or plan to visit, do yourself a favor and stop by Vino Vino.  Don’t miss out on the fun stuff either, like the wine tastings, wine dinners and ever changing wine menu.  Sign up for their emails and twitter feed to stay informed.



Texas Winery Expedition: A Visit to Pilot Knob Vineyard

Budding Vines in Pilot Knob Vineyard

Its spring in Texas and the buds are sprouting on the vines.  An exciting time in the vineyard seeing the formation of new leafs, the growth of new clusters of grapes that could yield the next great vintage.  With that excitement comes fear as a late freeze, untimely hail storm, disease and inconsiderate wildlife could destroy overnight what was once a promising crop.  I wonder how many wine drinkers out there ever think about the amount of effort, hard work and luck that goes into the growing and making of their favorite wines?

Part of my journey to explore the world of wine is learning more about the Texas wine industry.  Do we make good wine here, does it compare favorably to the heavyweights in California, France and Italy?  While the picture is not completely clear I continue to taste Texas wine and learn.  One of the fun parts is visiting wineries.  What better way to learn more about Texas wine than to hit the road and talk to the people that are making it.

The Texas wine industry has seen explosive growth in the last ten years as the number of wineries has more than quadrupled to well over 220 in 2011.  One of Texas’s newest is Pilot Knob Vineyard close to Bertram in Central Texas.  Production of 1500 to 2000 cases makes Pilot Knob Vineyard a small operation in comparison to more established Texas wineries such as Becker Vineyards and Llano Estacado Winery.  3 acres of vines split between Cabernet Sauvignon and Tempranillo planted in April of 2008 and 2009 are just the beginning of what the ambitious owners of Pilot Knob say will be 92 acres and 6 varietals in the coming years.  All current wines are produced from vineyards in Lubbock as the property in central Texas is being developed.

Currently 3 acres split between Cabernet Sauvignon and Tempranillo

Pilot Knob Vineyard

It’s a great time of year to visit wineries in Texas.  While the vines are empty of grapes and just starting to bud, you won’t pass out from the heat.  Driving through Central Texas and the Hill Country adds to the enjoyment of these excursions with plenty of back roads and scenic landscapes.  Roughly 35 miles north-northwest of Round Rock and through some twists, turns and down some of the aforementioned back roads you will find the entrance to Pilot Knob Vineyard.

Aside from a few random cactus and the rows of vines the area is wide open with few trees.  Pilot Knob, the extinct volcano from which the property was named can be seen in the distance.  The tasting room had its grand opening last summer; large enough to host most parties, weddings and corporate soiree’s, can also be divided in half by sliding wood doors.  One of the best features is the wrap around covered porch outside.  A great way to relax, sip on some fine wine and enjoy the scenic views.  Your first stop should be the bar for a tasting of Pilot Knob’s 100% Texas made wines.  Five dollars gets you a taste of Pilot Knob’s award winning 2010 Viognier, 2010 Proprietor’s White (a blend of 60% Chenin Blanc, 30% Muscat and 10% Viognier), 2010 Sweet Rosé, 2010 Franco-Rojo (an unoaked blend of 66% Tempranillo and 34% Merlot) and the 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon.  I found all to be quite tasty and of high quality.  My favorites being the 2009 Cabernet and a tossup between the two whites.  The Cabernet Sauvignon is exquisite with just the right amount of oak.  The whites are crisp, fruity and refreshing.  I would have no problem with recommending any of these.  The Sweet Rosé appeared to be a favorite of several guests including one of the three army soldiers sitting next to me at the bar.  Fresh bread and an assorted cheese plate are available for snacking.

Craig Pinkley and his wife Beth, the proprietors of Pilot Knob Vineyard are friendly, personable people with an obvious passion for wine.  A true inspiration to an aspiring winemaker like myself.  They did not grow up in a wine family, have prior careers in the wine business or have degrees in viticulture, yet made their dream a reality.  The wine made by Pilot Knob Vineyard is a testament to their hard work and dedication to producing a quality product.  I look forward to tasting their wine again and visiting Pilot Knob Vineyard in the future.

**Apologies for some of the blurry pictures, check out the Pilot Knob gallery for additional photos.

Round Rock Kraves a New Wine Bar

It’s not hard to find Round Rock, Texas in one of those lists for “Safest City in the U.S.” or “Best Places to Live”, but you won’t find it on a “Best Nightlife” or “Cultural Destinations” list.  I have heard some call Round Rock a wasteland.  For those living here or in other Austin suburbs the general consensus with a few exceptions is that you will need to drive into Austin to find a decent place to eat, drink or have a good time.  This is why I was so excited to hear about a new wine bar opening in Round Rock.  While plentiful in Austin I am only aware of one other wine bar in town.

Round Rock’s newest is called “Krave Wine Bar and Bistro”  located on Main St. in the historic downtown area.  I followed with great anticipation the construction progress through photos on Krave’s Facebook page.  With the official Grand Opening just about two weeks ago I had a chance to check it out this past Saturday.  Guess I wasn’t the only one who heard about the opening as the place was packed upon our arrival at 7 pm.  Inside you are greeted by the customary long bar on the right and high table seating along the left that extends toward the back where there are two couch seating areas, one in a cove like spot that offers more seclusion.  Fresh air lovers will enjoy the small outside area in the back.  The overall decor is tasteful with a modern feel yet still preserves elements of the original building such as the limestone brick walls.  With an emphasis on Texas wine, beer and the use of locally grown produce, Krave is also a proud supporter of our local businesses and economy.

Wine is available by the glass ($4-$18) and by bottle ($15-$180).  Open for lunch and dinner the Italian themed menu has a selection of appetizers, Italian sandwiches they refer to as “Puccia”, pizza, pasta and assorted entrees.  We ordered a couple of Texas wines by the glass and tried the “Roasted Garlic Hummus” to start.  The wine pours seemed generous and the hummus was excellent.  I don’t know if they made it in house, but it was very tasty and seemed fresh.  We ordered the “Round Rock” pizza which was also quite savory.  I am happy to report that our overall experience was very positive.  Our fellow patrons looked to be having a good time as well.  I only have a couple of small quibbles to report.  If you call yourself a “Wine Bar” and one that purports to specialize in Texas wine, the wine enthusiast in me expects a substantial selection of Texas wines.  There are over 220 Texas wineries and only a fraction represented at Krave, many notable that are missing.  I hope the selection and variety will evolve over time.  My last point I will attribute to what I call “opening pains”.  The pita bread included with our hummus and the crust on the pizza were a little too scorched in places.  Also, we were not able to order a couple of the entrees as they were out of stock and it was only 7 o’clock.  None of these will prevent me from going back to “Krave Wine Bar and Bistro” nor stop me from recommending them as a great place to relax, eat and enjoy a glass of wine or two.

Choosing Wine and a Taste of Dry Riesling

One of the things I enjoy most about wine is finding something new and/or unexpected.  Finding a new favorite grape, wine producer or friendly wine drinking establishment.  I strive to taste new wine just about every chance I get.  I spend inordinate amounts of time at the local wine store browsing thousands of bottles looking for something new and unique or at least something I have never tasted.  Half the time I just wing it and choose a bottle at random.  The other half I check out some wine buying guides, magazine or remember a name from some movie or documentary I just watched.  Occasionally, I will ask or get unsolicited advice from a wine store employee.  Wine ratings from Wine Enthusiast, Robert Parker or Wine Spectator sway me on occasion, though I have found them more useless than helpful.  I can understand the appeal in those ratings as the sheer number of wines to choose from can be overwhelming at times.  After all, who wants to spend all day searching for a wine to take home, except me of course.  I know people who buy the same wine over and over again.  They know what they like and they know what they’re gonna get.  As for ratings, I have tasted some mediocre and terrible wine with good ratings.  I say take a chance and try something new.

This brought me to Riesling.  You don’t hear much about Riesling or maybe that’s just me.  I have been tasting my way through white wine varieties for awhile now and have sampled various Rieslings.  Sweeter wines don’t really appeal to me; I have tasted many more Sauvignon Blancs, Chardonnays and Pinot Grigios.  I am passionate about wine and want to leave no stone or shall we say grape unturned.  Budgetary constraints are a huge factor in wine selection for me and like anyone else I don’t want to waste money on wine I don’t enjoy.  This fall I started trying a Riesling here and there.  I sampled a few at a wine tasting and have purchased a few more to get a good feel for what Riesling is all about.

I still prefer a dry tasting wine than any other and many Rieslings are various levels of sweet except of course for the “Dry Riesling”.  Dry Riesling still has the same flavors, texture, color, etc. as a regular Riesling it’s just dry as the label says.  Finding a Dry Riesling is more difficult than finding a Rosé.  My local wine superstore has them next to the unclassified red wines and non alcoholic wine selections.  Dry Riesling exists in bottles not labeled as “Dry”, but trial and error or a good wine book will be the only way to find them.  Some producers are putting handy labels on the back with a scale showing how sweet or dry they will be.  Tangy, crisp acidity, fruit flavors of peaches or tangerines, light bodied and various minerality levels generally describe the experience.  Riesling in general pairs well with spicy foods too.  The major Riesling region is obviously Germany, with the Alsace region of France a major producer as well.  California, Washington, Australia, South Africa and others have a few.  I am going to cover Riesling in more detail for a future article as it deserves its own space and German Riesling has a complexity all its own.  Very tasty and pleasantly surprised are my final thoughts on Dry Riesling.  A few recommended selections follow.  Germany, Alsace and Washington State are represented $7-$14 price range.

2010 Weingut Liebfrauenstift Dry Riesling

2009 Baron de Hoen Riesling

2010 Louis Konstantin Guntrum Dry Riesling

2010 Chateau Ste Michelle Dry Riesling

Do You Have a Favorite Wine Region?

Rosé …The Misunderstood Wine

Perhaps this post would be better timed for a spring release, but I just couldn’t wait that long.  The thing is I love Rosé.  Like most of you out there I thought Rosé was this sweet, low quality swill that is synonymous with White Zinfandel (sorry white zin fans).  I am here to set the record straight; Rosé is not that wine.  While the pink color may confuse you, real Rosé is not Blush and it is not typically sweet.  This summer I started sampling various Rosés and continue to sample them even now when the temperatures are falling.  Rosé or any wine for that matter can be drank anytime in my opinion.

Rosé is made from just about all of the red wine grape varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Tempranillo, Sangiovese, Grenache, Gamay, Malbec, Syrah and Cinsault.  Blends of the aforementioned varietals are common.  Most common to Rosé besides being dry is the strawberry aromas, light body and fruity character, though some have spicy and mineral attributes.  Coloring of Rosé varies from very light pink to some that could almost be considered a traditional red.  The darker Rosés do seem to have a more full bodied taste.  Rosé, while closer in character to a white wine still gives you many red wine flavors.  The appeal of Rosé tilts more toward white wine drinkers, but that shouldn’t stop red wine lovers from getting to know Rosé as I have.  The selection of Rosé in your local wine store or grocery store is the bigger challenge as Rosé is not as popular in the U.S. as in other parts of the world.  According to a 2007 article in Wine Enthusiast, “Rosé sales have now surpassed those of white wine within France”.  Next time you go to pick up your normal bottle of Chardonnay or Cab (you know who you are) expand your palate and try a Rosé.  Following is a list of recommended Rosés to get you started.  I am listing several to make it easier to find one and  allow you to try the differences in Rosé wines.  Price range is roughly $7-$14.   I just tasted the 2010 Brotte Les Eglantiers Rosé and it is awesome!!

2010 Chateau Cadillac Bordeaux Rosé (France)

2010 Borsao Rosé (Spain)

2010 Robert Hall Rosé de Robles (California)

2010 Barnard Griffin Rosé of Sangiovese (Washington St)

2010 Georges Vigouroux Pigmentum Rosé (France)  Says Malbec on front label.

2010 Brotte Les Eglantiers (Tavel Appellation France)

2010 McPherson Rosé of Grenache – Syrah (Texas)

2009 Georges Duboeuf Beaujolais-Villages

2009 Duboeuf Beaujolais Villages

Following up on my last post for Beaujolais Nouveau I present you with my look at the 2009 Georges Duboeuf Beaujolais-Villages.  The Beaujolais producers pronounced 2009 as a banner year to say the least.  Georges Duboeuf proclaimed it as a “Vintage of a lifetime”.  Apparently, everything went perfectly with the 2009 crop , the right amount of rain, good temperatures, sunlight in the right amounts, the planets were in alignment and we end up as the beneficiaries.  If you sampled this year’s Beaujolais Nouveau then this is the perfect way to taste the difference between new wine and some would say properly aged wine.

The 2009 vintages for Beaujolais Villages have gotten all around good reviews and some high praise.  There are basically 3 levels of Beaujolais with quality and fermentation as the main differences.  Beaujolais, Beaujolais Villages and lastly Beaujolais Cru.  While most Beaujolais should be drunk in the first couple of years, the better quality versions such as the “Cru” can be kept for up to a decade.

Like all Beaujolais (or at least all I have drank) the 2009 Duboeuf Beaujolais Villages has a light body and is fruity.  Dry, easy going tannins and a little spice in there for good measure .  While serving slightly chilled is typical I prefer room temperature myself.  Price shouldn’t be an issue for most as I picked this up for around $8.00.  I agree that this is an excellent year for Beaujolais and give the 2009 Duboeuf Beaujolais Villages a “highly recommended” rating.