A California Chardonnay that widened my horizons, a Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo that knocked my socks off, and a not-to-miss tasting in Houston

More than once, a mea culpa has been published on this blog: I was wrong about California wine.

My experience writing and editing for the Slow Wine Guide to the Wine of California has really reshaped my perceptions of the wines from my home state.

Like many people in my generation coming up in wine, I toed the party lines: California Chardonnay is overly oaky and lacks acidity; California Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot are overly oaky, excessively extracted and fruit-forward, etc.

But over the course of my tastings and winery visits for Slow Food publishing, it became abundantly clear to me how abundantly wrong my thinking was.

One of the wines that really turned me around was the 2015 Santa Cruz Mountains Chardonnay Trout Gulch Vineyards by Ceritas, one of the wineries included in the 2018 and forthcoming 2019 editions.

Our family budget doesn’t allow us to drink it liberally. But a generous friend recently gave us a bottle that Tracie and I shared on Monday night for Rosh Hashanah dinner.

Man, what a wine! A nearly Platonic expression of laser-focused stone and tropical fruit dancing atop a seascape of saliva-inducing minerality and electric acidity.

There are a handful of wines from the ancient seabed soils of Skyline Ridge in the Santa Cruz Mountains that have truly thrilled me. And this one is a stand-out among them. (I just wish we could afford it! Thanks again to our generous friend who shared it with us!)

Now that all of our editors tastings and winery visits have been completed. I’m working diligently on putting the guide together. It will include Oregon this year as well. Stay tuned…

In other news…

SO MUCH great wine was poured this week in Houston at the Abruzzo wine growers association tasting.

One of my stand-outs was this pergola-trained Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo Baldovino by Valentina Di Camillo at I Fauri. Like Valentina, this wine is authentic as they come, with the brilliant fruit but also the classic notes of earth that I consider a sine qua non of great Abruzzo wines.

I loved it and I also love that her father is an enlightened Marxist like me (we also tasted her family’s “Red October” Montepulciano d’Abruzzo).

Tracie and I probably drink more wine from Abruzzo than any other Italian region (no joke). The price-quality ratio in Abruzzo wines is hard to beat. And the pristine, undeveloped countryside there, combined with its mountain-meets-sea topography, makes it easier to grow grapes using wholesome farming practices.

Hopefully, her wines will make it back to our market soon!

In other other news…

When was the last time that Maurizio Zanella (above), Chiara Lungarotti, Alois Lageder, Piero Mastroberardino, Alberto Chiarlo, Giovanni Gaja, and Francesco Marone Cinzano were in Houston? When was the last time they were all here at the same time, at the same tasting pouring their wines?

They and a bunch of other marquee producers will be here on Monday, October 15 for the Grandi Marchi (Top Estates) trade tasting.

I’ll be presenting them and leading a guided tasting of their wines. (I’m actually kinda nervous about it!)

Click here for more info and registration. I hope to see you there! It’s going to be an amazing tasting.

A new favorite wine list in Houston at Nobie’s and a spectacular Canary Islands wine

Travel and work have been so frenzied this year that I entirely missed a wonderful new(ish) restaurant and wine program right under my nose here in Houston.

But one of my best friends in the wine trade righted that wrong last night when he took me to Nobie’s.

That’s the restaurant’s moreish “Dilly Bread,” above, inspired (I believe) by Japanese milk bread and served with everything-bagel-topppings-infused butter topped with roe (trout, I believe). The visit would have been worth the appetizer!

But the real show stopper at yesterday’s dinner was a bottle of Canary Islands 2016 Palo Blanco by Envínate.

Wow, what a wine! And what a great wine list… one of my new favorites in Houston.

Just slightly oxidative in character, the Vino Atlántico paired magically with raw oysters. I loved how the citrus zest notes in the wine played against its own salinity and that of the molluscs.

Owner and wine director Sara Stayer has put together such a wonderful program there, with a balanced selection of natural, classic, and just-plain-fun wines. I especially loved the groovy California wines she’s serving right now.

And I REALLY loved her self-proclaimed “sliding scale” policy.

On last night’s list, one of my favorite Friulian wines was so generously priced that we thought it was a mistake. When we asked Sara about it, she told us that she occasionally marks down wines that she’s particularly excited about.

How friggin’ cool is that?

Nobie’s is just one of the myriad new wine-focused restaurants and wine bars that have already opened or are opening later this year in this southeast Texas town. The wine scene in Houston has only continued to grow and become more colorful in the time that I’ve lived here. Now it feels like we’ve reached a new plateau, a genuine wine renaissance.

Thank you, Sara, for a wonderful evening and dinner. I thoroughly enjoyed the restaurant. And I can’t wait to take Tracie there for a date night soon.

Houston Wine Almanac: a new blog devoted to our city’s vibrant wine scene

From the department of “as if I didn’t already have enough to blog about”…

Above: Pascal Prunier-Bonheur Coteaux Bourguignon Le P’tit Bonheur by the glass last night at Brennan’s in Houston, one of the city’s top wine destinations. Note the vintage. Utterly delicious.

Week before last, Brennan’s affable wine director Marcus Gausepohl lamented the fact that Houston lacks a blog devoted to its wine community.

With the shuttering of the Houston Press weekly rag in November last year and the scant however noble ink devoted by the Houston Chronicle to sports writer Dale Robertson’s Herculean wine coverage in America’s fourth largest metropolis, the city needs imho a wider-reaching portal devoted to its wine scene.

And so today, I launched Houston Wine Almanac.

Its mission is to provide regularly updated coverage of the Houston wine scene. It’s intended as an editorial-free space where all community members are invited and encouraged to share information and news.

Publicists, please send me any and all press releases you care to share.

Sommeliers, please feel free to dispatch any info you’d like to disgorge.

Bloggers, please shoot me your link in case I haven’t already added you to the Houston wine resources widget.

And just to get the party started on the right note, here’s an awesome song, below, written and performed by Pappas Bros. Steakhouse sommelier Steven McDonald.

Until today, it lived only through a link on his Facebook. Today, it belongs to the world!

Click here to visit the newly launched blog Houston Wine Almanac.