Restaurant Review: Pope’s Pairings Protect Plonk

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tafia_logoI think I was sitting in Toledo, avoiding study of some law-school related subject, when I first heard about Alice Waters’ Chez Panisse. The concept of growing local, buying local, and serving healthy, organic dishes that actually taste good was appealing. So I was especially pleased to learn that Houston had opened an eatery in a similar vein: t’afia since our return.

The brainchild of Chef Monica Pope t’afia promises “coastal Mediterranean cuisine inspired by local ingredients.” That’s one of the things I miss most about Toledo — Mediterranean food is abundant. To me, you can’t find enough good Mediterranean food in Houston — just like you can’t find any enough good Tex-Mex places in Toledo.

t’afia also hosts a farmer’s market every Saturday. Joe and I love local produce markets, so I signed up to receive their e-mail. Every week I get an e-mail from t’afia listing “this week’s friday lunch menu – 3 course local market menu with choices.” (interestingly, nearly everything from t’afia is written in lower case, I assume to emphasize the understated and under-appreciated local ingredients featured in all of the dishes). Because the restaurant is in Midtown with very little parking (valet is available) and I’m chained to an office in another part of town most Fridays, I hadn’t yet made the effort to visit.

tafiaSo for my birthday dinner with Joe, I decided to check it out. Lucky for me you can schedule reservations with OpenTable, because I absolutely hate to phone for reservations. My past experience in doing so usually entailed waiting through about 20 rings only to attempt to speak to the hostess over the din of the restaurant crowd. OpenTable provides a great alternative. I was able to get a reservation for Saturday at 7 p.m. by booking on Friday mid-morning.

Just for grins I checked OpenTable for Chez Panisse. The only two reservations available in the month of May are the following Monday or Wednesday at 9:15 pm. Nothing else is available via OpenTable past its 29-day range limitation.

I’d read about t’afia in a number of local publications including Houston Press and Texas Monthly a few years back.

T’afia (Houston)

Monica Pope’s new restaurant perplexes me no end. Why? Because I can’t imagine how such an ardent chef could choose such an austere setting—think trendy juvenile detention hall—to showcase her striking and original cuisine. But this hasn’t deterred her customers, who pack the place nightly to see what triumphs will emerge through those stainless-steel kitchen doors. Maybe it will be fabulous, meaty whole-duck-leg confit with an intense vanilla-sherry glaze. Or perhaps two little toasty-brown Texas quail brilliantly matched with a garlicky pistachio sauce and nutty barley-and-red-rice pilaf. A whirlwind of energy, Pope sells prepared holiday meals from Thanksgiving through New Year’s (by advance order) and hosts a farmers’ market in the restaurant and its parking lot every Saturday. She also champions regional and natural products, so diners can count on finding things as diverse as B3R hormone — and antibiotic — free beef and local artisan chocolates on the menu. And speaking of the menu, let me dyspeptically voice a final, tiny gripe, which is that I find its layout—with one section for starters and entrèes and another section for more entrèes—puzzling. But one thing about T’afia is crystal clear, and that is the passion of Monica Pope. I don’t know how she does it all.
~ 2005 Where to Eat Now, by Patricia Sharpe, Texas Monthly magazine

t’afia lists quite a few acclaims on its website including:

Chef Monica Pope
————————————–
Alchemy Award Honoree 2008
James Beard Award Nominee, Best Chef Southwest 2007
Most Creative Chef, O Magazine, 2007
The only Texas woman to be named Best New Chef, Food & Wine Magazine, 1996

t’afia
————————————–
Best Sommelier, The Houston Press, 2007
Best Service, The Houston Press, 2006
Best Restaurant, The Houston Press, 2005
Best New Restaurant, Houston Business Journal, 2005
The Hot 50 – Where to Eat Now, Bon Appetit Magazine, 03/05

So with all that love, I was ready to visit.  Joe mentioned our plans to his co-worker Gary — who seems to have eaten at nearly every restaurant in town — and got a rather non-committal review: “It is what it is, but I knew that going in.”  Since Gary has recommended some fabulous places in the past his rather lack luster endorsement gave us a bit of a pause.

First Impressions

When we arrived at t’afia there was no hostess at the hostess stand – or anywhere in the vicinity. We waited several minutes unacknowledged by any of the waitstaff.  Welcome to your typical trendy Houston upscale spot, I thought. However, when the hostess arrived she was very friendly. She noted “birthday” had been included in the reservation comments and said “Happy Birthday!” We were then seated in the middle of a long group of crowded tables with chairs on one side and a very long booth bench that ran down the center of the room. The dining area does have individual tables for two-to-four people.  But since we were a little early for our reservation (about 10 minutes initially, but only about 5 by the time we were acknowledged and seated) I assumed that we were just seated at the next available table.

Let me just summarize up front by saying the decor is trendy cafeteria-cool, our waiter was friendly, the food is good, but the place is very loud. And, I wish I had taken my camera, to take pictures of our meal and the decor, but remembered a number of pictures on their website.  Joe tends to get annoyed when I’m flashing pictures like a Country Mouse tourist on her first trip to the Big City, so it was probably best I forgot. But alas, it appears the pictures have been moved, because the links, at time of this writing, don’t work for anything but thumbnails.

The “Din” in Dinner

Acoustics in t’afia are not conducive to quiet conversation. At least not when sitting on the long communal bench.  I could hear the conversations from the tables behind me and beside me, but could not hear my dinner partner sitting across from me.  If it had been a little cooler outside, I might have asked for a table on the patio, because when we arrived at 7 p.m. there was only one occupied. But since I was enjoying the bits and pieces of what appeared to be the conversations of intellectuals, artists and liberals I didn’t mind so much at having to cup my ears or ask Joe to yell at me so I could hear him.

The Food

Because I’m married to a fabulous cook, most restaurants have been ruined for me. When you’re paying for something that you could easily have at home, the bar is always raised. The selections on the daily menu sounded  and — gazing around the room — looked fabulous. We also learned from our sever that anything on the 5-course Local Market Tasting Prix Fixe Menu ($45) could be substituted with a similar course.  The tasting menu also is available with a Texas wine pairing option for an additional $20. Whenever we dine out, Joe nearly always chooses better than I, and I typically prefer his selections to mine. Given our previous experience with Texas wines, Joe chose to order non-Texas wines from t’afia‘s extended wine list to complement his à la carte selections.

I wanted to go for the whole “experience as offered,” and I really wanted to give Texas wines another chance. So, I chose the Texas wine option.

Joe chose his wines wisely.

Amy’s Tasting Menu

  • first course: fried thunder heart bison picadillo-stuffed olives, crostini with pure luck del cielo
  • second course: sweet potato coconut with jalapeno & ginger
  • third course: quinoa vegetable salad, lemon & evoo
  • fourth course:braised lamb, yellow corn grits, cippoline-rosemary pearl onions
  • fifth course: railean rum-roasted pineapple, mascarpone gelato

Joe’s à la carte selections

  • appetizer: medjool dates stuffed with chorizo, wrapped in bacon
  • main course: halibut cheese with sides of buerre blanc and saffron-sherry aioli sauces
  • side: celery root-potato gratin

The Wine

Joe chose directly from the Wine Menu an 04 Bodegas Naia Naiades Verdejo from Rueda, Spain to start, and added a glass of 2006 Volker Eisele Gemini, a blend of 72% Semillon and 28% Sauvignon Blanc from Napato pair with his main course. I was left at the mercy of “a texas wine with each course” which included wines from three different Texas wineries, Haak (Santa Fe), Alamosa (Bend), and La Cruz de Comal (Startzville).  None of these wines were listed on the sample wine list on the restaurant website, nor do I recall them listed on the printed wine list that was provided at the restaurant. Had they been I probably would have skipped the Texas wine option.

Paired with my courses were the 2008 Haak Blanc du Bois Blue Label (1st); 2004 Alamosa Texacaia (2nd); 2007 Alamosa Viognier (3rd); 2004 La Cruz de Comal Cohete Rojo (4th); and 2004 Haak Texas Jacquez Madeira (5th).

The Dining Experience

Our server was a trendy-looking millennial who, while very friendly, did not seem as attentive or as quick to go from the table to table as the other servers in the restaurant. The name he gave us is different than that listed on our receipt, and he could perhaps have just had a less-than-optimum night, so we’ll just leave his name out.

First course: Served first was the Haak Blanc du Bois, described on Haak’s site as

“made from grapes grown in our vineyards in Santa Fe, as well as from grapes grown in Fulshear, Texas, Cat Spring, Texas, Palestine, Texas, Harleton, Texas and Brenham, Texas. The grapes were crushed & pressed and fermented in stainless steel at 55 F to retain floral and fruit aromas that are characteristic of this grape variety like peach, apricot, pear, green apple, figs and grapefruit. The residual sugar in this wine is 2.5 %, which is considered Semi-Sweet of off-dry.”

I’d had this wine before back in my early days of wine drinking and it was “ok.” My palate no longer thinks so. Standalone it is too perfume-y. But paired with the tiny crostinis and single stuffed olive (not “olives” as indicated on the menu) it worked. Chef Monica’s food actually made the wine drinkable. However, Joe’s Verdejho was a much better pairing.

The medjool dates Joe selected were incredible! While he wasn’t keen on the pureed texture of the chorizo stuffing, I found them melt-in-your mouth delicious. And his pairing with the Verdehjo was excellent!

Second course: Served next was the Alamosa Texacaia, billed as a blend of Sangiovese, Syrah and Tempranillo. I thought it was a little weird to move to what purported to be a “Super Texan” for the second course. While I could taste some Syrah, this was no “super” anything but another thin Texas red. And the sweet potato coconut soup, while tasty, could not even save this mediocre wine.

Third course: Back to white for this course was another wine from Alamosa: 2007 Viognier Texas High Valley Block, Cherokee Creek Vineyard. The folks at Alamosa bill this as “a stunning wine with apricots, honeydew, pineapple.  It’s aromatic with a luscious mouthfeel, a long finish and wonderful balance. This fruit came from our neighbor’s vineyard.”

toni-twinBuild a fence, and stop getting anything but sugar from the neighbors. The nose on this wine immediately made me think of those tiny aqua, pink and seafoam green curlers from the 70s when my mother gave me a Toni Home Perm. It even made  Joe’s Verdehjo taste more like the Catawba wines from Ohio and Michigan, rather than the refreshing Spanish White. My pairing did make the Texas wine tolerable, and I liked the crunchy toasted quinoa in the salad. I’d previously had only cooked quinoa, a grain-like crop grown primarily for its edible seeds.

Fourth course: There’s a reason why Napa cabs are so expensive — the Napa terroir is perfect for growing cabernet grapes. Texas — don’t try this at home.  Served next was a 2004 La Cruz de Comal Cohete Rojo, which our server described as a cabernet blend.  According to the La Cruz de Comal website, the wine is “a blend of five varietals: merlot, cabernet sauvignon, syrah, tannat and alicante bouchet” and “tastes similar to a wine from the Southern Rhone or Provençe.”  Only if the “wine” is Welch’s grapejuice. While the wine has a cabernet nose, and an initial bit of Old World flavor, it quickly turns thin in the mouth with a sweet sugary grape juice flavor on the finish. Again, Chef Monica saved made the wine tolerable with her hearty lamb dish. But why should any restaurant  have to rescue its patrons from its wine?

I’m not a big fan of Sauvignon Blanc — I’m probably still recovering from New Zealand SB overload from the 2008 Wine Blogger Conference, but enjoyed both the nose and the flavor of the 2006 Volker Eisele Gemini Joe has selected, given it was nearly three-quarters Semillon. For me, though, the food had an opposite affect on his wine. Alone it was pleasant, but pairing it with the halibut cheeks brought out all I don’t like in a Sauvignon Blanc – the grassy flavor and cat box odors.  I’m also not a big fan of the “fishy” taste of halibut.  The celery root-potato gratin, however, was awesome!

Fifth course: The final Texas wine was the 2004 Haak Madeira Jacquez, something I’d enjoyed when I visited Haak Winery a few years back. Alas, the dessert wine club from Bacchus & Venus, as well as the sauternes at the Grand Cru Tasting earlier this year has ruined Haak Madeira for me.  Not even the rum-roasted pineapple could save it.

The Verdict

Again, the food is good, even if it tends to lean more toward the chic and semi-vegan appeal. For a more manly cuisine, t’afia lists a sister restaurant called “Beaver’s” (the name alone ought to appeal to those more testosterone-infused Houston foodies.)  I appreciate the concept of trying to incorporate local ingredients, or as it says on the t’afia menu “Eat Where Your Food Lives.”  That said, there’s a limit to what a Texas venue can do when it comes to Texas Wine.  “All local” is an easy thing to do if the restaurant is located in the San Francisco’s Bay Area as is Chez Panisse, because Alice Waters’ wine lives in nearby Wine Country.

But Texas is an entirely different matter. It seems that Chef Monica Pope is handicapping her talented cooking by forcing her local tasting menu pairings with Texas Wines. Not so at another Midtown eatery we reviewed. While not as fabulous as Feast, I’m not ready to write off t’afia altogether. But I would like to see the local market tasting menu with an optional non-Texas wine pairing to add a little diversity. I’d also like to check out one of the Green Plum cooking classes offered each Saturday morning at the Farmer’s Market. And perhaps visit again at a time not typically as crowded (if one indeed exists).

But if and when I do visit again I’ll be thinking along the same lines as Gary, “It is what it is, but I knew that going in.”

Cheers!

Amy Corron Power, the WineWonkette~ Amy Corron Power,
aka WineWonkette

About Amy Corron Power

A licensed attorney, Amy is a wine-lover, foodie, photographer, political junkie and award-winning author who writes about Wine, Food, Beer & Spirits. As Managing Editor & Tasting Director for Another Wine Blog, she travels all over the world's wine regions to share her experiences with her readers and nearly 10,000 twitter fans. Amy holds certifications through the International Sommelier Guild, and is also certified, with honors, as a California Wine Appellation Specialist (CWAS). She is a member of the Guild of Sommeliers, The Wine & Food Foundation of Texas and regularly attends Houston Sommelier Association events.
  • http://www.vintagetexas.com/blog Russ Kane

    Maybe you are missing Chef Monica's point at T'afia. She is into local terroir (or sense of place) more than trying to reprocess a steriod-infused California wine and food experience.

    Monica is works her magic with local ingredence in her recipes and is working with local wines. The problem with many foodies and wine writers is that their palate is shot from drinking too many wines pumped up on overripe fruit and alcohol shock.

    I recently featured my “Pick Six” Texas wines at the Grand Wine and Food Affair and got a very good response. See: http://vintagetexas.com/blog/?p=738. But, perhaps the best comments on Texas wine were obtained from a Sonoma winemaker of 20 years that strolled by that evening (that also wished to remain anonomous) when he said:

    “Californians have spent so much time in recent years pumping up the fruit ripeness and alcohol that it is impossible to taste the terroir anymore. These Texas wines are not overblown like many that I taste. Enjoy them, as you can still taste the interplay of local and varietal flavors.”

    Regards,

    Russ Kane

    • Amy Corron Power

      Russ, thank you for stopping by and thank you for providing a simplified definition of “terroir” for our readers. Here’s a more complete explanation.

      Maybe you were missing the key elements of the post. Read again closely and you’ll note that I chose the restaurant specifically because Chef Monica is known to buy, feature and incorporate local ingredients. And I can certainly appreciate the option to pair each dish with a Texas wine, because some people actually prefer “all things Texas,” including its wines. Texans have gained a reputation worldwide of being so completely self-absorbed and inward-looking that they think nothing else outside Texas matters, and that all things Texas are superior. Luckily many a Texan will venture outside his comfort zone and enjoy Old World Wines as well as those from California and other newer wine-growing regions around the world, as we do.

      And many a California winemaker will lament what has come to be known as the Parkerization of wines, but will continue to craft his wines to score points from Parker all the same. I find it especially refreshing when they do so openly, rather than anonymously. But “terroir” should not be an excuse to serve bad or inferior wines. If that were the case, t’afia and places like it would not offer a number of finer Old and New World wines to pair with its meals.

      I appreciate that Chef Pope’s skills can make young, vegetal Texas wines taste better. I also found it interesting that none of the paired Texas wines were offered alone on the rather extensive wine list. To me that spoke volumes.

      But given that Chef Pope was named Best Sommelier, Houston Press, 2007, I’ll repeat what I said in my post “…I would like to see the local market tasting menu with an optional non-Texas wine pairing to add a little diversity. ”

      We hope to see you again at this year’s Wine Blogger Conference in Santa Rosa. As we say in the South; “Bless Your Heart,” we’ll certainly be glad to drink your share of all those “overblown” California wines! ;)

  • http://www.anotherwineblog.com jpower

    Wow, that is a pretty good defense of Texas wines! “You can't tell how good it is because California wine makes it taste bad to you.” Since we also drink an awful lot of wine from Oregon and Washington, not to mention Australia, France, Italy, Spain, Germany, Argentina, New Zealand et al, perhaps they are also to blame for the fact that Texas wine tastes thin, unfinished and vegetal to us?

    As the review stated, we admire Chef Pope's considerable abilities. However, her wonderful food would be much better served by being paired with drinkable wine.

    I realize that you have a vested interest in promoting Texas wines, Russ, but you need a better argument than attacking the palates of those who dare to compare it to wine from the rest of the world. Perhaps finding, if possible, and recommending something that you consider to be a good Texas wine might be a better argument, because the stuff we were served at T'afia was not much better than what the average home winemaker can produce. No disciminating wine lover would even use it to rinse their glass.

  • http://www.anotherwineblog.com WineWonkette

    Russ, thank you for stopping by and thank you for providing a simplified definition of “terroir” for our readers. Here’s a more complete explanation: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Terroir

    Maybe you were missing the key elements of the post. Read again closely and you’ll note that I chose the restaurant specifically because Chef Monica is known to buy, feature and incorporate local ingredients. And I can certainly appreciate the option to pair each dish with a Texas wine, because some people actually prefer “all things Texas,” including its wines. Texans have gained a reputation worldwide of being so completely self-absorbed and inward-looking that they think nothing else outside Texas matters, and that all things Texas are superior. Luckily many a Texan will venture outside his comfort zone and enjoy Old World Wines as well as those from California and other newer wine-growing regions around the world, as we do.

    And many a California winemaker will lament what has come to be known as the “Parkerization” of wines, but will continue to craft his wines to score points from Parker all the same. I find it especially refreshing when they do so openly, rather than anonymously. But “terroir” should not be an excuse to serve bad or inferior wines. If that were the case, t’afia and places like it would not offer a number of finer Old and New World wines to pair with its meals.

    I appreciate that Chef Pope’s skills can make young, vegetal Texas wines taste better. I also found it interesting that none of the paired Texas wines were offered alone on the rather extensive wine list. To me that spoke volumes.

    But given that Chef Pope was named “Best Sommelier, Houston Press, 2007,” I’ll repeat what I said in my post “…I would like to see the local market tasting menu with an optional non-Texas wine pairing to add a little diversity. ”

    We hope to see you again at this year’s Wine Blogger Conference in Santa Rosa. As we say in the South; “Bless Your Heart,” we’ll certainly be glad to drink your share of all those “overblown” California wines! ;)

  • http://www.vintagetexas.com/blog Russ Kane

    Check out your comment….”It seems that Chef Monica Pope is handicapping her talented cooking by forcing her local tasting menu pairings with Texas Wines.”

    I believe that you missed the point that Chef Monica has made a decision to go with Texas wines. I do not think that “force” is the right description. Nobody has a gun to her head. I think that a better description would be that she is exploring. Maybe it does not work for everybody (particularly those that do not understand French-American hybrids like Blanc du Bois), but I give her credit for working outside the box.

    See you are the next WBC.

    Russ

    • http://www.anotherwineblog.com WineWonkette

      Russ, we certainly understand your insistence on promoting Texas wine since it's the focus of your wine experience — but insisting that a wine drinker “doesn't understand” a wine, simply because they find it inferior just reinforces that Texas stereotype a Texan will claim “everything from Texas is better.”

      We like to help our readers learn and enjoy a number of wines from all over the world, not just Texas. Your palate, and reputation, appear to prefer promoting Texas wines. That's great — we wish you continued success on your Texas Wine blog!

      • http://www.vintagetexas.com/blog Russ Kane

        I am the first to admit that everything from Texas is not better. There are still alot of wineries that have not gotten with the quality program. But, I am against the opposite approach, that if is from Texas then it cannot be good.

        In this case, I was focusing responding on the fact that Monica is trying focus on local fare and the experience that it creates, a bond with the local terroir for locale sake. Beauty can be found in local. It should not be poopooed by the fact that it does not have a favorite -style Napa wine to accompany it.

        Agree to disagree. Love ya.

        Russ

        • http://www.anotherwineblog.com jpower

          While I can not claim to have tasted all Texas wines, I can claim to know good from bad, and we are discussing Haak. Game, set, match.

          • http://www.vintagetexas.com/blog Russ Kane

            Sounds like Haak semi-sweet (blue label) Blanc du Bois was in play here. I have just tasted the current vintage of this wine about two weeks ago and it has good floral honeysuckle qualities true to the varietal and it lineage with a very nicely done, pleasant sugar/acid balance. I will admit that I first had this wine many year's ago and it has come along well, consistently improving vintage by vintage.

          • http://www.anotherwineblog.com jpower

            I'm sure that the Haak family is glad to hear that someone claims to enjoy their wine. Personally, I wouldn't cook with it.

          • http://www.vintagetexas.com/blog Russ Kane

            OK, OK lets keep it going now that you are getting ugly:

            I think that you are in the minority here with this wine:

            Haak Semi-Sweet Blanc Dubois (Blue Label) – From my notes: It starts with slices melon aromas in the nose and expands on the palate to sweet tropical fruits, especially mango with a hint of maraschino cherry.

            This wine is a medal winner: Gold 2008 Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo International Wine
            Competition. The Rodeo competition is a mainstream wine competition judged by people in the trade where the wines are tasting blind and not always by the Texas-friendly judges.

            Also, I just got back from the Lone Star Wine Competition held earlier this month and in the Fortified Wine category – Haak Vineyards & Winery Madeira Blanc du Bois 2006 won a double gold.

            This wine may just not be your cup of tea – the style (semi-sweet) or the varietal (Blanc du Bois), but it does not mean that it is not a good wine and others agree.

            Again, thanks for the banter – it is all good fun. I hope the best for you in your food and wine tasting/writing endeavors.

            Please keep in mind that it is just wine and that there are bigger and more important issues that we face in this troubled world.

            I (and many people the wine judging community) will likely agree to disagree with you on this one.

            Your friend in wine :)

            Russ

        • http://www.anotherwineblog.com WineWonkette

          Napa? Since when is non-Texas synonymous with Napa? I'd settle for France, Germany, Chile, Argentina, Spain, Italy, Oregon, Washington, or any good wine from another state in the U.S.

          You keep trying to pigeonhole us as those who prefer only big fruit bombs, rather than wine drinkers that judge a wine by its merits, not by its proximity to our house.

          • http://www.vintagetexas.com/blog Russ Kane

            I won't prolong this banter much longer and I respect all your view points, except one.

            Somewhere in my past comments you will note my most important agrument – terroir: the sence of place (locale) that Monica has tried to establish in her restaurant. She is focusing on local farm to market fare based; Texas grown and Texas savored.

            Why would she want to pair it with a wine from Argentina, Spain, Italy, Oregon, Washington or even Napa? It would be so far afield from her highly focused local cuisine.

            Texas has worthy wines and Raymond Haak has worked wonders with Texas grown Blanc du Bois. He has dry, semi-sweet, dry oak-aged and dessert Mariera-style. Blanc du Bois, it's not mainstream like Sauvignon Blanc or Chardonnay. It's different, it is its own thing and Haak's is true to both the varietal and its roots in Texas. It is also worthy of Chef Pope's selection. If you don't like it that's one thing. Maybe it's just not your thing. But, I have spent enough year's as a wine judge and wine writer to know to separate my personal likes/disslikes and try hard to understand by asking why, why, why before making a personal judgment.

            Let's agree to disagree. Thanks for giving this discussion the time and space that it has occupied on your blog.

            I just wish that I could spell check and proof read better when posting comments on blogs.

            Regards, Russ

          • http://www.anotherwineblog.com jpower

            Being fully and completely aware of the meaning of 'terroir,' I would agree that the wine in question exemplefies an area dotted with refineries and chemical plants. Food as good as that produced by Chef Pope deserves much better accompaniament. Insinuations that we are just too ignorant to 'get' Texas wine aside, the wines in this pairing ranged from insipid to having seriously off aromas and flavors.

            Your niche is promoting Texas wine, anyone reading this gets that, but defending inferior wine by questioning the palate or knowledge of those who dislike it is probably a really bad idea. Eventually it will lead others to make those very same assumptions about you, or to question your integrity. As I said before, a better tactic might be to suggest a truly good Texas wine. Tasting something good, even if it is just one, will convert more people to your way of thinking than dozens of veiled insults ever will. Insisting that a Honda is a Lamborghini does not make it any faster, and railing against way the stopwatch timed it will not change that fact.

          • http://www.vintagetexas.com/blog Russ Kane

            For the record:

            I highlight what is here in Texas. I know that there are some wines that are not worthy of a venue like Chef Pope's retaurant and not afraid to admit it. But also, I have no vested interest and receive no renumeration from wineries, distributors or others for discussing what I discuss. I just feel that you have shown your colors and prejudices with the last two posts.

            For the record to be set straight, Haak Blanc du Bois (semi-dry; blue label) has been a consistent medal winner in competitions in many venues not just here in Texas. See below (again for the record and to justify my statements as credible and accurate):

            2008 Blanc du Bois (Semi-Sweet)-(Blue Label)
            Bronze 2009 Houston Livestock Rodeo Show International Wine Competition

            2007 Blanc du Bois (Semi-Sweet)-(Blue Label)
            Silver 2008 Texas Open Wine Judging

            2006 Blanc du Bois (Semi-Sweet)-(Blue Label)
            Gold 2008 Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo International Wine Competition

            Silver 2008 Finger Lakes International Wine Competition

            Bronze 2008 Grand Harvest Awards, Santa Rosa CA

            Bronze 2008 San Diego International Wine Competition

            Bronze 2008 Dallas Morning News Wine Competition

            2005 Blanc du Bois (Semi-Sweet)-(Blue Label)

            Silver 2006 Florida State Fair International Wine Competition

            Bronze 2006 Finger Lakes International Wine Competition

            Silver 2006 Lone Star International Wine Competition- Texas

            Gold 2006 International Eastern Wine Competition

            Silver 2006 Texas Open Wine Competition

            Bronze 2006 Indy International Wine Competition

            Gold 2007 Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo International Wine Competition

            Bronze 2007 San Antonio Express News Wine Competition

            Silver 2007 Florida State Fair International Wine Competition

            Bronze 2007 Dallas Morning News Wine Competition

            Silver 2006 LA County Fair Competition

            2004 Blanc du Bois (Semi-Sweet)-(Blue Label)

            Bronze 2005 Texas Best Wine Competition

            Bronze 2005 Finger Lakes International Wine Competition

            Bronze 2005 L A County Fair Wine Competition

            Silver 2005 Lone Star International Wine Competition

            Silver 2005 Indiana International Wine Competition

            Silver 2005 Texas Open Wine Competition

            I could further with the hard cold facts about the worthiness of this wine. In fact, it shows that Haak has put this wine up in many competitions and in nearly evey case, it comes back a medal winner (this is not to even mention the other medals gained for his other versions of Blanc du Bois).

            Again, please try to keep a level head in this. I am not an advocate as much as I am a reporter that is not afraid to challenge the wine establishment by highlighting events and by my commentary based on facts, experiences and not mere feelings.

            I still hope that we can be friends and agree to disagree without all the acromony (sp?) of heated spirits viewed in your last two posts.

            Russ

          • http://www.anotherwineblog.com WineWonkette

            We all know the politics of some of the wine competitions, especially some of those you cited. Having spent years in marketing and advertising, really, I know that big donors can win medals for wines that tastes like vienna sausage, or chocolate cherry-cough syrup. Local wines that cause the patrons to ask “who paid whom to get a medal for that plonk?”

            But Russ here's the question that really keeps coming back to me. Who on earth goes on someone else's blog to tell them they have no idea what they're talking about, unless he's (1) a pompous arse (2) trying to drive traffic to his own single-purpose blog, or (3) pimping for the winery whose product we didn't care for?

            I don't get it. Feel free to write about whatever you want on your blog. Or bring a cadre of Texas wines to the WBC that might be worthy of our review on THIS one.

          • Raymond Haak

            A few hours ago, Wine Wonkette wrote, “But Russ here's the question that really keeps coming back to me. Who on earth goes on someone else's blog to tell them they have no idea what they're talking about, unless he's (1) a pompous arse (2) trying to drive traffic to his own single-purpose blog, or (3) pimping for the winery whose product we didn't care for?”
            You forgot fourth reason: (4) the blog was because it is difficult to see someone obviously ignorant of the wine world in general and Texas wines specifically to continually advertise their ignorance. Some of us still ascribe to the Truth in Wine “Veritas”. If all a person does is criticize wines from a particular wine region, they are missing opportunities to praise wines in other wine regions. I suggest you go find someone else's backyard to play in assuming they will have you.

          • http://www.anotherwineblog.com WineWonkette

            Seriously, just because someone doesn't like a particular wine that you, yourself, make (assuming you're actually Mr. Haak, and not a sock puppet) certainly does not make him or her “obviously ignorant of the wine world in general.”

            It simply means that we found your particular wine didn't appeal to us. When someone can provide us with a Texas wine that does, and we have certainly asked for suggestions of wines OTHER than those we didn't like but can't seem to get any, we'll certainly be more than glad to write about it. We'd love to have you/Russ provide a number of Texas wines st the WBC and let tasters compare them with other wines there.

            But you have set us all up to be wrong. In your world anyone who doesn't like HAAK wine, must be an idiot. And that must be quite a large and growing group.

          • http://www.anotherwineblog.com jpower

            Sorry we twisted your panties, Ray. However, get your facts straight, if you can. We have done a total of two posts on Texas wines. We have also asked for suggestions on good Texas wine and have received a grand total of none. So, you'll have to excuse us for assuming that they are all as mediocre-to-bad as the ones, yours included, that we have tasted. If it is any consolation, yours do fall on the mediocre end of that spectrum. Congratulations!

            Btw, we never miss the opportunity to praise wine due to writing about bad ones, as we do not review bad wine. Hence no Haak reviews. However, this thread has generated countless “right on” e-mails, as has one I wrote on 'unconventional wine regions.' I was kind enough not to use them in a follow-up post.

            Thanks for stopping by! Your comments have really shown us the error of our ways.

          • http://www.anotherwineblog.com jpower

            No acrimony in my posts to you, although your buddy Ray just got a little taste of it. Look, we both know that wine competitions are good publicity for wineries, but have little-to-no correlation with quality. Maybe an aggregate of Wine Spectator, Robert Parker, Wine Enthusiast, and Decanter scores might make me revisit my opinion. ;)

            Seriously, I was going to head to Specs and pick up a bottle of Haak and blind taste it with a few other similar whites to see if maybe I was off base. However, given that the wine maker chose to show his ass below, I think I'll spare my wallet…and my palate.

            For the record, had I changed my mind I would have written an apology and a nice review, and if I did not change my opinion, I would have kept it to myself.

            I have no problem with you personally, Russ. There is nothing wrong with a little spirited debate among friends. Your friend should figure that out, however. Charm lessons wouldn't do him any harm either.

  • http://rfbwinepost.blogspot.com/ Rob

    What an excellent back and forth about Texas Wines! I was able to participate in an online Texas tasting that compared wines from Texas to wines from all over the world. The idea was to show that Texas wines can match up in quality to other more well-known regions.

    I think the tasting was presented well, although none of the wines that were matched up to the Texas wines were anything special (although I still think I got a bad bottle of Pesquera, I will need to retaste that wine).

    Here is the link for you:
    http://rfbwinepost.blogspot.com/2009/04/dancing

    Overall however, I could not say that Texas really made an impression on me. I would certainly welcome a more comprehensive tasting at WBC.

    I think on the subject of terroir, you can't just call everything terroir. You first need something that tastes good, and then the nuances that make it taste special. I tasted through about 100 Idaho wines and there was definitely a terroir taste, some extreme bitterness to the wines. However, I would not say that terroir made the wines taste good!

    • http://www.anotherwineblog.com WineWonkette

      Thank you for your comments Rob. I think part of the problem in Texas is the weather, global warming, chemical companies, etc. The Houston metropolitan area just seems like the worst place to try to grow grapes – especially in Hurricane Alley. It really never gets cool enough, the weather is erratic, and a hit like Ike can take out your entire operation. Add that to having one of the worst environments for pollution, and a number of former “brownsites,” it's almost like playing poker with the Devil.

      We continue to look for impressive Texas wines to write about – but so far our travels have not yielded any. Some of those in the Hill Country held promise, but droughts have taken out much of the yield. We'll continue to hope to find one or two to share!

      • http://vintagetexas.com/blog Russ Kane

        During my PC meltdown this week, I promised Joe that I would not post any more here on your site and agree to disagree. However, Ms Wonkette just stepped in it again…..Raymond was right when he said, “it is difficult to see someone obviously ignorant of the wine world in general and Texas wines specifically to continually advertise their ignorance.” You asked why I would come to your site and expound so much and so often…this is precisely the reason.

        First, the grapes used in the wine in question were Blanc du Bois (BdB), French American hybrids that were especially developed for hot humid regions like the Texas Gulf Coast. They are not limited by the issues that cause problems with French vinifera grapes. They like hot humid conditions and can maintain good acidity even without night time cooling. They also are resistant to Pierce's and within reason to humidity, as well.

        Second, most of the grapes in Haak BdB were likely grown outside of Harris County closer to Austin County and other places by Texas family growers that are cultivating small to medium size vineyards. Again, good sense for a farm to market pairing like at Chef Pope's place.

        Third, these grapes in Texas typically ripen in July before the Hurricane season causes many of the issues it does in Texas in August and September.

        Fourth, no brownsites were included in the vineyards that produced this wine.

        Fifth, I can suggest some very interesting and more conventional Texas wines for your palate to enjoy. Those that are made from vinifera grapes that also love dry heat from Spain, and southern Rhone. Brennan Vineyards Viognier (Texas HIll Country), McPherson Cellars Tre Colores – Rhone-style blend (Texas High Plains AVA), Becker Reserve Grenache (Texas Hill Country), Sandstone Cellars III, Mourvedre-based red blend (Texas Hill Country), CapRock Viognier (first Texas organically produced grapes from Bingham Vineyards on the Texas High Plain) etc, etc, etc.

        Just for the record, I am not on anyones payroll. I report what I see and taste – even if it is a message that some do not what to hear or even acknowledge as worthy. Also, I have traveled and studied many major wine producing reasons of the world and have blogged on these experiences (not just Texas as you claim) particulary in terms of what lessons to learn that they give to Texas in its future development from merely a new viable wine producing regions (5th largest wine producing state in the US) to a truly great wine producing region over time.

        Sixth, I almost forgot to remind you that doughts have not been the issue with Texas wine production. It has really been late spring freezes along with some degree, hail damage. Dought is one thing that Texas grapes do not have to worry about as most vineyards can supplement rain with drip irrigation if needed.

        Please get your facts straight so that you do not mislead your readership. I am sure that you guys want to provide a good service to your readers as do I.

        P.S. Please do not kill the messenger.

        • http://www.anotherwineblog.com jpower

          Actually, Russ, you are the one who just stepped in it, and in a very big way. Anyone who shills for wine that is as bad as what Haak produces is simply not a credible messenger for anything. Calling either of us ignorant after your earlier claims that our palates had been ruined by California wine is beyond laughable.

          Facts:
          -Santa Fe is dotted with brownsites, no place in this area is far from one.
          -The two wines mentioned in the post are made from grapes grown by Haak.
          -Just as in California, the drought allows some winemakers better control due to drip irrigation while hurting the crops of other winemakers. Your comment regarding the freezes is merely an addition to the list of reasons why Texas wine has not lived up to its early promise.
          -The only time Blanc du Bois was incorrectly identified in this entire discussion was when you called it “Blanc Dubois.” Your pretending that we do not know anything about is becoming a very tiresome act, particularly since we are not the ones confusing the grape with a Tennessee Williams character.
          -Hurricane season runs from June 1st through November 30th.
          -Pairing good food with bad wine, even if both are produced in the same region, is never a good idea. I find it astonishing that someone who claims to be a wine critic would even suggest such a thing.
          -You should never defend yourself against charges that have not been made as it then raises a suspicion that was not previously there. No one said that you were paid for your reviews, but since you keep bringing it up, I will say that it sure would explain an awful lot.

          Thanks for finally providing suggestions for other Texas wines that you consider good. Any particular reason it took you this long to do so? I have tried a few of those already and was less than impressed, but in the interests of fairness and a very real desire to find a quality local wine, I will look for the others.

          As for misleading our readers, we are not the ones promoting undrinkable crap on our site…that would be you, and you should be ashamed for doing so.

        • http://www.anotherwineblog.com WineWonkette

          Thank you for finally providing us with some name of wines to try. Also, it might be helpful to put this discussion about Texas wines in context with one winegrower’s opinion on the typical Texas wine-drinker's palate.

          I found a interesting article on-line that was an interview with the particular winery owner who commented on this post. In that interview he mentioned that the grapes for the two wines referenced above came entirely from the grapes grown on his property in Galveston county. And here's what he says about the wine he makes and who he targets as drinkers:

          “About 40 percent of the wines I produce are white and slightly sweet. My personal opinion is, and I was the same way, that when people first start drinking wine and appreciating it, their palates run toward sweet wines. Texas wines are generally fruit forward. It depends on the consumer's palate. I'm not saying that Texans' palates aren't educated but there are a lot of nouveau wine drinkers in Texas and those are the folks who like sweet, fruity wines. That's what's driving wine makers in Texas in the direction we're going. As the Texas palate matures I'll feel like we'll move a little more toward the drier end of the spectrum. That's not to say we'll give up sweet wines but I think we'll move more towards the drier, more complex wines.”

          His words copied and pasted. This is exactly why I don't care for his wines. My palate has moved beyond “nouveau.” It appears it was not I who was attempting to mislead our readers.

          Further, with regard to “brownsites;” I was referring to the Superfund sites that sit to the north (Brio) and to the east (Hall Street) of the town where the grape varietals used to make the two signature wines are grown.

          Readers who wish to read the entire interview, or would like links to the information about the Superfund sites, can send us an e-mail and we'll forward the links. We've provided enough publicity for the winery as it is and do not choose to continue to do so.

          Finally, I would suggest that perhaps a winery that isn't happy about a particular review SHOULD employ someone to put a congenial and positive face on its wines. Attacking a writer, calling her ignorant and telling her get out of town is not only childish, it's appallingly bad PR. It speaks volumes.

  • Susan

    For all of you who would like to try Texas Wines, the next Conference of the Society of Wine Educators will present a tasting of Texas Wines. The Conference will be held in California at the end of July. Perhaps you are members??

    • http://www.sunsetwinery.biz/ Bruce Anderson

      Wow, what an exchange. My wife and I have been making wine commercially [in Texas] only since 2003. Prior to that I'd mad some wine and beer as an amateur, and my only other claim regarding wine was to have begun drinking wine at age 11 in my parental home in California, and continued doing so for many years including many European and one Argentine visits.

      As wine makers, Birgit and I try to make the best wine we can. We begin with the best grapes we can find, and we try to help them become the best wine they can become. Russ talks terroir — most of our grapes are Texas High Plains because we believe that is the best viticultural region in this state. Most of those are from Newsom vineyard because neal and Janice Newsom have been growing grapes longer than most and in our opinion do it better than most.

      We enter our wines in competitions, and I am happy to say that we have won medals for every nwine we have entered. Does that make our wines “wonderful.” Not unless a consumer thinks they are, and consumers differ in their tastes.

      When you visited T'afia you were merely consumers. Granted possibly a bit more “Savy” than some, but consumers none the less. Birgit and I visited T'afia for the first time a few weeks ago, and we had the Menu with local wines. Our impressions were a bit different from yours — because we were also consumers, possibly with a bit more “Savy” than some, but consumers none the less.

      I'll only comment on two wines:

      Compared to many other Blanc du Bois I found Haak's very good, and a pretty good pairing. Brennan's viognier would have been a good alternative from among the Texas wines that I know.

      Haak's Madera — for me — worked well with the dessert we were served. I claim no expertise on this type of wine, but I think his stands up well to others of the same type that I have tried.

      When Birgit and I first came to Texas in 1973 there were very few Texas wines available. We tried a few and were not impressed, so we purchased wines from other regions. Today the selection of wines made in Texas [and even of those made in Texas from Texas grown grapes] is much larger. To the extent that that is true, generalizing about Texas wine has become a much more questionable practice.

      If you like our wines and care to tell your readers about that, we'd be delighted. If you don't like our wines, we can live with that, but please give your readers an opportunity to try them for themselves — they may not share your tastes in all instances. My bottom line, which I tell folks at the winery and in my “Wine Demystified” column in the local paper is as follow:

      A good wine is a wine that you like. A great wine is a wine that you like at a price you can afford. If you find two great wines, and one of which is made close to home, buy local and support your neighbors. [Local may be Texas vs California, or California vs Australia or France... If your great wines are from Australia and Chile -- local is not an issue, buy by price.]

      Our wines will soon be available in Specs if you'd care to try them. More info at http://www.sunsetwinery.biz.

      Regards, Bruce

      • http://www.anotherwineblog.com WineWonkette

        Thank you for your thoughtful comments, Bruce. We usually don't write negative wine reviews. In fact, this post was meant to be a review of my entire experience at t'afia on my birthday. Overall I thought it was a pretty positive review of the restaurant, which was the purpose of the post.

        I was rather astounded when a regional wine blogger commented (weeks after the post) that we were ignorant because we didn't prefer those wines. What I didn't know was that he'd recently reviewed them as fabulous. Of course we had no idea he had done so, and this conflicted with his post, because we don't read his blog.

        I agree that it's all about the consumer. We receive samples all the time. If we don't care for the wine, we simply don't write about it, because we like to introduce good wines to our readers. Then we catch flack from other wine bloggers because we DON'T negatively review samples.

        We look forward to learning more about yours and other Texas wines, because buying local is not only good for the economy it's also better for the environment, which in my particular part of Texas, needs all the help it can get!

        • http://www.bigsurfoodandwine.org/ Toby (Winegeeky at Twitter)

          As far as someone dictating to you (even IF they are a wine/food critic and happen to think something is FABulous, it gives them absolutely no right to critique your own experience. I would love to meet this wine blogger who says you are ignorant! Such pretension and rudeness are not merited nor, I feel, a aprt of this wine world.

    • http://www.anotherwineblog.com WineWonkette

      Hi Susan. Unfortunately we will miss that event! It's a shame, because we're in Napa and Sonoma the week before, and are flying out on the 28th.

  • http://www.anotherwineblog.com WineWonkette

    Thank you for your thoughtful comments, Bruce. We usually don't write negative wine reviews. In fact, this post was meant to be a review of my entire experience at t'afia on my birthday. Overall I thought it was a pretty positive review of the restaurant, which was the purpose of the post.

    I was rather astounded when a regional wine blogger commented (weeks after the post) that we were ignorant because we didn't prefer those wines. What I didn't know was that he'd recently reviewed them as fabulous. Of course we had no idea he had done so, and this conflicted with his post, because we don't read his blog.

    I agree that it's all about the consumer. We receive samples all the time. If we don't care for the wine, we simply don't write about it, because we like to introduce good wines to our readers. Then we catch flack from other wine bloggers because we DON'T negatively review samples.

    We look forward to learning more about yours and other Texas wines, because buying local is not only good for the economy it's also better for the environment, which in my particular part of Texas, needs all the help it can get!

  • http://www.anotherwineblog.com WineWonkette

    Hi Susan. Unfortunately we will miss that event! It's a shame, because we're in Napa and Sonoma the week before, and are flying out on the 28th.

  • http://www.bigsurfoodandwine.org/ Toby (Winegeeky at Twitter)

    As far as someone dictating to you (even IF they are a wine/food critic and happen to think something is FABulous, it gives them absolutely no right to critique your own experience. I would love to meet this wine blogger who says you are ignorant! Such pretension and rudeness are not merited nor, I feel, a aprt of this wine world.

  • http://www.anotherwineblog.com WineWonkette

    Thank you for your thoughtful comments, Bruce. We usually don't write negative wine reviews. In fact, this post was meant to be a review of my entire experience at t'afia on my birthday. Overall I thought it was a pretty positive review of the restaurant, which was the purpose of the post.

    I was rather astounded when a regional wine blogger commented (weeks after the post) that we were ignorant because we didn't prefer those wines. What I didn't know was that he'd recently reviewed them as fabulous. Of course we had no idea he had done so, and this conflicted with his post, because we don't read his blog.

    I agree that it's all about the consumer. We receive samples all the time. If we don't care for the wine, we simply don't write about it, because we like to introduce good wines to our readers. Then we catch flack from other wine bloggers because we DON'T negatively review samples.

    We look forward to learning more about yours and other Texas wines, because buying local is not only good for the economy it's also better for the environment, which in my particular part of Texas, needs all the help it can get!

  • http://www.anotherwineblog.com WineWonkette

    Hi Susan. Unfortunately we will miss that event! It's a shame, because we're in Napa and Sonoma the week before, and are flying out on the 28th.

  • http://www.bigsurfoodandwine.org/ Toby (Winegeeky at Twitter)

    As far as someone dictating to you (even IF they are a wine/food critic and happen to think something is FABulous, it gives them absolutely no right to critique your own experience. I would love to meet this wine blogger who says you are ignorant! Such pretension and rudeness are not merited nor, I feel, a aprt of this wine world.

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