Front Forty Profiles Series Release Party with Mark McGinnis

Want a literary, artistic summer drink? Here is your chance.
Book Release Party

Thursday, August 5, 5 – 9pm

Please join us for some summer drinks to celebrate this inaugural issue of a continuing series on important contemporary artists! !

Tacos and Tequila

There are a lot of classic flavor combinations; you know two great tastes that go great together like chocolate and peanut butter, coffee and Krispy Kremes and Gin & Tonics. Tonight I’m trying out a true Texas combo, Tacos and Tequilla with my friend @ShowMeYourTaco (Nelson) at a new taco place Tacos and Tequila (TnT) on west 5th street in Austin. You can follow them on Twitter @TnTacosTequila.

Nelson is chronicling our adventure in video and reviewing the food on his blog Check out his post to hear about the food. I’m going to focus on, you guessed it, the tequila.

This urban taco spot recently opened by the good folks at Blue Mesa Grill in Dallas and it has been in business for nine weeks now. Rumor has it that TnT has the 5th largest tequila list in the country with 95varieties and that list keeps growing. This massive list is organized by tequila types  designated by stlye of aging: Blanco, Reposado and Añejo.

It offers more than variety. TnT has a staff that is steeped in tequila knowledge and a passion to share that knowledge with the likes of you and me. If you want to sample a variety of tequila, they offer four different tequila flights to compare three types of tequila. TnT also has cold tequilas on tap – Milagros Silver, 1800 Silver and Cazadores Silver – have you ever seen tequila on tap? If your tastes skew to the higher end, there are currently seven extra ultra premiums ranging from $30 to $65 a shot.

If you like mixed drinks, this is your place. TnT bartenders have a fabulous bent for making creative, delicious drinks with this venerated liquor. And the drink menu changes on a monthly basis. They mix signature recipes with fresh, hand squeezed juices and organic, locally sourced produce. Bar manager and assistant GM, Shelby Lynne, loves her job and it shows. Her favorite thing about working at TnT is exercising her creative genius and artistry in cocktails, surrounded by like-minded people. She aims to dazzle guests with inventive drinks made up on the fly.  

Our waiter recommended that we start off with a flight of infused tequila shots. Shelby dreams up all the infusions herself and the team makes up all the concoctions fresh daily. Here is what they brought us:

  1. Corzo Reposado infused with Mexican chocolate and guajillo peppers
  2. 1800 infused with peach, apricot and organic green tea
  3. Cazadores Reposado infused with cantaloupe


With the preamble complete, it’s time to start the margaritas.

Watermelon Smash

This refreshing summer of love is made with Milagro silver, fresh smashed up watermelon and lime juice. The watermelon pulp is fleshy in the glass and satisfying.

Look The aftermath of a July picnic. Abused watermelon takes solace in a pint glass.    
Smell Sweet like a watermelon Jolly Rancher on a bender.   
Taste  Well, hello fruit smoothie in dominatrix leather. I wasn’t expecting you, but now that you are here. . . I’m going to have to chew your melons. The lime may make you perky, but that tequila shows you who’s really in charge.
Price $9


Dirty Margarita

Dirty is the operative word for this margarita made with Cazadores Reposado, house-made caramelized simple sugar roasted fresh on the stove, tamarind nectar and fresh-squeezed lime juice. While it’s dirty, Shelby tells me it’s nowhere near as dirty as her thoughts. Oh how I’d like to keep talking to her on the subject. This is one of Shelby’s favorites because she likes the duality of sweet and dirty. It’s how she envisions herself. She wants you to tell her how pretty she is while spanking her.

Look Masquerading as a golden brown Hefeweizen with a thin head of creamy mousse.
Smell Understated honey and a lime mist at sunset.
Taste This is the bad kid on the playground that you think is your friend. “Oh come on. It’s only Coke with lime.” Don’t believe him. This drink might be sweet and tangy on the surface, but deep inside, he’s out to pick up your mom.
Price $10

 Cucumber jalapeño margarita

This one is made with 1800 Silver chopped fresh cucumber, jalapeño slivers and lime.

Look Lemon grass green with a salad swimming about.
Smell Agave, cucumber and lime hanging out at the spa.   
Taste Cool as a cucumber right from the start, accompanied by fruity lime tang followed by acidic  heat. The spice is enough to keep me in line, but not too much to spoil the mood. I was a little disappointed by the amount of floating jalapeño seeds. They detracted from the overall experience. I didn’t need to chew this drink beyond the actual pepper and cucumber slices and the seeds added more kick than needed on each chew.
Price $9.50


Shelby Lynne’s Special

This one isn’t on a menu. All we had to do was ask and Shelby was extremely happy to show off her creative skills. Watch the video clip to hear what she mixes.

Look Raucous laughter lemon yellow with orange and lime wedges skinny dipping below the salt snow pack rim.
Smell Perky citrus with a wry smile.
Taste A provocative come-on that’s not going to get you slapped in the face. The smoky, oaky tequila runs this show without being domineering or rude. Mellow orange and laid back lime in a ménage a trois with caramel steals the show midway through, but steps out of the way to let the guest of honor close out this party in style. Thank you. Thank you tequila. You are awesome.    
Price $13


Nelson and I had a fantastic experience at TnT. The food was delicious – read about that on – the drinks were tasty and the service was stellar. We acknowledge that we were writing  a review, which in part accounts for the highly attentive service. However, this was actually my second visit and Beautiful Wife and I had an equally enjoyable time with prompt and helpful service. I’ll definitely go back.

To close out this post, the one thing I really want is a good tequila song. There’s that one instrumental that PeeWee Herman dances to, but that doesn’t quite cut it for me. Maybe we could alter the Doors song:

Well, show me the way
To the next tequila bar
Oh, don’t ask why
Oh, don’t ask why

 Nah. A friend on twitter suggests M.I.A. Teqkilla. Here it is.

Fuller's Vintage Ale, My Magic Carpet Ride to London

My friend G brought me a bottle of 2008 Fuller’s Bottle Conditioned Vintage Ale. Yep, this is the same guy that brought me a sixer of Bud Light Lime. He followed that with a limited production (I got bottle 135,933 out of 150,000 made) vintage ale from London that came in a fancy red box? What? Well he actually has refined taste. In addition we both had the good fortune to have briefly lived in London; he in Chiswick where Fuller’s is brewed to be exact. So its completely in character for him to bring me a fine brew.

If you’ve never had a beer from Fuller’s, you need to rectify that. They taut themselves as the only remaining traditional family brewery in the city. They’ve been in business since 1845. If you are driving from Heathrow into central London, you’ll pass it on the way. Fuller’s bottles a dozen brews and some seasonals on top of that.  I see the ESB fairly often and love to have a pint of it when I do.

Drinking this beer tonight was a magic carpet ride, instantly transported me to London. I relived a few afternoons in the pub with Beautiful Wife watching Chelsea march through the season on the way to winning the Premiership. I sat lakeside in Battersea Park, eating lunch in the sun as our young son slept in his stroller. I stood on the sidewalk in the sun outside in the late afternoon spring sun with my coworkers making up puns and double entendres. Clearly my hippocampus has associated pleasant memories of London with excellent Fuller’s beer. One drink and my long-term memory went into overdrive.

Damn you G. Damn you for only bringing one bottle of this fantastic time machine beer. Thank you for bringing it too.


Creamy egg shell head over hazy dark amber beer


Sweet corn and dry grass


Silk mouthfeel layers on butterscotch hops, carmel malted orange peel and a slightly bitter alcohol bite at the end. The sweetness and boozy bite are to be expected from a brew that packs in 8.5% alcohol.


Haven’t a clue

 The vintage ale is bottle conditioned with the yeast still in it to give it plenty of aging potential.  Fuller’s recommends that you lay this beer down for 3 to 4 years. I couldn’t wait, so 2 years is all it got. Hey, if I hadn’t drank it, Beautiful Wife would have.

It takes two to make a thing go right

It takes two to make a thing go right
It takes two to make it outta sight
Hit it!
I want some wine right now
I’m not Rob Base, but I came to drink down

Sometimes Beautiful Wife sings ‘80s pop songs to me, because she’s sweet like that. Tonight I got some silly song stuck in my head and it made me think about how the wine I’m drinking was made. A stretch? Maybe.

How do small vineyards growing Nebbiolo grapes in Barbaresco in the Piedmont region of Italy compete with the guys growing Nebbiolo in Barolo? Join forces in a cooperative. And that’s what happened in 1894 and continues today with nine classic premium sites from Barbaresco: Asili, Rabajà, Pora, Montestefano, Ovello, Pajé, Montefico, Moccagatta and Rio Sordo. It takes nine to make a thing go right.  

Produttori del Barbaresco makes an affordable, easy drinking wine out to the cooperative; Nebbiolo Langhe. A young wine made from grapes grown on young vines is ready made for nights when you want to dance your young ass off. This isn’t a throw-away wine, but it also isn’t a pretentious wine that needs some uptight DOCG designation. Go ahead, open this one up and dance the Cabbage Patch.

2008 Langhe Nebbiolo

Look Ruby red sipper wearing ruby red slippers.  
Smell Fennel spiked jam. Jam on it.
Taste The first steps are raspberry and cherry transitioning into smooth tannic black tea for a pucker-up dip to end the song.  
Price $22

 If you want all the classic moves of a Barbaresco, without the price of the VIP room, grab a Langhe Nebbiolo.

Need a new Wine Site?

I signed up for the beta version of Wine Everybody today to see what it’s all about. Its tagline is “The wine world is yours!” By that, I think they intend to be an aggregator of wine blogs, twitter feeds and wine events for major wine consuming countries around the world. It looks like it has potential.

I’ve just started playing with it and haven’t yet selected which wine blogs I want to follow. I added “What are you drinking?” to the feed so you can follow me there. I’m not sure how functional it is in this early version. One thing that it desperately needs is a search function. A site without search is a Slurpy without a straw.

Take a look at it and let me know what you think.

I totally struck out with my wife

Sometimes I get a little romantic when I shop for wine. I look for a bottle that I think will warm the cockles of Beautiful Wife’s heart. Last night I found one that instantly made me think of her. A 2001 Chateau Potelle Cougar Pass. I know what you are thinking and you’re right. Beautiful Wife is much too young to be a cougar. That’s not it. The hook is that we went to Chateau Potelle on our honeymoon. It’s a gorgeous property sitting at about 1,800 feet of elevation with spectacular views. It’s a bit off the beaten path west of Yountville, CA. It’s a stunning drive of about 5 miles straight up Mt. Veeder on a winding road.

 The memory of being there in our new marital bliss is one thing, but they also make decent wine. They also have a sense of humor. The higher end wines are designated “VGS,” or Very Good Shit. With all of this in mind, I presented the bottle with a gleam in my eye, knowing that it would stir loving emotions in Beautiful Wife.

 Cougar Pass is an interesting blend of Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and Merlot. Sounds like a party. Oh the anticipation.

 With the first swirl and sniff my heart sank. It was corked. Blast it. By “corked” I mean that it was tainted with TCA (2,4,6-Trichloroanisole). If you’ve ever had a cork tainted wine, you know what I mean. It smells bad and the fruit flavors are muted, hidden under stench. Beautiful Wife took a sip, frowned and handed her glass back to me. This wasn’t VGS. It was VBS; Very Bad Shit.

 I dumped the entire decanter full of wine down the drain. Strike one.

 2001 Chateau Potelle Cougar Pass Paso Robles

Look Deep dark garnet like the shadows of Mt. Veeder.
Smell The first scent was a big dog wearing musty cardboard boxes followed by faint leather and blackberry.
Taste It tasted like I was drinking it out of a dirty leather work boot. You know what really sucks? I could partially detect what the wine was supposed to be with lush blackberry, gentle tannins and I wanted to march back to the store for a replacement bottle to taste it like it was supposed to taste.  
Price $15

 Knowing that it was too late to go back to the store, I turned to the wine rack and selected a 1998 Domaine Benazeth from the Minervois wine appellation in the Languedoc region of France. How could I go wrong with picking a wine made the year that we met? I could see the Mediterranean Sea breeze tussle her hair as I opened the bottle.

We’re typically fans of Rhone style wines. This wine is driven by Syrah and Mourvèdre, but is also a hodge podge of grapes typical in a southern Rhone including Carignan, Cinsault, Grenache, Lledoner pelut, Piquepoul and Terret.

I handed a glass to Beautiful Wife. She smelled. Ah, not corked. She sipped. She set the glass down and reached for a bottle of vodka to make a mixed drink. Strike two and no opportunity for a third pitch. I struck out tonight.

Don’t get me wrong. There is nothing wrong with this wine. I thought it was delightful. It just didn’t suit her tonight. Sometimes it’s like that.

1998 Domaine Benazeth Minervois

Look Opaque as the plum colored Mediterranean at midnight.   
Smell A gardener’s delight with fresh turned soil, sweet rose petals and black currant.
Taste It is floral, with muted fruit and stoic minerality. Plum, currant, cinnamon and violet, finishing with the lingering taste of a limestone cave.
Price $14

 The second wine somehow tasted like rejection as I sat there drinking it by myself. A gift scorned. A lover’s advanced rebuffed, standing dejected still in the buff. I drank it knowing there would be another chance tomorrow.

What a difference a year makes

Have you ever wondered what it would be like if you had been born in a different year? Would you have the same convictions, vote for the same party, hold the same religious beliefs and like the same kinds of foods if you were born in a different decade? Would you be more conservative like Richie Cunningham in the TV show Happy Days if you had been born in the 1950s instead of the 1970s? Do you think it would matter if you were born only one year earlier or later?

I like to think my birth year had an effect on me. 1969. What a momentous year. Led Zeppelin released their first album and Hendrix played Woodstock. Neil Armstrong was the first man to walk on the moon. Stonewall riots in New York City ushered in the gay rights era. The Concorde was the first supersonic plane to break the sound barrier. The Summer of Love. All of that and the yin and yang of ‘69 was amplified by my star sign, pieces. It left an indelible mark on my world view.

It goes without saying that wine is also impacted by the year in which it was born. Why else would we fuss so much about the vintage. “Oh man ’96 was a great year for California Cabs.” “I’ll take a ’05 Bordeaux over that any day.” Its loads of fun to experience the difference a year can make by conducting a vertical tasting. Grab a few friends, pick your favorite wine by producer and by four or five sequential years and compare them side by side. Nothing beats it.

Beautiful Wife and I decided to do a micro-vertical with one of our favorite wines, Argyle Winery Nuthouse Pinot Noir. We selected the ‘06 and ‘07 for our little tasting. Both of these wines are a little young, but we’re an impatient sort, so we went forth. Argyle viticulturist, Allen Holstein, does a brilliant job of selecting the grape clones and managing the Lone Star and Knudsen Vineyards where Nuthouse Pinot grapes are grown to get the best berries year after year. Winemaker, Rollin Soles, deftly combines chemistry and artistry to make those grapes into wine that makes me euphoric. So what did these guys have to work with in ’06 and ’07?

The Oregon Willamette Valley had an excellent year in 2006 with a warm summer that persuaded the fruit flavors to burst forth and a little rain right before harvest kept the alcohol levels in check. The 2007 season started with a warm spring and rolled into a moderate summer, ideal for abundant amounts of fruit to mature. However rain deluged the wine region in September and October making for a challenging harvest.

Comparing the two wines side-by-side it was obvious that they are siblings. They both had a bright disposition and grounded in the land from where they came. They aren’t twins though. Their birth years made their mark.

2006 Argyle Nuthouse Pinot Noir

Look Playful, with translucent eyes and a broad smile of ruby-red lips.
Smell Saucy and earthen as a ripe blueberry Violet Beauregarde after she rolled in the Oregon soil.
Taste Boarding school charm with a penchant for a smoke after class. The ‘06 began with blackberry and dried cherry which hung around for a long time to be joined by cocoa, cinnamon and puckering tannins. Its velvety smooth with good acidity and a polite acknowledgement of alcohol.
Price $60

 2007 Argyle Nuthouse Pinot Noir

Look Fresh-faced with rosy, cranberry cheeks.
Smell Forthright and confident Hermione Granger with a strawberry and graphite mist issued from her wand.
Taste The younger sister emerges from the Nuthouse with the same fruit forward posture, but less of an attitude. She has a clean, bright cherry introduction that smoothly rounds into a smoky, lingering finish.
Price $60ish (I think)  

 I went back and forth trying to decide which one I liked better. Was it the more complex, darker ‘06 or the more innocent, fruitier ‘07? I think I’ll have to do this test again to really decide. Why don’t you try it and tell me what you think? I’d love to hear it.

Full disclosure: I had the wonderful fortune to work part-time at Argyle Winery, during which time I developed a fondness for the people and the wine. This is a completely biased review.

Lakeside Grenache

This weekend Beautiful Wife and I loaded up the car and headed to a lake house on a quiet cove of Lake LBJ. After the kids went to bed, we grabbed a bottle of wine and headed to the gazebo on water’s edge to enjoy a conversation, the sound of the waves lapping on the shore and the night breeze.

We choose a 2007 Real de Aragon Granacha from the Calatayud region of Spain. This is not a pretentious wine, packaged with a red stopper instead of a cork. It was right at home being barefoot and shirtless on a Texas lake.

Smell: a Spring day in the field with cherries and dusty sun.

Taste: Real de Aragon introduced itself with round cherry and soft strawberry flavors followed by cedar tannins. The finish didn’t stick around long enough for us to fully get to know one another. This wine didn’t have the heft typical of a Spanish Grenache. I guess it is fitting to be a little watery sitting lakeside.

Price: $10 (you get what you pay for with this one)

It’s pleasant enough, but nothing special. It’s a good thing we had lots of other fantastic ingredients to make a memorable night.

In flight at House Wine

Do you remember ten years ago when wine bars started popping up here and there? Not tasting rooms, or wine shops that served by the glass, but honest to goodness establishments fully dedicated to the enjoyment of wine by the taste, the glass or by the bottle. Outside of New York and San Francisco wine bars were few and far between. Much has changed. In Austin there are at least a dozen different wine bars.

My beautiful wife and I decided to try House Wine before going to dinner. This place is in a little house just south of Lady Bird Lake a block west of S. Lamar on Josephine St. They are definitely going for the South Austin vibe – casual, cozy and a little sloppy. The space is intimate (small) and eclectic (mismatched shit). We felt pretty comfortable right from the start.

There wasn’t table service, so we bellied up to the bar and looked through the menu. House Wine has about 25 whites and 30 reds by the glass and by the bottle. The prices are pretty damn reasonable ranging from $7 to $11 and bottles in the $20s and $30s. We were there at happy hour – hey hey 2 bucks off each glass.

On this particular night, we were indecisive, so we decided to order two flights. Three half glasses for $15. A bargain. I ordered a Spanish Tempranillo, a Côtes du Rhône and Spanish Verdejo (white). My beautiful wife asked the bar tender to select a flight for her. She had a sparkling rosé, an Argentine Malbec and a California Pinot Noir. We also ordered a selection of cheese and smoked salmon. The cheese and salmon were nice, served in a gorgeous wooden bowl and gave us something to clear our palettes between wines. Worth the order.

Here’s what I had.

I started off with Paso a Paso Verdejo 2008.  Lovely pale yellow in the stemless glass. Nice scents of pear. The Verdejo grape makes a nice medium bodied, citrusy, honied wine that is right at home on the shabby back porch of House Wine and at your summer party.   

Next I had a Volver Tempranillo 2005.  Bright ruby with a fruity nose. This guy started off with round cherry, cassis and vanilla and finished with cocoa and a bite of tannins. The smoked salmon tasted great with this.

My third glass was REDblanc Côtes du Rhône. This organic Grenache, Syrah blend had a warm plum color and a nose to match. It was a mouthful of raspberries, violets and licorice with a touch of cedar on the finish.

Decent wines for the price.  If you are looking for a very relaxed, inexpensive wine bar with a decent selection, try House Wine. If you want knowledgeable wine guideance and service in an elegant setting, you’ll be disappointed here. Good news is there are several other wine bars in town.