Fall Creek Vineyards Introduces New Wines

Ed Auler Fall Creek VineyardsAfter almost 40 years in the wine business, one would think a winemaker would be set in his ways. That might be true for Fall Creek Vineyards founder, Ed Auler, in some ways, but not when it comes to introducing new wine varieties.

I recently visited the barrel room of Fall Creek Vineyards as a guest of Ed and Susan Auler to taste through their new and upcoming releases – some straight from the barrel – and was thrilled to see some completely new varieties and the return of some favorites. Between now and next summer Fall Creek is introducing six red wines, two of which are completely new to its stable.

The Auler’s were early Texas wine industry pioneers, Founding Fall Creek in 1975. The winery has long made classic Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot varieties which were in-part influenced by renowned winemaker André Tchelistcheff who served as a wine consultant in the 1970s. The old dog has some new tricks with the recent introduction of Spanish styles and now the inauguration of Italian and southern French style wines as well.

2012 Fall Creek Vineyards Sangiovese, Salt Lick Vineyards, Texas Hill Country

“This is our first time to the rodeo with Sangiovese,” said Auler. Fall Creek uses Sangiovese grapes from Salt Lick Vineyards and blends it with 10.5 percent Cabernet Sauvignon and 10.5 percent Merlot grown by Alphonse Dotson at Certenberg Vineyards. The blending isn’t strictly true to an Italian style, but it brings out deeper color, more heft, rounder fruit flavors and firmer tannins. The 2012 Sangiovese is aged very briefly in oak barrels for a hint of vanilla. “It’s more than a kiss and less than a hug of oak,” he said. This first attempt at producing Sangiovese brings a bright and lively wine with raspberry and cherry flavors. It will be bottled in mid-summer and sold primarily in the tasting room.

2012 Fall Creek Vineyards GSM, Salt Lick Vineyards, Texas Hill Country

Another new wine this year is the Rhone style blend of 12 percent Grenache, 60 percent Syrah and 28 percent Mouvedre. Auler describes it as a “horseback blend,” deciding the percentages of various grapes on the run to get just the right flavor he’s looking for. He removes the juice from skin contact quickly before the tannins become too extracted. Fall Creek made a few batches of GSM in the past, but Auler thinks the grapes available now are superior and it was time to bring it back. The GSM has rich garnet color, violet and berry aromas and black cherry, blackberry fruit and a smoky finish. It is currently aging in American oak barrels and should be bottled and released in fall, 2013.

2011 Fall Creek Vineyards Tempranillo, Salt Lick Vineyards, Texas Hill Country

In its fourth vintage, the Fall Creek Tempranillo is hitting its stride. Auler’s eyes sparked as he introduced this wine. “One of my earthly goals is,” he paused with obvious excitement. “Well, let me put it this way. My hopes for this variety are very high. I think we could do better than Rioja with this.” I’m an unabashed fan of this wine. It lush color is almost opaque belying the extracted flavors of cherry, raspberry, vanilla and chocolate that underlies the dried fruit, cassis and dill scents. The 2011 Tempranillo was aged for a mix of new and older American oak barrels for 14 months. It was recently released and is available in local restaurants and in the tasting room.

2012 Fall Creek Vineyards, Tempranillo, Salt Lick Vineyards, Texas Hill Country

The next vintage of Tempranillo is right on the last vintage’s heels. Owner of the estate vineyards, Scott Roberts has put Salt Lick Vineyards on the map with his Tempranillo. The 2007 crop was lost, but he has sold strong fruit to Fall Creek every year since. The early look at 2012 hints that it will be yet another solid vintage. While it was obviously young, and will see barrel ageing until about February 2014, this wine had lush floral aromas and roses came through on the palate with bold cherry, zippy acidity and a clench of tannin. It will mellow over the next few months of aging to let that core of fruit to shine through.

2010 Meritus, Certenberg Vineyards, Texas Hill Country

Up next Auler presented the newest vintage of Fall Creek’s early pride and joy and still its crown jewel of Fall Creek Vineyards, the Meritus, a blend of 97 percent Cabernet Sauvignon and 3 percent merlot. “Some people say Bordeaux blends don’t belong in Texas. I say Bordeaux varieties grown in the right vineyards, made with the right techniques, do great in Texas,” said Auler. This is the wine that caught Bordeaux-turned-Californian wine maker and consultant, Tchelistcheff’s, attention back in the early 1970s.

Fall Creek doesn’t produce the Meritus unless the wines meet Auler’s exact expectations for quality. The 2002, 2003, 2005 and 2006 were the last vintages before the long wait for the 2010 brought it back to market. It was worth the wait, winning a Double Gold Medal at the 2013 Tasters Guild International Wine Competition. In fact the last three vintages have all won Double Gold. The 2010 is a big, beautiful wine with blackberry, currant, stewed cherry and mocha flavors. Its available for $40 in select Texas retail shops.

2012 Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot, Certenberg Vineyards, Texas Hill Country

This blend of 50 percent Cabernet and 50 percent Merlot grown by Dotson excites Auler. “This has the potential to be the best wine we’ve ever made,” he said. “I intend this to be a Meritus when its ready.” While it was still young and will age for several more months in new and used oak barrels, it already has an earthy old-world style with cranberry and blackberry scents and bold blackberry, plum and blueberry flavors. It’s a full Monty of fruit flavors and soft tannins. We won’t see this wine on the market until about this time next year.

The focus of the Texas wine industry has definitely changed in recent years to make more wines with grapes that tolerate heat better – Spanish, Italian and southern French styles. It’s refreshing to see a stalwart producer in Fall Creek Vineyards embrace the new thinking while still making stand out wines with the classic varities that some claim just won’t work in Texas.

Now that the new lineup is out, you can try them for yourself. Let me know what you think.

Disclosure: samples of wine were provided at no charge for review; and delightful conversation and an elegant lunch were thrown in for good measure.

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4 after-dinner drink gift ideas for Father’s Day

Blandy's MadieraIn his essay on gifts, Ralph Waldo Emerson poetically asserted that it is better to give a present that reflects the true spirit of the receiver. “… The rule for a gift… is, that we might convey to some person that which properly belonged to his character, and was easily associated with him in thought,” he wrote.

Father’s Day is a great opportunity to put that concept into action. Why not give Dad the gift of a little extra time to reminisce about fond fatherly memories? There is no better accompaniment for a stroll down memory lane than a fine after-dinner drink.

This Father’s Day present him with a bottle of the good stuff and invite him to loiter after dinner and relish in memories of fatherhood, or at least baby making. Here are four recommendations for lovely evening libations that are bound to conjure fond images. Set the tone for Pops by writing one of your favorite memories on the card, or present him with a bottle that is wrapped in a hand written note that simply says, “Linger.”

Memories of how it all started over a glass of Madeira

Before I had kids, I thought the best part of having kids was the part where we got to make them. I still remember that day and the smell of the nape of her neck; a spirited scent of sun kissed daydreams balanced with unrealized intent.

A glass of Madeira is sure to transport him back to fond memories of how fatherhood began. Like a lover, Madeira has the poignant acidic taste of sweat intertwined with the sweetness of honey. It’s created by inserting grape brandy into the fermenting wine and once made, it rests in the heat, letting the flavors cook together.

The venerable Madeira company, Blandy’s, has four distinct varieties of five year old Madeira ranging from dry to sweet sold for $24 each. While each wine is made with different grapes, they are all aged in the cantiero process where it is stored in oak casks in the hot attic of the family’s lodges in Funchal on the island of Madiera, located about 540 miles off the coast of Portugal.

The driest and highest in acidity, Blandy’s Madeira Sercial, has woody apricot, melon and peach flavors with a long nutty finish. It’s light in color like the sun going down in late summer. The second fortified wine in the lineup, Blandy’s Madeira Verdelho, balances acidity with a little bit of residual sugar. It’s a bit rounder, fuller — full of opportunity. It has floral scents and dried fruit, raisin and butter toffee flavors. Both are typically served slightly chilled in white wine glasses as aperitifs, but they are also great as dessert with an assortment of hard cheeses and Lester Young crooning on old vinyl.

Moving up the sweetness scale, Blandy’s Madeira Bual, has a darker amber color and dried fruit, vanilla and wood scents. The sweet raisin and toffee flavors are balanced with acidity. The sweetest in the batch is Blandy’s Madeira Malmsey. The Malmsey is full bodied, dark brown and full of honeyed raisin and almond flavors. Serve this with dark chocolate cake, a red velvet smoking jacket and Lou Reed on the stereo. Let’s hope you won’t have a new brother or sister in nine months.

Grahm's 20 Year Tawny PortRemembering the firsts with port

There is nothing sweeter than the first time baby coos “dada.” I remember that look in your eyes, that delight on your lips as you stroked my chin and called out to me. I am your dad and you knew it. Nothing will ever compare to that first acknowledged connection. Our bond was forever cemented in that moment.

Bring dad back to the sweetness and simplicity of the baby’s first moments with something equally as stirring and sweet without being overly sugary. Port fits that bill. The classic fortified wine has been revered for centuries for its elegance, hefty structure, complex fruit flavors and round sweetness.

A few ports to consider Warre’s Otima 10 Year Old TawnyCockburn’s Special Reserve Porto, and Graham’s 20 Year Tawny Port. The Warre’s Otima, made by the oldest British port company in Portugal, has a lovely rose and tea tawny color with bright cherry flavors rides on top of a racy alcohol engine. It goes for about $26. The Cockburn’s Special Reserve has crazy ripe fruit, lush, velvety texture and is super charged with attitude for $17. If you are willing to spend a little extra — around $63 — go for Graham’s 20 Year Tawny Port.

Graham’s makes this prototypical, classic port with a wine blend that has been aged an average of 20 years in oak barrels giving it vanilla and almond essence layered on top of the raisin and dried orange peel flavors. Serve it slightly chilled in a classic port or white wine glass big enough to let him stick his nose all the way in to breath in the sensuous aromas. The rich tawny loves creamy dessert. Serve it with vanilla ice cream or crème brûlée for a delightful treat that will go well with memories of early parenthood.

The apprentice besting the teacher calls for gin  

He finally did it. Look at him sitting next to the fire with hot chocolate; his smile as bright as the fresh powder and as broad as the first run was steep. He conquered the double black. He did it with grace. He did it 300 yards in front of me. He’s on the edge of being a man. I can’t put him back in the bottle.  

In every father and child relationship, there comes the moment when the child bests the father in skills that the father has taught. That might come first in video games, move into cards and finally into sports and possibly intellectual pursuits. It can be a father’s greatest joy to see his offspring excel. Well, as long as he is manly enough to accept this as a victory.

Gin is a man’s drink that says accomplishment with every sip. It’s the perfect spirit to accompany memories of the first time she beat her dad in chess. Fortunately for us in Austin, Genius Gin is hitting the shelves of local bars and restaurants this month. CEO and president, Mike Groener, is passionate about aesthetics with a tech exec’s attention to detail. He developed a unique flavor profile for Genius Gin using a cold steep in the base for some of the heat-sensitive botanicals like lavender, angelica root, elder flower and lime leaf for a highly aromatic flavor. Others ingredients like juniper, cardamom and coriander are heated in the distillation to impart flavor.

Dad should have a standard 94 proof gin or a 114 proof Navy Strength gin on hand for Father’s Day dinner. The Old Fashioned has been synonymous with American whisky since the early 1800s. Drink.Well.’s owner and bar wizard, Jessica Sanders, puts her stamp on the Old Fashioned by making it with Genius Gin instead of whiskey, which helps to accent the beautiful cardamom notes of the gin. She shared her recipe so you can make it at home.

Gin-based Old Fashioned

  • 2 ounces Genius Gin
  • .25 ounce fich demerara simple syrup (2:1 ratio)
  • 1-2 dashes Scrappy’s cardamom bitters
  • 2 dashes orange bitters
  • Orange peel

Express an orange peel over a double old fashioned glass and drop it in to release the essential oils over the glass. Add simple syrup and bitters. Stir to combine. Add Genius Gin and ice (preferably a large cube to slow dilution). Stir gently until chilled and serve.

Angle's Envy Rye WhiskeyCelebrate coming of age with whiskey

Watching you throw your cap into the air was such a shared moment of pride in your accomplishment. You did it! Your graduation night was the first time we ever drank a bottle of whiskey together. That was a moment, a shift in our relationship from father and child to father and grown child taking on the world together.

Whiskey just feels right as an accompaniment to major milestones. Its simplicity, its carmely sweetness, its bracing alcohol burn that reminds you of the flame of life. Treat it with respect and it pays you back with a contented grin.

Angel’s Envy has introduced a limited release Rye whiskey just in time for Father’s Day, and it is available in less than a dozen states, including Texas. Master distiller, Lincoln Henderson, uses 95 percent rye and 5 percent malted barley and ages the whiskey for at least six years in oak barrels. It is then finished for 18 months in Caribbean rum casks, which began as French cognac barrels. The result is a fun mix of the spicy and earthy rye notes along with vanilla, sherry and hazelnut flavors with a touch of sweetness from the rum barrels.

It’s a smooth finished to dinner, even at 100 proof, so serve it neat or with a set of frozen stones rather than ice. This will set you back about $70, but your dad is worth it.

No matter which bottle you choose or which memory you hope to evoke, give your dad the gift of a little extra time to remember why he loves being a father.

This article was previously published on CultureMap.

Disclosure: Samples were provided for review at no cost and with no expectation of coverage. 

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GIN CITY: Refreshing drinks from three local gin distillers

Summer calls for a cocktail as light and sassy as the skimpy sundress hugging the shape of the hottie sitting on the barstool next to you. What you need is a cocktail with flavors as complex as the floral pattern on that sundress. You need a cocktail made with gin. Yes, gin. It’s like vodka, but with flavor.

Gin is the stuff that Bond drinks. Gin is the stuff that bootleggers surreptitiously made to thumb their nose at the absurdity of Prohibition. Gin is the stuff that has captured the imagination of a whole new wave of craft distillers. Gin is the stuff that is both bold and elegant enough to capture the attention of that lady in the sundress. Fortunately there are new Texas-made gins being introduced just in time for summer. Let’s declare it the “Summer of Gin.”

Waterloo Gin WITH WATERLOO, OLD IS NEW

The man behind Treaty Oak Distilling, Daniel Barnes, decided to dis till gin two years ago because he wants to make spirits that intrigue him.

“Gin shows off the craft ability of a distiller with playfulness and uniqueness,” Barnes says. “Distillers have the ability to control the flavors and display their personalities. That, and we really like gin.”

Waterloo gin was one of the first modern Texas-made gins when it was released at the end of 2011. It is made with a neutral base spirit made from corn and wheat—sort of like vodka. The base liquor is then put back into a copper pot still to go through another round of distillation, but this time with a stainless-steel basket crammed full of 11 botanicals in the column of the still above the vaporizing pot. The alcohol vapors circulate in botanicals six to eight times, grabbing the intricate flavors of each ingredient.

Daniel Barnes Waterloo gin Barnes and his head distiller, Chris Lamb, experimented with almost 50 different recipes before they found the exact flavor profile they liked. Waterloo is made with a mix of Texas-grown botanicals such as lavender, rosemary, pecans, citrus from the Rio Grande Valley grapefruit, lemon, and orange zest along with juniper, coriander, ginger root, licorice root and anise. That mix of botanicals gives Waterloo the up-front juniper punch of a traditional London Dry style with a little Texas on the palate.

The very name, Waterloo, ties London and Austin together. After that smack of juniper it eases into a long lick of honey from the lavender, piney bitterness, nutshell and mischievous citrus. Some people compare it to Hendrix in style, but with less citrus and cucumber. The folks at Treaty Oak have a fantastic treat up their sleeve: aged gin. The Waterloo Antique series will be available in July. While barrel-aged gins have been a hot trend with some craft distillers, this will be the first one made in Texas.

Barnes had a gleam in his eye when he Daniel Barnes, of Treaty Oak Distilling described Antique while showing me around the barrel room.

“What happens when you give a bold gin a full year in a first-use heavy-charred barrel?” he asks me. “It gets rich whisky notes of cinnamon, clove, anise flavors. The juniper and floral still come through, but it has a nice round, caramelly finish. We are bottling it at 94 proof, so it has heft but is approachable straight out of the bottle. It also makes an amazing old-fashioned with quality orange and grapefruit bitters.”

Moonshine makes a fantastic cocktail to highlight the classic flavors of the un-aged Waterloo gin, which is the namesake of the original structure, the Waterloo Compound. Waterloo Gin is sold for around $25 a bottle in retail shops in Louisiana, Oklahoma, Illinois and Texas. It will soon be available in New York and California. It’s also poured in bars and restaurants around Austin, including Lucy’s Fried Chicken, Moonshine, the Four Seasons, Jack Allen’s Kitchen, Bartlett’s and Hopdoddy.

THE GENIUS BEHIND THE GIN

The newest gin to hit the market in Texas this June is Genius Gin. CEO and President Mike Groener and his partner, Charles Cheung, started the development of Genius in April 2012 because, as he put it, they “really, really love gin.” That’s one hell of a good reason to make it. Groener is passionate about aesthetics and has an engineer’s attention to detail. He established the flavor profile over the course of a year, experimenting with various ingredients.

“Being a craft distiller, I had a chance to show my style in the taste profile. It’s a way to both create an experience for the customer and put my distinct mark on the brand,” he says.

Despite the tinkering, the original recipe just wasn’t right. He visited several distilleries including Aviation in Portland for inspiration and realized that they had a similar characteristic to his recipe—a characteristic he didn’t like.

“There was a low note to some of them that tasted too rustic,” Groener says. “It wasn’t beautiful. The gins didn’t go well in cocktails. When I returned from Portland, I revamped my recipe and was done with it in about a week.”

Groener prides himself on the handmade qualities of his gin and fastidiously makes a flavor-neutral base spirit from sugar to let the botanicals do the talking. He uses a cold steep in the base for some of the heat-sensitive botanicals like lavender, angelica root, elder flower and lime leaf for a highly aromatic flavor. Other ingredients like juniper, cardamom and coriander (and two secret ones) are meant to be heated up —and even toasted, to impart flavor. Groener distills the heat-loving botanicals and the steeped spirits to make both a standard 94 gin and a 114-proof Navy Strength gin (Navy Strength gets its name from the practice that the British Royal Navy employed of taking gin of at least 57 percent alcohol on its boats, because if it were spilled on gun powder, the gun powder was still useable).

That attention to detail resulted in well-integrated flavors with the juniper sliding smoothly across the entire palate accompanied by a subtle sweetness. The Navy Strength has a slight nuttiness from the roasted coriander, and the higher alcohol gives it the vibrancy of sucking on a fistful of gin-flavored Altoids. While it can be appreciated straight up in a martini, it’s also versatile enough to go into a variety of cocktails. Groener mixed two cocktails using fresh-squeezed juices to taste cocktails and homemade simple syrups.

When Genius is released in June, it will be available in Austin, Dallas, Houston and San Antonio at retail stores such as The Austin Wine Merchant, Specs and Twin Liquors, as well as bars and restaurants such as Drink.Well, Midnight Cowboy, Volstead, Grackle, Tigress Pub, the Four Seasons and Vespaio.
Revolution Gin

IT’S A TEXAS GIN REVOLUTION

After nearly five years of dreaming, scheming, planning and experimenting, Revolution Gin cofounders Aaron Day and Mark Shilling are nearly ready to introduce their craft distilled gin to Texas.

“Aaron and I had been talking about our desire to make a spirit for awhile, and one thing led to another and we decided to stop talking about it and do it,” Shilling says. “Gin is what we want to do first. Craft distilling is wide open to experimentation, with flavors and styles that the big guys can’t do.”

“We were inspired by what we are seeing in the craft distilling industry,” Day quickly adds. “Tito [Beveridge, of Tito’s Handmade Vodka] showed it can be done. [Dan Garrison, of Garrison Brothers Whiskey] showed that it can be done in a craft way.”

The two choose to seek the counsel of other distillers and found an eager group of mentors willing to share advice. (In fact, the meetings and conversations led to the formation of the Texas Craft Distillers trade association, of which Daniel Barnes is president.)

“The mentorship we’ve received has helped us get off the ground,” Shilling says. “We had many productive conversations, and now it’s off to the races.”

Revolution Gin has secured a site for its distillery near Dripping Springs, in the same neighborhood as Argus Hard Cidery, Jester King Brewery and Thirty Planet Brewing Company. They see the area as a cultural corridor leading from Austin to the wineries near Fredericksburg. They aren’t alone in thinking that the area has appeal for day-trippers and tourists alike. Treaty Oak Distilling plans to move its operations to the neighborhood this fall. The gin is in the planning stages as Revolution works on getting its license.

The intent is to make a neutral base spirit with red wheat—or may even use non-GMO corn to make a gluten-free base that is consistent and reliable so they can focus on the botanicals. To gather inspiration for the flavor profile, Revolution has met with bartenders and opinion makers, including the folks at Bar Congress and Bobby Huegle of Anvil Bar in Houston to better understand the specific style of gin that is wanted in Texas.

“Simple is sometimes better. We are looking at using seven botanicals in our gin,” Shilling says. The focus will be on Texas-sourced botanicals such as citrus, lavender, rosemary and Ashe juniper berries. Revolution is shooting for a continental style, rather than a London dry, that brings complexity to cocktails. The star of the botanical show will be rosemary.

“Rosemary is distinct and has real legs,” Day says. “We’re excited to see what that brings.”

Revolution expects to release its gin in area restaurants, bars and stores in early fall for about $30. To get the word out to prominent mixologists, they hired an experienced spirits broker, Jennifer Querbes, as partner and COO. What are you waiting for? Let the Summer of Gin begin.

Summer Teeth
While Revolution Gin isn’t yet available to taste, Jason Stevens, the bar manager at Bar Congress, created a special gin-based summer cocktail that he’ll mix for you using any Texas-made gin.

  • 1 1/2 ounces local gin
  • 1/2 ounce Gran Classico
  • 1/2 ounce dry Sherry (like Fino, Manzanilla or Amontillado)
  • 1 barspoon simple syrup
  • 1 ounce fresh-squeezed Rio Star Grapefruit Juice
  • 1/4 ounce lemon juice
  • few drops Bitter Truth Celery Bitters
  • 1 ½ ounces soda water (optional)

Combine all in a shaker filled with ice, and shake briefly to integrate.

*For a boozier cocktail, double strain into an old -fashioned glass filled with cubed ice. Garnish with a grapefruit peel.
*For a lighter, more refreshing cocktail, single-strain shaken cocktail into a Collins glass filled with crushed ice and top with soda, then stir to integrate. Garnish with grapefruit peel and fresh mint.

Strawberry-lime Rickey
Waterloo Gin goes well in a refreshing twist on a classic Rickey. Try it with fresh strawberry.

  • 3 large, ripe strawberries
  • half a lime cut into quarters
  • 1/2 ounce simple syrup
  • 2 ounces Waterloo Gin
  • lime wheel, for garnish
  • strawberry slice, for garnish

In the bottom of a mixing glass, muddle the strawberries, lime wedges and simple syrup. Add the gin and shake vigorously with ice to chill. Strain into an Old Fashioned glass over fresh ice. Garnish with the lime wheel and strawberry slice.

 

Gin Fitzgerald
This classic cocktail is light, fresh and tasty. The gin flavor is a little bit up front so you can appreciate it, but it is as delicate as a first kiss. This could be the drink of the summer.

  • 2 ounces gin
  • 3/4 ounce lemon juice
  • 1/2 ounce simple syrup
  • 2 dashes Angostura bitters (no more!)

Shake over ice and serve it up with a lemon garnish.

 

Bergstrom

Liberty Tavern in the Hilton Austin has a keen eye for local beer and spirits. They have introduced new summer cocktails, including the Bergstrom made with Waterloo Gin.

  • Lime Juice – 1 oz
  • Waterloo Gin – 2 oz
  • Maraschino Cherries – 3
  • Simple Syrup – ½ teaspoon

Shake and serve on ice.

This story was originally published in the Summer issue of Austin Man magazine. Photos by Jojo Marion.

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