Wine education for the rest of 2016

penguinIf you’re looking to learn more about wines, winemaking, grape growing, sensory evaluation and a variety of related and semi-related topics. here’s your Field Correspondent’s schedule of classes for the balance of the year:

July 9 – Growing grapes and making wine: An inside look at the processes involved in viticulture and the art of making wine. Dry Comal Creek Vineyards, New Braunfels, 10:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. Click here to sign up.

July 23 – Wine and cheese: Learn about how and where cheese is made, as well as principles to follow when pairing wine with cheese. You’re So Crafty, Seguin, 3-5 p.m. Click here to sign up.

Aug. 20 – Wine on a budget: Find out how to walk into anywhere that sells wine – including the drug store and the corner ice house – and pick out the best wine in the place. Dry Comal Creek Vineyards, New Braunfels, 10:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. Click here to sign up.

Sept. 10 – Sparkling wines of the world: From Champagne to Spain, from Italy to who-knows-where, get a look at the remarkable world of wines with bubbles. Dry Comal Creek Vineyards, New Braunfels, 10:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. Click here to sign up.

Sept. 24 – Bring your own bottle: Each participant in the class brings a bottle of red wine, learns principles of sensory evaluation, then takes part in a “blind” tasting to try and identify each wine. You’re So Crafty, Seguin, 3-5 p.m. Click here to sign up.

Oct. 8 – Texas wines: Learn about the long history of Texas wine, the booming present and the optimistic future for the business – as well as taste some of the best examples around. Dry Comal Creek Vineyards, New Braunfels, 10:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. Click here to sign up.

Nov. 5 – Thanksgiving and wines: Find out about food pairings, and how to match wines with the biggest meal of the year the easy way – by tasting. You’re So Crafty, Seguin, 3-6 p.m. Click here to sign up.

Nov. 12 – Port and cigars: Two of life’s luxuries, examined in detail, with examples. Come prepared to sit outside. Dry Comal Creek Vineyards, New Braunfels, 10:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. Click here to sign up.

Dec. 10 – Cabernet Sauvignon. We’ll be taking at look at the global phenomenon that is the King of Red Wines, with a little look at history and a lot of tasting. Dry Comal Creek Vineyards, New Braunfels, 10:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. Click here to sign up.

Vive la France (and its wines)

Wines of FranceAs folks who know your Field Correspondent are well aware, cheap is good when it comes to wine.

Yes, even French wine, which is the subject of this Saturday’s Winery U class at Dry Comal Creek Vineyards.

You don’t have to spend a fortune to get a good wine from France, but you do need some knowledge about history, labeling and growing regions.

Lucky for you, that’s what we’re providing, along with tastings of an assortment of reasonably priced gems from across the land, from Burgundy to Bordeaux, the Loire to Provence.

Armed with some knowledge, you’ll be able to march across the French wine aisles and understand that white Burgundy is Chardonnay, pink wine starts out as red, and Muscadet has nothing to do with Muscadine, Muscadelle or even Moscato.

Click on through to sign up.






In the land of wine and cheese

Cheese trayIn its simplest terms, cheese is made by converting liquid milk into a solid or semi-sold state.

Of course, nothing is simple in the world of fermented products like cheese – or wine or bread. Dozens of variables, from source materials to processing to aging, are involved. There are hundreds of types of cheeses produced around the world, many of them made with traditional methods handed down for hundreds or even thousands of years.

For most of those years, cheese has been paired with wine. Some of the world’s most-famous combinations are the result of that long history, and some of the best are the result of the overlap between winemaking and cheese-making regions around the world.

As in the case of most food-and-wine pairings, there are some that are train wrecks, there are some that work pretty well and there are some that will give you the fireworks-in-your-mouth effect that makes eating and drinking worthwhile.

We’ll be talking about cheesemaking, matching wines and cheeses, and showing off some amazing pairings on Saturday, July 23 at You’re So Crafty in downtown Seguin. Learn more and sign up at


The wine label translator is here

supermarket-732281_640Walking down the aisles at your local wine seller is a lot like a trip to a foreign land: It’s full of pretty sights and the lure of the exotic — all covered with an indecipherable language.

But your guide to understanding words and phrases on the outside of wine bottles is on the way to downtown Seguin. “Translating the Wine Label” will be in session at You’re So Crafty, 208 S. Austin St., from 3-4:30 p.m. on Saturday, May 21.

Registration is $30 per person and is available at

We’ll be looking at wine labels from across the globe and then opening the bottles to see if what’s inside holds up to the hype on the label.

In addition to finding out what all the legal stuff is about and why it’s there, we’ll also look at clues every label reveals:

  • Who made the wine and how you can communicate your pleasure (or displeasure) with them
  • What’s in the bottle, or at least a good idea
  • When a wine was made, and why that matters
  • Where the wine was made, and why that matters even more
  • Why so much information is on every label
  • How to know what to believe and what to ignore

As always, you also can depend on your Field Correspondent to come up with wines both exotic and affordable. It’s what we do.

Winery U goes upper division

Just to be clear, the wine will be blindfolded Saturday, not the tasters. And the wine will be red.

Just to be clear, the wine will be blindfolded Saturday, not the tasters. And the wine will be red, not white. Hey, you get what you pay for with free stock photos.

This Saturday’s Winery U class, Bring Your Own Wine, is as close to an upper division class as we get.

Everyone who signs up will bring a bottle of red wine, and I will collect it, add it to a list and then wrap it in a very fancy brown paper bag.

The class will taste the wines blind — without knowing what’s in the bottle —  and seek to match them with the list of wines, using the principles they have learned in either previous Winery U sessions or elsewhere. (Just to be clear, there are no prerequisites, except you have to be old enough to buy a bottle to bring along.)

We’ll go through the sensory evaluation checklist first:

  • Clarity and color, with an emphasis on the intensity of the color
  • Swirl and sniff, to identify basic aromas
  • Taste, to gauge weight, character and refine

Then we’ll talk about characteristics of various red wines, using principles taken from classes about varietals, growing regions and wine history.

Everyone will have the complete list of wines, and then it will just be a matter of matching.

Will there be a winner? Maybe. But really, everybody will win, if last year’s class was any indication. We had a huge range of wines, including some personal favorites, and exposed people to wines they might not have tried otherwise.

There’s still time to sign up online. Click here to register.


A baker’s dozen tips for wine cheapskates

wine 4-10-16Let’s face it: For most of us, $20 is a lot of money for a bottle of wine. We may love the stuff, but we also have to do things like pay the electric bill and put gas in the car.

Honestly, a lot of wine in that “budget” price range isn’t good for anything but staining your teeth or cooking a tough old chicken. But with a few tips, there are ways to drink like a king on a cheapskate’s wine budget. And the best thing about it: Most of the great “cheapskate” wines are available just about anywhere you can buy wines, including convenience and drug stores.

1. The Island’s Specialty

One wine you can find just about anywhere, and at a reasonable price, is New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. And much of it isn’t from just anywhere in New Zealand, but from what may be the best Sauvignon Blanc region in the world, Marlborough, on the northern tip of the country’s south island.

Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc is what California Sauvs wish they could be. They are laden with tropical fruit character, with that herbal backbone and that edge of acidity that makes them so absolutely perfect with a variety of foods. And you can get a very, very good one for less than $15, and often it’s closer to $10.

2. The Portuguese Secret

Another regional specialty that isn’t nearly as famous as Kiwi Sauvignon Blanc is Vinho Verde from Portugal. Vinho Verde, which means “green wine” in Portuguese, isn’t really green, unless you think of “green” as young and fresh. It’s made to be fruity, light, slightly fizzy and slightly sweet – a thoroughly refreshing white and sometimes even pink wine. The grapes they can grow in northern Portugal are ideal for it, and there’s lots of it – for $8 a bottle or less, in most cases.

3. Not Your Mother’s Liebfraumilch

A lot of people make a face about German wines, but it usually can be attributed to truly awful blended wines like Liebfraumilch (literally, “Milk of Our Lady”), a generic and sinfully sweet white. You won’t find a fine German wine in a bargain hunt, but you can use a couple of clues to snatch one that’s much more drinkable than its predecessors. Most importantly, find one that specifically says “Riesling” on the label, since that ensures it was made from that noble grape and not some generic blend. Also look on the label for the word “Qualitatswein.” Qualitatswein is a step up in the country’s strict labeling system from the cheap stuff, which is labeled as Tafelwein. Well-chilled, even a cheap German Riesling can be a delight, busting out of the bottle with fruit flavors and an edge of acidity that sets it apart from the sweet junk out there. How much will it put you back? About $8.

4. A Different Kind of Fizz

During the 19th century, some rather nasty plant epidemics put a lot of French winemakers out of work. A big chunk of the ones from the Champagne region wound up in northeastern Spain, and they brought their knowledge and skills for making bubbly with them. One thing they left behind, though – the high prices. A Spanish Cava, made using the same methods as French Champagne, with much of the same character, can go for $12-$15.

5. Tapas, Anyone?

Another specialty of Spain is Rioja, a lovely middle-weight red wine. It goes particularly well with a lot of Spanish tapas, the finger-food that seems to be everywhere on the Iberian Peninsula. Don’t expect it to be big and Cabernet-like, because it isn’t – especially the lower-priced versions. But buy an inexpensive one and then use your savings on some Manchego cheese, which is made from sheep’s milk around the same parts of Spain as Rioja. Spend $10 on the wine and $5 on the cheese and have a feast.

6. It’s Not Just for Candles Anymore

Our friends in Italy used to export oceans of cheap wines to this country, with much of it not fit to throw in the ocean, much less drink. But the Italians are now the No. 1 wine producers and exporters in the world, and they don’t want you doing a spit-take when you sip the most-famous Italian wine, Chianti. Once again, remember it’s not supposed to be Cabernet. But having a simple Chianti with Tuscan-style Italian food is another cheap-food-and-wine experience that will make your eyes roll back in your head.

7. Oceans of Chardonnay

The oaked Chardonnay fad seems to be fading, but if you still love your Chard with that touch of oak character, you’re in luck – the biggest-selling imported Chardonnay in this country is available just about everywhere liquor is sold. Look for Lindeman’s Bin 65 Chardonnay – it’s Australian – the next time you’re buying gasoline, Fritos or Twinkies at the local convenience store, ice house or stop-and-rob. It’s lightly oaky and fruity like a typical Chardonnay, and just ridiculously cheap, sometimes less than $5 a bottle.

8. Chile, Anyone?

In grape-growing circles, Chile is known as one of the places on earth that has never been affected by phylloxera, the root-chewing louse that nearly wiped out world wine production during the 1900s. To drinkers, it’s known as the home of very good – and often well-priced – red wines. Just about any Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot or Carmenere is going to be drinkable, but if there’s a choice, look for regionally labeled wines, from the Maipo Valley or the Central Valley.

9. Just over the Andes

Across the high mountains from Chile is Argentina, where an orphaned grape from Bordeaux known as Malbec apparently loves the high, dry climate of Argentina’s winegrowing regions. If there’s a choice, the most-notable Argentine Malbecs are from the Mendoza growing region. They’re not as cheap as they used to be, but there still are big, bold, drinakable ones for $12.

10. One Word: France

You have to work pretty hard to find a bad French wine for less than $15. Why? First of all, they know what they’re doing when it comes to wines in France. There’s plenty of expertise, as well as plenty of grapes, to go around. And the French aren’t all that keen on losing any more of their share of the world wine market, so they’re especially dedicated to making really good value-priced wines in gigantic quantities. They may be from the second line of a famous producer, or they may be from the country’s biggest production regions, in the south of the country. But they’ll more than likely be good.

11. Buy Local

If you went to Europe and drank the table wine at a little bistro and came back raving about how good it was, it may be because you were at a scenic little bistro in Europe drinking wine on vacation. More likely, though, is the fact that the wine in that carafe, which probably came from a giant container in the back, was made nearby. Locally made wines, especially in the Old World, often match the local cuisine. They are crafted by people who know how to make wine in their local conditions. Sure, they might never put it in a bottle, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t good.

In the United States, that kind of winemaking is growing in popularity every day, albeit without 500 to 1,000 years of winemaking history or the bulk containers (we seem a little freaked out by wine in 100-gallon tanks). More and more often, local wines are matching local foods, and making them affordable, too. From New Mexico to New York, local wines abound, and they’re finding a place next to local foods.

12. Look for Strays

Any wine cheapskate needs to have a sense of adventure. Most big wine retailers will have closeout sections, prime for the hunt. It’s where they sell wines that maybe they bought a few too many cases of, or wines that for one reason or another didn’t sell elsewhere in the store, or wines they picked up from another retailer on closeout. Don’t dismiss it immediately just because it’s $1.99. But do be careful: If a white looks orange or brown, or it’s four years or more past the vintage date on the bottle, move along. Reds can be a little older, but don’t be impressed by a 10-year-old vintage on sale. Even red wine made in this country is designed to take home and drink right away, not be aged.

Also, if there are signs of leakage around the cork, or the bottle leaks when you pick it up, or the display has signs of leakage, put the bottle down and step away.

13. See the Signs

Don’t be afraid to browse, pick up bottles and read the labels. Most of what’s on the back is pure malarkey, but sometimes there’s pertinent info on the front. Wines from a designated region (smaller than a state) can be good values. Most of the less-expensive California wines will simply have “California” as a location of origin in the label, which means it could have come from anywhere in the state. If the bottle has the name of a growing region on it, known as an American Viticultural Area, it’s likely to be a step up from state-designated wines.

Welcome to the world, little leaves

Of all the holiday songs of my youth, a couple have glued themselves in my brain. One, particularly appropriate today for another reason, was crooned by the golden-voiced Andy Williams: “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year.”

(You can hear it for yourself on YouTube, complete with the most amazingly random assortment of Christmas images you’ll ever see.)

And while the tune was in my head today, the images were decidedly different. If you grow grapes, this week is the most wonderful time of the year. It’s when the buds break — when this year’s growth begins. Here’s what it looks like:


No matter if the winter here was wet or dry, frosty or wimpy, when it gets to be the middle of March, the buds break. By the end of the week, there will be tiny leaves where these buds are now.

For the backyard vineyardist, it’s fun, since it means you didn’t kill all your vines the previous summer. For people who grow grapes for a living, it’s when they get religion. At this point, a freeze would be a disaster, nipping off any growth and essentially wiping out the crop. (It happened around here, including in the backyard, two years ago — the second-latest freeze in Comal County history, the second week of April.)

Grapevines, which are genetically programmed to survive just about anything, will put out what’s known as secondary growth if the first growth freezes or is chewed by a passing varmint. There’s even a provision for a third growth.

Unfortunately, secondary and tertiary growth is there just to keep the plant alive — there aren’t any grapes. So let’s just stay positive and hope for a warm few weeks.


The bud itself is pretty remarkable — it develops on the plant during the growing season, building up energy to burst onto the scene the next spring. Managing that bud development, along with leaves, tendrils, stems and grapes on an actively growing vine, is a great juggling act that goes on in the vineyard all season.


The growth that comes out of the bud is gorgeous, tinged with pink and purple and bright green, as hinted in the photo. You just want to talk to them, to encourage them, to let them know you’ll do anything your (admittedly weak) power to protect them.

If there’s no frost or nibbling pests, the plants will take off on a crazy growth spurt, putting on up to six inches a day during the early part of the season. The blooms will arrive and set grapes. Green BBs will swell to berry sized, transform from green to purple in a week in July. And if there’s no hail, floods or plagues of locusts, there might be a crop.

So welcome to the real “most wonderful time of the year.” It’s all good hopes and cheer right now, anyway.

Budbreak4(Oh and yes, those are my too-soft “banker’s hands” in the background.)