Back in Business!

This old house turned into the pour house again Thursday night and a good time was had by almost everyone with the Dionysus Imports French portfolio, co-presented by importer/distributor Douglas Skopp and AOC Selections director of operations Brandon Kerne, taking center stage.

Fifty folks showed up when we were expecting maybe 30. That’s both good news and bad news . . . but mostly good news. It told me people are delighted to return to the Alliance, which through the years Spec’s Bear Dalton had turned into one of Houston’s best wine destinations before his untimely passing in 2020, despite our parking challenges in the heart of Montrose.

Logistically, we were a little overwhelmed given the thirsty crush and things got a little raucous at the end, forcing Skopp (pictured below) and Kerne to shout above the din. But we promise to do better next time. Hey, baby steps . . . Most importantly, the 10 Dionysus wines, all from the Rhone Valley, were outstanding across the board and it was especially fun to converse with people who weren’t familiar with a number of them, or even the region itself.

My favorite by the narrowest of margins proved to be Evan Bakke’s 2015 Clos de Trias from the Ventoux AOC, a red I hadn’t sampled in a number of years and a wine you’ll read more about later in this space. I’ve already bought three bottles through, where all the wines presented can be purchased.

Looking ahead, please put June 21 on your calendar and 427 Lovett Blvd. on your GPS. In France, they celebrate the Summer Solstice with the Fête de la Musique and we intend to do the same with a piano concert paired with Madame Zero Champagne, a France-Houston hybrid if ever there was one from Galveston-born Matthew Massey. More details forthcoming as the date draws closer!

Sippin’ with Sporty


2015 Fiddlehead Cellars “Bebble” Grüner Veltliner

From the winemaker: “Elegant and sophisticated notes of ground vanilla bean with hints of coriander and citrus, along with the traditional white pepper notes, barely ripe pineapple, cucumber and honeydew melon. There is wonderful leanness buried beneath its weighty expression. You can almost feel the chalky, wet stone minerality translating from our clay soils, littered with chert and shale, to give mineral depth to this beauty.”

From me: You think grüner, you think Austria. Well, think again. This is a lovely effort from winemaker Kathy Joseph, whose just under three-acre Fiddlestix Vineyard in the Sta. Rita Hills of Santa Barbara County delivers the bracing minerality the hand-picked, night-harvested, field-sorted grapes needs to fully express itself. The name honors her mom, Babette, who answered to “Bebble” around the house.

$42 from


2020 Notre Dame de Pallières Rasteau

From the winemaker: “Sourced from the Roux family’s plot “Les Ribes” at the top of Ratanaud, the hill that shares the valley of the Aygues and Ouvèze, comes this rustic mouthful of a Rasteau. The old vines here enjoy unusually cold nights and the pebbles on the ground are bountiful.

From the Wine Enthusiast, which scored it a 90: “Cassis and blackberry flavors are ripe but mouthwatering in this full-bodied red. A grenache-dominant blend augmented by smaller proportions of mourvèdre, syrah and cinsault, it’s buoyantly fruity but maintains a twist of herbal freshness. The wine finishes on complexities of crushed stone, bramble and charred cinnamon. Ready now it should hold well through 2025.”

From me: Right in my wheelhouse, this Southern Rhone gem. It’s a wine I’d gotten away from drinking — just forget about it, I suppose — but it’s back on my shelf again, to stay.

$22.99 at Spec’s

2020 Bonarrigo Family Wines Heritage Reserve

From the winemaker: “A bold blend of traditional Italian varieties this wine has savory nuances of herbs and spice. Beautiful dark fruit flavors and tannins coat the palate with elegant complexity.” 

From me: I’ve always thought Messina Hof made a world-class sagrantino and that grape, most famous in Umbria, is front and center in this bold, well-structured red, joining forces with primitivo and sangiovese. One of the best bottles I’ve tasted in 2023, it’s a perfect pairing for brisket and a whole lot of other hearty entrees.

$40 at

H-town happenings

Charcuterie workshop and Wine tasting: 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, March 29 at JMP Tasting Room in Humble. $75.

“Rascally Rabbits” Spring Taste and Buy — 1-4 p.m. Saturday, April 1 at

SERCA Wines Tasting: 4 p.m. Saturday, April 8, at the SERCA Tasting Room in the Heights. . $15.

Katy Sip N Stroll: Saturday, April 15 at The Ballard House.

JMP Wine Night — Truly Greek, Truly Unique: 6:30 p.m. Thursday, April 20. $75. JMP Tasting Room in Humble.

The Sports Page

Raising a glass to . . . Jose Altuve

And hoping he returns better than ever after suffering a broken thumb when hit by a pitch in a WBC tournament game two weeks before the Astros begin their championship defense. My guess is he’ll be out until late June. Right, ouch! It’s bad for team, of course, but it’s terrible for a guy who’s viably chasing 3,000 hits. Every day counts.

Follow me

Podcast: Sporty Wine Guy  

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Others to follow

Jeremy Parzen (

My podcast partner in crime, shown above, weighs in on the merits, of lack thereof, of organic wines, a favorite topic of his.

Sandra Crittenden (

Just back from a whirlwind excursion to Paso Robles, Sandra gives us a review of the city’s cool wine quarter called Tin City.

Russ Kane (

The Texas Wineslinger weighs in on the mysterious origins of the Black Spanish grape, also called Jacquez and Lenoir.

Jeff Kralick (

Jeff touts more of the top wines he has been sent as samples of late. Two earned “excellent” ratings with 90-point scores.

Katrina Rene (

Kat tells us everything we need to know about what’s happening in the world of Texas wine this month.

So Much Wine, So Little Time . . .

As a rule, Mondays aren’t fun days, but for every rule there’s usually an exception. For example, take my last two Mondays. Most recently, a high-end Duckhorn pairing lunch at Bluedorn overlapped with the again annual Taste of Italy event at the Omni Riverway. There, I sat on a panel with my podcast partner in crime, Jeremy Parzen, and Spec’s wine buyer Tom Dobson discussing the merits of pairing Italian wines with Texas Barbeque, in this case prepared by one of our finest, Ara Malekian, a Swiss-trained chef turned uber-pitmaster at his Harlem Road Barbeque in Richmond.

We’ll get to those wines in a moment. First, let’s speak of Duckhorn, which has long been dear to my heart. One of my earliest wine epiphanies happened while tasting Tom Rinaldi’s mid-1980s Napa Valley Merlots, especially the Three Palms, and we were fortunate to have the opportunity to sample the 2019 vintage of same this week (and note my recommendation for regular 2020 Duckhorn Merlot). It didn’t disappoint. Rinaldi has long since moved on to other projects, including crafting Houston Master Sommelier Guy Stout’s wines, but the current team hasn’t missed a beat.

The star attraction of the lunch, however, were the two new Kosta-Browne offerings . . . from Burgundy.


Duckhorn, of course, owns Kosta-Browne and had the financial clout to take on such a seemingly complicated venture, one that had Kosta Browne GM Neil Bernardi “holding my breath” as the project came to fruition. You can almost count on one hand how many Americans have ventured into the fabled French AOC. Duckhorn, it seems, entered into a hush-hush partnership with a Côte de Beaune winery that’s calling most of the shots, certainly when it comes to harvesting decisions.

Working with the negociant model — Duckhorn hasn’t yet tried to acquire any vineyards, which are the world’s most expensive — it has released pinot noirs from Beaune and Gevrey-Chambertin (the two we had the privilege of tasting) as well as Pommard and Volnay, plus a chardonnay from Mersault. The reds will sell for $125 and the white for $120. Mailing list wine club members will get first crack at purchasing the wines, although “select markets” will get some, too. Presumably, Houston will be one, since it did make the cut for Duckhorn’s 2023 Pinnacle Tour itinerary.

The wines were vinified and aged in Burgundy — about 30 percent in new oak, at Kosta-Browne’s behest — then transported via temperature-controlled containers to the home base in Sebastopol, Calif., where they were bottled. Both already-fermented juice and whole grapes/must went into the mix.

I found it interesting that Kosta-Browne choose to have the word’s “pinot noir” and “chardonnay” printed on the respective labels. Bernardi — that’s him below — said it was important “to educate the consumer” as to what varietals they would be tasting, although one would assume anyone who would fork over $100-plus for a burgundy wouldn’t need to be told they were drinking, by French law, pinot noir and chardonnay.

But my top tout in the tasting? The spot-on 2020 Calera Mt. Harlan Jensen Vineyard Pinot Noir. Calera is, of course, now under the Duckhorn umbrella, too. It also sells for $125 and is arguably the closest California cousin to the Burgundian reds because of the limestone in the dirt.

Calera’s visionary founder Josh Jensen, who died last summer at the age of 78, found his perfect location for growing pinot noir on the remote slopes of Mount Harlan in San Benito County about two hours southeast of San Francisco. The Calera Wine Company, taking its name from the Spanish word for limekiln, opened for business in 1975. Jensen, Bernardi pointed out, had paid $53 an acre for the hardscrabble land, which is 2,200 feet above sea level in the Galiban Mountain Range. You couldn’t touch a single vine for that today in Gevrey- Chambertin.

Now, back to Italy. All of Dobson’s selections, shown below, worked splendidly with Malakien’s sublimely smoked brisket and ribs, including, somewhat counterintuitively, a pinot grigio. Better still, all can be purchased at Spec’s for under $30, cash price. And one was the 2018 La Casa in Collina Barbaresco from ViteColte, a steal at $29.44. My other favorite in the mix was a 2020 barbera from the Cerrino cooperative, priced exactly the same as the can of Illy coffee beans I purchased on my Spec’s excursion: $14.99.

As per usual, there were way more lovely wines in the walk-around room than could be possibly be tasted and most were here seeking importers/distributors in Texas. I’d had the same overwhelming experience the previous Monday when a band of Bordeaux brothers and sisters passed through town. But it’s flattering to see how valuable the Houston market has become for the new wave of winemakers around the world. They wouldn’t be arriving en masse if we didn’t matter.

The surprises in the French lineup were the half-dozen cremants from Bordeaux, pictured below. I’d never tasted one before. They dazzled while offering way better value than those from Burgundy. But, for the moment, availability remains limited.

Separate from the Taste of Italy shindig, I also spent quality time with Alessandro Rotolo, who now presides over the Schiopetto wines launched in 1970 by the legendary Mario Schiopetto, and the Rotolo family’s slightly less famous but no less satisfying Volpe Pasini portfolio. (That’s him below with Schiopetto’s world-class “M.”) Nobody does it better in Friulli than Rotolo’s two teams. My pick in that lineup was the Volpe Pasini “Grin” from the 2021 vintage, which might be the most satisfying pinot grigio I’ve ever tasted and it can be purchased through for well under $20.

Sippin’ with Sporty


2022 Revelation by Goose Ridge

From the winemaker: “The blush pink hue with a floral bouquet is only just the beginning, followed by bursting notes of strawberry and watermelon. A reminder that style and strength are more than just this season’s fashion, they come from within.” 

From me: The blend of fruit from the expansive Pacific Ridge Vineyard — Washington’s largest — in the arid southeastern corner of the state is syrah-centric but includes grenache, mourvedre, chardonnay and pinot grigio, surely the first of its kind. The wine has a bit of heft to it and lovely lingering finish. It’s a project of the three generations of women in the Monson family and was released to celebrate International Women’s Day. Brava!

$18 at


2017 Capella Sant’Andrea Vernaccia Di San Gimignano Clara Stella

From the winemaker: “Pale lemon in color. Scents of apple, yellow fruits and some white flowers. Fresh acidity and light complexity. Good length with somewhat creamy texture.”

From me: Grape growers and winemakers Flavia Del Seta and Francesco Galgani are organic, minimally interventionist farmers through and through, right down to their use of only spontaneous fermentation. This is a beautiful expression of a wine that often disappoints when made by less meticulous producers.

$22 at Tuttilili Wines and Specialty Foods (


2020 Duckhorn Merlot Napa Valley

From the winemaker: “Embodying the alluring beauty of great Napa Valley Merlot, this wine reveals vibrant aromas of red currant, ripe plum, black raspberry, cherry and sweet baking spices, with hints of tea leaves and cocoa. The palate is rich and luxurious, with silky tannins and flavors of ripe red berries, pie crust and fig compote gliding to a bright, elegant finish.”

From James Suckling who scored it a 93: “A juicy and fruity Merlot blend with plum, chocolate and hazelnut aromas and flavors. Full and layered with fleshy tannins and a flavorful finish. Velvety texture. Lovely approachability.”

From me: This reference-standard California merlot has a 17-percent cabernet sauvignon component plus tiny amounts of cab franc and petit verdot in the blend. It’s something of a miracle wine given the terrible impact wildfires had on the region in 2020. Renee Ary’s winemaking team did a splendid job of getting the tainted grapes out of the mix. The yield was smaller, of course, but there was no downtick in quality.

$47.99 at

H-town happenings

Boutique wines from Spain tasting: 4 p.m. Friday, March 10, at Memorial Wine Cellar. Free

Downtown Wine and Bear Walk: Noon, March 18, in Rosenberg.

Bay Area Wine Fest: 4 p.m. Saturday, March 18, at Morgan Falls Event Center, Alvin. 

Rodeo Whiskey and Winefest: 4-7 p.m. Saturday, March 18, at Big Brothers and Sisters. $50

Dionysus Imports French wines tasting: 6:30 p.m. Thursday, March 23, at the Alliance Française Houston. 713 526-1121 $25.

Champion Wine Garden Presented by Frost Bank at NRG Carruth Plaza, in conjunction with the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo:

Katy Sip N Stroll: Saturday, April 15 at The Ballard House.

The Sports Page

Raising a glass to . . . Kelvin Sampson

The real season, a.k.a. March Madness, starts now, but finishing the practice season as the No. 1 team in the country is nothing to sneeze at. This old Coug ar stands in awe of Sampson’s magnificent rebuild of the University of Houston basketball program. Eat ’em up, eat ’em up, rah rah rah!!!

Follow me

Podcast: Sporty Wine Guy  

Instagram: sportywineguy

Twitter: @sportywineguy

Facebook: Dale Robertson

Others to follow

Jeremy Parzen (

Jeremy, shown above, gives us the full lowdown on the hot new Nizza appellation for barberas in Italy’s Piemonte.

Sandra Crittenden (

Sandra reports on a recent tasting she participated in at the Texas Wine School with Jean Trimbach, whose Maison Trimbach sells more wine in the U.S. than any other Alsatian producer.

Russ Kane (

The Texas Wineslinger takes a far-afield detour from his usual stomping grounds and samples the wines from Sojourn, which works with some of the best vineyards in Napa and Sonoma Counties.

Jeff Kralick (

Jeff touts the best wines he has been sent as samples of late. All of them, as it happens, are French.

Katrina Rene (

Kat tells us everything we need to know about what’s happening in the world of Texas wine this month.

Ride ’em, Wineboy!

Most of what follows appeared in the Houston Chronicle’s Rodeo Section a week ago. But I’ve made a few updates, too.

Although it may seem incongruous at first glance, bubbles and bull riding will share almost equal billing during the 2023 Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo. But it makes perfect sense considering that promoting agriculture through a vast array of scholarships is at the center of the Rodeo’s mission and grape-growers are most definitely farmers.    

However, the man behind the current Grand Champion Best of Show bottle is the rapper Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson, which segues nicely, too. Music, of course, is a critical component of the 20-day jam on the NRG grounds that’s part sports spectacle, part music festival and part wine-tasting. Once again, the Rodeo’s Champion Wine Garden at Carruth Plaza between NRG Stadium and the Astrodome, will become the city’s most visited wine bar for 20 evenings – Feb. 28 through March 19 – and Jackson’s Le Chemin du Roi Brut Champagne figures to be flowing freely there, along with the other most decorated wines.

Jackson considers Houston home these days, so his Le Chemin du Roi champagne’s topping a field of 3,071 entries from 18 countries is all the more special. A regular bottle of his bubbles sell for about $142 at Spec’s, but a special nine-litter bottle brought in a record $325,000 at the Rodeo Uncorked Champion Wine Auction and Dinner Sunday night. Le Chemin du Roi had previously claimed Reserve Grand Champion honors in 2021.

Jackson stepped up personally, too, spending $165,000 for a nine-litter bottle of the Reserve Grand Champion Best of Show, the 2020 Bernhardt Winery Antiquity Reserve Chardonnay Danube Plain.

Live music adds to the Wine Garden’s nightly energy and there’s an added educational component with almost daily seminars featuring food and wine pairings presided over by some of Houston’s leading oenophiles. The series kicks off Wednesday evening with Ryan Levy’s presentation about pairing wine with “decadent” chocolate.” Levy, co-owner of the Houston-based Nice Winery, is himself a former Rodeo scholarship recipient, and he readily credits that assistance for helping make his career in wine possible.

His 2018 Cabernet Franc from California’s Paicines AVA was the Reserve Grand Champion for 2022 and a nine-liter bottle of same sold for $200,000 at the Champion Wine Auction. Three of his wines earned double golds this year. Levy will also conduct a a tasting of the competition’s highest-scoring bubbles on Thursday, March 9.

Master Sommelier Guy Stout presides over a tasting of the top award-winners Tuesday, March 14. Reservations for the complete seminar lineup can be made at        

The Wine Garden will be open from 4 to 11 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 4 to midnight on Friday, 11 a.m. to midnight on Saturday and noon to 10 p.m. on Sunday. And everything you need about the 77 wines in the lineup can be found at http://rodeowinegardenwine4me/home. My wine friend Amy Gross did a remarkable job of setting up this app. Brava!

The Rodeo wine “season” officially kicked off with the Round Up and Best Bites competition at NRG Center last Sunday, when more than 450 wines and signature dishes from 100-plus local restaurants were available for tasting.

The top two finishers in each category:

Outstanding Showmanship Award — 1, Eculent. 2. Brother’s Produce.

People’s Choice Award — 1. Cotton Culinary, The Cotton Pearl (duck fat crostini with wagyu beef and lemon verblanc pearl). 2. Patra Lee’s Kitchen (caramel stracciatella ice cream with praline ethiopie and whiskey caramel swirl).

Tasty Tradition Award — 1. Joyce’s Seafood & Steaks (white chocolate bread pudding). 2. Carrabba’s (meatballs and romano cheese with homemade pomodoro sauce).

Trailblazer Appetizer Award — 1. Low Tide Kitchen & Bar (Ceviche with Cilantro Citrus Sauce on Corn Tortilla Chip). 2. Terrace 54 Bar & Table (Bang Bang Shrimp tossed in its signature bang sauce.

Lone Star Entrée Award — 1. Patagonia Grill & Café (sausage-ribeye outside skirt Steak). 2. Calavera Mexican Kitchen (Taco Al Pastor with grilled pineapple, salsa taquero with onion and cilantro, corn tortilla)

Two-Steppin’ Dessert Award — 1. Mostly Chocolate (Tequila añejo 2.0, barrel aged tequila chocolate bonbon, a caramelized, lime sea salt & tequila infused ganache layered with a creamy milk chocolate tequila ganache). 2. Whisky Cake (whiskey cake).

Rookie Award — Patra Lee’s Kitchen (caramel stracciatella ice cream with praline ethiopie and whiskey caramel swirl).

The Barbeque Cookoff champions will be determined this Sunday, while the Champion Wine Auction happens Sunday night. It figures to raise in excess of $1 million through both live and silent bidding. In 2022, a consortium of bidders paid a Rodeo record $250,000 for a nine-liter bottle of the Grand Champion Best of Show, the 2017 J. Lohr Vineyards Cuvee PAU Red from Paso Robles. 

Once the Rodeo starts, the Wine Garden will be open from 4 to 11 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 4 to midnight on Friday, 11 a.m. to midnight on Saturday and noon to 10 p.m. on Sunday.

The 2023 Rodeo Uncorked! International Wine Competition champions:

* Grand Champion Best of Show: Le Chemin du Roi Brut, Champagne AOC, NV

* Reserve Grand Champion Best of Show: Bernhardt Winery Antiquity Chardonnay Reserve, Danube Plain, 2020

* Top Texas Wine: Becker Vineyards Barbera, Tallent Vineyards, Texas Hill Country, 2019

* Top Red Wine: Bernardus Marinus Estate Red, Carmel Valley, 2015

* Top White Wine: Chateau Saint-Roch Old Vines White, Cotes du Roussillon AOP, 2020

* Top Sparkling wine: Champagne Nicolas Feuillatte Reserve Exclusive Brut Rosé Champagne AOC, NV

* Top Dessert Wine: Dandelion Vineyards Legacy of Australia Pedro Ximenez, Australia, NV

* Top Region Wine: Henschke Henry’s Seven Red, Barossa, 2020

* Top Value Wine: Risata Wines Moscato d’Asti DOCG, 2021

* Top Wine Company – E&J Gallo Winery

* Top Region Wine Company – Deutsch Family Wine & Spirits

* Top All-Around Winery – Becker Vineyards

* Top Texas Winery – Messina Hof Winery

Grand Champion Best of Show wines though the years:

* 2023 – Le Chemin du Roi Brut, Champagne AOC, NV

* 2022 – J. Lohr Cuvee PAU Red Paso Robles 2017  

* 2021 – Alexander Valley Vineyards CYRUS Alexander Valley 2014

* 2020 – Piper-Heidsieck Brut Champagne

* 2019 – Graham Beck Brut Rosé South Africa 

* 2018 – J. Lohr Vineyards Signature Cabernet Sauvignon Paso Robles 2014

* 2017 – Arinzano Gran Vino Blanco, Pago de Arinzano 2010

* 2016 – Orin Swift Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon Mercury Head Napa Valley 2013

* 2015 – Rombauer Vineyards Diamond Selection Cabernet Sauvignon 2010

* 2014 – Antinori Guado al Tasso Bolgheri Superiore 2009

* 2013 – Alexander Valley Vineyards Cyrus Alexander Valley 2008

* 2012 – Antinori Guado al Tasso Bolgheri Superiore 2007

* 2011 – Alexander Valley Vineyards Cyrus Alexander Valley 2006

* 2010 – Davis Family Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2005

* 2009 – Vina Robles Suendero Paso Robles 2006

* 2008 – Stags’ Leap Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2003

* 2007 – Clos du Bois Marlstone Alexander Valley 2003

* 2006 – Raymond Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley 2001

* 2005 – Hang Time Pinot Noir Santa Maria Valley 2003

* 2004 – Alexander Valley Vineyards CYRUS Alexander Valley 1999

New Wine Friends

I’ve had several memorable visits with wine folks over the last several weeks and I’d like to share their stories with you, at least briefly. In order, they were . . .

Tony Parker

La Mascaronne

Yep, that Tony Parker, the basketball player, the guy who won four NBA championships over his 17 seasons with the San Antonio Spurs and who, as of this weekend, is a finalist for the Basketball Hall of Fame. He’s also the part-owner of La Mascaronne, a gorgeous winery on a lovely spot in the Var above St. Tropez that American Tom Bove oversaw until he sold it to the entrepreneur Michel Reybier, who subsequently brought in Parker as a partner. Back in 2000, Reybier paid $115 million for the famed Bordeaux estate Cos d’Estournel and remains its proprietor.

Parker grew up French, of course, and began drinking wine as soon as he was old enough to buy it — well, maybe a little before then — but it was his long, fruitful relationship with Spurs coach Greg Popovich, a hyper-serious oenophile, that turned him into a knowledgeable consumer in his own right. If Parker and Popovich weren’t talking hoops on Spurs flights, they were talking wine. And they are still talking. Parker splits his time between Texas and Lyon, where he owns the men’s and women’s pro teams. He still frequently picks Pop’s brain on matters of personnel and strategy.

And wine.

“It was nice to have a coach share his passion with me,” Parker said. He might have added, “And his palate.”

I spent quality time on the phone with Parker recently and I’m hoping to speak with Popovich, too, when the Spurs return from the All-Star break for a story I’ve been asked to write for the San Antonio Express-News. Basketball-wise, it has been a terrible year for the 74-year-old coach, his worst ever in fact, but he can find some solace in a wine collection that numbers in the thousands of bottles. I’d bet Pop even has a few left from the historically great 1982 vintage in Bordeaux, which also happens to be Parker’s birth year.

An intriguing coincidence, to be sure.

Giorgio Pelissero

Pelissero, a third-generation grape-grower/vintner in Treiso in the heart of the Barbaresco country (pictured above with yours truly), has been making wines under his family name since 1989, 29 years after the first Pelissero vintage was released, and they are across-the-board excellent. He’s especially proud of his dolcettos because, rather than pull out those vines and replace them with nebbiolo like so many of his neighbors have done, he’s defiantly leaving them to thrive right where they are, in places he knows aren’t conducive to making Nebbiolo d’Albas.

Given nebbiolo’s exalted status in the world’s wine pecking order, is it a good business decision? He doesn’t care.

“(Winemaking) for me is a passion, not a business,” Pelissero explained. “I don’t like the word ‘business.'”

You’ll be able to taste Pelissero’s wines at Sofia in the Heights March 3 (see below) and hopefully the Long Now Langhe Rosso, a particularly compelling 50-50 nebbiolo-barbera blend, will be in the mix. The name pays homage to the Long Now Foundation, founded in 1996 to foster “long-term” thinking. Or, as the website explains, “Our work encourages imagination at the timescale of civilization — the next and last 10,000 years — a timespan we call the long now.”

Yes, Pelissero’s wine is age-worthy.

Sam Jaoude

Jaoude, who now lives in Houston, had been importing a variety of goods and food items from his native Lebanon for a number of years before he decided to explore the possibility of bringing in wines, too. But, while most consumers had heard of Lebanon’s most widely distributed producer, Chateau Musar, he would be starting ground zero with the wineries he began to consider for his portfolio.

Most were tiny, family-run businesses with no infrastructure for exporting, so they were eager to speak with him. Ultimately, he settled on a group of 15 that checked all the right boxes — from diverse producers, many of them relying heavily on indigenous grapes that grow no place else such as obaideh, merwah, meksassi, and sobbagiegh — then, fingers crossed, submitted samples to the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo International Wine Competition last fall.

He wouldn’t be disappointed. Some 21 of them earned medals with four claiming golds and a fifth, which garnered a silver, being saluted as a Reserve Class Champion. If you’re attending the Rodeo Uncorked! Best Bites event Sunday night, do make a beeline to Jaoude’s table and give them a taste. I have and you will not be disappointed.

I’ve got a comprehensive story coming for the Chronicle as soon as the wines arrive in bulk in Houston and find some kind of retail outlet, so watch this space. It will appear here as well.

“The Trio”

Phelicia Colvin, Sheri Lawal Price and Tamesha Hampton, friends from Pearland who all have good day jobs and kids to raise, thought they needed another plate in the air. So they launched Wine Vibes (, a micro-winery in Missouri City where they make their own non-vintage wines from purchased grape juice from California, North Carolina and even Tennessee while serving chef Phillip Hare’s excellent munchies in a casual, airy bistro with a fine little patio out front.

For the moment, they’ve got a still moscato, a chardonnay, a cabernet and what they call — for obvious reasons — The Trio, an equal parts blend of syrah, petite sirah and zinfandel. It was my favorite, but all the wines are quite quaffable. Two more are coming, a reisling and a rosé, just in time for spring. They’ve also got a sangria they’re quite proud of, but it wasn’t available for sampling the night I visited.

The idea began to germinate for Colvin 14 years ago when she visited Napa Valley to attend a wedding and became intrigued by the whole winemaking thing. Many conversations with her eventual partners later and lots of heavy lifting, made way harder by the pandemic, Wine Vibes opened on Feb. 7 at 9018 Sienna Crossing Dr, Suite 100. They had wanted the business to be located in Pearland for convenience’s sake, but Brazoria County, oddly, doesn’t allow micro-wineries. Its loss, Fort Bend County’s gain.

Steve Matthiasson

Matthiasson, who wanted to be a farmer as far back as he can remember, took his first vineyard job in 1994. By 1999, he had co-authored the California manual on sustainable vineyard practices. He arguably knows as much as the myriad terroirs and micro-climates in Napa Valley as anyone alive or dead. We got to sample six very different Matthiasson cabs at a seminar he led for the Houston Sommelier Association last week at the Texas Wine School and it was eye- or, better, palate-opening.

Best of all, this so-called “new wave” winemaker, whose business attire is a T-shirt and blue jeans, is actually an old-school devotee in his “pursuit of balance” approach, which keeps the alcohol levels in his wines routinely below 13 percent.

He and his wife, Jill, will celebrate their 20th harvest in 2023. Today, they have their own winery and own three vineyards outright, one of which in West Oak Knoll features, besides cab franc, merlot and petit verdot, the way lesser known — in California anyway — ribolla gialla, tocai friulano and schioppettino varietals that are each well-suited for the alluvium soils around the nearby Dry Creek. In all, the Matthiassons farm some 55 acres, all of which are certified organic. 

How much does soil type matter. A lot, he said. Grapes grown in volcanic dirt, for example, tend to deliver the most satisfying tannins.


2019 MacRostie Sparkling Brut

From the winemaker: “Expressive aromas of white flowers such as jasmine, as well as bright lemon citrus notes that are both lively and inviting. On the full, impeccably balanced palate, the wine’s crisp acidity melds elegantly with the mouth-filling, slow-forming bubbles.”

From me: If you’re intrigued by this delightful sparkler, which was made in the classic champagne style, you better pounce now. It’s listed on the MacRostie website as a “last call.”

$48 at


2022 Sophie Marie Rose

From the winemaker: “Flavors of freshly picked cranberries, rose petals, and ripe raspberries. This wine has structure, a bright acidity, and light floral notes. It shows shows elegance, youthful sass and the beginnings of boldness and maturity.”

From me: Named for the Messina Hof founders first grandchild, it’s the first Sophia Marie made from sangiovese. Hopefully, it won’t be the last.

$19 at


2018 Newton The Puzzle Napa Valley

From the winemaker: “Deep ruby color with a purple hue. Notes of black fruit, bay leaf and sage mingle with iodine and oyster shell characteristics, creating an extremely complex and pleasant bouquet. Wonderful now, but can age for another two decades.”

From James Suckling, who awarded a score of 95: “Dried violets, potpourri, pine, blackcurrants and cloves on the nose. Ash, too. It’s medium-to full-bodied with firm, silky tannins. Layers of juicy blue and purple fruit and flowers. So sleek and refined. Builds on the palate. From organically grown fruit.” 

From me: It’s a beautiful cab-centric Bordeaux-style blend with all five grapes playing nicely in the mix. But the percentages vary slightly from year to year, which presumably explains the “puzzle” thing. Suckling suggested holding it until 2024 and I would except, sadly, I don’t have another bottle.

$135 at

H-town happenings

Updated Feb. 23

Fantinel Wine Dinner — 7 p.m. Thursday, February 23 at Roma. 713 664-7581. $89 plus tax and gratuity

Bordeaux Undiscovered — 6-8 p.m. Monday, February 27, at Studio 3.

A Night in Friuli — 4-Course Wine Dinner with Volpe Pasini & Schiopetto

6:30 p.m. Monday, Feb. 27, at Sofia. $150 713 804-0429.

A Night In Piemonte with Pelissero Vineyards — 4:30 p.m. Friday, March 3, at Sofia. $22.

Boutique Wines From Spain tasting –– 4 p.m. Friday, March 10, at Memorial Wine Cellar. Free

Bay Area Wine Fest: 4 p.m. Saturday, March 18, at Morgan Falls Event Center, Alvin. 

Dionysus Imports French wines tasting — 6:30 p.m. Thursday, March 23, at the Alliance Française Houston. 713 526-1121 $25.

Champion Wine Garden Presented by Frost Bank at NRG Carruth Plaza, in conjunction with the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo:

The Sports Page

Raising a glass to . . . the Astros

Spring is springing and baseball’s back!!!! They return to work in Florida as defending World Series champions, and none too soon with the Rockets and the Texans on the bottom of their respective sports’ heaps.

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Jeremy Parzen (

My podcast partner in crime extolls the virtues of being a blogger over being a mere “influencer.” One of his students at the Slow Food University in Bra, Italy, has launched a blog and Parzen couldn’t be prouder of her.

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Sandra reviews the new Greek-centric tasting menu at March, a restaurant clearly deserving of some love in the form of stars from the Michelin people.

Russ Kane (

The Texas Wineslinger goes deep with C. L. Butaud’s Randy Hester about his unique and excellent new Blanc de Noir, a still 50-50 blend of grenache and mourvèdre from West Texas fruit. I can vouch for it, having tasted the wine with Kane.

Jeff Kralick (

Jeff weighs in on one of his favorite online wine sites, Last Bottle, which has been sued by Beckstoffer Vineyards for, among other things, breach of contract, false advertising, and trademark infringement. Oh dear.

Katrina Rene (

Kat’s latest post features six wines she recommended for Valentine’s, but that’s perfectly OK. They’re still good, right?

In the beginning . . .

This post has nothing to do with wine, but those of you who still follow the Texans may find it interesting. I first interviewed DeMeco Ryans on his 23rd birthday, which coincided with his first Texans training-camp practice in 2006. I’ve rarely been more impressed with a rookie than I was with the well-spoken Ryans, who, 17 years later, has returned as the Texans’ head coach . . . still trying to get them to the Super Bowl.

The prospect of having an undersized rookie start for them at middle linebacker this season should make the Texans cringe.

Except for one thing. Last year an undersized rookie started at middle linebacker for the Seattle Seahawks, who weren’t seen cringing until they had lost the Super Bowl.

No, Lofa Tatupu couldn’t beat the Pittsburgh Steelers by his lonesome. That would have been a bit much to ask. But, fresh from the playing fields of Troy, the USC product definitely had a good enough season on Seattle’s behalf for everyone in Houston to keep an open mind about DeMeco Ryans, a Tatupu type who lined up in the middle for the Texans’ defense Monday morning.

“Ideally, it’s nice to have a veteran in that position,” concedes defensive coordinator Richard Smith, who is quick to remind that Ryans isn’t yet permanently ensconced as the MLB. “But if the cards are dealt another way, that’s all right, too. Right now the position is competitive. We moved him to the ‘Mike’ today. You never know what might happen tomorrow. Everybody’s trying to earn a position.

“We’re really pleased with what we saw in the mini-camps and off-season work. DeMeco is very knowledgeable and was obviously well-coached in college. (The job) isn’t too big for him. We think his movement skills are perfect for the position. He’s smart. He’ll handle it. He upgrades the athletic ability at the position.”

Defying conventional wisdom, the Seahawks had reached the same conclusions last summer about Mosi Tatupu’s son and look how nicely things panned out for them. The conference title was the first for the franchise in its 30 seasons.

Like Tatupu, Ryans comes from a college football colossus, Alabama. He knows what big games in front of big crowds are all about, so he’s psychologically prepared for the aura of the NFL, as was the former Trojan. Also, Ryans and Tatupu weigh about the same, close to 240 pounds. And, although Ryans lost points with the pickiest draft analysts because he’s “short” for an NFL linebacker, he’s 6-1, which makes him an inch or two taller than Tatupu.

The Texans love his intelligence and athleticism. They have concluded there’s only one real question to answer about the man they made the first pick of the second round of the draft: Can he handle calling the defensive signals and still play instinctively? Smith will spend the preseason ferreting out the answer.

“As with anything,” the coach said, “he’s going to learn with experience and game-time situations. If he can, it’s a bright spot for the organization.”

Ryans intelligence isn’t at issue. He made the SEC’s Academic All-Conference team in each of his last two seasons at Alabama.  Head coach Gary Kubiak calls him “studious” in the classroom and “accountable” on the field.

“The kid loves to play,” he said. ” If you could see him in a meeting room and the way he goes about his business for Joe (Marciano) and our team, he’s like a seven or eight year veteran already. He’s a great kid, and we knew that. His character is tops, and is football is pretty good, too.”

Ryans, for his part, doesn’t appear to be overly stressed by the responsibility he may be asked to bear.

“It’s a little harder,” he said. “In college everybody turned to the sideline and got the signals. Here, one person gets them and relays to the defense. I did it in high school. For me, it’s like going back to high school a little bit.

“You’ve got to have your mental part cleaned up so you can go out and be confident with what you’re doing. If you’re having to think too much you can’t get the job done.”

All things being equal, Ryans admits he prefers  being the MLB to playing on the flanks, but he’ll go where he’s put. After his NFL career officially began on his 23rd birthday – with the opening of his first training camp Friday – he seems excited just to walk onto the field every morning, the heat and the drudgery be hanged.

“I think it was hotter in Alabama,” he said, flashing a smile you’ll see often when he speaks. “I’m just glad I have the opportunity to come out here and compete for a starting job. I’m trying to get better, to hone my skills. I like the middle, but it doesn’t matter. I feel blessed to have the opportunity. A lot of people wish they could be in your shoes. Honestly, I don’t think I could have ended up in a better place.”

Ryans grew up near Tuscaloosa, breathing in the Alabama football tradition from the day he was old enough to know what a football was. The Texans’ comparatively sterile environs couldn’t be more different. He’s taken by the newness of everything,  not the least of which is Kubiak’s coaching staff.

So far, the NFL’s 32nd franchise has only known defeat in its four seasons. Ryans sees a role for himself in changing that.

“I’m in a place where I have a chance to prove something,” he said. “Other teams have had the great players who paved the way. Now I’ve got a chance to be one of those for this organization. Here we’re a new team with new coaches that’s up and coming. I like that. It’s a way to establish our own tradition and get things going in the right way. It’s time to put the bad seasons behind us.”

Coincidentally or not, the Seahawks put their bad seasons – close to three decades worth – behind them with the arrival of Tatupu, who was also a second-round draft pick, taken 45th overall to Ryan’s 33rd.  Informed of the many parallels between the two of them, Ryans replied: “You know, I hadn’t thought about that. But I’d like to go to the Super Bowl, too.”

While might be getting a little ahead of himself there, the Texans have to appreciate his way of thinking.

And they still do. OK, back to wine with my next blog. Gonna be talking about stuff I’ve tasted, fun folks I’ve met and a very cool French tasting event coming up Thursday, March 23, at the Alliance Française Houston in Montrose.