Friday, May 27, 2011

Hill Country Wine Tour

This blog post is about a month late in coming, but I'm still going to do it! We were invited by our friends John and Bri to go with them on a wine tour being offered by the very cool Rita apartments where they live. The tour included a charter bus that drove the group from place to place, breakfast, a very yummy boxed lunch, all the wine we could drink while ON the bus, and of course, tickets for tastings at three wineries. We had a great time and thankfully none of us were even close to inebriated as the rest of the bus by the time we got home, so we also ended up going out for dinner at Braise, which I'll get to after the wine part of the blog!

This is going to sound a lot like the BBQ post that I did a few months ago, but oh well! Who doesn't like reading about food and drinks that other people had?

We went to three wineries in all:

1. William Chris

This place imports grapes from only Texas vineyards and makes all-natural wines. They seemed like a start-up winery, one that someone might venture into when he retires. Their tasting "room" is a tiny, unassuming old building turned into wine-tasting spot. Being very Texan, they had a chalkboard reading, "Enchanté, y'all!" I don't know why, but I can't get Paula Deen's voice out of my head obnoxiously pronouncing that phrase every time I think of it.

We were with a big group so we all sat outside in the semi-shade of some big oak trees. They had a pre-selected tasting, including a Semillon, an "Artist Blend" of reds, their "Enchent√©" blend (Merlot, Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon), a merlot, and and a dry orange muscat called "Mary Ruth."  I liked the Semillon the best, though I normally don't like white or sweet wines. I can't say I cared for the Enchant√©, and giving cutesy names to wines doesn't do anything for me either. This place we probably liked second most out of all three wineries.

I would say that this place is fairly decent. I'm not sure I would give it any awards, but they've got their heads and their hearts in the right place. It was a good first stop.

2. Grape Creek Vineyards

 Grape Creek is a stark contrast to Willam Chris. Not only do they grow grapes, they have a very large, well manicured and costly "Tuscan" facility to showcase their wines. I got the impression that someone with a lot of ambition started this place. They have all the right things: tiny cookies to clear your palette between tastes, gifts to buy along with a few bottles of wine (wine glass flip-flop, anyone?), a large and impressive collection of medals draped over display-bottles of wine, and several knowledgeable employees to guide you through your tasting.

They had a good selection to choose from, but as we'd gotten there toward the end of lunch time, some of the wines were already gone. We all stuck mainly to the reds, which were pretty good, save the port, which tasted like cough syrup.  None of them really stood out, and unfortunately I've lost the list of what we had and my notes, so I can't say much else about the place!  I did expect more from them, since they've got a lot of money invested in this winery, so maybe it's because of the hype-letdown-effect, but this one was my least favorite of the three.

3. Solaro Estate

This place was also pretty unassuming, had some livestock (good sign), vineyards, and a small but cool (architecturally) tasting-pavilion.  They only make a handful of wines, but that works well for this place. We liked every one of the wines that we sampled, and ended up buying a bottle, as did John and Bri. Our favorite (and what we bought) was their award-winning Muscat. They had an orange Muscat as well, which was good, but the orange seemed out of place after a while. John opted for a bottle of the Tempranillo, which he said was as good or better than those he'd had from Spain.  The owner was very knowledgeable and a bit over my head -- of of the reasons we loved this place.

So that was the end of the wine portion of our day!

After we got back, we were hungry (natch') and we've been wanting to try Braise for a while, so it was an easy decision. It was sooooo gooood. We, not surprisingly, ordered no drinks besides water, and split one appetizer and three half-entrees between the four of us. My memory is not helping me out with what we ordered. We had a special (a white fish on top of beef?), the Spicy Jamaican Jerk pork shoulder, and a short rib osso bucco that was heaven and reminded me of my mom's Sunday pot roast. If there hadn't been other people there, I would have eaten the short ribs and licked the plate (and made myself sick for sure). This place is on my list of favs for those short ribs alone. *drool*

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