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Wines for Every Occasion

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Picnic Wine

A new wine ad recently caught my attention. The wine is called Xo,G Wine and is intended for picnics and pool parties, where glassware is generally contraindicated. The genius of this package is in the design — a full bottle distributed equally into 2 “glasses” of Italian Pinot Grigio and two of French Pinot Noir. It consists of one stack pack as pictured, and opens easily into four high quality plastic glasses of wine. Is it worth the $2.50 per glass? Yes, and it needs no glassware and no corkscrew. Also, definitely a conversation piece! In Houston it is available only at Walmart. $9.97

Recommended White Wines

Dominios De Cas­tilla Verdejo Rueda 2014 — Only 12.5 percent alcohol, with lovely peach and apricot flavors. Intriguing freshness with notable acidity and minerality. Estate grown from vines over 15 years old. A steal at $10

Markham Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley 2013 — Long a fan of Markham, this is even better than I remembered! Marvelous, ripe fruit with all components in harmony. Perfect with fried oysters. $18

Talbot Chardonnay Kali Hart Monterey 2013 — A touch of French oak and pretty fruit. More Burgundian — with that special floral hint of Monterey Chardonnay in the bouquet — than most in this price range. Excellent buy. $20

Franciscan Estate Chardonnay Cuvee Sauvage 2013 — Sauvage denotes the use of only wild, native yeasts in the fermentation process, with Franciscan being one of the select few to adopt this Burgundian practice. I have guessed this wine blind, as the wild yeast fermentation gives it a distinct expressiveness not to be found elsewhere. Not made in every year, it’s risky not having a batch of cultured yeasts handy in case they are needed. $40

Patz & Hall Chardonnay Dutton Ranch 2013 — Dutton Ranch in Western Sonoma is an early, iconic Russian River Valley vineyard, yielding in this offering texture and depth with “alluring aromas and bright acidity.” Perfect with chicken piccata. $44

Recommended Red Wines

Dominios De Castilla Tinta de Toro 2013 — This estate grown wine is 85 percent Tinta de Toro (Tempranillo) and 15 percent Garnacha (Grenache). From Toro, it has deep color with black cherries, lush mouthfeel and a hint of vanilla in the finish. Elegant, harmonious and complex. And underpriced! $12

Trinity Hill Pinot Noir New Zealand 2013 — A high-altitude, Hawk’s Bay offering. Exhibits alluring aromas of strawberry and cherry fruit along with a hint of forest floor. Soft tannins, ripe fruit and notable texture make this a terrific bargain! $20

Masciarelli MARINA CVETIC Monte­pulciano d’Abruzzo 2010 — Best Monte­pulciano I’ve tasted in years. Deep, rich, ripe fruit. Tastes to me like a third each of a perfect blend of Zinfandel, Tannat and Petite Sirah. A “must” try. $26

Crossbarn Pinot Noir Anderson Valley 2013 — Listen up! How do you get a Paul Hobbs Pinot Noir for below $60? Here! The Crossbarn offerings are priced between $18 and $35 a bottle and are Hobbs’s introductory wines. This does not taste like an introductory wine! Spicy aromas of brambly wild cherries and ripe, velvety tannins. $35

On Point Pinot Noir Anderson Valley Christina’s Cuvee 2013 — Produced and bottled by Ful­crum Winery, which set out to create a wine of “elegance, grace and beauty.” Success! Colorful, classy label, and a great bargain. $36

Rodney Strong Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve Alexander Valley 2012 — A lush, full-bodied version of 100 percent Cabernet Sauvignon from the outstanding 2012 vintage. Reserve, in this case, means meticulously farmed sections of some of the best vineyards in Alexander Valley, along with hand harvesting, separate fermentations and aging in the finest French oak barrels. After six months, each lot is tasted and graded, and only the ones that display depth, richness, intensity and age worthiness are retained for another 12 to 18 months for the final blending. Amazing price — $40

Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon Alexander Valley 2011 — Although a year away from release of the magnificent 2012 from Jordan, don’t make the mistake of passing this one up! Despite the obstacles caused by the weather, winemaker Rob Davis — who has been there since the inaugural 1976 vintage — calls it a “… silky, fruit-forward Cabernet Sauvignon.” Cranberries and cherries, cocoa and sweet tobacco flavors segue into a lovely finish with a hint of vanilla. The acidity and tannic structure make it cellar-worthy, but why wait? One of the most scintillating, beautiful, pure expressions of Cabernet I have come across this year. Purchase this by the case!! $48

Patz & Hall Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast 2013 — Another introductory wine. Makes one wonder how much better their high-end Pinots might be? Winemaker James Hall says that this shows “…what we can do when we bring some of the best vineyards on the Sonoma Coast together in a single wine.” Includes grapes from top vineyards Gap’s Crown, Chenowith and Martinelli. Vivid red fruits and spice highlight a wine of depth and structure. $48

Cobb Pinot Noir Diane Cobb: Coastland Vineyard 2012 — My favorite and most expensive of the Cobb stable of Pinots, this wine comes from a vineyard in the far Sonoma Coast planted by Diane and David Cobb in 1989. Now in its seventh year of production as a single-vineyard wine, this rich, powerful, spicy rendition is the best yet! Exotic cherry and plum fruit and tender tannins. Aged in French oak (40 percent new) for 22 months. In this case, perfect! Only 275 cases produced. $85

Ruth’s Chris — The Best Value Tasting Dinners?

There are many exciting wine dinners at Houston’s top restaurants. Sometimes, even the ones priced at $295 or more can be tremendous bargains. Where else could one go for dinner and have a fabulous five- or six-course meal with five or six perfectly paired wines, many of which are limited and/or very expensive — especially at restaurant prices.

In April, Ruth’s Chris held a Wagner Family of Wines Dinner, with the following delicious courses: ahi tuna, Northwest snow crab, New Zealand lamb lollipops, filet mignon and white chocolate bread pudding. The wines served were: Emmolo Sauvignon Blanc (Jennifer Wagner’s creation), Mer Soleil Reserve Chardonnay Santa Lucia Highlands, Belle Gloss Pinot Noir Dairyman Vineyard Russian River Valley, Caymus Special Selection Cabernet Sauvignon (around $150 a bottle) and Mer Soleil Late Harvest Dessert Wine, respectively! Held on the same evening at 107 Ruth’s Chris’s restaurants across the U.S. $120!

The late founder Ruth Fertel bought the Chris Steakhouse in New Orleans in 1965 after mortgaging her home. For the 50th anniversary celebration, we hedonistically luxuriated on some of Ruth’s favorites: New Orleans shrimp and grits, fresh mozzarella and kumato tomato salad, Ruth’s original French onion soup, a 12-ounce, perfectly cooked (to my order) prime New York steak and classic crème brulee. An Old Fashioned made with the ultra-premium Casa Noble Tequila, with roots back to 1776 in Tequila, Mexico, was served prior to and with the Shrimp, followed by Franciscan Estate Chardonnay Cuvee Sauvage Carneros, Tom Gore Field Blend Alexander Valley, Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley Limited Edition (for this dinner) and Robert Mondavi Moscato d’Oro, respectively. Served at 100 locations the same evening. All for — are you ready? — $95!

The late Ruth Fertel, founder of Ruth’s Chris.

The late Ruth Fertel, founder of Ruth’s Chris.

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