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Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Random wines while adventuring along Texas coast

S.W. and Rich Hermansen
Guest Writers

On the road again… this time to the Gulf Coast of Texas. This region consists of a long and flat coastal plain that extends from the Louisiana border to Corpus Christi Texas. South of Corpus Christi, the terrain west of Padre Island changes from grasslands to an arid and scrubby stretch of shallow gullies and sand dunes populated largely with prickly-pear cactus, thorny mesquite trees, yucca, and rattlesnakes. The King Ranch covers a ninety mile expanse in this area between Corpus Christi and the border of Mexico. Two hundred miles to the north, the Gulf Coast east of Houston has a few Gulf beaches nestled between miles of oil refineries, chemical manufacturing plants, grain elevators, warehouses, and what’s left of the salt marshes. Not a destination where we would expect to find premier vineyards, we’d have to admit. We had never heard of a vineyard in this area, and when we did eventually find one in a web search (Haak Vineyards and Winery in Galveston County), we did not have the time or temerity to visit it. Our field research came down to random encounters with wine in the company salt air seafood, beef brisket BBQ, and TexMex enchiladas.

But first, on the Southwest non-stop from Sarasota to Houston, the minimal beverage list included a curious 2019 Chenin Blanc and Chardonnay blend ($6) from Mossel Bay in the Western Cape of South Africa. We have a weakness for Chenin Blanc from South Africa, where they treat the grape varietal with the respect it deserves. Bright apple and stone fruit tastes justified our prejudgment. As the flight approached Houston on a clear night, we enjoyed the wine with the on-board cuisine du jour, a bag of pretzels, and the view of a vast array of lights that extended from one horizon to the other.

On a whim the next day, we decided to try a drug store sweet wine, Stella Rosa Black ($12.50), from Italy. It paired well enough with Mikeska’s beef brisket BBQ and Los Cucos cheese enchiladas in El Campo, Texas. The aftertaste, nonetheless, brought back memories of cherry flavored cough syrup. Better, we thought, to serve with equal parts or better of seltzer or Perrier. Even better, a rose would offer the sweet and fruit tastes without the medicinal aftertaste.

On another whim, on our way back to Houston, we made our way to Surfside, a tourist location on the Gulf that families of all races and ethnicities visit in their cars, vans, and pickup trucks via a road on the beach. Two blocks from the beach we found the Red Snapper Inn. It has no bar so we waited in spare covered porch for a table. Inside the founder, Ivan Stathopoulos, seated us at a table. Ivan’s son-in-law Lin Blar, from New Orleans, presided over a menu heavy on fresh red snapper dishes. We ordered the Maso Canali ($8 glass), a Pinot Grigio from Veneto Italy on the limited wine list, and the Red Snapper Bayou Teche, a snapper filet with oysters, lump blue crab meat, and potato medallions in a hot chili butter sauce. By the time the Snapper Bayou Teche arrived, we had shifted to a Primarius Pinot Noir ($12 glass) from the Dundee Hills of the Willamette Valley of Oregon. Its blackberry and red plum flavors stood up well to the light cream and spicy butter sauce on a large and tasty filet of snapper fresh from the Gulf. Having survived in 2021 the latest of four named hurricanes, the Red Snapper Inn merits high praise for its signature dishes.

Random encounters with very different wines and food pairings enhance the palate. Exploring new options at the least helps us understand why we enjoy our favorites, and may at times force us to acquire new favorites. We are keeping an eye out for the Primarius.

S. W. Hermansen has used his expertise in econometrics, data science and epidemiology to help develop research databases for the Pentagon, the National Institutes of Health, the Department of Agriculture, and Health Resources and Services. He has visited premier vineyards and taste wines from major appellations in California, Oregon, New York State, and internationally from Tuscany and the Piedmont in Italy, the Ribera del Duero in Spain, the Barossa Valley and McLaren Vale in Australia, and the Otego Valley in New Zealand. Currently he splits time between residences in Chevy Chase, Maryland and St. Armand’s Circle in Florida.

Rich Hermansen selected has first wine list for a restaurant shortly after graduating from college with a degree in Mathematics. He has extensive service and management experience in the food and wine industry. Family and friends rate him as their favorite chef, bartender, and wine steward. He lives in Severna Park, Maryland.

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