Sunday, August 24, 2014

An Affair to Remember: Main Street Affairs in Llano, TX

When I am out visiting wineries, especially those a little further from home, I look for certain businesses to enhance my trips. I look for good restaurants, places to stay, fun places to visit and be outdoors, and comfortable spots to relax. Yesterday, I found one of the places: a place to relax.

I realize that when visiting a winery, the best ones create an atmosphere where guests can sit back, sip their wine, and enjoy the scenery. But sometimes, you need something else. Sometimes the wineries are so busy you just want to get away from the crowds. Sometimes the weather makes outdoor seating painful. And at other times, the wineries are closed but the evening is still young. Finding one of these oasis is crucial, especially if you are staying in one of the many welcoming and quaint small towns in the Texas Hill Country. I found such a place in a town with no wineries but nestled between two wine trails -- Wine Road 290 and the Top of the Hill Country. On Main Street in Llano, I found Man Street Affairs.

This picture comes from Main Street Affairs' Facebook page.
I have to admit that I stumbled on this place. It was late in the afternoon and we were headed back to San Antonio from Fall Creek. I know I could drive good old reliable 281, but I prefer Highway 16 to Fredericksburg because it is often less busy and a lot more scenic. Just before we left the winery, I checked my Twitter account and found a promising last stop: Alamosa Cellars was about to start a tasting at a wine bar in downtown  Llano. We did not have the time to visit the winery that day, so I thought it would be a great opportunity to see Jim and Karen Johnson as well as try their new Rosata di Sangiovese. It turned out to be a lot more.

We couldn't find directions for the wine bar, so we had to search along Main Street. This was completely unnecessary as the wine bar is on the northeast corner of Main Street and Highway 16. The location was a bit plain in the front, especially at a distance; it seemed like many of those little shops squeezed into a small location. As we approached, I noticed that the outside was a lot nicer than I thought, and so was not entirely surprised by the rustic and classy interior. The space is a historic one, and the interior pay homage to that with a dusting of the modern. Despite the late afternoon sun shining into their western window, the place was a bit dim, a relaxing sort of dimness that could lead to someone becoming way too comfortable. The stone walls and dark wood made me think more of a wine cellar, which is a good thing for a wine bar. This little gem provided a wonderful retreat.

We first had a leisurely tasting with Jim and Karen, along with a few older couples from the area. The wine bar provided small stemless glasses for the tasting; I later found out they use them when someone wants to taste a wine or do a tasting. I really liked that they did more than serve wine by the bottle and glass; it is a treat to find a place that will actually do tastings. After the tasting, each couple went their own ways; one couple was joined by friends and sat in an open and full space so they could socialize, while the other one slipped off to one of the quieter spots in the back to enjoy a glass of wine with one another. We surveyed the rather spacious room as we made our way to a large and inviting bar.
This picture comes from Main Street Affairs' Facebook page.

The first surprise at the bar was that they only served Texas wines! Most of area wineries were there: Wedding Oak, Fiesta, Fall Creek, Alamosa (of course), Pontotoc, Dotson-Cervantes, and Sandstone. There were also a few more familiar wineries like Becker and William-Chris. Among the wines, they had offerings for white lovers, red fanatics, and even those with a sweet tooth. We settled in and found ourselves with far too many choices, a position I so rarely find myself in except at wineries.

I don't go to wine bars much. Many in San Antonio are expensive and have little choice in wines by the glass. And of course, few have any Texas wines (except Steinheimers at La Cantera). I had choice here, but price was my next concern. Well, price was not an issue. The average glass seemed to run $9, with some as little as $6 or $7. Few surpassed $10; the most notable was the most expensive, Perissos' 2012 Syrah for $15. Bottle prices were just as reasonable. In some cases, they were more than at the winery, but it was maybe one and half times the cost at the winery (if that). A good example in Pontotoc. Their wines run $25-$30 dollars; here a bottle only costs $39. While many were a bit more expensive -- which is to be expected -- a few were cheaper. Some of the Alamosa wines were actually cheaper than at the winery, so Jim encouraged people to buy a bottle here.

So we had an entire Texas menu at good prices. Oftentimes, these wines are by the bottle only; that was not the case here. So we searched the menu and pondered our choices. And then we spotted the perfect last glass of wine for our day: the 2008 Dotson-Cervantes Something Red. Rumors of this wine have circulated for quite awhile; I can't even remember when I first heard about the expansion of the label. But there it was, and very newly arrived. We were the first to try it at the wine bar, which we happily did.

Dotson-Cervantes Someting Red

As we sipped on the red blend from Mason County -- the terroir is clear and alluring in this wine -- we chatted with the staff. They were very friendly and relatively knowledgeable -- there were still things the were learning and were eager to learn more (they have only been open about 2 months). So we swapped stories and information. We felt welcomed, which is just what we look for out visiting wineries.

I can't say enough good things about Main Street Affairs. The spacious and cozy interior are the perfect refuge from the sweltering summer sun. The wine choices rank as one of the best in the area, and the prices didn't hurt my budget (only Sandstone in Mason has comparable selection and prices). The staff was as good as any of the best wineries in the area. From here on out, this may need to be one of my favorite stops. For more info, check them out on Facebook.

Friday, May 30, 2014

A Great Pairing: Texas Wine Chocolatier Moves into New Shop in Boerne

For longtime Hill Country wine visitors, Cathy Locke has been a regular Saturday fixture. Her smiling face was often the first to greet folks at a number of wineries along the 290 trail. And what she brought with her added that extra bit of delight to already great days. Her chocolates became a regular perfect pairing to a number of Texas wines. Recently, she celebrated the grand opening of her new stand-alone shop. Now, some of Texas' best chocolates can be found at Cathy’s Fine Chocolates in historic downtown Boerne.

Cathy has been an important supporter of Texas wine, as many of her truffles are made with Texas wine. She adds great Texas wine to the chocolate ganache in the truffles. During her grand opening, she offered three Texas wine truffles: a Viogner, a Tawny Port, and DBS (McPherson’s well-liked blend). In the past, a variety of wines from a number of Texas wineries have found their way into her truffles. Texas wine favorite Tempranillo has often been one of the chosen few. And Cathy doesn’t choose just any Texas wine; she makes sure to use the best Texas wines she can.

Cathy does offer a number of other delectable truffle flavors that pair well with Texas wine. Her spicy offerings, like Habanero Sea Salt or Ghost Pepper, are the perfect blend of dark chocolate and heat that goes well with Texas whites, either dry or sweet. Texas flavors like Lavender pair well with light reds and dry whites.  And the more traditional truffle flavors go well with about any wine. Sitting out on a number of Texas winery patios sipping on wine is made better with one of Cathy’s confections.

At her new shop, Cathy has made a number of other chocolates available. Chocolate covered fruit, fudge, and other unique creations can be found at Cathy’s new location. The shop allows for a larger selection of truffles and other confections, a bonus for wine drinking chocolate lovers.

For now, Cathy won’t be found along the wine trail. Her chocolates can still be found at wineries along the trail, but to see her and her larger portfolio of chocolates, a quick trip to Boerne is all that is needed. Her quaint little shop can be found at 233 South Main Street Suite K. Visit her site and Like her on Facebook for more details. So before the next round of winery visits, stop in and stock-up on one of the best Texas wine pairings.