New Blog: Texas Bite & Sip

Hello my friends!

In my last post I eluded to a potential new blog for Texas eatery and winery reviews. Today, that blog was born: Texas Bite & Sip!

Texas Bite & Sip is a collaboration between myself and Laina Eartharcher. In this blog, we will visit and review a variety of Texas restaurants, wineries, dives, etc. together – each giving our own perspective. We might agree or agree-to-disagree, but we’ll give it to you straight from our respective viewpoints.

We do not pretend to be experts in this field, just everyday people like you who want a down-to-earth review. That’s what you’ll find.

If you are interested and so inclined, please visit and follow! The site is still under construction, but hopefully we’ll have our first review live in the very near future.

Holiday Fun, Some Personal Updates & A Look at 2020 Ahead

So I’m chilling in my apartment this morning resting up from a past two fun-filled days. They’ve worn me out for sure but wow has it been fun.

Our holiday fun started on Saturday the 14th when Laina and I caught up with my best friend from high school and one of her close friends for a stroll down the San Antonio Riverwalk to see the lights. They do it up in a huge way, let me tell you what! We walked down and up, stopped in for a quick bite to eat on one of the restaurants on the strip (and a couple of spicy margaritas for me – which were heavenly) and just took it in on a lovely, warm-ish December night.

Christmas Eve we went over to Laina’s BFF’s house for some fun and games as well as food and drink. Upon Laina’s BFF’s request, I made what has become my signature dish – a paleo-style Asian stir fry using spaghetti squash instead of lo mein noodles, boneless chicken thighs, sliced carrots, onions, celery, zucchini, red bell pepper, chopped portabella mushroom and diced peanut and garlic bits, with a mix of San-J (all gluten/MSG free sauces) Thai peanut and spicy Szechuan sauces. (Oh, and sliced green onions on the side for those who wanted them). Everyone seemed to love it.

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We ate, I cracked out my new Taylor 12 for awhile, then we played some Bullshit (a hilarious card game where the object is to lie like a dog and get away with it!). After having killed two full bottles of wine and some Peruvian brandy, I was in no condition to drive so we stayed the night.

Laina and I woke up at 6 AM sharp yesterday morning to run back to our places, tend to a few things and then hit the road to Abilene to see my family. We stopped in at my parents’ place first thing for some small gift exchanges and to fill up on my mom’s famous ham/pineapple before heading over to my paternal grandmother’s house for her last Christmas in her place before moving to assisted living.

Needless to say yesterday wasn’t as fun as the day before, but I made it through. I’ve always been the black sheep of my family but I felt obligated to go. After some light conversation with the group, Laina and I got right back on the road to SA (in which I promptly changed out of awful full-length jeans back into my signature Dukes – lord knows my conservative, Bible-thumping extended family would have thrown a fit over me wearing them!) and met up with Mr. Kitty for dinner and hard ciders at Flying Saucer. It was a great way to cap off the night.

As far as other personal updates, I continue to heal as my health continues to improve. I’ve lost a considerable amount of weight without even trying – no calorie counting or anything. Take this photo as a prime example. These “light wash” Dukes are one of my smaller pairs. This time last year I struggled to button them. This year, I need a belt with them!

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Now that’s progress!

Sorcha is doing well. She goes into the vet again tomorrow (Friday) for her third round of vaccines and to schedule spaying/microchipping. She’s become a little Houdini – she’s snuck out on my back deck once and out my front door once, going halfway down the stairs. Methinks she’s wanting to chase some tail (as do most female cats when they hit puberty), but the last thing I need is a litter of kittens so that’s not happening. She has stopped pissing on my bed (after switching her to a full-sized litterbox) and sleeps with me in bed at night – on my pillow behind my head!

Here’s a cute little picture I took of her exploring my wine glass. Like father, like daughter I guess!

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So, what’s on the docket for 2020 for this blog? Well, more of life in San Antonio as I continue through this major transitional step in my life, exploring a newfound love life, and some collaboration work! Laina and I have been visiting several wineries in the hill country lately (mostly on Highway 290 between Johnson City and Fredericksburg), doing like a superficial once-overs and some tastings. We are planning to launch a joint venture in which we review the wineries we’ve visited, from atmosphere, decor, staff, and of course the wine itself. As our wine palates run totally opposite (she’s into light, sweet whites/roses as well as ports whereas I’m more of a big, heavy, dry red type person) we’ll each have a different angle to approach with to give you more variety. Stay tuned, you won’t want to miss this!

The Gluten-Free Cigar Lover: What To Drink With Cigars

So it’s been about a week and a half since I found out that I have Celiac disease and I’ve been gluten-free for almost a month now. During that time, I have only had one accidental exposure and oh man did I feel it! I guess that’s why I never knew it before – I had gotten so used to the reaction I didn’t even notice it, then once my body’s defenses had reloaded, I get glutenated and bam, misery!

Anyway, today’s topic is going to be what to drink with your cigars if you’re gluten-free. Of course, some of my old favorite pairings are a no-go now (namely stout beer and Scotch/Irish whisk(e)y), but I’m slowly discovering new alternatives to pair with my cigars that I think my fellow Celiac and NCGS folks will love.

Coffee, of course, goes without saying:
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The nectar of the gods – naturally gluten-free, a great cup of plain black coffee is almost a universal pairing with a fine cigar, and is naturally gluten-free and, if you’re watching your calories, has only 2 calories per cup! Of course, experiment with different blends and roasts to find your favorites to pair with what cigars, but you’re sure to find a coffee that goes with just about any cigar.

You’ve seen me pair red wine with cigars a lot too:

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Wine goes without saying as gluten-free as it’s made from grapes. Much like coffee, red wine is almost a universal pairing. With a range of varietals of red wine (from a mild Pinot Noir to a hefty Cabernet Sauvignon to everything in between), you’re sure to find a red wine that goes with just about any cigar out there. Match the body of the cigar to the body of the wine for best results.

If liquor is your preference, a nice dark rum is an excellent pairing:

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Rum is distilled from sugarcane, which is naturally gluten-free. Think a nice Flor de Cana with a medium to full bodied cigar for a ultra smooth smoking and drinking experience. Rum doesn’t have the afterburn that a whiskey would, so it won’t stand up to the ass-kicker cigars, but it’s got quite a variety of cigars to pair with it.

Now, for my new personal favorite pairing, brandy:

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Brandy is simply distilled wine, so no grains are present in the mash. Laurence Davis, owner of Sautter Cigars in London, UK, is on record as saying “brandy goes unbelievably with a cigar,” so I tired it. Man oh man was he ever right! A nice brandy (the above shown is E&J’s Very Special) goes great with a medium/full to full bodied cigar and gives me that afterburn I crave that I lost when I had to give up whisk(e)y.

One pairing not pictured here is a nice mimosa. A mimosa paired with a mild cigar is a great way to kick-start your day, is all gluten-free and absolutely delicious.

As far as some others I’ve talked to, I know a number of people who like vodka with cigars, however I’m not a fan and some vodkas can be glutenated so be careful. I’ve heard gin less commonly being paired with cigars, but some people I think like that too. Tequila I can’t see going well with a cigar but maybe it can.

Finally, closing this post out I’d like to make some comments about whisk(e)y. I’ve heard mixed reports on it so I’ll share my impressions. It seems that some Celiacs and NCGS people tolerate whisk(e)y OK while others seem to react to it the way they would if they ingested glutenated food or beer. Whereas most whisk(e)y that’s been tested meets the US FDA’s definition of certified gluten-free (less than 20 ppm), I think the root of the problem lies elsewhere.

My theory is that distillation actually breaks the gluten down into its individual peptides. Just which peptides are present in any given whisk(e)y we’ll never know. Also, no two people react to the exact same subset of gluten peptides. As such, I theorize that the ones who can tolerate whisk(e)y are not reactive to the peptides found in it, whereas the ones who react to it are. If we have the technology to test them for specific peptides, why aren’t we doing it?

As such, I am laying off whisk(e)y for now, especially in the early goings while my body heals itself. I might try reintroducing it at some point down the road to see if I can handle it. If I can, great. If not, oh well. I’ve found so many great alternatives anyway!

If I have any gluten-reactive cigar lovers who follow me, I’d like to hear from you. What do you like to pair with your cigars? I’m always wanting to learn more and try new things. Comment with your favorite pairings!

Wine Review: Tortoise Creek “The Chelonian” 2014

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It’s been a good long while since I’ve done a wine review so I figured I’d do one tonight.

This California Zinfandel from Tortoise Creek weighs in at 14.6% ABV. I like a good Zinfandel but I’m kinda picky about them, so I wasn’t sure what to expect when I picked it up, especially given the price point. I was very pleasantly surprised by this one though!

Pours a deep burgundy color. Thick streaks of lacing when swirled, owing to its slightly higher-than-average alcohol content. Nose consists of raspberry, a touch of caramel and alcohol astringency. Medium bodied flavors of plum, black cherry, toffee and a hint of spicy vanilla. Finish is long and somewhat hot with a cinnamon afterburn.

For about $13/bottle you can’t go wrong. This is a great everyday wine that’s not too sweet or dry and easy to please.  Surprisingly complex for its price point, it went well with the pictured Blanco Nine JT Limitado but would also be a great dessert wine in my opinion. Rating: 4/5.

Wine Review: Apothic Inferno

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This offering from Apothic Wines is a red blend (they don’t disclose specifics from what I’ve found) aged for 60 days in whiskey barrels. Consistent with this aging, it does have a slightly higher than average alcohol content at 15.9% ABV. Whiskey (particularly bourbon) barrel aged wines have been a bit of a hot trend lately, so I expected nothing less than for Apothic to get in on the action. But did they do it well?

Pour is a deep burgundy color as a great red wine should. The nose is immediately greeted with notes of plum and cherry with a tinge of vanilla and woody bourbon. The palate is greeeted with a blast of bourbon with tones of vanilla, oak and maple syrup. This is supported by a black cherry and blueberry core. Finish is semi-dry with mild tannins and a long lingering warmth. I would rate the body at medium – it’s an easy drinking wine without being too heavy.

For the price (about $12/bottle it appears) I doubt you’re going to see a more wallet friendly whiskey barrel aged wine. I do feel the whiskey in this case might have been too assertive in that it seemed to be the star of the show instead of just adding character, but it was still a very enjoyable wine. I paired this with a Torano Exodus 1959 50 Year cigar for this review and it was a solid pairing. Rating: 3.5/5.

 

Cigar and Wine Reviews: Micallef Grande Bold A Maduro and Ménage à Trois Midnight.

Tonight I have a cigar and a wine to review, so let’s just get right down to business.

Grande Bold A Maduro

This offering from Micallef cigars features an Ecuadorian Broadleaf Maduro wrapper over Nicaraguan binder and long fillers. The size reviewed is a 5″ x 52RG Robusto vitola.

First light is a perfect draw producing thick plumes of smoke. Medium/full body. Earthy and peppery. A tinge of must and an unsweetened cocoa in the background.

The first third tames the pepper a bit while seemingly dialing the body down to medium. Smoke gets creamier and the cocoa asserts itself more on the finish while the earthy tones morph more toward a distinct leather.

The 2nd third sees a subtle shift as the leather takes on a cashew note and the pepper dies out completely allowing an aromatic bright cedar to shine on the retrohale. No further changes were noted in the profile but the body came back up to medium/full in the last third. Ending at 50 minutes for an average burn time for the size and entering a subtle mild/medium nicotine strength.

Flawless construction and a razor sharp burn. Ash holds for half the stick at a time. No issues there.

An interesting complex cigar great for any time of the day. Would go well with a variety of drinks but went very well with tonight’s wine. My only issue is I would have liked the body to maintain its intensity instead of dipping toward the middle. Rating: 4/5.

Ménage à Trois Midnight

This dark red blend from California consists of 59% merlot, 16% cabernet sauvignon, 15% petite sirah and 10% petit verdot.

Pours a deep burgundy color. Ample lacing when swirled. Aromas of black cherry and rose petals. Flavors of blackberries and raspberries, plum, cherry and a hint of nutmeg. Finish contains a slight hint of chocolate. Medium body and mouthfeel.

Very good middle of the road wine for everyday drinking. Not too expensive. Complex enough and easy to please. Went well with the above cigar. Rating: 4/5.

That’s all for today. Have you had either of today’s offerings? Let me know what you thought!

Wine Review – 1916 Cabernet Sauvignon 2012

Today we are reviewing a wine. I haven’t done many wine reviews on here but I’ve been asked to do more so I’ll try to make a conscious effort to do so. Today’s topic is this 1916 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon of a 2012 vintage.

This bottle I found at a local grocery store on special, but don’t let that fool you. It’s not a cheap wine by any stretch. My research has pointed to me to Espier Estate in Victoria, Australia as the mastermind behind this wine but the back of the bottle says “Our Cellars” in Hopland, CA so I’m utterly confused, as can be seen here along with the ABV. Maybe someone more knowledgeable than me  can educate me on what exactly this is.

Pours a deep red as a good Cab should. Ample lacing when swirled. Aromas of rose petals, blueberries and black cherry. The black cherry carries over into the initial attack which gives way to a jammy plum note and just a tinge of dark chocolate. Warm, peppery finish with oaky undertones and an ample amount of tannins. Medium to heavy body with a long warming aftertaste.

An excellent wine, it would go well with a heavy dinner or, as I had it for this review, paired with a full bodied Maduro cigar such as the previously reviewed Blanco Liga Exclusiva Maduro. Rating: 4.5/5.

Wine/Cigar Reviews – Stave & Steel Bourbon Barrel Cab and H&S Veiled Prophet

So today in my reviews we’re doing something a bit different – I’m reviewing a wine and a cigar. I absolutely love wine but I don’t review many wines here because I don’t feel as I have developed a super sophisticated palate for it yet but I’m learning (I’ve been drinking more and more wine lately – I find it goes very well with a cigar). Well this one is a special wine, and I’m reviewing it along with a special cigar review as well.

We’ll start with tonight’s wine.

Stave & Steel Bourbon Barrel Aged Cabernet Sauvignon 2015

Bourbon barrel aged everything seems to be a fad lately so why the wine scene has not gotten into it yet I don’t know. Whatever the case, here we go. This offering from Stave & Steel retails around $15-20/bottle depending on geographic location.

Pours the deep reddish-purple color a good cab should. The nose is immediately greeted with a big whiff of smoky bourbon supported by floral notes and cherries. On the palate the bourbon is up front but not overbearing or dominating. The supporting flavors include dark chocolate, ripe cherries, mixed berries and features a smoky oak and tobacco finish with a touch of a warm vanilla aftertaste. Rich and substantial in the mouth and easy drinking.

If you like whiskey and you like wine, do yourself a favor and check this one out. It brings the two together beautifully. Pair with a hearty steak dinner or with a Habano or Maduro wrapped cigar for best results. Rating: 4.75/5.

And now for a truly special cigar pick:

Hiram and Solomon Veiled Prophet

The cream-of-the-crop stick in the Hiram and Solomon line by Blanco Cigars, this stick comes in one size (a whopping 7″ x 60RG “Grand Monarch” vitola) and features a Brazilian Arapiraca wrapper and an undisclosed binder and long fillers.

First light revealed a perfect draw producing plumes of thick, chewy medium-full bodied smoke containing notes of a sweet creamy leather, nuts and a peppery but not overbearing retrohale.

Getting into the first third the pepper dials back a bit allowing a bright, aromatic cedar to join the retrohale and bringing in a rich, sweet caramel onto the draw. The flavors remained largely consistent into the 2nd third but with an added level of complexity as a bright, light roast coffee joins the mix. A very long 2 hour and 15 minute smoke surprisingly only a mild/medium nicotine strength by the end of it (ending with around 2″ to go; if you like the hot nub you can easily get almost 3 hours out of it).

Construction was what I will call excellent. It did have some of the characteristic burn issues found in 60 ring gauge cigars and required occasional touch-ups. It did also prefer to be double-puffed for the first third or so as more airflow was needed to generate smoke than I had in my mouth, but these were small things and definitely worth the flavor package.

This would make a lovely after dinner or special occasion smoke. Would pair well with almost any drink you throw at it, but just make sure you have ample time to sit down and enjoy it. Rating: 4.75/5.

That’s a wrap for today. Hope you enjoyed this special edition of my reviews. Let me know what you thought!

A Little Look at My “Wineador”

With the hot Texas summers keeping cigars in optimal shape is a real challenge. Humidity isn’t such an issue if you’re like me and use tupperware containers as opposed to wooden humidors but temperature is the killer. Unless you want an insane electric bill keeping your house air conditioned at or below 70 degrees, you’re risking mold and beetles just leaving them out and about in your house.

So for the past couple of summers I’ve kept my cigars at the office where the A/C is set that low for the benefit of everyone who has to wear PPE. I knew my cigars would be safe there but I kind of got tired of doing that and having to pull cigars for the evenings/weekends. I wanted all my cigars accessible at home, so that’s when I decided I would get a thermoelectric wine refrigerator to store them in. It’s a little hack that has literally taken the cigar world by storm (in various capacities) so this just seemed like it’s what I needed.

So I took to looking at wine refrigerators and lo and behold the tiny ones weren’t much cheaper than a large-ish 28 count refrigerator with removable racks. I figured what the hell, might as well just get the big one and do double duty with it. I like red wines too and the ideal serving temperature for those is about 65 degrees F (18 degrees C) – which is perfect for storing cigars too, albeit a bit on the cool side but not cool enough to negatively impact them. Found a great deal on such at Wayfair and pulled the trigger.

So now, I have my tupperdors of cigars as well as some wine in it. It’s turned out to be a handy little appliance. Every cigar I’ve smoked out of it has burned, smoked and tasted as it should so the slightly cool storage temp hasn’t seemed to affect it at all. For those wondering, each one of my tupperdors are Dollar Tree specials and hold about 50 cigars depending on vitola and each one has two 60g 69% Boveda packs. Of course, if you’re the traditionalist you can put cedar shelves/drawers in and have your humidity source loose in the refrigerator but many find it harder to maintain the humidity that way.

Nonetheless, this is what it looks like right now, but the contents are surely to expand in the near future.

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So yes, if you are a cigar lover and live in a hot climate, definitely get you a wine refrigerator and convert it into a “wineador.” It’ll make your life so much easier. If you enjoy wine that’s even better as you can use one appliance for both purposes. I must say I’m happy with the results.