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Raise a glass!

Soaring Eagles Wine Club gets familiar with the grape

Created date

October 21st, 2009

With studies touting the health benefits of red wine, Americans are passing on the beer and enjoying a glass of vino instead. According to ACNielsen s most recent survey, table wine sales exceeded $4.6 billion in the United States in 2006, up 30% from 2002. As wine s popularity continues to grow, many are discovering that wine tastings are the ideal way to sample a variety of wines while sharing the cost.

It s a great social opportunity, says Patrick Gibbons, who started the Soaring Eagles Wine Club at Eagle s Trace. The group, which has over 60 members, meets monthly for wine tastings at the community in Houston, Tex. It s a great place to meet new people and make friends while learning a little about wine.

Clean palate

Gibbons had no interest in wine until he attended a series of cooking demonstrations and wine tastings presented by Eagle s Trace Executive Chef Wayne Webb.

I noticed there were a lot of people here who were interested in wine, says Gibbons. I talked with Chef Webb about the idea of starting a wine club, and he thought it was a great idea.

For about $6 to $8, Soaring Eagles Wine Club members sample at least four different wines, along with crackers, bread, cheese, and other appetizers provided by the Eagle s Trace Dining Services Department.

Each month, we try to do a different theme, says Gibbons. One month, we might feature a country like Australia or Chile; another month, we might pick out a certain grape, vineyard, or region.

Perfect pairing

When wine enthusiasts Dr. Richard (Dick) and Rosa Materson moved to Eagle s Trace a little over a year ago, the Soaring Eagles Wine Club seemed the perfect match.

As soon as I heard there was a club, I said, Sign me up! says Dr. Materson.

A connoisseur in his own right, Dr. Materson s expertise of the grape goes back decades.

While serving in the military, Dr. Materson and his wife ended up at the Presidio in San Francisco, about 50 miles south of California s wine country.

When we had time off, we would buy cheese at the Marin Cheese Company, drive around Napa or Sonoma for wine, and head up to Mount Tamalpais to listen to Joan Baez sing. It was a great opportunity to experience a variety of California wines, he says.

After the military, the Matersons headed back east to Columbus, Ohio, where a colleague in his medical practice introduced them to the concept of wine and food organizations.

My partner at the time was a member of the International Wine and Food Society, says Dr. Materson. He had very exciting wine tastings that he invited us to, which gave us the opportunity to meet some fascinating people we otherwise would not have met.

Through their connections, the Matersons had the good fortune to travel extensively to wineries and vineyards throughout Europe. Today, Dr. Materson draws on his experience to help Gibbons select wines for the Soaring Eagles Wine Club tastings.

What we try to do is to identify wines that are rated well by experts but which don t exceed $14 or $15 a bottle, says Dr. Materson. If you hunt around, you can find a wine that even very distinguished palates will identify as something they really like and which enhances the culinary experience. Of course, you could go with a high-priced Petrus, which is probably the world s greatest wine, or a Chateau de Kemp (a French dessert wine) and have an almost orgiastic experience with them. But for a simple dinner or a Texas barbeque, many times local Texas wines are the perfect match, and you don t have to pay an arm and a leg for them.

Wine on the go

In addition to tastings, the wine club has hosted trips to local wineries like Messina Hof Winery in Bryan and Becker Vineyards in Stonewall.

As for Gibbons, he says his newfound interest in wine has been a fun learning experience and something he will continue to pursue. I enjoy researching wines and learning about the wine from different countries and vineyards, he says. Wines change from year to year, so if you don t keep up you can really get lost.

Materson offers this advice to novices who want to learn more about wine: Just being willing to listen to other people s knowledge and tasting for yourself are the keys. What it really boils down to is that it doesn t matter if it s a $2,000 bottle of wine or a $12 bottle it s what you enjoy and tastes good to you.

Great wines under $20

Wine Spectator magazine recently rated the top 90+ point wines under $20. Wines are rated on a 100-point scale beginning at 50 (poor, undrinkable, not recommended) to 100 (classic, a great wine). Here is a sampling from the most popular categories:


Novelty Hill Cabernet Sauvignon 2006

Columbia Valley, Washington

Wine Spectator rating: 92

($19.99 at

Bodega Colome Amalaya 2006

Argentina, South America

Wine Spectator rating: 90

($11.99 at


Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc 2008

Marlborough, New Zealand

Wine Spectator rating: 91

($13.99 at

Talbott Logan Sleepy Hollow Chardonnay 2006

Central Coast, California

Wine Spectator rating: 90

($18.99 at

Champagne & sparkling

Roederer Estate Brut

North Coast, California

Wine Spectator rating: 90

($19.99 at