Sure, the month of January is filled with onerous New Year’s resolutions full of strict diets and exercise. The good news is that those resolutions probably have you on the path to participate in American Heart Month this February. The even better news is that, according to many studies, drinking red wine—as long as you don’t overdo it—may actually be good for your heart.

So follow your heart with these recommendations for pairing a rustic or robust red wine with a few of Austin’s best heart-healthy dishes.

The Sommelier: Mark Sayre  

Arro
601 W. Sixth St.

Niçoise salad and Burgundy at Arro Niçoise salad and Burgundy at Arro

 

Advanced Sommelier Mark Sayre has gathered prestigious honors, such as Texas’ Best Sommelier in 2007, Wine & Spirits Magazine’s Seven Best New Sommeliers in 2010 and a 2012 CultureMap Tastemaker Award during his career managing the restaurant at Westwood Country Club and running the wine program at Trio Restaurant at the Four Seasons Hotel Austin. Now serving as service director of the wine-focused Arro, he is in his element.

Executive chef, Andrew Curren of the ELM Restaurant Group, opened the French bistro, Arro, in autumn 2013 and it quickly grew a devoted following with its unpretentious farm-to-table French fare. Arro got a facelift in the summer of 2015, expanding its outdoor seating and adding vibrant design touches to the interior. The menu was also updated with some playful touches.

Sayre has a deft touch at pairing wines from the extensive list with the everchanging menu.

“I take a broad approach to food-and-wine pairings,” he says. “I pair the structure and weight of a wine to match the food. This gives you more options. Now you can talk about red wines and seafood. Now you don’t have to talk about pairing cherry flavors in wine with cherry flavors in a dish. It’s about how the weight of the wine and the weight of the dish work together. If the texture of this dish is really elegant, let’s find an elegant wine with a little more body.”

The Meal: Niçoise Salad
This classic salad from the South of France is as satisfying as it is healthy, with grilled tuna atop leafy greens, herbs, green beans, potatoes, eggs and olives. Sayre says pinot noir is a perfect mate for niçoise salad. “The elegance and complexity in salad match elegance and complexity in the wine,” Sayre says. “The meaty flavor from tuna, savory earthiness from the olives and potatoes, and myriad herbal qualities go really well with fruity and floral tones and the core of savory and spicy flavors.”

The Wine: 2009 Domaine Michel Lafarge Premier Cru Les Aigrots from Beaune, France
This Southern Burgundy beauty is as rustic as it is elegant, with bright cherry flavors and enough oomph to muscle up to the meaty aspect of the tuna. It runs about $178. For a less expensive option, try the 2013 Soter North Valley Pinot Noir from Willamette Valley, Ore. This is a gorgeous wine, with juicy fruit intensity balanced with herbal scents and earthiness, and is often found in Burgundy, France. It is $48 for a bottle or $12 by the glass.

 

THE Sommelier: Nathan Fausti

Bullfight
4807 Airport Blvd.  

Cauliflower gazpacho at Bullfight Cauliflower gazpacho at Bullfight

 

Certified Sommelier Nathan Fausti is a rising star in the Austin wine community. Having won the title of 2015 Texas’ Best Sommelier, he is now preparing to take the Advanced Sommelier Exam and test his skills in the Chaîne des Rôtisseurs Young Sommelier Competition as one of three people selected to compete in the 10-state region.

Though he’ll soon take the helm as sommelier at Due Forni, in his current position as the sommelier at Bullfight, Fausti pairs Spanish wines with Southern Spanish tapas. Finding the right wine to go with a diverse selection of flavors in multiple dishes is a fun challenge for Fausti.

Bullfight, the newest restaurant from chef Shawn Cirkiel’s Parkside Projects, reflects his take on traditional Spanish dishes. Made with local ingredients, sustainably raised meats and fish, the tantalizing selection of tapas is mostly heart-healthy with plenty of gluten-free, dairy free, vegetarian, and vegan options. Executive chef, Ryan Shields, philosophy is if it doesn’t need salt, butter, cream, or flower, it’s not in the dish.

“I look for structure and match the body of the wine with the body of the food,” he says. “Wine with a lot of tannin matches fattiness. Higher alcohol goes with a heavier-bodied dish. I match for the most part and then look for some contrast. It is like adding a seasoning to the dish.”

The Meal: A Trio of Vegetable-driven Tapas
Escalivada with peppers, eggplant and boquerones is an absolutely gorgeous dish served with the fish artistically arranged on a ring of roasted and chilled vegetables. Cauliflower gazpacho, made with cauliflower stock, has crunchy, grilled cauliflower florets, paprika-spiced walnuts, pickled grapes and shaved fennel. It is a party of textures and smoky, sweet flavors. And grilled branzino, a traditional Mediterranean sea bass, is served in tomato broth with herbs, garlic and braised cannellini beans.

The Wine: Lopez de Heredia Vina Tondonia Reserva 2003, Tempranillo from Rioja, Spain
This aged red wine has savory flavors almost like sweet and sour, with mellow red fruit, cherry, soy sauce, baking spice, vanilla and a lot of earthiness that pairs well with escalivada. It’s priced at $98. For a less expensive alternative, try the Palacio de Canedo Maceración 2013 from Bierzo in Northwest Spain. This is a medium-bodied wine made with the mencia grape. It is reminiscent of Cru Beaujolais, with great aromatics, fresh cherry flavors, black pepper and a savory herb spiciness that goes well with vegetables and fish. It is $56 for the bottle or $12 by the glass.

Sommeliers Paul Ozbirn and Nathan Fausti at Bullfight Sommeliers Paul Ozbirn and Nathan Fausti at Bullfight

The Sommelier: Chris Dufau

Emmer & Rye
51 Rainey St.

Mangalitsa pork ragout at Emmer & Rye Mangalitsa pork ragout at Emmer & Rye

 

Certified Sommelier Chris Dufau has extensive experience in wine service from stints at the famed French Laundry and the Martini House in Napa Valley, Calif., as well as Jeffrey’s in Austin. He joined the team at the newly opened Emmer & Rye, drawn by the opportunity to work at a chef-owned restaurant in a vibrant part of town.

Named for ancient grains, Emmer & Rye uses local ingredients in its American cuisine, including herbs and vegetables grown in raised beds outside the restaurant and foraged locally. Executive chef and owner, Kevin Fink, prepares seasonally-appropriate small plates like pork trotter pressé and octopus confit. A fun way to enjoy several complex dishes, like cauliflower custard with mustard and wheat berries, is to order from the dim sum style cart service.

Pairing wines with an eclectic mix of small plates and ever-changing dim sum dishes keeps Dufau on his toes.

“I designed a list of mostly European wines that fit a broad spectrum of flavors and that work with multiple courses and multiple dishes,” Dufau says. “We have 45 wines by the bottle and six whites and eight reds by the glass that are great for everyday drinking.”

The Dish: Rye Pappardelle Pasta With a Mangalitsa Pork Ragout
The big, broad noodles are made in-house using grain that is milled in the kitchen. Served lazily folded over each other with lean cuts of pork braised in Roma tomato sauce, the firm pasta and tangy ragout are meltin- your-mouth delicious.

The Wine: Ar.Pe.Pe. Rosso di Valtellina, Nebbiolo from Lombardy, Italy
This light-style wine made near the Swiss Alps has floral, cherry and cranberry flavors that go well with the pork and many other dishes on the menu. It’s priced at $70. For a less expensive alternative, try the Claus Preisinger, Blaufrankisch from Austria. This is a solid wine, with wild, brambly fruit flavors that bring out the spiciness of the rye in the pasta. It is $45 for the bottle.

This story was originally published in the February issue of Austin Woman Magazine. Pick up a copy at your local newsstand. 

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SACC Whiskey Tasting Whiskey Tasting at #SACC2016

 

The fifth annual San Antonio Cocktail Conference (SACC) washed into the city on a wave of liquor. This year’s event had 25 percent more attendees than 2015 as well as a jump in the number of booze brands participating. More than 8,700 mixologists, brand representatives, and cocktail enthusiasts drank in information and binged on merriment at dozens of dinners and parties strewn all over town.

Notable industry experts like Houston Eaves of The Esquire Tavern in San Antonio, Jessica Sanders of drink.well. in Austin, and Alba Huerta of Julep in Houston packed hotel ballrooms with bartenders eager to learn tricks of the trade and the hottest trends for 2016. The presenters at SACC certainly have their finger on the pulse of the most important trends in the industry.

As Jason Kosmos, co-owner of The 86 Co. put it, “We are the urban shamans. We deliver the medicine. We deliver the advice.”

What do the cocktail shamans say about the cocktail trends of 2016?

1. Beer is for cocktails

Jacob Grier making a Beer Flip at #SACC2016 Jacob Grier making a Beer Flip at #SACC2016

 

Jacob Grier, author of Cocktails on Tap: The Art of Mixing Spirits and Beer, introduced a few hearty beer cocktails in his session with an academic approach to old-school drinks. In a “don’t try this one at home” moment, he superheated a metal rod to 1,000 degrees with a blowtorch to demonstrate how the earliest versions of flips were made. Rather than being a cold cocktail made with egg whites, historically, flips were made with beer, rum, sugar, and spice, served hot. Grier replicated it with a glowing red rod plunged into a malty beer, sending steam into the air and beer frothing over. The iron quickly heats the beer and caramelizes the sugars immediately. The result? A cocktail that smells like hot iron, tastes like scorched sugar in a smoky beer, and is oddly delightful.

For a safer way to make at home, and a really satisfying warm drink to fortify you against the cold, try his cognac and dark ale cocktail:

  • 2 ounces cognac
  • 12 ounces malty English ale like Samuel Smith Winter Welcome
  • 2 tablespoons Demerara raw sugar

Mix winter spices like clove and cinnamon in the beer and cognac mixture, while heating it on the stove. Serve it piping hot in a mug.

2. Whiskey is still king

Treaty Oak Distilling Whiskey Cruise at #SACC2016 Treaty Oak Distilling Whiskey Cruise at #SACC2016

 

No fewer than five seminars were dedicated to the caramel colored king, whiskey. In addition, there were several parties where whiskey was the featured spirit or heavily dominant. The recent surge in bourbon sales isn’t the only thing driving industry interest. Demand for rye whiskey, scotch, and Japanese whiskey is also running hot, and skyrocketing prices reaching beyond five digits will continue. The diversity of options running from rustic to elegant offer the drinking public plenty to thirst for.

3. Mezcal is the next bourbon
For the past few years, bourbon has been the hottest selling spirit, leaving many popular brands in scarce supply. Now it’s mezcal’s turn to soak in the spotlight. Mezcal was featured in a seminar on its culture, and brands like Montelobos Mezcal, Wahaka Mezcal, and Ilegal Mezcal held events to help bartenders hone their palates on the agave spirit. This is one spirit we are sure to see topping many cocktail lists this year.

Get into the spirit with this twist on the Moscow Mule, the Wahaka Mule:

  • 1.5 ounces Wahaka Mezcal
  • 3 ounces ginger beer

Stir and add a squeeze of lime.

4. Service matters
Dushan Zaric, a driving force behind the infamous Employees Only cocktail bar in New York and co-owner of The 86 Co., thinks the most important element of cocktail culture exists outside the glass. “As we grow as a profession and a craft movement, we are forced to adopt hospitality. In the culinary profession, it’s the better ingredients, the better experience. In cocktails, the quality of our drinks won’t differentiate us anymore. It will be more of the human dynamic that will set us apart. It is all about better service.”

5. Fortified factor
Jessica Sanders, co-owner of Austin’s drink.well. and soon-to-open-cocktail den Backbeat, sees the secondary players taking center stage. “Certainly, base spirits like mezcal and rye whiskey continue to be at the forefront but, above all, what you see is a very focused interest in education around modifier spirits and fortified wines — Madeira, sherry, and herbal liqueurs being particularly prevalent.”

6. Fun dominates

#SACC2016 Cocktail Tasting #SACC2016 Cocktail Tasting

 

Travis Tober, who recently turned over the reigns as beverage director for Vox Table to become House Spirits Distillery’s national director of education and advocacy, is drawing on his inner Cyndi Lauper. “The biggest trend I saw at SACC this year was ‘fun.’ Gone are the days of speakeasies and rules at the door. The common citizen is hip to cocktails and they want them without pretentiousness. The cocktail scene is starting to relax and enjoy itself. And I for one am relieved.”

If the predictions of the spirit soothsayers of SACC hold true, we are in for a year of beer, dark liquor, and excellent experiences at the bars around Texas.

This story was originally published on CultureMap.

Disclosure: I was provided a press pass allowing me to attend sessions at no cost.

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Austin’s premier wine challenge Somms Under Fire attracts national competition

January 20, 2016

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December 15, 2015

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December 8, 2015

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Texas Hill Country lands major event with 2016 Wine Tourism Conference

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Here is a shot in the arm that is sorely needed for the Texas wine industry. The organizers of the 2016 Wine Tourism Conference selected Fredericksburg and the Texas Hill Country as the hosts for next year’s shindig. This is just the second time that the conference will be held outside the West Coast and the first time […]

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The first winery in Texas since Prohibition is in the midst of a revival. Founded in 1976 in Lubbock by Texas Tech professors Clinton “Doc” McPherson and Bob Reed, Llano Estacado has built a strong following and has become one of the state’s largest wineries – it’s number two in sales behind Ste. Genevieve.   […]

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