In its fourth year, the Austin Food & Wine Festival seemed to hit its stride. The logistics went smoothly, the lines moved quickly, the food and beverage seminars drew top quality talent to present and the grand tasting had a revamped, more open layout that made it easier to navigate. Even Mother Nature got in on the act and provided decent weather.
I took in as many sessions as I could. Here are some of my favorite:
In addition to the delicious and informative sessions during the day, there were several bad-ass events and parties in the evenings starting with the Feast Under the Stars on Thursday, Taste of Texas and Sips & Sweets on Friday, and finally Rock Your Taco and the Candy Land party on Saturday. The whole festival closed with a raucous dance party led by DJ Mel. The crowds were always fun and the chefs and beverage pros were a blast to hang with.
Sights from the 2015 Austin Food & Wine Festival
The cooking demos from Richard Blais and Tyson Cole packed huge crowds. The hands-on grilling Demo from Tim Love is a perennial favorite. Seeing incredible chefs like David Bull and Jack Gilmore prepare food in the middle of Auditorium shores is a treat.
Taste of Texas
The Friday night party gathers some of the best chefs in Texas to show their stuff with little bites. Ramen Tatsu-Ya drew huge lines. Ned Elliot brought his Foreign & Domestic magic to Republic Square Park and East Side King killed it, as usual. Thanks to a squadron of servers carrying armloads of Spanish wine, the crowd never went thirsty.
Sips & Sweets
The crowd was huge for this year’s Friday night dessert event. The booze flowed and the crowd gobbled up goodies from Swift’s Attic, Lenoir and Arro. The line stretched all the way across Mellow Johnny’s bike shop to get to Janina O’Leary’s impressive sweets display from laV.
Rock Your Taco
There were so many great tacos at the Saturday party in Republic Square Park. Favorites included Tyson Cole’s sashimi taro taco, Antonia Lofaso’s crispy octopus taco, Jason Dady’s duck confit carnitas taco and huge lines for last year’s winner, Richard Blais (I didn’t wait in line so I have no idea what he served).
A star-studded judging panel of Andrew Zimmern, Gail Simmons, Christina Grdovic and Graham Elliot picked Jonathan Waxman’s taco for second place (heavily assisted by Chef Drew Curran) and Tim Love’s beef tendon taco was crowned the winner.
Candy Land Party
The W Hotel hosed a Candy Land afterparty on Saturday night at TRACE. The sweets were great and the drinks were better, but the real treat was the incredible costumes. Proceeds benefited the Austin Food & Wine Alliance.
DJ Mel Dance Party
The Fest end with throngs of drunk, sweaty and insanely happy people dancing like mad to classic hip-hop and party music from DJ Mel. Fest organizers, Tim Love and Jason Dady, jumped on stage to chug wine and tequila with the crowd. Pro-tip: don’t let anyone pour a waterfall of tequila from a stage into your open mouth. You’re libel to get a tequila netty pot.
Disclosure: I was provided a media pass to attend the festival at no charge.
Even the executive wine editor of the venerable Food & Wine Magazine, Ray Isle, was an absolute wine neophyte in early adulthood. “I grew up in a household in Houston where my dad drank beer and occasionally Bourbon. I didn’t have any experience with wine.” He has learned a lot over the years and passed along his wisdom to demystify wine in the session, “Become a Wine Expert in 45 Minutes” at the 2015 Austin Food & Wine Festival,
The first way to become a wine expert is to taste the wine rather than just drink it. The difference is that when you taste it, you actually think about what you smell and taste. Seems straightforward enough. To get the most out of tasting, Isle shared a few easy tips:
Swirling wine in your glass leaves a thin coating of wine inside the glass, which allows it to give off more aromas thereby making it easier to smell.
Now that you’ve swirled it, stick your nose in the glass and think about what it smells like.
Taste has everything to do with smell. When you slurp a wine and swish it around in your mouth, the vapors are able to better get into the nasal passages. That helps you taste a lot more of the flavors in the wine.
Pairing wine with food can be daunting, but not with Isle’s expert advice.
Match the weight of the wine with the weight of the food. Light foods go better with crisp, light wines. Big foods are better with big wines, regardless of whether they are red or white.
Any food that you would squeeze lemon onto, like fish, will go well with Sauvignon Blanc.
Avoid pairing sweet foods with highly acidic, tart wines.
According to Isle, the three worst food and wine pairings on earth are:
Wedding cake and Champagne
Oily fish and tannic red wines, like Cabernet Sauvignon
Artichokes and any wine. “Artichokes are born thinking, ‘I’m going to find some wine and fuck it up.’”
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Taking a long drink from his margarita, David Alan, founder of the Tipsy Texan consultancy, cooed, “Tastes like childhood.” In one of the most spirited sessions of the 2015 Austin Food & Wine Festival, Alan described the history, ways to mess up and proper ways to make a margarita in “Rescue the Rita.”
A proper margarita has only three ingredients: tequila, orange liqueur such as Cointreau and lime juice. Oh, and perhaps a touch of sugar. According to Alan, there are “five ways to fuck up a margarita:”
Bad tequila. Avoid anything that says “gold” or is does not say 100 percent agave on the label.
Sweeten it. The trend of “skinny” margaritas takes out the sweetness of the classic by adding lots of water. Skip it.
Margarita mix. The premade mixes are loaded with all kinds of unpronounceable ingredients, but absolutely no lime juice. Yuck.
Not cold or diluted enough. Put it on ice and shake it like you mean it. Make sure that shaker makes noise.
Crappy lime garnish. There is nothing worse than a hard lime that is brown around the edges. Throw it out.
The crowd was provided with a shaker, a juicer and all the ingredients to make their own classic rita. While they were shaking things up, a spirited mariachi band marched onto stage to end the festivities in style.
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Texas wine has impressed many wine drinkers and critics with its quality. Despite piles of recent awards and accolades, some people still wonder if it tastes as good as similar wine from other regions of the world. Food & Wine Magazine executive wine editor, Ray Isle, and Master Sommeliers, Craig Collins and Devon Broglie, led people through a blind tasting of wines in the “Texas Two Sip” session at the 2015 Austin Food & Wine Festival.
The session pitted four Texas wines against four similarly priced wines from elsewhere to see if the crowd could pick which was from Texas and to take an informal poll of which they preferred. The matchups included:
Nothing beats a glass of delicate and lovely pink wine on a warm day. Master Sommelier and global beverage buyer for Whole Foods, Devon Broglie, led a packed house through a tasting of seven rose wines in his session, “Rosé by Any Other Name,” at the 2015 Austin Food & Wine Festival.
Broglie started his session by using the Champagne saber left by Mark Oldman to slash open a bottle of Bolligner rosé to the delight of the crowd. After the Champagne, attendees were treated to a range of wines from Texas, Washington, Sicily, Spain and the holy grail of rosé, Provence. The bold Artazu from the Navara region of Spain was a standout, with big, bold flavors.
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“My goal is to be successful enough to enjoy rosé Champagne every day at lunch,” says Vilma Mazaite, director of wine at laV. The bubbly Advanced Sommelier introduced 2015 Austin Food & Wine Festival attendees to a lovely selection of interesting sparkling wines in her session, “Surprising Sparklers.” Her recommendations included Prosecco from Italy, sparkling Gruener Veltliner from Austria, California sparkling wine, Cremant de Loire from France and slightly sweet sparkling Brachetto from Italy.
With the grace and elegance of the finest Champagne she quipped, “A magnum is the perfect size bottle for two people; especially when your partner is not drinking.”
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“This town is loaded with spicy food with everything from TexMex to Korean to Cajun,” says Mark Oldman, wine personality and author. In his “Heat Seekers, Best Wine for Spicy” session at the 2015 Austin Food & Wine Festival he recommended sparkling, white and red wines that can take the heat.
The ever entertaining showman kicked off his presentation with his signature stunt, inviting an audience member on stage to saber open a bottle of Champagne. Watching an amateur slice the top off of a bottle with a huge sword is always a crowd pleaser.
Oldman’s tips for pairing spicy food with wine include:
Pick bubbles. Sparkling wine naturally cleanses the palate while eating spicy food.
Choose wines with moderate acid, like Spanish Albariño, that gives the wine a refreshing lift.
Slightly sweet wines, Riesling, can take the edge off the heat.
Fruity wines, like rosé, calm the flames and brings them to life.
Lighter style red wines, like Pinot Noir, are spicy foods best friend.
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In its third year, the Austin Food & Wine Festival drew some of the biggest names in the culinary world to demonstrate their talents. It wasn’t just the national celebrity chefs who drew applause. Homegrown beverage experts had the juice to attract crowds in Butler Park.
True Texas Spirits
At mid-day Sunday, cocktail expert and author David Alan, aka the Tipsy Texan, hobbled on stage with a crutch and his foot in a medical boot. He swore the injury was from a skiing accident rather than a drink-induced mishap. A likely story.
He quickly changed the subject by offering a birthday toast to his sister with a mixed shot made with Treaty Oak barrel-aged gin for the crowd. It was a fantastic way to start his session.
Alan shared anecdotes about Texas spirits pioneers and cocktail recipes from his recently published book, Tipsy Texan: Spirits and Cocktails from the Lone Star State. The Texas spirits industry is just a baby. Despite prohibition ending in 1933, the state did not have a legal distillery until Tito Beveridge started Tito’s Handmade Vodka in 1996. When he applied for a distilling permit, there wasn’t even a process in place to get one. Beveridge had to work with state and federal regulatory bodies to get it going. Alan lauded Beveridge for inspiring other distilleries to follow.
“He is the one that got the industry started,” Alan said. “He is the reason we are here today. Independent distilling is one of the biggest movements in the beverage industry. There are now more than 50 licensed distilleries in Texas and business is booming. In 2013, Tito’s hit a milestone that few independents will ever hit. The distillery sold more than a million cases of vodka.”
Tito’s was the lone distiller in the state for a decade. In 2006, Daniel Barnes started a distillery to make Treaty Oak Rum, which Alan described as “quintessentially Texan” because it is completely made in Texas, starting with the raw materials. Treaty Oak Distilling now makes rum, aged rum, Waterloo Gin and barrel-aged gin, and bottles of Red Handed Texas Bourbon.
With the rapidly growing thirst for local, independent distilleries, there are bound to be some corners cut to meet consumer demand.
“Some Texas spirits are all hat and no cattle,” Alan said in an impassioned discussion of the virtues of authenticity versus marketing shenanigans. “How many people believe that when you buy a product, you should know what the hell it is? Nobody wants to be misled.
“If a bottle says ‘Texas whiskey,’ we expect it to be from Texas. The problem is that about half the whiskeys on the shelf that say Texas aren’t from Texas. Balcones, Garrison Brothers and Ranger Creek are all made right here with Texas ingredients. We need to support the folks who are actually making a product here. To make sure its Texan, check the bottle to make sure it says ‘distilled in Texas’ rather than just ‘produced’ or ‘bottled.’ ”
Alan describes the cocktail culture in Texas as being very similar to our culinary influences in that it is a melting pot of Tex-Mex and Southern, with bold flavors, spice and smoke. He encouraged the crowd to be adventurous in their choice of drinks and to use local ingredients in season like grapefruit, homegrown mint and watermelon.
“You wouldn’t eat the same food every day or listen to the same music every day,” Alan said. “So why would you drink the same thing every day?”
To demonstrate fresh approaches to cocktails that feature Texas spirits and seasonably appropriate local ingredients, Alan created two refreshing summer cocktails.
2 750-milileter bottles of sparkling rosé wine
1/2 bottle Tito’s Handmade Vodka
2 cups St. Germain elderflower liqueur
1 quart cut up melons (watermelon, honeydew) and seasonal fruit
Large block of ice
1 cup of carbonated water
Marinate the fruit in the booze for several hours, then it’s ready to serve.
4 large sprigs fresh mint
1/2 cup cubed and seeded watermelon
1/2 ounce simple syrup
1.5 ounces Treaty Oak Rum
3/4 ounce freshly squeezed lime juice
1 ounce carbonated water
Watermelon wedge for garnish
Gently muddle three of the mint springs and the watermelon with the simple syrup. Add the rum and lime juice, and shake the hell out of it. Strain into an ice-filled glass. Top with carbonated water and garnish with mint and watermelon.
The final wine seminar of the Austin Food & Wine Festival featured Austin’s only Master Sommeliers, Devon Broglie and Craig Collins. In their third year presenting at the festival, the renowned wine experts chose to showcase a wine region that they feel is experimenting with non-traditional grapes and new methods in winemaking: California.
“California is one of the regions leading the charge for a new revolution in wine,” said Collins, the beverage director for Arro and ELM Restaurant Group. “In the 1960s and ’70s, Robert Mondavi and others were experimenting with making new wines but retaining European influences for making wine with balance and quality. In the 1990s, the region gained notoriety for pursing big, bold, fruity wines with high alcohol. Now we have pioneers in the industry making sophisticated wine with less prominent grapes with lower alcohol.”
The sweaty and slightly intoxicated crowd at the California Enlightenment session was treated to a tasting of six wines that were selected for new approaches to a well-known grape variety or unheralded grapes. There was one other factor in the wines’ selection.
“The criteria for wines in this tasting is they had to be wines that are loveable,” said Broglie, the Whole Foods Markets associate global beverage buyer. “We’re talking about wines that after you have slammed back half a glass, you stop and realize, holy shit, I love this wine. We wanted to present wines that are enjoyable and that are drinkable with food.”
2010 Seghesio Arneis
The Seghesio family settled in California from Italy in 1895 and has been producing wine ever since. Seghesio is well known as a pioneer and major producer of Sonoma County Zinfandel, but less known for its Italian white wine varieties. Arneis is a white grape from the Piedmont region of Northern Italy that makes clean, crisp wine that is high in minerals. Seghesio grows its grapes on small acreage in the Russian River Valley, which has a cool climate. The result is fresh, bright, medium-bodied wine with guava and tropical flavors that is perfect for a summer picnic. It’s available for about $23 at Austin Wine Merchant or Whole Foods Markets.
In 2008, Matt Licklider, a wine importer, and Kevin O’Connor, wine director at Spago Beverly Hills, partnered to start an urban winery to make pinot noir and chardonnay that reflect the terroir of California. They chose to break the mold of California wineries making overblown wines. Rather than age the wine with new oak barrels that can hide the flavor of the wine with vanilla flavors, Lioco uses stainless steel and neutral barrels to create a full yet crisp wine that lets fruit and acid shine through, for a citrusy wine with grapefruit and lemon flavors that pairs well with shellfish. The Sonoma County chardonnay is available for $22 on the Lioco website.
“Cappellet is one of the founding fathers of the Napa Valley, starting the winery in 1967 in storied Pritchard Hill vineyards,” Collins said. “The area is considered a grand cru of Napa because the magical mountain makes the cream-of-the-crop wines.”
The volcanic soils stress the grape vines, and the high elevation allows for a large swing between nighttime versus daytime temperatures, which helps grapes ripen better. Not only is Chappellet making wine with a less popular grape, chenin blanc, it is also taking a non-traditional route to make the wine. It is fermented in a combination of neutral French oak barrels, stainless steel tanks and a concrete “egg” that gives the wine extra weight and richness while retaining high acid levels that give it massive zippiness. It has vivacious floral scents and honeydew, lemon zest and hazelnut flavors that bring roast quail to life. It goes for about $30 a bottle.
Everything about Donkey and Goat is non-traditional. The winery got its start when Tracy and Jared Brandt decided to make natural, Rhône-style wines with minimal intervention.
“They put 50,000 miles on their Toyota Prius looking for the right grapes to make wine in an urban winery in a warehouse in Berkeley,” Broglie said. “This is an example of a new trend in California winemaking where the winery doesn’t need vineyards or a fancy château.”
The grenache was made with grapes grown in El Dorado County using natural yeast to ferment them, and it was left unfiltered, giving it a slight haze. The red berry flavors and earthiness will go well with grilled meat.
“This wine makes me want to bury a goat in the yard and roast it in the pit,” Broglie said.
The Food & Wine Festival was fortunate to land a handful of cases to serve, but the 246 cases made have sold out immediately.
California zinfandel has earned a reputation for being inky dark with enough alcohol to give you a buzz by just smelling it. Broc Cellars throws that playbook out the window. The Vine Starr zinfandel is true to its intended character, a gorgeous translucent ruby color, bold aromas of ripe fruit, cream strawberry flavors and the zip of black pepper on the finish. And its only 12 percent alcohol.
“It’s all of the things I like about zin without the things I hate,” Collins said. “I like the bold aromatics and ripe fruit, but not the high alcohol.”
Broc is another one of the small-production urban wineries and only 800 cases of this juice were produced. It sells for about $30.
The last taste of the day, which I’m sure some of the drunks in the tent downed in one lustful gulp, was Stony Hill Napa Valley cabernet 2010 from Spring Mountain. Stony Hill Vineyard has been making wine since 1952. They are predominantly a chardonnay producer. No matter the type of wine, they have not chased the big scores of some wine reviewers by making wines with big flavors, and instead have stayed true to their heritage of making refined, balanced wine. The 2010 cabernet is only the second vintage of cab Stony Hill has produced. It has blackberry, ripe, juicy red fruit, green pepper and herb flavors with a subtle earthiness. Less than 400 cases of this wine were made and only six of those cases made their way to Texas, one of which was poured at the festival. This was my favorite wine of the entire festival.
Whether you are in to obscure grapes, natural wine or inventive approaches to winemaking, Collins summed up a solid maxim for drinking wine (and maybe for life).
“What do you want to put into your mouth now?” he asked. “It’s not about what is right. It’s about what is going to make you happy.”
The third annual Austin Food & Wine Festival packed a ton of excellent cooking demonstrations, food and beverage seminars and partying into three days. The Fest has just enough of an Austin touch on the Food & Wine Festival franchise with live fire grilling demos from some of Austin’s fantastic chefs, the Taste of Texas event on Friday night, Rock Your Taco (no really, that’s what its called) on Saturday night, and a handful of Texas-focused sessions interspersed with excellent sessions hosted by national stars.
While the food and wine are the main attraction, let’s face it, the people watching is pretty damn good too. Here are a few of the sights from the Fest.
The talent line up for the third annual Austin FOOD & WINE Festival, April 25-27, 2014 was announced this week. It features a star-studded list of local and national culinary pros starting with the organizing chefs Tim Love (Lonesome Dove Western Bistro, Woodshed Smokehouse, Queenie’s Steakhouse, Love Shack, White Elephant Saloon); Tyson Cole(Uchi & Uchiko); and restaurateur Jesse Herman (La Condesa & Sway). The importance placed on food and the excellent talent level mirror the up-and-coming culinary scene in Austin.
The Fest organizers held a preview lunch at Contigo to trot out some of the stellar talent and show off the food. This media event demonstrated just how important Food is to the Fest. All of the organizing chefs were on hand along with chefs serving up nibbles including Jason Dady (Jason Dady Restaurant Group), David Bull (Congress, Second Bar + Kitchen & Bar Congress), John Bates (Noble Sandwiches), Jack Gilmore (Jack Allen’s Kitchen), Mike Lata (FIG & The Ordinary), Chris Shepherd (Blue Ginger & Blue Dragon) and the Contigo host, Andrew Wiseheart who wowed the crowd by roasting a whole pig in the parking lot. The nibbles were fantastic.
There will be more than 40 events at the fest, including hands-on grilling demonstrations, two interactive fire pits, panel discussions and of course the Grand Tasting tents. On top of that there will be food fiestas like Feast Under the Stars on Thursday night, the Taste of Texas on Friday and the Rock Your Tacocompetition on Saturday.
OK, what about the drinks?
Oh, and there are also a handful of excellent wine industry pros on the list too. The importance placed on wine in no way reflects the burgeoning wine scene in Austin. At this Fest Food is clearly first and Wine is there to wash it down. Foodies will rejoice. Winos may weep.
The good news is that there is top notch talent. The Fest brings back four fan favorites from the past two years: FOOD & WINE magazine’s executive wine editor Ray Isle, wine writer and TV personality, Mark Oldman and the two most handsome master sommeliers in Austin Devon Broglie and Craig Collins. The new talent this year includes Frontera Grill sommelier, Jill Gubesch, the gorgeous sommelier from the soon to open LaV, Vilma Mazaite and the cocktail master from La Condesa and Sway Nate Wales.
The bad news is that there won’t be nearly as many wine and beverage sessions as food. The full program won’t be announced until February 25, but all indications are that there will be some similar panels from previous years and some changes. There will be winners and losers.
Win: There is a Mixology session and a Texas Spirits session on the schedule. No word on the talent or providers yet, but these are bound to be excellent programs. We are fortunate to have many excellent bartenders and fantastic distillers in Austin to choose from to present at the Fest. Prediction — Tim Love will crash a session and do his Shot Roulette where he pours tequila shots for 9 blindfolded contestants and one shot of canola oil for the tenth unlucky bastard.
Lose: Likely the first casualty will be the Texas wine panel. It’s been great to see our local wines on the big stage for the past two years, but change is inevitable. Prediction — a handful of Texas wine die-hards will bemoan the passing loudly and will boycott the Fest. I’ll make sure to hit up the Texas wines in the Grand Tasting tent.
Win: Broglie and Collins will likely scheme a new topic that appeals to broad audience of wine lovers and novices alike to replace the Texas wine panel. These guys are not only two of the most knowledgeable wine experts in the world, but they are great presenters. Something good will happen in their Sunday afternoon session. Prediction — one or both of them will wear colorful pants.
Lose: While Mark Oldman is highly entertaining, his sessions have been pretty light-weight the past two years. The Fest draws an educated crowd that deserves a presentation that goes far deeper than Oldman delivers. I bet he’s more than eye-candy and actually knows his stuff. But I also bet he underestimates his audience yet again. Prediction — Oldman reprises his “bring the audience member onto the stage to saber a bottle of Champagne” bit. Its great showmanship.
Win: There is a space on the schedule for a craft beer session again this year on Saturday, but no brewers or talent has been announced. Let’s hope it’s not a naval gazing session on the state of the craft beer industry, but instead something really fun like a food and beer pairing session put on by some of the gifted Austin brewmasters. Prediction — Chris Troutman, one of the founders of the fantastic Austin Beer Guide, will actually show up at an event that isn’t fully dedicated to beer just to see this one panel.
Lose: According to the current schedule there are not any sessions dedicated to showcasing great culinary talent and wine talent together. It’s as if the organizers believe people actually eat food without pairing the right wine with it. Prediction — hungry wine lovers will mob the fire pits between sessions and thirsty foodies will get smashed in the Grand Tasting tents between sessions. The vast majority of attendees that love both food and wine will be disappointed that the worlds are separate.
What are you most looking forward to at this year’s Fest? Tickets are on sale now. Prediction — I’ll take a ton of pictures, will attend every wine and beverage session held and will sadly miss the incredible cooking demonstrations yet again this year.