Texas talent shines at the 2014 Austin Food & Wine Festival

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

David Alan Tipsy TexanAt 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 Vodka, Treaty Oak RumTito’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.

Sangria Rosa


  • 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.

Texas Watermelon MojitoWatermelon Mojito


  • 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.


Devon Broglie, Vilma Mazaite, Craig CollinsThe 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.”

California Enlightenment wine lineup2010 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.

2012 Lioco Sonoma County Chardonnay

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.

2012 Chappellet Chenin Blanc

“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.

2012 Donkey and Goat Grenache Noir – El Dorado

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.

2012 Broc Cellars Vine Starr Zinfandel

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.

2010 Stony Hill Cabernet Sauvignon

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.”


This story was originally published on Austin Man Magazine.

Disclosure: I was provided a media pass to attend the Festival at no charge. 

What are you drinking?

Food Comes First at the Austin Food & Wine Festival

IMG_0169The 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.

Tim Love -Mike Lata- Andrew Wiseheart - Chris Shepherd

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 Taco competition 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.

What are you drinking?


Superstar Wines at the Austin Food & Wine Festival

Ray Isle at the Austin Food & Wine Festival Houston native and executive wine editor of FOOD & WINE, Ray Isle, took the stage for the day’s final wine session with a mischievous twinkle in his eye as he takes the stage to present Superstar Wines at the Austin Food & Wine Festival. He worked the audience with casual professorial grace and easy wit. The standing room only crowd eagerly drank up every drop of information he shared about the discovery of fantastic wines.

“There are about 230,000 wine brands available in the U.S. When you walk into a wine store and look at a wall of wine, it’s hard to know what to pick,” he said. “The people who work in dedicated wine shops are typically obsessive about wine. They didn’t go into this business to become a millionaire. It might cost a dollar more to buy wine at these shops, but it’s really worth it to buy wine from someone who cares enough to select really good wine.”

Buying guides, scores and wine shop smarties are great ways to get introduced to new wines. “Once you know what you like, drink what you like, and then branch out from there. There is no need to be a wine expert. Just have fun,” he said.

Each year the magazine publishes its pocket size Food & Wine 2013 Wine Guide buying guide, which profiles 500 top wineries around the world and their benchmark wines. The wines for this session were selected from that guide and had to meet two other criteria; they had to be readily available in Texas, and they had to be Isle’s favorites.

“These are cool wines and wineries. The tasting line up gives us an around the world view of different styles,” said Isle.

Superstar Wines at Austin Wine & Food Festival The first wine was a prototypical New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, Dog Point Vineyard 2012 Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough. It had strong grass, jalapeño juice and grapefruit citrus flavors with strident acidity that gives it lightning strike zip. The un-oaked, crisp white wine sells for about $20 and would be a great accompaniment to fried chicken.

Wineries in California have been making great wines with traditionally French blends. Qupe Marsanne 2011 Santa Barbara County is a classic northern Rhone white blend made with Marsanne and Roussanne grapes. It’s a richer wine than the previous one with scents of hay, honeysuckle and pears along with ripe pears, melon and lemon zest flavors. Grilled fish would find a friend in this $20 white wine.

Next up, Isle compared Pinot Noir from California and the Burgundy region of France. The Melville 2010 Pinot Noir, Estate, made in the Santa Rita Hills, jumped out of the grass with rich ripe fruit scents, soft tannins, and juicy strawberry jam flavors.  At $25, this is a solid value for food-friendly California Pinot Noir.

The birthplace of Pinot Noir wines, the Burgundy region of France, is the home to Bouchard Pere & Fils 2008 Beune du Chateau Premier Cru. In France the goals is to have the wine express the place where its grown rather than the hand of the winemaker, which results in wines that typically have more mineral flavors than U.S. wines. This Premier Cru didn’t disappoint with aromas of raspberry and dust with limestone, juicy raspberry and dried herb flavors. While a bit more expensive at $34 a bottle, this is still a relative value for Burgundy wine.

On to the northern region of Piedmont in Italy for the Vietti 2008 Barolo made from the Nebbiolo grape. Many burgundy drinkers love Nebbiolo as the thin skin grape also tends to express the area where it’s grown. This fresh crisp wine has big cherry flavors. Barolo is very high tannin giving it an astringency and structure that lets it pair wonderfully with fatty foods like alpine cheese and risotto. Typically you can’t touch most cru Barolo for under $70, but the Vietti is a good bargain at $55. It is available at Whole Foods Markets, Austin Wine Merchant as well as other shops around Austin.

Isle finished the session with a bold, juice La Jota Vineyard Co. Howell Mountain Estate 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa valley. The winery was started in 1890 on a Mexican land grant on top of Howell Mountain. It has a generous berry and vanilla flavors, solid tannin structure and rich, lush texture like a velvet robe on your tongue and bellowing alcohol. Unlike some big name California Cabs that sell for hundreds of dollars, this one is only $75.

At the end of the session, the crowd wasn’t eager to leave and dozens swarmed Isle to ask more questions. It was clear the appreciative audience couldn’t get enough of this year’s Austin Food & Wine Festival.

Disclosure: I was provided a press pass to cover the festival. 

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For the Love of Beer at the Austin Food & Wine Festival

Beer Panel at Austin Food & Wine FestivalWhat do you get when you want to talk about craft beer at a wine festival? An audience salivating to hear about brewers’ inspiration and latest brews. Bill Norris, beverage director for the Alamo Drafthouse, hosted a panel of craft brewers. Adam DeBower, co-owner and brewer at Austin Beerworks; Brad Farbstein, owner of Real Ale Brewing Company; and Terry Nance, of Alaskan Brewing Company, discussed their beers and what got them into the industry.

Real Ale, one of Austin’s oldest craft breweries poured 4-Squared, a dry hopped version of its wildly popular Fireman’s Four released for 16th anniversary of the brewery, and Blonde Barleywine Ale, a dry-hopped American and English style ale that is part of the Brewers Cut series.

Norris acknowledge Real Ale’s role as one of the pioneers of the Austin craft beer industry, having started in 1996. He asked Farbstein how business has evolved since he joined the brewery in 1998.

“We have seen the level of interest in craft beer blossom in the last five to seven years and our customers’ knowledge has increased significantly. They know what they want,” said Farbstein. “Our beers were very aggressive for the market in 1996. We made beers for beer drinkers. We realized a few years ago that we were still making the same beers for 15 years and the market was moving on. We have released more than eight new beers in the last three years to provide our customers with new styles. We want to stay current, hence the 4-Squared and Brewers Cut series.”

Beer at Austin Food & Wine FestivalAustin Beerworks, which is celebrating its second anniversary on May 4, poured its Pearl Snap Pilz, German style lager, cold fermented European hops and Fire Eagle IPA American IPA. “This was the most successful brewery launch I’ve ever seen. You started with four beers and overnight it was in every craft brew bar in town,” said Norris.

DeBower humbly acknowledged their fast success, “I give credit to everyone that came before us and created a lot of demand for craft beer. We have four partners and who each have extensive personal networks. We drink a lot, so we have a lot of relationships with bars and restaurants.”

He credits his love for beer as the reason he entered the business. “I like to work. I like to work hard, and I don’t like to get paid well. I know how to make things work on a shoe string. I used to work eight hours a day and then go to the bar and spend six hours drinking and talking about beer. I realized I didn’t want to do my day job. I just wanted to make beer,” said DeBower.

Alaskan Brewing makes its Texan brothers look downright young. The brewery, which opened in 1986 was just the 16th licensed craft brewery in the U.S. has only just ventured out of Alaska in the last 10 years. The well established northern beer outpost poured Alaskan Amber, its best selling German Alt style beer made with a gold rush recipe and Alaska Freeride APA, which brewed with Cascade, Citra and Centennial hops.

“Brewing in Alaska presents challenges. There are no roads in or out of Juneau,” said Nance. It’s also really damn cold, which can present challenges for brewing. “We generate steam to keep the brewery warm enough to ferment. We call it ‘beer powered beer.’ We use spent grain from the brewing process. We dry it and burn it in our boilers instead of fossil fuels.”

Norris turned the topic to the use of cans, which is beginning to be a more popular choice for craft brewers. Half of the beers served in the session were packaged in cans. Austin Beerworks hasn’t put any beer in glass. Real Ale just installed a canning line and packages with both bottles and cans.

DeBower thinks the stigma that cans are for lower quality beers is starting to fade. “Cans protect beer better,” he said. “Light is the second worse spoiler of beer after oxygen. We need to give our beer a fighting chance by protecting it.”

Farbstein likes the flexibility that cans provide. “We chose to use cans because there was a demand for our product in areas where you can’t take bottles, like the beach, the river or on a boat. It’s a keg that fits in a koozie.”

This story was originally posted in a different format on CultureMap.

Disclosure, I was provided a press pass to cover the festival.

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French Underdog Wines at Austin Food & Wine Festival

Flocks of men in Tommy Bahamas print shirts and women in breezy sun dresses swirled and sipped their way through Sunday at the Austin Food & Wine Festival. As wood smoke from the pits fuzzed the air, people gathered to learn the finer points about wine and beer from nationally recognized experts.

Dozens of eager wine lovers drug their hangovers into a tent the first thing Sunday morning to hear Anthony Giglio, wine correspondent for CBS News Radio, hold court in a session on lesser-known French wines. (Giglio himself was self-medicating his fragile state with a bloody Mary backstage after a night of rocking his taco.) He put on a brave face and welcomed the crowd with a hoisted wine glass, “Breakfast of champions,” he said. “Who is still drunk from last night?”

There may be no finer way to start a Sunday than with a selection of six French wines. The session featured wines chosen by Giglio that are either less familiar varieties or from less popular regions. His guiding principle for picking the wines was to find ones that are not only delicious and easy to find in Texas, but are also inexpensive.

“The ‘Great Divide’ between the Old World (Europe) and New World is that we name almost all of our wines by the grape, and in Europe they almost always name wines by the region from which they hail,” said Giglio. “I thought about all the wines I love from France that are off the beaten path; the wines I recommend to friends and they say, ‘Huh? Where’s that from?’ Some are usually right up front in wine shops, but others may be worth searching out. All it takes is asking questions at a wine shop or to a wine steward at a restaurant. They’re hiding in plain sight.”

Giglio instructed the crowd to taste wine in a process that he calls the “Five S’s of Tasting”

  1. See: Hold your glass over white paper and assess the color and weight of the wine.
  2. Swirl: Spin the wine in the glass to release its perfume.
  3. Sniff: Take three little sniffs to evaluate the aromas, which make up a big part of the flavor.
  4. Swish: Take a small sip and swish it around your mouth. The first sip never counts as it is just waking up the mouth.
  5. Sip: Try the second sip to get the full flavors of the wine.

On to the good stuff. Giglio described each of the wines in the flight as the crowd hung on his words.

The first was Cameron Hughes Lot 353 Saint Péray Blanc, a blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Muscadet, Semillon from the Northern Rhone Valley. Giglio quipped that Sauvignon Blanc often smells like cat pee. “Does it taste like cat pee? I don’t know.” This $24 wine was light and refreshing with green apple and grapefruit light flavors.

Next up, Chateau de la Chaize Brouilly Cru Beaujolais, a gorgeous Gamay from one of Beaujolais’ 10 cru villages. While Beaujolais is widely known for the unsophisticated and fruity Beaujolais Nuevo, the cru wines can be elegant and complex. This selection had bright cherry, raspberry and smoky strawberry flavors. It’s a sound value at $16 a bottle. “This will be your summer red. Trust me.”

The third wine was Jean-Luc Colombo Cotes du Rhones a blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre from the Rhone Valley. The Colombo has scents of cherries, licorice, violets and tastes of raspberry and cherry. This wine, at $12, could be a summer staple at my house. “Grenache and Syrah are my favorite grapes on the planet. They make wines that are easily drinkable with or without food.”

Moving on to another Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre blend, this time from southern France, we tried Chateau Paul Mas Languedoc. The wine had lovely scents of cedar, dried fruit, plums and powerful blueberry, blackberry, pepper flavors. At $12 this one is my favorite of the flight. I’ll definitely seek this one out.

Next we tasted Chateau Greysac Bordeaux 2008 from the most renowned region for red wine. There are five grapes allowed in Bordeaux by law and Cabernet Sauvignon is the dominant grape in the Medoc, where the Greysac is produced. It had lovely scents of eucalyptus, mint, brambly blackberry and tight, dry, black fruits flavors. “This is the best Bordeaux bargain on the planet at $14 and one of the easiest to find,” said Giglio.

The last wine, Clos la Coutale Cahors, was a Malbec, Merlot and Tannat blend from Southwest France. This crowd pleaser had fragrant chocolate covered cherries and raisin aromas and rustic black cherry and blackberry flavors.

By the end of the session, the color had returned to Giglio’s cheeks and he was clearly pleased to be in Austin. “With Austin it’s the music weaved into all of the events, whether in the background or right up front. This year we have Allen Stone, the Whiskey Shivers, Delta Spirit and DJ Mel spinning throughout,” he said. “I also love that most of the events are held outside in parks, either under tents or under the stars. You can’t do that everywhere, and that resonates with a city boy like me.”

This story was originally posted in a different format on CultureMap.

Disclosure, I was provided a press pass to cover the festival.

What Are You Drinking? 

Great Day at the Austin Food & Wine Festival: Day 1 Recap

Austin Food & Wine Festival 2013Oh man the Austin Food & Wine Festival was a blast today. It was a great gathering of excellent culinary and beverage pros showing off their best for a happy crowd. I hunkered down at several sessions today including:

  • Texas Wine: Ready for the Main Stage with Russ Kane
  • Drink Like  Pro with Mark Oldman
  • Spring Into Wine with Ray Isle
  • What a Pair with Tony & Cathy Mantuano
  • Around the World with Pinot Noir with Ray Isle

In between learning about various wines in these sessions, I wandered through the grilling area and the grand tasting tents to sample some of the fantastic nibbles and drinks.

This year the Festival moved across the street to Butler Park. It was a great move, with a more intimate setting and more lush grass (read less blowing dust than last year). The Grand tasting had a new configuration that dropped the claustrophobic crowding from last year.

It went by too quickly and I can’t wait to get back to the park for tomorrow’s sessions.

Mark Oldman declares we can drink pink without blushing

Mark Oldman extoles the virtues of rose wine

You remember that guy, the one in school that you always liked to party with, but never wanted to study with? The guy who knew a ton, but was always crackin’ jokes so you didn’t get anything done? That’s Mark Oldman. He was known as the Bacchus on Campus back in the day. Now he’s the lead judge in the PBS TV series The Winemakers, a wine writer and wine book author. He brought his celebrity, dazzling blue eyes and showman style to the dusty grounds of Auditorium Shores for the Austin Food & Wine Festival, where he hosted a session called “Pink Without Blushing.”

He set the tone for the tasting of four rosé wines right from the get go by shouting out, “My first request is to start drinking. We need alcohol in us to lubricate our systems.” This was obviously not going to be a stuffy, professorial lecture on the technical aspects of the wine. Nope, this showman was there to tell stories and entertain the crowd in the dusty tent as they knocked back a flight of six wines.

Before getting into a discussion of the wines, Oldman brandished a chef’s knife and sabred a bottle of Champagne – slicing off the corked end of the bottle to the squealing delight of the people sprayed in the front row.

Knowing Texans have a macho persona that may have a bias against the pink stuff, he appealed to the crowd saying, “Rosé does not get a lot of respect. It’s like Donald Trump’s hair. You might think of it as a sissy drink, but real men drink rosé. There are plenty of burly, hairy-chested men drinking this by the gallon on the Riviera.” For those who were still skeptical, he encouraged us to “Drink Bravely,” which is Oldman’s motto that is thoroughly discussed in his book, Oldman’s Brave New World of Wine.

He didn’t have to convince me. I’m a huge fan of rosé and just bought a case of the stuff to knock back on hot nights. If you think of cheap, sweet white Zinfandel wine when you think of rosé, give it another try. Rosé is the epitome of sophisticated, dry, easy drinking wines.

Oldman mentioned a thing or two about each of the six wines, but didn’t say the name of each wine, give tasting notes, share much about the region in which it was produced or even say the types of grapes in many cases. He’s the fun friend, not the study buddy. Here’s what we had.

  1. Perrier-Jouët Belle Epoque, Vintage, Rosé Champagne which goes for about $70 a bottle. It has a gorgeous salmon color punctuated by a steady stream of tiny bubbles. This bubbly has a toasty yeast scent, creamy mouthfeel and delicate fruit flavors. Oldman explained that rosé is more expensive than normal champagne. It is scarcer and more desirable because of the extra steps required to make it.
  2. Belle Glos Winery from Sonoma that had a bright pink with fresh fruity strawberry flavor. It was the kind of wine you want to take on a picnic. It’s not particularly the kind of wine I feel like writing about. Maybe I’ll try it again and change my mind.
  3. The third wine was unnamed, but Oldman explained that it comes from the most famous rosé producing region in the world; Tavel in the southern Rhone Valley of France. It had a deeper pink color with peach pit bitter fruit flavors and a ripping backbone of mineral. It was definitely not as fruity as the Californian with an herbal flair. The next time you are in a wine shop, ask the clerk for their recommendations for a bottle of Tavel. You can’t go wrong.
  4. Bonnie Doon 2011 Vin Gris de Cigare, a blend of Roussanne and Grenache Blanc from the Central Coast of California. This lovely lady wears light cotton candy pink nail polish, smells of peaches and strawberry and her pouty lips taste like silky watermelon and strawberry. Oldman explained that the picture of the flying saucer with a laser beam on the label is the winemaker’s way of making fun of French law that says no flying saucers can land in a particular town… I’m not going to bother to verify that tidbit from my non-study buddy.
  5. Doña Paula  Los Cardos Malbec Rose from Argentina  has a much deeper pink color from that big inky grape. It has a blackberry brambly scent and a bolder flavor. Its value wine that you can serve at brunch without breaking the bank.
  6. Chateau d’Esclans Whispering Angel is an elegantly light pink wine from Provence, France. Yes, angels whisper when you drink this wine with soft herbal breath and the taste of delicate cranberries and tart strawberries tossed with Herbs de Provence. It is as light and refreshing as aguas frescas.

Rosé is a fantastic light, refreshing style of wine tailor made for lazy summer days, brunch or picnic on the lake. The acidity and fruit also make it a great wine to drink with Texas BBQ.

Oldman encouraged the crowd to, “get your rosé in magnums (double bottles). When your friends come over they think there is even more for them to drink. There is a generosity premium when you serve a magnum.”

What are you drinking?

Are Texas wines for real? A recap of the Austin Food & Wine Festival

We have a lot of pride in our state. Everything is not only bigger, but also better in Texas. Is that really true of everything? Sure we like to eat local and drink local, but come on, is Texas wine up to snuff?

A panel of celebrated wine experts convened at the Austin Food & Wine Festival to showcase a flight of Texas wines and answer the question, “Are TX wines for real?” Texas wine writer and author of The Wineslinger Chronicles: Texas on the Vine, Dr. Russell Kane, assembled master sommelier, Devon Broglie, master sommelier, Craig Collins, executive wine editor of Food & Wine, Ray Isle and advanced sommelier, June Rodil to review wines that have won gold medals in recent competitions. Kane selected these globally experienced sommeliers because they have the perspective to critically evaluate Texas wines in an unbiased way.

Kane selected these globally experienced sommeliers because they have the perspective to critically evaluate Texas wines in an unbiased way, and he was quick to point out that the wines selected for the tasting — the wines that do well in Texas – are not the standard West Coast line-up of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Chardonnay.

“Texas just ain’t Bordeaux and it sure as hell ain’t Burgundy.” We have a terroir that is more akin to Europe than northern France or the West Coast of the U.S. Our variable continental climate is similar to southern European areas like Rioja and Rhone. Our soil is also similar. Texas is has limestone bedrock just as Spain and France do. The grapes that grow well in southern France, Portugal, Spain and Italy also grow well in Texas.

“If you look at what is being planted, Tempranillo is out stripping Cabernet two-to-one,” explains Kane.

The panelists took turns describing the wines made with lesser known grape varieties.

First up was 2010 Duchman Family Winery Vermentino made with grapes grown in the Bingham Vineyards in the Texas High Plains. Broglie started the discussion with an adroit observation: “What stands out is its frickin’ delicious.” It has bright lemon, and honeysuckle scent, and has good balance of acidity and fruit with white peach flavors and slight bitterness of lemon zest on the pleasant finish.

Vermentino grows well in coastal areas of Italy and is not a mainstay of U.S. wine. Kane says, “This is an indication of Texas wine future. We will be the location where interesting grapes will like Vermentino reside.” That’s not without challenges Broglie, acknowledges. “These producers have taken some risks by making wine out of non-standard grape varieties.”

Isle adds, “It’s a financial risk. Trying to get people to try varietals that they don’t know is risky.” This wine retails for about $14.

Next up was 2010 McPherson Cellars Roussanne Reserve, also made with grapes grown in the Bingham Vineyards. “McPherson is one of the founding fathers of Texas wine,” Kane says. “They have been in business for more than 40 years and have started making wines with grape varieties that grow well in the Mediterranean. ” The Roussanne grape, which grows in Southern Rhone, can handle the Texas heat and late spring frost.

“I look for wines to smell and taste like where they came from and that is what you see with this Roussanne,” Collins says. Isle comments: “I’m blown away by this Roussanne. It is a big, full-bodied white with great acidity that elevates the citrus flavors. It is outrageously refreshing on a Sunday morning.” Collins suggests pairing the McPherson with foods that go well with acidity. “I would immediately go with a heavier grilled fish or a lighter fowl dish like quail.”

Rodil adds, “Shellfish like Nantucket scallops, monkfish and lobster has natural sweetness that goes well with this wine.” This wine retails for about $18.

The third wine tasted was 2009 Pedernales Cellars Tempranillo. Isle, a Texas native who now resides in New York, mused about grape selection. “When I wander around Texas it feels like Spain to me, and I wonder why I there isn’t Tempranillo growing here. What I love about the grape is that it has great concentration of flavor, but doesn’t have the massive body of Cabernet. It has finesse and elegance. The Pedernales Cellars Tempranillo has leathery flavors with bright red fruit, great acid and lingering flavor. Serve this wine slightly chilled. While I wouldn’t mistake this for Rioja, I would recognize it as a typical Tempranillo. It has a different balance than a Spanish wine.”

Collins weighs in on balance: “You know how the pills we swallow are round and not triangular? They are round and smooth so they go down easily. We don’t take triangle pills that are jabbing us on the corners saying ‘ooh that’s too much.’ That’s what balance is. It’s having good integration of alcohol, acid and tannin to make it smooth and round. This Tempranillo is really balanced.” This wine retails for about $30.

Next up was the Kiepersol Estates 2010 Stainless Syrah from Tyler, Texas. Kiepersol ages its Syrah in stainless and not oak barrels. “The tannin you get from this is from the seeds and skin, not from oak,” says Kane. This wine is an inky-dark, teeth-staining, fruit forward style similar to Australian Shiraz. Collins described it as “definitely a great food wine. It pairs well with what we do well in Texas: grilling and BBQ. There is a pepper spice to the wine that goes well with grilled meat. I’d serve this a little bit cool.

“I’m a fan of ice cubes in wine. I make ice cubes from rosé wine and drop them in my glass. That kind of ice doesn’t water down the wine.” The Stainless Syrah is a limited production with only 500 cases made and retails for about $32.

The fifth wine was 2009 Sandstone Cellars VII, made with Touriga Nacional grapes grown in Mason County Texas. The grape is grown in Spain and Portugal and is a primary blending grape in Port. “I requested we taste this wine because it’s a great example of doing grape varieties that show the terroir of Texas. It has big complexity,” says Broglie.

“It’s a beefy, animally wine. And there is a lot going on here. It has dark purple color, dark berry flavors and is very tannic. It’s damn good wine.” Don Pullam, Sandstone Cellars winemaker, was in the room to soak up adulation for his wine that retails for about $20.

The last selection was 2008 Haak Vineyards Madeira made with Blanc du Bois grapes from the coastal Galveston area. The grape was genetically started in Florida to take the heat, but has become Texas’ own grape as it is one of the most planted in the state. Rodil encouraged the audience to embrace desert wines saying this one in particular pairs well with the breakfast sweet rolls served at the session. “The Haak Madeira has nutty floral and caramel flavors with a lift of bright acidity and citrus that balances out the sweetness. Once you taste it, you’ll want another drink.”

“It has a distinct character of bourbon barrels with vanilla flavors,” Isle adds. Rodil suggests that “[o]nce you open the wine, store it in a temperature controlled area and it will keep a long time. It has 18.5 percent alcohol, so you only have to drink an ounce of it — or six if you are me.”  Haak Vineyards Madeira retails for about $40.

Wines from a state not known as a premier wine producing state priced in the $30 and $40 range seem pretty steep. The panelists defended the pricing. “Some Texas wines are a steal,” Isle says. “I’d put this McPherson up against any Roussanne for $18 and it will blow them away.”

“Once people start buying more wines from Texas, the prices will balance out,” Rodil suggests.

The panel was a veritable love fest for Texas wines. If they are so good, why don’t they get broader recognition? Kane chalks it up to relative scarcity of Texas wines being exported. “About 97% percent of what we produce is consumed locally. Texas is fifth largest wine producing state, the fourth largest consuming and the seventh largest grape grower. Clearly we don’t have enough wine produced to serve the out of state market, so it is hard to get people in other states and countries to evaluate our wine. That’s why there are not a lot of reviews in national magazines and that will continue until production grows.”

With a vote of confidence from wine experts, will you give Texas wines a try?

This story previously ran on CultureMap.

What are you drinking?

What’s hot at the Austin Food & Wine Festival? Day 2 photo recap

The first Austin Food & Wine Festival has come to a close. Reviews of the festival were mixed, but in general people seemed to appreciate the elevated quality of the talent and educational sessions over previous festivals. I thought the panels, demonstrations and sessions were great and look forward to them getting even better next year. People will always find things to bitch about, and cost, dust, long lines and a paltry lineup in the Grand Tasting were some of the things that got people’s knickers twisted.

Here is a look at Sunday’s festivities. Cheers!






What’s hot at the Grand Tasting at the Austin Food & Wine Festival?

After 26 years, what was once the Texas Hill Country Wine & Food Festival is now the Austin Food & Wine Festival. Our down-home festival has gone big time replete with internationally famous celebrity chefs, wine pros and the backing of Food & Wine magazine and events company C3 Presents.

The crowd at the inaugural Fest squinted against the sun and blowing dust that swirled through the grounds of Auditorium Shores on the banks of Lady Bird Johnson Lake in downtown Austin. Despite the heat, dust and fat price – $250 for a weekender pass – people seemed to be in a lively mood. The dump buckets weren’t getting much attention as people slugged back as much as they could get from more than 50 wine, beer and spirits tables.

I strolled through the crowd snapping a few photos for you to get a feel for the festivities. After many glasses of wine I had trouble writing decent captions. Would you suggest a few?