Austin’s 8 best sommeliers keep the wine scene flowing

This story was originally written for and published by CultureMap

It’s a pretty fine time to be a sommelier, and Austin’s wine pros are ready for the spotlight. Ahead of the annual CultureMap Tastemaker Awards, we introduce you to the nominees for Sommelier of the Year.

These eight professionals have what it takes to satisfy Austin’s thirst for fine wine and food pairings.

Devon Broglie, global beverage buyer, Whole Foods Market
Devon Broglie became one of Austin’s first master sommeliers in 2011 when he earned the title alongside wine study partner Craig Collins. Broglie has been recognized as an outstanding wine professional, winning the Texas’ Best Sommelier Competition in 2006. He worked harvest for the Costers del Siurana winery in Priorat, Spain before beginning his career in the wine shop of Whole Foods Market in Austin and working his way up.

As a global beverage buyer, Broglie coordinates the wine, beer, and spirits programming in 300 stores — no small task. Broglie says it’s easy to find a great bottle of wine at Whole Foods. “People can trust that if it’s on the shelf on the store, it’s great value for the money.”

Devon Broglie
Devon Broglie

 

Craig Collins, beverage director, Elm Restaurant Group
An active member of the local sommelier community, Master Sommelier Craig Collins has been immersed in the wine industry since working at a winery while attending Texas A&M University. He worked at Glazer’s D&E Fine Wine Group, Prestige Wine Cellars, and Dalla Terra Winery Direct before assuming the role of beverage director for Elm, where he oversees the programs at 24 Diner, Easy Tiger, Italic, and soon-to-open Irene’s.

He develops each concept’s wine list, focusing on the guests and, of course, wines that will pair best with the menu. When dining out, Collins recommends asking a sommelier for assistance when selecting a bottle of wine. “They are there to make you happy. Let them take you on an adventure.”

Craig and April Collins
Craig and April Collins

 

Nathan Fausti, sales representative, Dionysus Imports and Rosenthal Wine Merchant
Certified Sommelier Nathan Fausti is a rising star in the Austin wine community. He won the title of 2015 Texas’ Best Sommelier, tested his skills in the Chaîne des Rôtisseurs Young Sommelier Competition, and is preparing to take the Advanced Sommelier exam. Fausti has dazzled guests with food and wine pairings at some of the best restaurants in Austin, including Perla’s, Arro, Olive & June, and Bullfight, and now he uses his skills as a sales representative with Dionysus Imports and Rosenthal Wine Merchant.

Nathan Fausti
Nathan Fausti

 

Paul Ozbirn, beverage director, Parkside Projects
Advanced Sommelier Paul Ozbirn has had a mark on Austin’s wine scene since 2006 when he began waiting tables at Vin Bistro, sparking his passion for wine. He held various positions at Vin, Botticelli’s, Wink, and Paggi House before joining Parkside Projects as beverage director. Here, he guides the selection of all drinks served, from a Spanish wine list at Bullfight to predominately Italian wine lists at Olive & June and The Backspace.

In developing wine menus, Ozbirn strikes a balance by complementing wines guests will recognize with more adventurous selections from places like Greece, Austria, and Portugal. His advice for selecting a great bottle of wine is simply to inquire. “You can’t get what you want if you don’t ask.”

Paul Ozbirn
Paul Ozbirn

 

Nathan Prater, director of outlets, AT&T Executive Education and Conference Center
Advanced Sommelier Nathan Prater is a serious student of wine and an integral part of the strong, professional sommelier community that trains together in Austin. Currently, Prater oversees the beverage program at the AT&T Executive Education and Conference Center, including the hotel, The Carillon, and Gabriel’s Cafe. His goal is to maintain a list featuring the best value wines available, noting that the entire room service wine list is $30 or less per bottle.

His advice for selecting a great bottle of wine? “Shed your diffidence and try the never tried. Forget the scores, and do not be afraid to ask questions.”

Nathan Prater Tastemaker Nominee
Nathan Prater, Photo by Jessica Pages

Paula Rester, wine director, La Corsha Hospitality Group
Certified Sommelier Paula Rester has honed her wine skills at prestigious Austin restaurants like Uchi, Vino Vino, and Restaurant Congress. She recently returned to Austin to assume the wine director role at La Corsha Hospitality Group after working as a sommelier at Danny Meyer’s Maialino in New York. At La Corsha, she is responsible for staff education and maintaining wine programs at Second Bar + Kitchen, long-awaited Boiler Nine Bar + Grill, and the soon-to-be renovated Green Pastures. She relishes the opportunity to create wine lists that represent a broad range of classics mixed with emerging regions and producers.

To find a great bottle of wine, just do what Rester does. “I always think about what I want to spend and then take into consideration the dishes being served. From there it becomes the fun journey of what elements of the wine might enhance or detract from the evening’s menu. I’m never afraid to ask for help from the somm or server, who might be willing to introduce me to something entirely new.”

Paula Rester
Paula Rester

 

June Rodil, wine and beverage director, McGuire Moorman Hospitality
One of only three master sommeliers in Austin — and seven in Texas — Rodil has a long list of honors, including being named one of Food & Wine’s Sommeliers of the Year in 2014. She wields significant influence in the Austin wine community as the wine and beverage director at McGuire Moorman Hospitality. You won’t find a boring corporate list on Rodil’s watch, but fun lists loaded with South American and Italian wines at Lambert’s, affordable French selections at Elizabeth Street Cafe, and rare allocations at Jeffrey’s.

To find the best bottle of wine, Rodil recommends you let a sommelier help you discover “the lexicon to figure out how to describe what you like accurately enough to get the bottle of wine that’s best for your palate. Ninety percent of my job with guests is translating what they are asking for into a bottle of wine.”

June Rodil
June Rodil

 

Mark Devin Sayre, service director, Elm Restaurant Group
Advanced Sommelier Mark Sayre won the 2013 CultureMap Tastemaker Award for Best Sommelier while leading the wine program at Trio at the Four Seasons. Now as the service director for Elm, Sayre’s wine philosophy puts a twist on the city’s motto: “Keep Austin Fresh.” His approach to developing wine lists for each of the restaurant’s is focus. Whether it’s 24 Diner, Italic, or Easy Tiger, Sayre builds the wine list to match the theme of the restaurant.

When selecting a bottle of wine at an Elm restaurant, Sayre says guests can trust that each selection is great. “Close your eyes and point. We have well-trained beverage professionals who can find something you will love.”

Mark Sayre
Mark Sayre

Buy tickets now to the Tastemaker Awards on May 17 at Bullock Texas State History Museum. Learn more about the event here.

Texas wine takes on the world

Texas 2 SipTexas 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:

The crowd was typically divided on deciding which wine was from Texas and which wasn’t. Overall, Isle declared Texas the winner in this competition.

 

Related 2015 Austin Food & Wine Festival Articles: 

What are you drinking? 

Sommelier’s Top Wine Recommendations from TEXSOM

A breakdown of sparkling, white and red wine from the 10th annual Texas Sommelier Conference.

TEXSOM wine tastingIt’s easy to feel overwhelmed when walking through the vast canyons of wines at the store. Faced with that immense selection, it’s tempting just to pick the same wine we know. On the flip side, the thousands of different wines present a fantastic opportunity to continually explore new things.

ATX Man made its annual pilgrimage to the world’s premier wine-education conference to get some fresh ideas about what to drink right now. The 10th anniversary of the Texas Sommelier Conference, aka TEXSOM, held in Dallas, drew 900 wine enthusiasts to participate in educational seminars and wine tastings conducted by 39 master sommeliers, 10 certified wine educators and six masters of wine. It was a perfect place to discover wine.

Here are outstanding wine recommendations from some of the top wine professionals in Austin.

DAZZLING SPARKLING WINE

Two renowned areas for producing the world’s finest sparkling wine are, of course Champagne, France, and Lombardy, Italy, which is 30 miles east of Milan. The sparkling wine from this part of Northern Italy is called Franciacorta and it’s made in the same way as Champagne. Here are two fine choices of Franciacorta.

Ca’ del Bosco Cuvée Annamaria Clementi 2004: This Franciacorta from Northern Italy is gorgeous, bright and focused, with incredible precision, a pervasive minerality and acidity for days. The weight and breadth of the wine sits just perfectly on the palate, balanced by the right amount of toast and a clean, fine perlage. It is Franciacorta at its best, simply and utterly perfect. It is splurge-worthy at $85.

– Lexey Davis Johnson, certified sommelier, Vino Vino

Ca’ del Bosco Vintage Collection Dosage Zero 2009: Powerful, rich and dry as a bone, this gorgeous bubbly is made with 65 percent chardonnay, 13 percent pinot bianco and 22 percent pinot nero grown on old vine. Italy had a slightly warmer growing season in 2009, resulting in lush, softer wines. This wine is fermented in small, new oak and aged for 40 months on the lees, giving it great concentration, with lemon meringue and hazelnut flavors with a crisp finish. It’s great before dinner or paired with just about any food. It runs about $70.

Matt McGinnis, certified sommelier and food and beverage columnist for ATX Man

Ca' del Bosco Vintage Collection Dosage Zero at TEXSOM

ELEGANT WHITE WINE

There were so many amazing white wines from throughout the world poured at TEXSOM. It’s hard to pick favorites, but here are a few standouts.

Selbach-Oster Zeltinger Schlossberg Riesling Spätlese, Mosel 2012: Though there’s a major shift in German riesling toward a drier style, sometimes you just can’t mess with a classic, like this Mosel Spätlese, which sings with bright honeysuckle, ripe pear, lychee and jasmine on the nose. Its delicate sweetness is balanced with racy acidity that puts this relatively young wine at the pinnacle sweet spot for a benchmark riesling. As we have moved into hatch-chili season, drink this wine with grilled shrimp and roasted hatch peppers. The Austin Wine Merchant has this for less than $30.

Jessica Dupuy, certified sommelier, certified specialist of wine and wine columnist for Texas Monthly

Jessica Dupuy tasting at TEXSOM

Marcel Deiss Burg Premier Cru 2010, Alsace: I love this wine for its ability to showcase the terroir of this premier cru vineyard site. Its composition as a true field blend of the several varieties in the vineyard including riesling and gewurztraminer provides the wine with incredible complexity of rich tropical and stone-fruit elements and fragrant florals. Its distinctly Alsatian mineral backbone carries through the wine from start to finish. It sells for about $50 a bottle.

– Joelle Cousins, certified sommelier, 2014 Texas’ Best Sommelier and general manager and sommelier for the Red Room Lounge

Louis Latour Corton Charlemagne 2010: Yes, grand cru! I know, I know, going big. Louis Latour is an iconic producer making a classic example of Corton Charlemagne. This 2010 is singing wonderfully with high-toned citrusy fruit and mouthwatering acidity. Yummy! It will set you back about $100 at Spec’s, but it’s worth it.

– June Rodil, advanced sommelier and beverage director for Jeffrey’s, Josephine House, Clark’s, Lamberts, Perla’s and Elizabeth Street Café

SEDUCTIVE RED WINE

Gallons upon gallons of amazing red wine were poured at TEXSOM. It was difficult to pass up the hard-to-find Portuguese reds, the graceful Burgundy grand cru, or the quintessentially bold cabernet sauvignons from Napa Valley, but here are some must-try wines featured at the conference.

2011 Arpepe Rosso di Valtellina: I love almost anything Italian, and Nebbiolo is a standout for me. This wine is from the Valtellina region of Lombardy, where the Nebbiolo goes by its synonym, Chiavennasca. Nebbiolo can be hard as nails at times but this is a soft, approachable wine with dried strawberry, rose petals and a defined organic minerality, making this a great way to dip your toes in the sea of Northern Italian reds! It is available at East End Wines for about $34.

– Craig Collins, master sommelier and beverage director at ELM Restaurant Group

Fredrick Österberg Pedernales Cellars at TEXSOMPedernales Cellars Texas Tempranillo 2012: Texas wines have come a long way in the past decade, and the award-winning wines from Pedernales Cellars show what the state is capable of producing. Made with grapes grown in the Reddy and Bingham vineyards of the High Plains region, this bold tempranillo has racy cherry and raspberry flavors with soft vanilla and oak on the finish. It’s great served with grilled lamb or Texas barbecue. Pick it up for $22 at Whole Foods Market.

– Matt McGinnis, certified sommelier and food and beverage columnist for ATX Man

Viña Falernia Syrah Reserva DO Elqui Valley Chile 2010: The vineyard was founded in the arid far north of Chile in 1951 by an Italian family. The cool Pacific breezes, high altitude and intense sun make ideal growing conditions for syrah. The Viña Falernia Reserva has the complexity and finesse of a much more expensive wine from the Northern Rhone Valley of France, with delicate plum, raspberry, bacon, smoke and olive flavors and a peppery finish. Grill a thick steak and enjoy. It is a beautiful wine and an absolute bargain for $14 at Whole Foods Market.

– Matt McGinnis, certified sommelier and food and beverage columnist for ATX Man.

This story was originally published by Austin Man Magazine

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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

Ingredients:

  • 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

Directions:

Marinate the fruit in the booze for several hours, then it’s ready to serve.

Texas Watermelon MojitoWatermelon Mojito

Ingredients:

  • 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

Directions:

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.

CALIFORNIA DREAMING

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. 

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Caught in the Act: Images of the 2014 Austin Food & Wine Festival

2014 Austin Food & Wine Festival 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.

Taste of Texas

 

Scenes from Butler Park

 

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Austin’s 10 Best Drink Slingers: Meet the CultureMap Tastemaker Award Nominees for Best Beverage Director

What is the right cocktail to drink while listening to Gary Clark Jr.? What wine will bring out the best in braised rabbit? The 10 nominees for the CultureMap 2014 Tastemaker Awards in the Best Beverage/Wine Program category keep Austin at the forefront of trends in craft cocktails and fine wine.

Whether working at a cozy wine lounge or a fine dining restaurant, this year’s nominees share a passion for constantly studying beverages to ensure they buy and serve the very best drinks available. (They’re also sharing with us the best beverage options for spring.)

CollinsbyNilsJuul-Hansen (1)Craig Collins, Beverage Director, ELM Restaurant Group
Craig Collins became enamored with wine while working at a Texas winery during college. He is currently the beverage director for ELM Restaurant Group where he oversees the programs at 24 DinerEasy Tiger Bake Shop & Beer Garden and Arro. In 2011, he passed the esteemed Master Sommelier Exam, joining an elite club of less than 200 people worldwide at the time. He is an active member in the Court of Master Sommeliers and frequently serves as a featured speaker at wine and food festivals across the country.

What was your first memorable wine? I experienced my “aha” wine while living in Italy with Chef Andrew Curren. It was a bottle of 1998 Brancaia Il Blu, a super Tuscan blend of Sangiovese and Merlot that opened my eyes to the rest of my life.

What is your favorite “guilty pleasure” beverage? My guilty pleasure is an ice cold can of beer when I get home at the end of the night. Austin Beerworks Pearl Snap always does the trick.

Your favorite food and wine pairing? Goat cheese and Sauvignon Blanc. The acid of the goat cheese balances out the saltiness of the cheese and cuts through the fat. It is one of the classic pairings that works every time.

What should Austinites drink right now? It sounds a bit cliché at this point, but rosé. We are moving into the hot time of the year and there is nothing better than an ice cold glass of pink wine.

Sam Hovland, Wine Consultant, Swift’s Attic
Sam Hovland has worked at The Austin Wine Merchant, Headliners Club, Sardine Rouge, Demi-Epicurious, Mars Restaurant and Bar and Twin Liquors. Hovland became the wine buyer for East End Wines in 2010 and continues in that role today. He worked with Mat Clouser, the chef at Swift’s Attic, to develop and maintain the Swift’s Attic wine list. As an extension of that partnership, he is looking forward to buying wines for Clouser’s new restaurant, Wu Chow.

What was your first memorable wine? My first experience was with wines pilfered from my father when he was hosting art openings at the Austin Conceptual Visual Artists Association. I then made wine in the early 1980s, and distilled it (thanks, Science Academy). I was really blown away by a 1967 Richebourg, older vintage Dönnhoff Oberhäuser Brücke Riesling Spätlese, Henri Jayer Pinot Noirs and Domaine Huet Vouvray sweet Chenin Blanc early on in my sommelier career.

What is your favorite “guilty pleasure” beverage? I like very cold tallboys of cider after a day of drinking wines for work, vermouth and Cava and 10,000 beers. I once ran out of wine, and had Sauternes poached foie gras on Ritz crackers with ice cold Budweiser standing in a friend’s kitchen in the middle of the night.

Your favorite food and wine pairing? My four favorites are Sonoma Coast or Oregon Pinot Noir with duck (Doritos crusted for extra naughtiness); Alsatian Riesling with escargot soup; Muscadet and oysters; and the classic vintage Port and Stilton.

What should Austinites drink right now? Bubbles, Mondeuse, Sherry, pink wine, orange wine, natural wines and food-friendly wines that are funky with higher acid, lower tannin and lower alcohol.

josh_lovingJosh Loving
Josh Loving has worked in both the front of the house and back of the house at such notable Austin restaurants as Fino, which he helped open in 2005, Vino Vino, Asti and East Side Show Room. Most recently, Loving was part of the opening team at Josephine House & Jeffrey’s, where he served as beverage director. He left Jeffrey’s this year to focus on his own project, and is currently tending bar at Half Step.

What was your first memorable wine? I think it was 2003, I was working a private party for wine collectors and they gave us the rest of their wines including a vertical from the 1970s of Premier Cru and Grand Cru Burgundy from Domaine Mongeard-Mugneret. I didn’t know what they were, but I remember telling myself to remember the labels so someday I could recall what they were.

What is your favorite “guilty pleasure” beverage? Cheap beer: Coors, Miller High Life, Tecate, etc. I try to stay away from cheap wine, but I crush cheap beer.

Your favorite food and wine pairing? It’s a tie between Champagne and raw oysters, and fried chicken and Riesling.

What should Austinites drink right now? Sherry. I feel like I say this every year, and every year it gets a bit more traction. But yeah, Sherry.

Bill Norris, Alamo DrafthouseBill Norris, Beverage Director, Alamo Drafthouse
For 20 years, Norris has poured drinks in venues across the country, winning numerous awards and cocktail competitions along the way. He was on the opening staff at Fino, where, according to the Austin American-Statesman, he “planted the sacred seeds” of the modern cocktail in Austin, before creating the nationally recognized bar program at Haddingtons. Norris is currently the beverage director for Alamo Drafthouse, overseeing the cocktail and beverage programs at Midnight Cowboy400 Rabbits and other Alamo properties.

What was your first memorable wine? It was probably a Chablis Grand Cru. One of my early jobs was at a restaurant in New York City where all the wines were from Skurnik’s book, and he led a tasting. I just remember thinking, “So, this is why people like white wine!”

What is your favorite “guilty pleasure” beverage? Vinho Verde from the lobster bottle (Santola). There is nothing better for an Austin summer Sunday afternoon.

Your favorite food and wine pairing? Vintage Champagne and potato chips. And I’m not joking.

What should Austinites drink right now? It’s springtime in Austin, so I recommend rosé, preferably Provençal or Spanish. Or Champagne. Champagne is always good.

Paul Ozbirn, Olilve & JunePaul Ozbirn, Wine and Beverage Director, Parkside Projects  
Ozbirn got his start in Austin’s restaurant industry in 2006 as a server at Vin Bistro, which sparked his passion for wine. He held various positions at Botticelli’s, Wink Restaurant and Paggi House while studying to attain Certified Sommelier status through The Court of Master Sommeliers. Ozbirn became the Beverage Director for Parkside Projects to hone the predominately Italian wine list at Olive & June. He is expanding his role to manage the beverage and wine programs at The BackspaceParkside and Chavez.

What was your first memorable wine? My first memorable wine was Seghesio Sonoma Zinfandel 2002. My dad couldn’t find it in Birmingham and asked me to buy it at my local wine shop in Huntsville. It was the start of a long relationship with said wine shop and my love for the balanced, lush and fruit-forward wine. I still love the wines today despite the fact that I’ve really moved away from buying and drinking that style.   

What is your favorite “guilty pleasure” beverage? After a long day of tasting and discussing nothing but wine, the last thing I crave is wine. If I’m at a bar, I’ll drink Hops & Grain ALTeration, but I’m always up for a Lone Star with a lime. Another guilty pleasure is chilled Deep Eddy Ruby Red Vodka!

Your favorite food and wine pairing? A big glass of Lambrusco with the new late-night burger at Vino Vino is a pretty stellar meal. I’m always up for Riesling with just about anything.

What should Austinites drink right now? We’re really diving into the orange wine thing at Olive & June. We serve an abundance of small bites like quail, pork and meatballs that pair really well with either full-bodied whites or lighter style reds. Orange wine is perfect for those plates and introduces tannin to white wine drinkers in a much more approachable way. My favorite at the moment is Ezio Trinchero Bianco 2007.   

Brian Phillips, Eddie VsBrian Phillips, Manager and Sommelier, Eddie V’s Restaurants Inc.
Over the past 14 years, Phillips has worked in venerable Austin establishments such as The Driskill Hotel and Haddingtons and currently manages the beverage program at Eddie V’s Prime Seafood. He not only serves wine, he also makes wine called “Ground Up” from Texas Tempranillo and Touriga Nacional grapes tended and harvested by the team at Pedernales Cellars.

What was your first memorable wine? My first memorable wine was a sip of my mom’s Beringer White Zinfandel when I was around 10 years old. It was memorable because it was so bad. I can’t quite recall one wine that sent me down the rabbit hole. It was a natural progression with an endless quest to find wines that make me stop and look both inward and outward at the same time.   

What is your favorite “guilty pleasure” beverage? Like all somms, at the end of a long day serving our guests we want something clean and simple like beer, or a cold, classic martini. My guilty pleasure is a shot of really cold silver tequila (no salt, no lime, no mixology). 

Your favorite food and wine pairing? My go-to wine and food combo is spicy and sweet Asian with the classic off-dry wines of the world. I am super happy with Thai food and an assortment of Loire Chenin Blanc, German Riesling and fungus infected Alsatian beauties. 

What should Austinites drink right now? Everyone should be drinking wine, period. There has never been a better time in the history of wine to drink it in terms of quality and world representation. When treated right, wine is restorative, contemplative and, in turn, good for society. Every region and corner of the globe produces something special and we owe it to those producers to try it and give it its moment of silence.    

Nathan Prater, The Red Room LoungeNathan Prater, Sommelier and General Manager, Red Room Lounge
A native Austinite, Prater is currently the general manager of the Red Room Lounge, a hidden gem of vinous solitude. He began his education with the Court of Master Sommeliers in 2007, and after six years of dedicated study and practice, he sat for the Masters Exam in 2013, passing the service portion. He plans to take the other sections of the Masters Exam in Aspen, Colorado in mid-May. Part of his study is the pursuit of the perfect gin martini, which he calls the “elixir of quietude.”

What was your first memorable wine? A bottle of 1983 Château Lynch-Bages sparked my interest for wine, while a 1978 Bodegas Muga Prado Enea inspired the drive to become a sommelier. 

What is your favorite “guilty pleasure” beverage? A third gin martini.

Your favorite food and wine pairing? French rosé and escargot.

What should Austinites drink right now? Sidecars, Aviations, Micèl Prosecco, Domaine Houchart rosé or a Gibson with three onions.


Paula Rester, CongressPaula Rester, Wine Director, Congress

Paula Rester worked at Congress from its opening in December 2010 until January 2012 when she left to become the general manager of Vino Vino. In October 2012 Paula rejoined the Congress team as the Sommelier. Rester draws on her education as an actor at the University of Texas and her experience as a nightclub jazz singer to bring a spirit of performance and presentation to wine and food. She is a Certified Sommelier with the Court of Master Sommeliers and a Certified Specialist of Wine with the Society of Wine Educators.

What was your first memorable wine? Travaglini Gattinara, for the shape of the bottle and the aromatic nature of the Nebbiolo.

What is your favorite “guilty pleasure” beverage? Rye whiskey manhattans.

Your favorite food and wine pairing? Champagne and French fries.

What should Austinites drink right now? Rosè! Because (in my best Game of Thrones voice…) summer is coming. My favorites include Inman Family Endless Crush Olivet Grange Pinot Noir Rosè 2013 and Clos Cibonne Cotes du Provence Tibouren Rosè 2012.

June Rodil, Qui

June Rodil, Director of Operations, Qui
Rodil leads operations of Paul Qui’s flagship restaurant, Qui, and the multi-location casual concept, East Side King. She has an extensive wine background and has served as the beverage director for the Uchi Restaurant Group and Congress Austin. Rodil relishes the perfect pairing and believes that this can be accomplished when a chef and sommelier have mutual respect for each other and have the same goal: happy guests.

What was your first memorable wine? I first started really getting into wine and food when I was a server at the Driskill. I went in to dine there for a birthday celebration to see what the tasting menu was all about. I scoffed at the buttery Chardonnay that was on the tasting menu, but the simple butter poached halibut with tomatoes was transformed into something else altogether by the wine … It always reminds me not to turn my nose at a wine. There are definitely moments for each wine, and if not moments, then at least dishes that go well with it.

What is your favorite “guilty pleasure” beverage? A Lone Star tallboy and a shot of bourbon after a long shift. It gets me every time.

Describe your favorite food and wine pairing? Champagne, Champagne, Champagne, and anything! Champagne and French fries are a must. For complete dishes and something that I like to do at Qui, I suggest a red Burgundy with saba. It’s really a stunning pairing and one that I love introducing to people.  

What should Austinites drink right now? This is the season for rosé! Rosé in any style to satiate any palate. The range of grape flavors, texture and fruit concentration is huge. It’s available in everything from bubbles, to a salty, barely pink Côtes de Provence.

Dhal Smith, UchiDhal Smith, Beverage Director, Uchi/Uchiko
Smith joined Uchi in 2009, where his extensive travels in Asia fueled a fascination with the history and culture of the wine and sake on the menu. Rodil, who was beverage director at the time, encouraged Smith to become a certified sake professional. That education was the beginning of his passion for food and beverage pairings and how the right match can elevate the experience.

What was your first memorable wine? It was a Châteauneuf-du-Pape about six years ago with a former roommate who was a wine rep. I was struck by all that it had going on. There was great depth of fruit, leather, tar, savory, and it had this really meaty texture. They are still some of my favorite wines.

What is your favorite “guilty pleasure” beverage? Jameson. 

Your favorite food and wine pairing? I really love pairing sweeter wines with meat. Instead of red wine, choose Riesling Spätlese or Chenin Blanc that has some richness that goes great with beef, lamb and pork. The acid cuts right through the fat and the ripe fruit balances the savoriness. A pairing that I love to do at Uchi is a Norwegian mackerel with truffle oil and yellow tomato on top with Royal Tokaji dessert wine. The mackerel is quite gamey and savory along with the truffle and the fruit and acidity of the wine is a perfect match.   

What should Austinites drink right now? Craft beer is blowing up right now and I think that brewers are really pushing the boundaries seeking out new and different nuances. Whether it’s barrel-aging or the use of some indigenous yeast, beer is becoming so varied — and almost wine-like in some instances. For wine, I choose Riesling because it is so versatile and it’s possible to find one that will pair with almost anything. They will age for decades and continue to gain complexity.

Tickets for the third annual CultureMap Tastemaker Awards, which take place May 7 at Brazos Hall, are available here.

This story was originally published on CultureMap. Disclosure: I am a CultureMap Tastemaker Award Judge.

Photo Credits:

  • Craig Collins – photo courtesy of Nils Juul-Hansen
  • Josh Loving – photo courtesy of Bill Sallans
  • Bill Norris – photo courtesy of Bill Sallans
  • June Rodil – photo courtesy of Qui
  • Dhal Smith – photo courtesy of Uchi/Uchiko
  • All other photos by me.

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?

 

Mon Ideal: Arro has composed a classic French soundtrack that leaves you humming ooh la la

This story was originally published in the October issue of Austin Woman Magazine. Pick it up at your local newsstand. 

A good soundtrack can really make a road trip more memorable. There is nothing like drumming on the steering wheel to a string of excellent songs to make the miles tick by that much faster. The same thing can be true a t a restaurant where the service, the atmosphere, the food and the drinks come together in an alchemy that leaves an indelible impression. That’s what the new French restaurant, Arro, is striving for.

“When people come to Arro, we want them to feel like they are at a dinner party in our backyard,” Andrew Curren says. “When people come to our house, they know the food is going to be delicious without being pretentious. The way we do that at Arro is with a great team that pays attention to detail and brings a high level of hospitality.”

The Arro family is made up of handpicked talent. Staff comes not only from the other two ELM restaurants, 24 Diner and Easy Tiger Bake Shop & Beer Garden, but also from the pool of top food and wine pros in Austin. The general manager and director of operations have been with the Currens since the early days of 24 Diner. The sous chef attended culinary school with the Currens. Acclaimed Cheesemonger John Antonelli of Antonelli’s Cheese Shop runs the cheese program. Master Sommelier Craig Collins oversees the beverage program, and recently crowned Texas’ Best Sommelier, Scott Ota manages the floor. College roommates Curren and Collins have been dreaming about working together since they both fell in love with food and wine while studying in Italy in 2001. The bonds of friendship color the approach to building the staff.

“Our biggest asset is our people,” Curren says. “They pour their hearts in to making the experience at Arro feel like a dinner party. People want to be waited on and that’s what we love to do. Are we a wine restaurant because we have a Master Sommelier? No. Are we a foodie restaurant because we have a pastry chef? No. We are a hospitality restaurant.”

The next song that makes the playlist come together is the smart and thoughtful interior design, which gives Arro a relaxed yet refined atmosphere. Designer Veronica Koltuniak of VeroKoltis, who also designed 24 Diner and Easy Tiger, created a rustic, approachable and highly functional space using reclaimed objects liked cloth mailbags on the ceiling and a woven metallic wall.

CLASSICALLY FRENCH CUISINE

The standout track in the mix is the food. The seed of the idea for Arro was sown 10 years ago when Andrew and Mary Catherine Curren met while studying classical French cooking at the Culinary Institute of America in upstate New York. Since then, the French approach with farm-to- table ingredients has been the basis for how they have created menus. They felt that relaxed, flavorful, approachable, bistro-style food is a natural fit for Austin, where people want good food without much fuss.

“We want to demystify French food as just heavy cream and butter and show that it can be fresh and approachable,” Andrew Curren says. “We use fresh, local ingredients that are delivered four to five times a day because people care about the freshness and where food comes from.”

“We touch every plate and make sure everything is right,” Mary Catherine Curren adds. “I’m proud to put out food that I think is gorgeous and I’m excited for customers to eat it. It’s fun to do this with my husband.”

The French influence is evident in all aspects of the menu, starting with a completely French wine list and through to classic French desserts. There are six cheeses served à la carte, with five one-ounce wedges for $4, and always a cheese on the bottom of the list that is a full six-ounce, cave-aged wheel of cheese served with house-made bread and crackers. Arro is the only restaurant in town that serves a full wheel, and brings in unique and special cheeses from small producers. It’s possible to make a meal of just bread, cheese and wine and feel completely content. If you make it past the cheese course, you may linger for a long time on the starter selections.

From light and healthy morsels like an herb salad and vegetable tart to lobster bisque and frog legs, there are 11 mouth-watering dishes to choose from. Don’t miss the bone marrow. It’s not a gooey, gelatinous ectoplasmic residue in the middle of a donut-shaped dog bone. Nope. Arro serves it in a hollowed-out canoe bone mixed with herbs and roasted to give it a crispy crust. The nutty flavor pairs well with the Guigal Crozes- Hermitage syrah wine.

Grab a plate of grilled baby octopus while it’s still on the menu. The smokiness and brine of the bitty swimmers is balanced with creamy white beans and sweet roasted carrots. Nibble off each leg, one at a time. It’s fantastic with a glass of Cinsault de la Sanglière 2011 Cuvée Spéciale rosé.

On to the main courses. The seafood stew is Arro’s version of bouillabaisse, with hefty hunks of grouper canoodling with clams and mussels in a broth with tomatoes, saffron and cayenne. The stew begs for a slab of fresh bread to sop it up. Its complex flavors love the crisp acidity and tangerine bite of Domaine des Aubuisières Vouvray Cuvée de Silex Vouvray by the glass.

What would a French meal be without sweetbreads? Arro serves medallions of these delicious thymus glands and pancreas treats alternating with medallions of lamb cooked medium rare on a bed of lentils. It’s divine. The Deux Montille Bourgogne Rouge pinot noir tickles the right spots to bring out the best in the delicate, rich and fatty sweetbreads coupled with the meaty lamb.

FIFTY PERCENT OF GUESTS ORDER DESSERT

The Currens agree that no matter how good the main dinner items are, the hidden gems ar e the desserts. The cookie plate is easily overlooked, but it can be the best dessert to share. It has a little bit of everything, including fruit, chocolate and buttery goodness that goes perfect with French press coffee or a cordial.

Cordials? That’s right, It’s not just the sweets. Arro has a full cart of insanely tempting cordials—what, a choice of green or yellow Chartreuse?!?!— and a respectable list of dessert wines. There are some matches made in heaven, like the crème fraîche hazelnut panna cotta served with a petite glass of Les Clos de Paulilles Banyuls. The port-like wine brings out the coffee notes in the chocolate that might be otherwise overlooked. The Baumard Quarts de Chaume dessert wine is delectable with the lemon goat-cheese tart. It’s so good, it didn’t matter that it wasn’t chocolate.

DRAWING A CROWD

The service, the atmosphere and the delightful food and wine menu are drawing a crowd that is a cross section of Austin, with T-shirt-clad hipsters elbowed up to the bar next to gorgeous socialites decked out for a charity e vent alongside retirees out on a date. Any given night, you’re likely to see a who’s who of local luminaries , like Austin City Limits Producer Terry Lickona, or celebrated chefs like Paul Qui and Shawn Cirkiel. Recently, Bret McKenzie and Jemaine Clement, the New Zealand-based comedy duo known as Flight of the Conchords, spent the evening cracking jokes in the kitchen after performing in town with Dave Chappelle.

“We want to create fantastic restaurants that people can come to multiple times a w eek and not fuss about it,” Andrew Curren says. “We love to eat out. It’s by far our favorite thing to do after cooking. And we want to run restaurants that we would want to go to. We think we’ve done that.” The cohesive, family-like staff is orchestrating a fantastic playlist of hospitality, casual atmosphere, excellent food and a masterfully curated wine list to create a memorable dining experience.

Disclosure: Arro covered the cost of the meals for Beautiful Wife and me for this review. There was no expectation of a positive review based on the comp. 

What are you drinking? 

Arro Brings Excellent French Wine to West 6th Street

This week the new Arro restaurant hosted a series of soft openings before its official opening this Saturday. This casual French joint from the good folks who brought us 24 Diner, Easy Tiger, aka ELM Restaurant Group, is whipping up quite a buzz and landing lots of juicy reviews from salivating bloggers and journalists.

If you read this blog, you know damn well it’s not a food review site. The good news is that Arro has a kick-ass, all French wine list put together by Master Sommeliers, Craig Collins and Devon Broglie. West 6th is far better known for its bro bars and beer taps than for wine, with the exception of the stellar retail shop, Austin Wine Merchant. Arro is set to change that with a solid list.

Broglie and Collins assembled a line up of wines that will appeal to insouciant drinkers and serious wine aficionados alike. The list features 10 sparkling wines and Champagnes with five by the glass with prices starting at $10. Beautiful Wife and I started with Crémant de Bourgogne Brut Rosé – Simonnet Febvre  to go with our mussels and vegetable tart starters.

The white wine list has some of my favorite varieties from all over France. I had a hard time choosing from the 22 bottles and seven wines by the glass of Savignon Blanc, Riesling, Chenin Blanc, Pinot Gris, Marsanne, and Chardonnay. Luckily the brilliant Collins helped me choose the 2011 Domaine des Aubuisières “Cuvée de Silex” Vouvray to go with my Vol-Au-Ven with crawfish.

The red list made me hyperventilate with eight wines by the glass and 28 bottle selections from all over France. We were pouring over the Burgundy, Rhone and Bordeaux wines ranging from $10 to $14 by the glass and wanted to try them all. Collins paired the 2009 Maison Deux Montille Soeur et Frere Bourgogne with Duck Confit. Deelish.

I’m a huge fan of dessert cocktails and wines. The sticky sweets get me misty. Arro has a delightful Cordial Cart with all kinds of seductive after dinner drinks to pull you deeper into your seat. I chose a glass of 2009 Perrin Muscat Beaumes de Venise to go with my Dark Chocolate Pot de Creme. The Port-like wine was just the thing to seal the deal.

Beautiful Wife and I will be back many times to eat the delectable French chow from executive chef/partner, Andrew Curren, and more importantly, to work our way through that incredible wine list.

Disclosure: our meal was provided at no charge, but we paid for our wine.

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The holidays are upon us: A fantastic kickoff with Big Reds & Bubbles

You know what makes a kick-ass party? A soirée where you are greeted by a gorgeous lady dressed in an elaborate champagne-laden dress. A bash attended by lots happy people in festive clothing.  A bacchanalian festival with an absurdly huge selection of prestigious wines and delectable treats from 19 of Austin’s hottest chefs. That’s exactly the kind of party 350 people went to last night at the sold-out Big Reds & Bubbles held at the Driskill.

Big Reds & Bubbles is not only a party; it’s also a fundraiser for the Wine & Food Foundation of Texas, with dollars coming from ticket and silent auction. Sound like a perfect way to raise money. Get a bunch of wine aficionados and foodies lubricated with the good stuff and tempt them with the opportunity to “win” really nice wines like 1955 Bordeaux, 2000 vintage Dom Pérignon champagne, 3L and 5L large format bottles and cult wines and let the check books bleed.

Marshall Jones, Executive Director, looking suave as hell in a black velvet jacket, casually tells me the Foundation puts the money to good use. They pay out the fattest culinary scholarship and largest dedicated pastry scholarship in the country. In addition to that, the Foundation is the leading underwriter of the TexSom beverage conference. Spreading the fertilizer to grow the next crop of brilliant chefs and sommeliers is an august cause.

Big Reds is all about connecting people with the chefs and sommeliers that create fine dining experiences. Jones and foundation members know that great wine and food is dependent on a vibrant community. To get the event started on that path, they held a VIP tasting of four rosé champagnes hosted by Master Sommeliers, Craig Collins and Guy Stout. John Antonelli of Antonelli’s Cheese Shop described the cheeses paired with each wine. You can’t ask for a better educational experience.

There were plenty of opportunities to get up close and personal with the culinary elite. Celebrity Chef, Brad Sorenson, provided a bit of comic relief as the MC. He comes across as a young and handsome version of Conan O’Brien with his boisterous personality and tall, lanky form. Brad caught the eye of the Wine & Food Foundation when he was a contestant on season 6 of The Next Food Network Star and Chopped! He is getting more involved in the Austin culinary scene and was visibly excited to talk about his plans to open Nova Bar on Rainey street in April 2012. The two-story, 100-seat eatery will present an elevated take on bar food. Everything will be done from scratch, including the inventive cocktails created with loving care by mixologist, JC Rodriguez.  At Big Reds he drew attention to some gems from A-list chefs and stand-out wines like the father and son duo Jack Allen Kitchen Executive Chef, Jack Gilmore, and Barley Swine Chef, Bryce Gilmore.

It turns out the Foundation has been throwing this bash every year for nine years. Big Reds & Bubbles got its start as way to kick off the holidays. Since the start Glazer’s has partnered with the Foundation to introduce its stand-out wines like 2008 Nickel & Nickel Cabernet, 2007 Chateau Montelena and 2008 Dunn Vineyards to average Joes. If you ask this average Joe, it’s a fantastic way to ring in the holiday bender season.

So who was out sipping bubbles and red wine from 85 different wineries? It was a great mix of wine industry types, like Master Sommelier Craig Collins, Pedernales Cellars President, Fredrik Osterberg, Foundation board members and lots of people eager to have a great time. Here is a selection of some of the pretty faces in the crowd.

Me with Marshall Jones, Wine & Food Foundation Executive Director

 

Lamarca Prosecco Lady starts things off

 

Celebrity Chef Brad Sorenson
Barley Swine chef, Bryce Gilmore with his dad Jack Allen Kitchen chef Jack Gilmore

 

 

11. Scott Ota, Advanced Sommelier for the Driskill Grill, Bill Elsey, TexSom Texas Best Sommelier 2011 and Craig Collins, Master Sommelier

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Paulina Tavera and Mark Bergeron
Dominique and Will Douglas
Steve Tipton, Wine & Food Foundation President and Michael Russel, Foundation Board Member.

 

 

 

 

Me with the gorgeous Jennifer Grathwohl, Foundation Events Director
Jane Rash, Rob Reynolds, Carol Willis and Shae Anami
Lauren Bridges and Wim Rouwet

 

This article also appears on CultureMap Austin, without the funky formatting problems.

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