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? 

Rippin through the rosé with Devon Broglie

Devon BroglieNothing beats a glass of delicate and lovely pink wine on a warm day. Master Sommelier and global beverage buyer for Whole Foods, Devon Broglie, led a packed house through a tasting of seven rose wines in his session, “Rosé by Any Other Name,” at the 2015 Austin Food & Wine Festival.

Broglie started his session by using the Champagne saber left by Mark Oldman to slash open a bottle of Bolligner rosé to the delight of the crowd. After the Champagne, attendees were treated to a range of wines from Texas, Washington, Sicily, Spain and the holy grail of rosé, Provence. The bold Artazu from the Navara region of Spain was a standout, with big, bold flavors.

 

Related 2015 Austin Food & Wine Festival Articles: 

What are you drinking? 

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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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?

 

Forget Sochi: Elite sommeliers compete in ‘wine Olympics’ during Somms Under Fire

Diane Dixon and Devon Broglie

In just over two weeks, some of the world’s best athletes will compete in the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. Whether it’s speed skating or snowboarding, the one thing that is certain is that the athletes have trained like mad to make it to the big stage. Here in Austin, we’re hosting a mini Olympics of our own. But this is for wine. Three sommeliers will battle in a test of wine and food pairings in Somms Under Fire on January 26, at the AT&T Executive Education & Conference Center on the University of Texas campus.

To earn a spot in the competition, more than two dozen applicants from nine states took an insanely difficult — and timed — written exam testing their wine knowledge. The three people who scored highest and will now go head-to-head are advanced sommelier, Paula de Pano, of Fearrington House in Pittsboro, North Carolina,  advanced sommelier Nathan Prater, of Wines.com in Austin, Texas, and certified sommelier James Watkins of Cordua Restaurants in Houston, Texas.

“Becoming a sommelier and competing in this contest takes an incredible amount of training,” said Devon Broglie, the Somms Under Fire emcee. “Any sommelier that wants to compete in this event has to make sacrifices while accepting an overhanging cloud that they might not be successfully achieve it. Just like with the Olympics, there is no guarantee that the hard work will pay off. These three have the pressure of not only knowing their wine, but also performing in front of an audience and a panel of judges including two master sommeliers.”

Somms Under Fire Burgundy WinesThe judging panel will be more intimidating than a Russian figure skating judge. Global wine consultant, Peter Wasserman, returns from Burgundy to serve as judge. He will be joined by James Beard Award winning wine writer, Jordan McKay, from San Francisco, Copain winemaker, Wells Guthery, from Sonoma County and the winemaker from Castiglione Falletto Winery, Elisa Scavino, from Piedmont, Italy.

Now in its third year, Somms Under Fire is no longer drawing only local contestants. As the event grows in notoriety, it is attracting a national audience. In fact the three stand-by contestants are from Atlanta, Chicago and Washington D.C. It doesn’t hurt that the Grand Prize is a one-week internship in Burgundy, France led by Master of Wine and Burgundy expert, Jasper Morris.

There will be local flavor as contestants to pair three courses created by Chef Shawn Cirkiel of Parkside Projects  (ParksideOlive & JuneBackspace and the forthcoming Chavez) paired by the contestants with wines from around the world. Guests will get to sample each wine and food combination.

Diane Dixon, founder of Keeper Collection, LLC, the event organizer, said, “Shawn is a huge proponent of treating food and wine professionally. He wanted to participate in this event to have his food associated with wine professionals who know how to match wine with great food. The fun will be that the sommeliers will be surprised by the food he prepares and the types of wine available to pair with it.”

In addition to being judged on wine and food pairings, the sommeliers will also have a second challenge in their beverage biathlon. The QuickMix Cocktail Challenge will test the sommeliers’ ability to make a delicious drink using saké instead of spirits. Bartender Jason Stevens of Congress Austin, returns to judge the “saketail” competition. The contestants will create their own recipe using no more than two ounces of sake to make a three ounce cocktail using no other spirits. Ingredients can cost no more than $1.00 per drink. Stevens will award points not only for the flavor, but also for the sommeliers’ story about how the ingredients selected reflect their personality. Audience members get to drink the results.

The whole event starts with a one hour VIP session hosted by noted Burgundy expert, Peter Wasserman, who will pour five classic vintages of Burgundy wines. He will describe how weather affects each vintage, how sub-regions vary in style and give guests tips on learning to love this coveted French wine region.

The VIP session for 2014 Somms Under Fire Competition begins at 5 pm and the general admission for the wine and food pairing event starts at 6 pm on Sunday. VIP tickets are $125 and General Admission are $60.   The Wine & Food Foundation of Texas is a presenting partner.

This story was originally posted on CultureMap.

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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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Austin’s top sommeliers test skills in Somms Under Fire food and wine pairing competition

Devon Broglie and Diane Dixon Somms Under FireImagine staring at a menu that lists an entrée of roast lamb served with artichokes, goat cheese and cinnamon spiced spinach. Your job is to match the perfect wine that will accentuate the flavors and textures of the food. But wait, you have to do this under the scrutiny of three judges, led by Jason Stevens of Bar Congress, and a room full of eager spectators. The pressure is on.

That’s exactly what will happen Sunday, January 27 at the Driskill Hotel when three of the top sommeliers in town will test their skills in a live competition called Somms Under Fire. The event is held to show off the deft touch of Austin wine professionals whose education and experience make it second nature to find the right wine to pair with the most nuanced of dishes.

In its second year, Somms Under Fire, produced by Keeper Collectionand The Wine & Food Foundation of Texas, audience members get in on the act by sampling each course prepared by Chef Jonathan Gelman, as well as by trying out the different wine pairings. Think of it as a live version of Top Chef, only you get to taste the results.

Event organizer, Diane Dixon of Keeper Collection and event emcee and Master Sommelier Devon Broglie shared the details about Somms Under Fire while we did a comparative tasting of six incredible wines at her home. The setting was exactly as Dixon imagines her event: casual, not fussy, in an easy-going atmosphere that makes it easy to enjoy the intricacies of amazing wines.

“It’s really fun when you know wine a little bit and then have an opportunity to share a deep conversation about the wine with a real expert. How often do you get to hear a Master Sommelier just talk about wine off the cuff? That’s what Somms Under Fire is all about.”

Broglie has been involved with the event from its inception. He sees it as an entertaining way for people to learn more about food and wine. “The competition is about demystifying wine and the role of the sommelier in helping people appreciate and love wine. We want to help people discover wine that enhances their dinner and their overall experience.”

Bill Elsey  Somms Under Fire ContestantTo land a spot in the event, competitors had to meet professional wine industry requirements and pass a timed, multiple choice and essay exam that measured their extensive wine knowledge. While Dixon wouldn’t say how many people applied to compete, she did say, “We had more entrants and more educated entrants than before. Many of the contestants have pursued multiple education paths in the Court of Master Sommeliers, Certified Specialists of Wine and Wine and Spirit Education Trust.”

The competitors who made the grade this year are Advanced Sommelier Nathan Prater and Certified Sommelier Scott Ota, both of The Driskill Hotel and The Driskill Grill in Austin, and Advanced Sommelier Bill Elsey of The Red Room Lounge in Austin. These three guys know the others’ strengths very well — they are good friends and have been studying for various sommelier exams and competitions for two years now.

Each of the three sommeliers competing in Somms Under Fire expressed gratitude to Dixon, who they call the “Fairy Godmother of Austin Sommeliers” for her work to promote excellence among wine professionals.

Nathan Prater Somms Under Fire ContestantThey may be friends, but that doesn’t dampen their competitive spirit. In 2011, Elsey and Prater finished first and second in the Best Sommelier in Texas 2011 competition at the Texas Sommeliers Conference (TEXSOM).

Prater acknowledged that he’s not eager to be a runner up to Elsey again. He confidently asserted, “I’m going to win the Quickfire cocktail competition.” Ota quickly agreed, but added, “I’m going to kill the three course pairing competition.” Not to be bested, Prater counter, “No, I’m going to win that too. Bill will just be awarded for the ‘Best Looking.’”

It turns out that the sommeliers won’t be judged on looks. Dixon explained, “The winner is the one who communicates best with the audience, connects and demonstrates why they chose a particular wine to pair with a dish. The winner will bridge the gap between the technical wine information and what the diner really wants.”

When asked who he wants to beat more, Elsey responded, “I’m super stoked to be competing against Scott and Nathan. I want to beat both of them equally. It’s about bragging rights in our study group.”

There is more to it than bragging rights. The winner will receive a Grand Prize Package of a wine internship in Burgundy under the tutelage of France with author, Master of Wine and Burgundy expert, Jasper Morris.

Scott Ota Somms Under Fire ContestantPerhaps Prater and Ota will have a little bit of home court advantage with the event being held at the Driskill. The venue was chosen before the competitors applied. The Driskill has shown a concerted interested in hosting events that support the food and wine community. Just a week after Somms Under Fire, the Driskill Hotel will host the Court of Master Sommeliers Level I and Level II exams.

Proceeds from the event will benefit the TEXSOM Conference, which fosters education for sommeliers, promotes wine service standards, furthers wine education and raises public awareness of the professional wine industry.

General Admission tickets cost $55 and will get you in to both the Quickfire cocktail competition and main Somms Under Fire competition that includes wines and food from 6 to 8 p.m. VIP tickets run $100 and include access to the Taste Like A Master pre-event tasting hosted by master sommeliers Devon Broglie and the event judges from 5 to 6 p.m. The VIP tasting is limited to 70 people seats, so grab your tickets quickly.

 This story was originally published on CultureMap.

Duchman Family Winery Releases 2010 Vermentino

Good things come to those who wait. I’ve always thought that was an inane cliché. An excuse to procrastinate. And procrastinate I do. Hell, I didn’t even get a birthmark until I was 12.

Sometimes good things do come in time. I recently visited the tasting room at Duchman Family Winery and its stand-out white wine, Vermentino, was sold out. I couldn’t buy any to take home and taste at my leisure and had to go to Bar Lamar in Whole Foods to get a glass to review. Oh the trials and tribulations of being a wine blogger. Fortunately Duchman has just released the 2010 vintage to end the horrible dry spell.

It turns out it’s not just me who has been waiting for the release. I spent a lovely evening at TRIO in the Austin Four Seasons tasting the new vintage of Duchman Vermentino with wine aficionados Jeremy Parzen (@DoBianchi), Nicole Carbon (@FabulousDrinks) and Master Sommelier, Devon Broglie (@dbrogues). We were doted upon by the brilliant Four Seasons sommelier, Mark Devin Sayre (@MarkDevinSayre).  Apparently it’s true that good things come to those who wait. The 2010 Vermentino was worth the wait.

Duchman Family Winery Vermentino 2010

Duchman Vermentino  is a well-received Texas wine, receiving accolades from national wine reviewers and getting the stamp of approval from local taste-makers Devon Broglie and Mark Sayre who both serve it by the glass at Whole Foods and TRIO respectively. The 2010 is true to its reputation. Duchman winemaker, Dave Riley, says 2010 is a great vintage for Texas wines. The relatively lower summer heat and lack of spring frost lead to a great harvest in the Bingham Family Vineyard with quality yields. Quality fruit leads to quality wine.

Look Very light yellow with shimmering clarity.
Smell Duchman Vermentino has bright lemon, sea breeze and honeysuckle scent.
Taste Crisp acidity, peach, and a hint of vanilla with a lingering bitterness of lemon zest on the pleasant finish. It has good balance of acidity and fruit.  This is a phone call from your college roommate. A spirited conversation peppered with jokes, making the minutes melt into boisterous laughter. It’s light, enjoyable and worth another.
Price $15

 

The new vintage of Duchman Vermentino was officially released on November 16th, 2011 and can be found around Texas at the following locations:

  • Duchman Family Winery (Driftwood)
  • Backstreet Café (Houston)
  • Sigel’s #1, #4, #5, and #9 (Dallas)
  • Fairmont Hotel (Dallas)
  • Trevisio (Houston)
  • Brenner’s on the Bayou (Houston)
  • Central Market Westheimer (Houston)
  • Plonk Bistro (Houston)
  • Whole Foods Gateway (Austin)
  • Whole Foods Lamar (Austin)
  • East End Wines (Austin)
  • Central Market Westgate (Austin)

 What are you drinking?

A Masters in Drinking

In college I had friends that were on the 5+ year plan. They seemed to spend more time drinking than studying and took their sweet time to graduate. We used to joke that they were getting a Masters in Drinking. It turns out you can get a Masters of Drink, well sort of.

People who take their jobs in the hospitality, restaurant and beverage industry very seriously, can go through a four level education process through the Court of Master Sommeliers. If they have mad skills in the wine and spirits world and can satisfactorily pass the exams in each level, they earn the Master Sommelier diploma – an honor held by only 180 people worldwide. A few weeks ago, 63 people took the Master Sommelier exam, consisting of three parts: 1. a practical restaurant wine service section, 2. an oral theory section and 3. a blind tasting of six wines. Only six bad-asses passed the third and final section of the Master test. Two of them live right here in Austin, Texas. 

Craig Collins and Devon Broglie earn Master Sommelier Diploma

Why would anyone study for years, spend thousands of bucks on materials and thousands more on the exams to become a Master Sommelier? I met Devon Broglie, specialty coordinator for the Southwest region for Whole Foods Markets, and Craig Collins, regional manager for Prestige Wine Cellars, over beers at Bar Lamar to talk about their motivation, the achievement and what it means to them.  

MATT MCGINNIS: How did you get started in with wine industry?

DEVON BROGLIE: I took a lot of acting courses in college and read that if you can think of anything else, other than acting, that you truly love and can make a living doing it, do that. Acting is painful. It’s a hard career. The wine industry is the same way. I’m too in love with the beverage industry to do anything else.

CRAIG COLLINS: You’re too in love with the beverage.

BROGLIE: Yeah, I drink for a living. I love it. I respect that there is a lot more to success in the industry. Achieving Master Sommelier certification is validation of that. 

COLLINS: I started in the wine industry because I thought it was a good way to meet woman. I was a student at Texas A&M and had never had a glass of wine in my life before entering the business. When I turned 21, I went to Messina Hof Winery to apply for a job. I fell in love with Texas wine and 14 years later I’m still in love with the wine industry.

BROGLIE: I started off in restaurant business. I went to Duke and got a double major in psychology and economics. With that, I made a career choice of bus boy. I started working for a wonderful restaurateur and Duke grad before my senior year and loved it. I pursued a career in the restaurant business for five years after college. In 2000 I moved to Spain and worked at a winery, Bodegas Costers del Siurana. I developed an interest in wine through the restaurant business, but didn’t know about production. I learned a lot working at the winery. I came out of the experience not wanting to be a winemaker, but with an incredible appreciation for the wine biz and for what it means to be a wine guy.  

MCGINNIS: How did you two meet and start studying for the Master Sommelier exams together?

COLLINS: I moved to Austin in May of 2005, and Devon moved here in January 2005 to open flagship Whole Foods store.

BROGLIE: OK, can I tell this story? I met Craig when he came to town with Prestige Cellars. He was putting on a tasting from 2 to 5 pm. I showed up about midway through and it and the tasting had already turned into a happy hour and the wine supply was diminishing. I was totally unhappy because it wasn’t a professional setting.

COLLINS: He was pissed and he left. Anyway, we both started studying at the same. We took the introductory exam within 6 months of each other. I took it in 2001 and Devon in 2002.

BROGLIE: I went to audit the 3rd level Master Sommelier Course and while doing that I met Guy Stout, a Master Somm from Houston. Guy advised me to meet Craig Collins to study together. Really? So despite my previous impression, I called him. And get this, he was equally as hesitant. Craig grilled me with healthy skepticism before we did anything else. We met to make sure we were both serious about it. In our intro meeting Craig pulls this fat binder of wine notes out and shows me all of his hand-drawn maps and hand-written wine notes and said, “This, this is the stuff we need to study.” I knew, this guy is serious.

We started a study group in the Whole Foods global offices and met every Monday at 8 am. We studied theory one section of the world at a time: Bordeaux, Rhone and other regions for weeks at a time. We each brought a couple wines each week for blind taste tests. Individuals have come and gone from the group over the years, and now there are other study groups in the city.

COLLINS: Pursuing the Master Sommelier certification is an individual endeavor, but it takes support to get there. I’ve received a lot of mentorship and direction from others in the court nationwide. I feel like it is my obligation and my privilege to reach out to other Somms to pass that help along. I want offer assistance and describe my own path to help other people achieve it.

BROGLIE: This is a great achievement and honor I’ve been bestowed. I want to pass it on too. It’s amazing that we taught our first Court of Master Sommeliers’ course only two weeks after we were certified at TEXSOM.

MCGINNIS: Craig, you started your career with a love of Texas wine and Devon you got started with a love of Spanish wine. Over the years, what new discoveries have you made in the wine world that were unexpected?

COLLINS: One recent discovery is that I am still turned on daily to new things. A specific example of a discovery is  about Sauvignon Blanc. I’ve never liked it, but my wife loves it. We took a trip to Friuli in north east Italy and fell in love with the wine made there. They make wine with the Friulana grape which is an aromatic grape and a member of the Sauvignon family. I love Friuli and can drink it all the time. It’s fun to let yourself be introduced to new wine. Wine is a discovery. As long as you’re willing to learn and discover, you’ll find new things.

BROGLIE:  There is no wine that I can’t find an occasion for. That goes for anything from White Zin to Grand Cru Burgundy. There is a time and a place for every wine. That is a journey I have come to through my career as a wine professional. That mind-set allows me the experience to connect with anyone over wine. I participated in a program called Masters Napa for people who had passed the 3rd level, but have not achieved the title of Master Sommelier. One of the seminars was conducted by a member of the family that owns Sutter Home wines and we drank and appreciated White Zin. That was a good discovery and it keeps me grounded in the business and humble and understanding of a broad audience.  

Some people look down on inexpensive, mass produced wines, but any wine that people like is a good exposure to wine. There is too much pretentiousness in wine. It’s not about the $60 bottle of wine. It’s about the experience of finding a wine you like that you can afford to enjoy.

MCGINNIS: What do you do or experience differently now that you have a deeper knowledge of wine?

COLLINS: Flavor. It’s not about good and bad. Flavor is very important, but the structure of the wine is just as important. The balance of alcohol, acid and tannin with the fruit. If a wine is balanced and round, I enjoy it more than just for the flavor. Flavor is definitely where I started. Balanced structure is not what I expected to appreciate in the early days.

BROGLIE: It’s surprising how different a wine can taste during a basic analytic exercise from when it’s enjoyed outside that exercise. General consumers bring this up all the time. “I had this wine in Italy and it tasted better over there.” We call it the honeymoon affect. The actual enjoyment of wine is about the experience. How much we like a wine is very tied to the experience we have with the wine, the setting, the time, how we feel. It’s fascinating. That’s a discovery that has come out of the process of learning about wine.

MCGINNIS: How does being a Master Somm influence how you help people choose wine?

BROGLIE: Achieving the Master Somm certification doesn’t change how I do my job. What the process entails is a validation of the professionalism. As a retail buyer, it is important to understand the need for balance in the selection. That balance can come from a lot of places. Consumer preference is one of those factors. That’s not a judgment call on the quality. Some wine may not be commercially approachable, but I know they are great so I puts it out there to see if people like it. The biggest piece, where the training does come in, is in the selection of the higher end wines. I want to select wines that are great examples of classic wines from classic regions and that taste how they should taste. We have limited space for that category, so I want the best representation of that wine for the space. The wine has to be stylistically representative.   

COLLINS: The way I recommend wine to a restaurateur or a friend hasn’t changed. I want to give the individual something they enjoy and know that trust recommendations in the future. It’s been a 10 year endeavor and the pursuit of the certification has allowed me to be better at the consulting role over the years. The only thing that has changed over the past three weeks since achieving the Master Somm designation is that people believe me more and more people seek my advice. It’s still the same honest advice in a consultative role that I’ve had in the past. It’s a role of mutual respect and trust.  

MCGINNIS: Did your mom cut out articles about you achieving Master Somm and hang it on the refrigerator?

BROGLIE: I called mom first and then started calling other family members. By the time I called the third relative she already knew because it had spread on Facebook. I had to send the clippings to mom, because they didn’t run it in the paper where she lives and she doesn’t have access to internet.  

COLLINS: I went to my 96 years old Grandma’s house right after I became a Master Somm and she had Jeremy Parzen’s blog post printed and sitting on the table. It was cute.  

MCGINNIS: Who would win in arm-wrestling contest?

COLLINS: Devon.  

BROGLIE: I’m a lover not a fighter.

MCGINNIS: If you had to take one bottle of wine home with you tonight, what would it be?

BROGLIE: You have to try this 2009 Tenuta Delle Terre Nere Etna Rosso, which is an Etna Rosso DOC wine made on Sicily’s Mount Etna.

He was right. That wine is deelish.

I really enjoyed the great conversation I had with these two humble men who are seriously dedicated to excellence in the beverage industry, I was truly impressed. I’m glad I could share their conversation with you. Their passion for the business and for sharing excellent wine experiences with other people was incredibly endearing. These are guys I’d drink a bottle or two with any time.  

What are you drinking?