Ray Isle teaches to taste wine like a pro

Ray IsleEven the executive wine editor of the venerable Food & Wine Magazine, Ray Isle, was an absolute wine neophyte in early adulthood. “I grew up in a household in Houston where my dad drank beer and occasionally Bourbon. I didn’t have any experience with wine.” He has learned a lot over the years and passed along his wisdom to demystify wine in the session, “Become a Wine Expert in 45 Minutes” at the 2015 Austin Food & Wine Festival,

The first way to become a wine expert is to taste the wine rather than just drink it. The difference is that when you taste it, you actually think about what you smell and taste. Seems straightforward enough. To get the most out of tasting, Isle shared a few easy tips:

  • Swirling wine in your glass leaves a thin coating of wine inside the glass, which allows it to give off more aromas thereby making it easier to smell.
  • Now that you’ve swirled it, stick your nose in the glass and think about what it smells like.
  • Taste has everything to do with smell. When you slurp a wine and swish it around in your mouth, the vapors are able to better get into the nasal passages. That helps you taste a lot more of the flavors in the wine.

Pairing wine with food can be daunting, but not with Isle’s expert advice.

  • Match the weight of the wine with the weight of the food. Light foods go better with crisp, light wines. Big foods are better with big wines, regardless of whether they are red or white.
  • Any food that you would squeeze lemon onto, like fish, will go well with Sauvignon Blanc.
  • Avoid pairing sweet foods with highly acidic, tart wines.

According to Isle, the three worst food and wine pairings on earth are:

  1. Wedding cake and Champagne
  2. Oily fish and tannic red wines, like Cabernet Sauvignon
  3. Artichokes and any wine. “Artichokes are born thinking, ‘I’m going to find some wine and fuck it up.’”

Drink like a pro

Related 2015 Austin Food & Wine Festival Articles: 

What are you drinking? 

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? 

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


What are you drinking? 


Food Comes First at the Austin Food & Wine Festival

IMG_0169The talent line up for the third annual Austin FOOD & WINE Festival, April 25-27, 2014 was announced this week. It features a star-studded list of local and national culinary pros starting with the organizing chefs Tim Love (Lonesome Dove Western Bistro, Woodshed Smokehouse, Queenie’s Steakhouse, Love Shack, White Elephant Saloon); Tyson Cole (Uchi & Uchiko); and restaurateur Jesse Herman (La Condesa & Sway). The importance placed on food and the excellent talent level mirror the up-and-coming culinary scene in Austin.

The Fest organizers held a preview lunch at Contigo to trot out some of the stellar talent and show off the food. This media event demonstrated just how important Food is to the Fest. All of the organizing chefs were on hand along with chefs serving up nibbles including Jason Dady (Jason Dady Restaurant Group), David Bull (Congress, Second Bar + Kitchen & Bar Congress), John Bates (Noble Sandwiches), Jack Gilmore (Jack Allen’s Kitchen), Mike Lata (FIG & The Ordinary), Chris Shepherd (Blue Ginger & Blue Dragon) and the Contigo host, Andrew Wiseheart who wowed the crowd by roasting a whole pig in the parking lot. The nibbles were fantastic.

Tim Love -Mike Lata- Andrew Wiseheart - Chris Shepherd

There will be more than 40 events at the fest, including hands-on grilling demonstrations, two interactive fire pits, panel discussions and of course the Grand Tasting tents. On top of that there will be food fiestas like Feast Under the Stars on Thursday night, the Taste of Texas on Friday and the Rock Your Taco competition on Saturday.




OK, what about the drinks?

Oh, and there are also a handful of excellent wine industry pros on the list too. The importance placed on wine in no way reflects the burgeoning wine scene in Austin. At this Fest Food is clearly first and Wine is there to wash it down. Foodies will rejoice. Winos may weep.

The good news is that there is top notch talent. The Fest brings back four fan favorites from the past two years: FOOD & WINE magazine’s executive wine editor Ray Isle, wine writer and TV personality, Mark Oldman and the two most handsome master sommeliers in Austin Devon Broglie and Craig Collins. The new talent this year includes Frontera Grill sommelier, Jill Gubesch, the gorgeous sommelier from the soon to open LaV, Vilma Mazaite and the cocktail master from La Condesa and Sway Nate Wales.

The bad news is that there won’t be nearly as many wine and beverage sessions as food. The full program won’t be announced until February 25, but all indications are that there will be some similar panels from previous years and some changes. There will be winners and losers.

  • Win: There is a Mixology session and a Texas Spirits session on the schedule. No word on the talent or providers yet, but these are bound to be excellent programs. We are fortunate to have many excellent bartenders and fantastic distillers in Austin to choose from to present at the Fest. Prediction — Tim Love will crash a session and do his Shot Roulette where he pours tequila shots for 9 blindfolded contestants and one shot of canola oil for the tenth unlucky bastard.
  •  Lose: Likely the first casualty will be the Texas wine panel. It’s been great to see our local wines on the big stage for the past two years, but change is inevitable. Prediction — a handful of Texas wine die-hards will bemoan the passing loudly and will boycott the Fest. I’ll make sure to hit up the Texas wines in the Grand Tasting tent.
  • Win: Broglie and Collins will likely scheme a new topic that appeals to broad audience of wine lovers and novices alike to replace the Texas wine panel. These guys are not only two of the most knowledgeable wine experts in the world, but they are great presenters. Something good will happen in their Sunday afternoon session. Prediction — one or both of them will wear colorful pants.
  • Lose: While Mark Oldman is highly entertaining, his sessions have been pretty light-weight the past two years. The Fest draws an educated crowd that deserves a presentation that goes far deeper than Oldman delivers. I bet he’s more than eye-candy and actually knows his stuff. But I also bet he underestimates his audience yet again. Prediction — Oldman reprises his “bring the audience member onto the stage to saber a bottle of Champagne” bit. Its great showmanship.
  • Win: There is a space on the schedule for a craft beer session again this year on Saturday, but no brewers or talent has been announced. Let’s hope it’s not a naval gazing session on the state of the craft beer industry, but instead something really fun like a food and beer pairing session put on by some of the gifted Austin brewmasters. Prediction — Chris Troutman, one of the founders of the fantastic Austin Beer Guide, will actually show up at an event that isn’t fully dedicated to beer just to see this one panel.
  • Lose: According to the current schedule there are not any sessions dedicated to showcasing great culinary talent and wine talent together. It’s as if the organizers believe people actually eat food without pairing the right wine with it. Prediction — hungry wine lovers will mob the fire pits between sessions and thirsty foodies will get smashed in the Grand Tasting tents between sessions. The vast majority of attendees that love both food and wine will be disappointed that the worlds are separate.

What are you most looking forward to at this year’s Fest? Tickets are on sale now. Prediction — I’ll take a ton of pictures, will attend every wine and beverage session held and will sadly miss the incredible cooking demonstrations yet again this year.

What are you drinking?


Superstar Wines at the Austin Food & Wine Festival

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are you drinking? 

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

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

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

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

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

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