10th Annual TEXSOM Highlights


Its like Christmas in August, or, summer camp for wine pros. The tenth anniversary of the Texas Sommelier Conference, AKA TEXSOM, held at the Four Seasons Hotel Resort and Club Dallas at Las Colinas drew 900 sommeliers and wine enthusiasts to participate in educational seminars, wine tastings and tons of fun networking.

This year  39 Master Sommeliers, 10 Certified Wine Educators and six Masters of Wine presented 23 seminars on beverage topics. Highlights for me included:

  • A panel exploring lesser-known regions of the United States that are making bad-ass wines presented by Sally Mohr MS, Guy Stout MS, Paul Lukacs, Wayne Belding MS, Marguerite Thomas, Kathy Morgan MS, moderated by Alfonso Cevola CSW. The Colorado Syrah and Texas wines stood out for me.
  • A fun session tasting of Napa Valley wines led by Master of Wine Peter Marks who did it Jeopardy style.
  • A tasting of the ridiculously delicious, but impossible to get wines of Portugal led by Master Sommeliers Devon Broglie and Keith Goldston.
  • An incredibly enlightening session on the most dynamic producers in Chile and Argentina presented by Craig Collins MS and Peter Neptune MS, AIWS, CWE.
  • A seminar and tasting on the Italian sparkling wine region Franciacorta led by Charles Curtis MW and Michael Franz, editor of Wine Review Online.
  • And the pièce de résistance, a retrospective tasting of ’75, ’77, ”80, ’87, ’91, ’97, ’05 and 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon from Chappellet Winery with Frederick L. Dame MS, Jay James MS, and Cyril Chappellet. Crazy good wines.

The whole thing is capped off with a Grand Tasting sponsored by the Wine & Food Foundation of Texas where the winner of the Texas’s Best Sommelier Competition is announced. Here are a few images from the Grand Tasting.

My favorite part of the event is talking with Texas winemakers and wine pros from around the world before and after the sessions. Enjoy the images of this spectacular conference.

Disclosure: I was provided a media pass to attend this conference at no charge.

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Cowboys + Gauchos is a Carnivore and Wine Lover Paradise


Boar's Head at Cowboys + GauchosHundreds of hungry Texans filled the grounds of the Salt Lake Pavilion on Sunday, February 24, for the Wine & Food Foundation of Texas’ third annual Cowboys + Gauchos. It was fantastic event featuring whole roasted antelope, wild boar, goat and lamb as well as dozens of wine from Texas, Uruguay and Argentina. Check out my previous story on What Are You Drinking?

Here are a few of the scenes from the event.

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Cowboys + Gauchos showcases Texan and Southern American cuisine at Salt Lick Pavilion

Nothing is more quintessentially Texan than the cowboy. This Sunday, February 24, cowboy culture from Texas and South America will be on display in all its finery at the Salt Lick Pavilion at Cowboys + Gauchos, an event hosted by the Wine and Food Foundation of Texas.

From 12 p.m. to 4 p.m., the public is invited to don boots and cowboy hats, while feasting on antelope, lamb and wild boar that have been roasted whole over open fires. There will be plenty of wine from more than a dozen Texan and Uruguayan wineries to wash it down. I have to say this is definitely one of my favorite food and wine events of the year. There is a sick amount of excellent food, the location is incredibly chill and the people are in a great mood. Check out my photos from last year’s event.

In its third year, Cowboys + Gauchos brings together several prominent chefs to show off impressive traditional Texan and Southern American cooking techniques, such as roasting whole animals on giant iron rigs. The event was inspired by Francis Mallmann’s book Seven Fires: Grilling the Argentine Way, and brought to life by Wine & Food Foundation of Texas Board Member, Howard Kells.

Roast pig at Cowboys + GauchosKells was fascinated by the concept of bringing together Texas and South American barbecue and wines in an outdoor event. He successfully built his own enormous iron grilling structure, patterned after Mallmann’s, and has cooked  a whole calf and whole elk at past Cowboys + Gauchos events.

This year guests will feast on South Texas Nilgai Antelope from Broken Arrow Ranch, lambs and a wild boar from IO Ranch and South Texas style cabrito prepared by Chef Jack Gilmore (Jack Allen’s Kitchen). The mouth-watering spectacle of roast meats continues with pork bellies from El Chile, beef tongue cooked by El Alma and various other treats from Café Josie, Fore, Live Oak Barbecue, Estancia Churrascaria and Sentelli’s Sweets.

Game guide and outdoor chef, Christopher “Tink” Pinkard, will roast a 100 pound pig. “I will start cooking my pig at 4 a.m. on my portable Cuban-style grill using mesquite for heat and pecan for smoke. Before cooking it I’ll brine the pig in a mixture of salt, sugar and water for 72 hours, which keeps it nice and moist,” says Pinkard. He recommends Pinot Noir or Cabernet to pair with his boar, but acknowledges beer is a great choice, too. “I can’t cook those pigs for eight to 10 hours without a beer.”

Live music and wineries will ensure a festive scene in the pavilion. Guest can try a selection of wine from Texas wineries such as Cap Rock Winery, David Mayfield Selections, Duchman Family Winery, Fall Creek Vineyards, Flat Creek Estate Winery, Hye Meadow Winery, Pedernales Cellars, Spicewood Vineyards and William Chris Vineyards. This year there will also be five wineries from Uruguay on hand including Juanico Famila Deicas, Gimenez Mendez Eco Valley Wines, Pizzorno Wines Don Pascual, Bodega Bouza and Bodega Marichal.

Gary Knippa at Cowboys + Gauchos“This is the first time that so many Uruguayan wines have been assembled in one place to be tasted in the U.S. Guests at Cowboys + Gauchos will be the first people in Texas to taste them. It is a great event for Uruguayan wines because the gaucho culture is prevalent in the country,” says David Furer, the Wines of Uruguay spokesman and wine journalist.

“Wineries will pour up to 20 various wines including Sauvignon Blanc, which is [an] up-and-coming white wine in Uruguay, along with Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, Merlot and Syrah. Of course there will be a prevalence of Tannat, which is the signature grape of Uruguay. It makes a full bodied wine that goes well with rich grilled and barbecue red meat.”

Tickets are available on Wine & Food Foundation of Texas site for $65 per person. Proceeds from the event will support up-and-coming chefs, sommeliers and excellence in the culinary and viticulture arts through scholarships and the underwriting of the TexSom beverage conference.

This story was originally on CultureMap.

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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.

Hot Crowd at 10th Annual Tour de Vin

How can you travel around the culinary world without ever leaving Austin? That’s what more than 400 eye catching people did at the 10th annual Tour de Vin wine and food fest put on by The Wine & Food Foundation of Texas at W Austin. The paired some of Austin’s hottest chefs with 15 wineries serving representative food and wine from Japan, America, Italy, South America, Mexico, France, Greece.

The evening started, Shawn Croft, executive sommelier of Gusto Tastings, and the beautiful Marie-Louise Friedland, head cheesemonger of Henri’s Cheese Shop, hosted a VIP Tasting featuring four wines and cheeses. The white Bordeaux, Beaujolais, Chilean Pinot Noir and Condrieu were expertly paired with delicious cheeses. Friedland lives cheese and was weaned on brie and camembert by her French mom. She explored the world of stinky cheese as a child and learned to make cheese in England. “I did everything from milking the cows to making the curd,” said Friedand. “I can’t tell you how many times I was pooped on.” I think she meant by cows.

The main event was a delightful walk through table after table of scrumptious food and wine. Along with some of the city’s established restaurants like Enjoy fresh and innovative dishes from Kenichi, Barley Swine, Buenos Aires Café, Trace, Nobel Pig came newcomers Swifts Attic and brand-newcomers Bangers Sausage House in its first event and Tapas Bravas a new food truck on Rainey Street. Speaking about another newcomer, Marshall Jones, executive director of the Wine & Food Foundation of Texas said, “We’re excited to introduce Alison Jenkins from Denver and her new restaurant LaV which will be opening soon on East 7th.” There were too many good things to eat to try them all.

“My favorite thing about it is the ethnic pairing with the focus on different foods from around the world and the wine that is paired with it,” said Jones. “We often think about Australian wine, but who thinks of Australian meat pies and then the wine to pair with it. This is the only sip and stroll event in the city that organizes the food regionally.”

My favorite part was the wine. Which? Hmmm, let me see. I think my favorite was the German Riesling, or the Spanish Tempranillo, or the Burgundy, or the Bordeaux, or the sake served by Sake Sommelier, Adam Faraizl of Kenichi, or the Gruet rosé and St. Germaine served by Jessica Sanders, owner of Drink.well. It sure as hell wasn’t the French rosé, because Denise Clarke (one of our city’s newest Certified Specialist of Wine) drank it all. I guess I didn’t have a favorite wine.

In addition to the wine and food, guests were entertained by raucous samba drummers and dancers and there was a silent auction. The auction featured excellent wines, foodie gifts, and entertainment packages like a helicopter trip to Formula 1 with Capital Wings, tickets to see the GoGo’s at ACL Live, and a private chef dinner with Chef Allison Jenkins of LaV. I got flirted into buying something called a Golden Ticket for $100. I have no idea what that means, but Bill Elsey’s girlfriend is so adorable, I’d buy anything from her.

The money raised from ticket sales and in the silent action support the events, scholarships, grants and education programs provided by the Wine & Food Foundation of Texas. The Foundation hopes to raise $20,000 after expenses.

This is the third Wine & Food Foundation of Texas event that I’ve attended this year (not counting TEXSOM) and I’m always impressed with how well run they are. The people they draw are a ton of fun to hang out with and the food and drink are always top notch. If you are a fan of wine or a foodie, you simply must join the Foundation. Now.

Disclosure: The Foundation provided me with a free VIP and event media pass for which I am grateful.

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Fantastic fun at Cowboys + Gauchos


The Wine and Food Foundation of Texas held its second annual Cowboys + Gauchos on March 4, 2012 at the Salt Lick Pavilion. The Foundation picked a winning combination of roast meat and delicious Texas and South American wines. Tickets sold out and people were still calling, begging to be let in. It turned out to be a gorgeous spring day and the crowd was in high spirits. Here are a few photos of the fun.

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There will be meat! Cowboys + Gouchos carnivore fest coming March 4, 2012

Gaucho grilling at Cowboys + Gauchos

When you see a whole elk roasting over an open fire flanked by a lamb, a pig and a goat, you know you are at a carnivore-friendly fest. Chefs slice broad slabs of meat as the smell of roasted meat and barbeque swirl on the breeze while people twirl to Gary Knippa’s country tunes and watch dance performances by Nostalgia Tango. That’s exactly what you can expect to experience this Sunday, March 4, 2012 at the second annual Cowboys + Gauchos, a Wine & Food Foundation of Texas fundraising event. What better way to celebrate the 176th Texas Independence Day than by channeling your inner cowboy?

    • What: Second Annual Cowboys + Gauchos
    • When: Sunday, March 4, 2012,12:00 – 4:00 p.m.
    • Where: Salt Lick Pavilion, 18300 FM 1826  Driftwood, TX 78619 (not the BBQ restaurant)
    • How much: Foundation members: $40, non-members $50, children ages 13-20: $10 per person (non-refundable), children ages 12 and under are free
    • When you go: Purchase tickets online before you go. While the Foundation expects a great turn-out by members, you don’t need to be a member to attend. Check your pretense at the door and come for a good time. The attire is cowboy casual and you’ll want a hat to keep that gorgeous sun out of your eyes. Little cowboys are welcome to run wild on the sprawling property and play yard games. And don’t forget a package of toothpicks.

This unique event was dreamt up by Foundation board member Howard Kells, former owner of Doña Emilia’s South American Bar & Grill (now closed). He watched renowned Argentine chef Francis Mallmann wow Anthony Bourdain with his grilled meat in No Reservations, Season 4, in Uruguay and was enthralled. The France-trained Mallmann left the fussy world of fine dining behind with a keen interest to return to simplistic gaucho cooking (the word ‘gaucho’ being the call-name for Argentine cowboys).

As grilling is central to South American cuisine, it also serves as the inspiration for Cowboys + Gauchos. Kells wanted to emulate the massive scale grilling that Mallmann practices. He designed and custom built an immense grilling rack based on the one used on No Reservations by watching a recording of the show over-and-over and painstakingly recreating it. The one-of-a-kind rig is stout enough to roast a whole steer and even has the ability to adjust the cooking height and angles. The meat is grilled over a main fire, which is continually fed with coals drawn from a smaller side fire.

Wine and Food Foundation Executive Director, Marshall Jones, makes it all happen. He is the guy that landed a donation of all of the grilling wood from Butler Wood in South Texas. He is the guy that sources the whole 240 pound elk, pig, boar, goat and lamb. He is the guy who will stay up all night to roast the elk, starting at 10:30 p.m. on Saturday night, tending to it until it’s ready to eat around 1:00 p.m. on Sunday. He’s the guy that will ring the cow bell throughout the event to signal when another new meat is ready to serve. That’s a pretty cool assignment for a guy who runs a foundation.

Don’t be confused, this isn’t just a meat orgy or Paleo Diet convention. There will be other delightful dishes serve by Austin-based restaurants. Chef Charles Mayes will celebrate the 15th anniversary of Cafe Josie with a seafood dish at Cowboys + Gauchos. Other dishes include antelope chili and smoked quail from Wild Bubbas Wild Game Grill, cabrito and sweet potato tacos from Mansion at Judges Hill Restaurant & Bar, chocolate BBQ pork ribs from Zocalo Cafe and a selection of sweet and savory empanadas from MMMpanadas. There will be other delectable treats from Escoffier School of Culinary Arts, El Alma Restaurante Bar and Live Oak Barbecue. Delysia Chocolatier will provide a selection of truffles and the whole feast will be finished with s’mores roasted over the fire. There might be some vegetables, but you don’t have to eat them.

While Mallmann’s gaucho grilling influence initiated the concept for the event, the similarities between the gaucho and the cowboy, coupled with the Wine and Food Foundation’s bent on promoting local fare led to the prominent inclusion of Texas wines. Eight Texas wineries will be pouring on Sunday with an additional four South American vineyards.

Ed Auler, founder of Fall Creek Vineyards, will be pouring the limited production Fall Creek Vineyards Tempranillo, Salt Lick Vineyard, Texas Hill Country, 2009. This is a stellar wine that is hard to find and shouldn’t be missed. McPherson Cellars will pour its 2009 Sangiovese, 2010 Tre Colore and 2010 Rose of Grenache-Syrah. There will be a wide selection of meat-friendly reds and thirst-quenching whites from Alamosa Wine Cellars, Becker Vineyards, Duchman Family Winery, E.&J. Gallo Winery, Gauchezco Vineyard & Winery, Casa Lapostolle, Llano Estacado, Spicewood Vineyards, Terrazas de los Andes and Vineyard Brands.

If beer is your thing, Thirsty Planet will have barrels of Thirsty Goat Amber Ale and Yellow Armadillo. Sweat Leaf Tea will provide tea to keep us hydrated.

Organizers are expecting a crowd of about 350 hungry revelers and hope to raise upwards of $5,000 to support the Foundation’s work. Proceeds from the event will support up-and-coming chefs and sommeliers through scholarships and the underwriting of the TexSom beverage conference.

I’ll be there with a big, grease-smeared grin on my face. This article also appears on CultureMap.

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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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