Above: The social media was orgiastic last night at Diane Dixon’s excellent Somms Under Fire event at the W Hotel in downtown Austin. That’s top Austin food blooger Miso Hungry (center) with her better half and photographer @HopSafari.
Not only is Diane Dixon one of sweetest and most generous souls I’ve met in the nearly three years I’ve lived in Texas, she is also the first lady of Texas food and wine. Her events — like the Somms Under Fire dinner and competition, held last night at the swank W Hotel in downtown Austin — bring together the best and the brightest of the Texas food and wine scene. They offer young food and wine professionals the chance to interact with top names in the field and they give the public an opportunity to meet food and wine celebrities and get a peek behind the scenes.
When I left New York City back in 2007 and then abandoned my beloved California in 2008 to come to Texas, many of my well-meaning friends expressed their concern: what will you drink?
Well, I’m here to tell you that we get some good vino out here in Texas, too!
My highlight was this 1996 Mongeard-Mugneret Grand Échezeaux that somehow made it to my table. Still very tight but what a thrill to drink a glass of that wine…
I was also geeked to see and taste the 08 Rosso di Montalcino by Il Poggione, which showed great last night… always a great value for real Sangiovese…
There were roughly 10 bottles of wine — samples from the competition — on each table of eight persons and even the VIP tickets for the four-course dinner were under $60! A pretty good value IMHO for the experience…
Chapeau bas, Diane, for another great event and for another chapter in your noble quest to inform the next generation of food and wine lovers in Texas! I enjoyed myself thoroughly…
And when I woke this morning to read that Esquire has called my friend and client Tony Vallone (Houston) one the top Italian restaurateurs in the U.S., I couldn’t help but think to myself, we’ve got a pretty good thing going down here in Texas, don’t we?
Nearly 300 people attended the standing-room-only, sold-out TexSom 2010, the 6th-annual Texas Sommelier Conference, which began yesterday at the Four Seasons hotel in Irving (Dallas, Texas). That’s reigning “Best Sommelier in Texas” June Rodil who helped out with pouring duties for the “Emerging Regions of Italy” seminar.
The event draws some of the best and brightest stars in the world of wine, like Master Sommelier Bobby Stuckey (left), who took time out to pose for a paparazzo with Jamie Adams, VP The Sorting Table.
The ever-affable Bartholomew Broadbent is a sponsor and a perennial attendee.
Seven Texas wine professionals will be “seated” at the Court of Master Sommeliers Masters Exam next Monday in Dallas, including Craig Collins (left) and Devon Broglie (right), both of whom serve on the board of the Texas Sommelier Conference.
Best-dressed Texas wine professional D’Lynn Proctor will also be seated at next Monday’s exam.
The “Italian Wine Guy” Alfonso Cevola, Italian Wine Director for Glazer’s Distribution, was in fine form as always.
The Duchman Family Winery (Driftwood, Texas) was also a sponsor of the event and was represented by its Events Mananger Paula Rester (center), Tasting Room Manager Bill Elsey (right, who participated in the “Best Sommelier in Texas” competition) and the president of the winery’s distributor, D’Amore Wine Selections, Julio Hernández.
Wine professionals travel from all over the state to attend, like Antonio Gianola (left), who authors one of my favorite wine lists in Houston, and Greg Randle, who educates and blogs about wine in Austin.
Kevin Pike (Sales Manager for Thierry Theise), together with Master Sommelier Emily Wines (nomina sunt consequentia rerum!) delivered one of the best seminars (on German wines) I’ve ever attended… anywhere. Chapeau bas, Kevin and Emily!
How the paparazzo always gets to go home with the prettiest girl in the room will forever remain a mystery!
Today’s trade-only event begins with a seminar on “Management of a Beverage Program” with moderator James Tidwell MS and panel Bobby Stuckey MS, Antonio Gianola, Paul Roberts MS, and Drew Hendricks MS. Nearly 300 people are expected for the Grand Tasting this evening.
At the Austin airport, me on the way to San Diego, these two dudes on their way to San Francisco where they’ll be tasting with top sommeliers in preparation for the Master Sommelier exams in August. Two of the coolest “buds” I have in the biz here in the ATX, Devon Broglie (left) and Craig Collins.
I know your exams are still a ways off but as the Italians say, in culo alla balena!
From the “life could be worse” department…
Above: Last week the gracious Étienne de Montille tasted and took time out to pose with members of the Texas “dream team” in Austin, Texas. From left, Master Sommelier candidate Devon Broglie, Étienne de Montille, Master Sommelier candidate Craig Collins, and Fabien Jacobs, sommelier at Andrew Weissman’s Le Rêve, considered by many the best restaurant in Texas.
Over the course of my life, I’ve been very fortunate to meet and get to interact with rock stars. And I don’t just mean music rock stars. (Even though the time my band opened for Ringo Starr at the Bottom Line in the West Village was probably the top pinch-me-because-I-can’t-believe-this-is-happening moments: me, sharing a stage with a Beatle!!! A childhood dream come true. Unbelievable.)
Ever the lovable Sicilian cynic, Italian Wine Guy often laments that people consider Texas “flyover country.” He tends to exaggerate (a trait owed to his Mediterranean roots) but I have to concede that, more than once, the more snooty among my friends have asked me if life out here in Texas is boring. But, folks, I’m here to testify: it sure ain’t!
Above: A home-cooked meal at Italian Wine Guy’s place in Dallas was a welcomed respite from a week of dining in restaurants. What did we drink? Étienne’s Volnay and Barbaresco, of course!
In all seriousness, getting to “ride with” and interact with Étienne was a true thrill for me. (See the image in the left hand corner of my banner above? Tracie B took that in Paris: that’s Étienne’s father’s 1991 Volnay Les Champans in my glass, a wine I will never forget.) I’m working these days with a small Dallas-based distributor of fine wines and I had to good fortune to travel, taste, and dine with Étienne last week.
His father Hubert, now retired, is one of the greatest producers in Burgundy, and Étienne began making wines at the family estate in the late 1990s. As his American importer John Winthrop likes to say, he is “a French aristocrat whose family was ennobled so long ago that the Bourbons are relative arrivistes.” But Étienne is also a really cool, down-to-earth guy, very generous in spirit and a wine “fanatic,” as he likes to say.
Italian wine will always be my first love but Burgundy is my mistress: it was fascinating to taste with Étienne and hear him share his thoughts on biodynamic and organic farming practices. In many ways, his wines could be considered — dare I say? — “natural wines”: he employs biodynamic farming practices and uses only ambient yeast in fermentation. No one would deny, however, that his wines are a supreme example of terroir expression. He doesn’t believe in “sexual confusion” in the vineyard, for example (organic growers often deploy pheromones in vineyard that confuse the insects’s sexual drive and stops them from procreating). “Sexual confusion upsets the ecologic balance of the vineyard,” he told me, “and so it is not true to the terroir.”
The thing that impresses me the most about his wines is their balance of tannic structure and lightness in color and body. “Only nature can give color to the wine,” I heard him say over and over. “I don’t want to extract [i.e., concentrate] the wine too much because it can bring out undesired flavors,” he said, referring to the time he allows his wines to macerate with skin contact. The 2006 Beaune 1er cru Les Sizies and Volnay 1er cru Les Mitans were great examples of this: the vintage has delivered healthy but not overwhelming tannin and the wines were a pure delight, with savory, classically Burgundian aromas and flavors.
When I took Étienne to the airport on Thursday in Dallas, he left for California where he did a wine dinner — a vertical tasting of his family’s celebrated wines — at one of our country’s most famous wine destintations, RN74 in San Francisco, with one of our country’s leading sommeliers, Raj Parr. That’s Raj (one of the nicest guys in the biz, btw) to Étienne’s left and collector Wilf Jaeger to his right (Wilf is one of co-owners of the restaurant).
I’m so glad that took time out to come visit us here in “fly-over country.” Life sure could be worse out here in Central Texas! ;-)
In other news…
I’m no rock star but she sure makes me feel like one! Tracie B and I had a great time at Liz and Matt’s wedding in Richmond over the weekend. Who would have ever thought that a schlub like me would end up with a cover girl like her? Gotta say, this whole Texas thing is growing on me! ;-)
In other other news…
More rock stars are coming! Kermit Lynch and Ricky Fataar are coming to Austin on November 9 to spin tracks from their new record, eat some barbecue, and drink some good wine. And yours truly is the MC for the night (I’ll be traveling to Nasvhille with Kermit, too, for a similar event). Click here for details (the event is almost sold out so please make your reservations asap).
Above: The Austin Dream Team. From left, Craig Collins (Central Texas Sales Manager for Prestige Cellars), Devon Broglie (Southwest Regional Wine Buyer for Whole Foods Markets, which was founded in Austin), and June Rodil (recently crowned “best sommelier in Texas,” sommelier at Uchi in Austin, a world-class and cutting-edge Japanese restaurant in land-locked central Texas).
This was no run-of-the-mill focus group. It was an
Austin Texas USA dream-team of young sommeliers gathered by the PR firm that reps the Texas Department of Agriculture to taste some Texan wines blind.
Folks in Texas are serious about their wine (Texans love to drink locally) and when it comes to marketing of local products, they don’t kid around: these top young somms had been asked to give their honest no-holds-barred opinions of the wines (each flight included a ringer, not from Texas) to help gauge which wines to present to food and wine writers and pundits etc.
Frankly, I haven’t taken Texan wines very seriously since I moved here nearly 10 months ago but — as Franco rightly reminds me — rules are rules: when you taste blind and you taste something you like, you have to admit it (even when you weren’t expecting to like it) and frankly, I tasted more than one wine I liked in yesterday’s degustation.
And there was another surprise as well.
I had never heard the term Super Texan before and when I wondered out loud why so many Texan wineries are Italophilic as opposed to Francophilic (like their Californian counterparts), one of the more interesting theories was proposed by June, who noted that Texas is a predominantly Republican state and has a historic distaste for Francomania.
Above: Also in attendance was wine writer David Furer who came to town especially for the tasting and who was lucky enough to taste Tracie B’s farro salad the other day at our impromptu Labor Day picnic.
In the first flight of red, we tasted a number of wines made with Sangiovese (monovarietal or blended) and varietal expression was clearly evident. The wine that impressed me the most was the Llano Estate Newsome Vineyards High Plains Viviano, a “Super Texan” blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Sangiovese. The wine was real, it was elegant, it had natural acidity, honest fruit, and genuine freshness (although I’m not sure I would reach for it at $40 a bottle).
In the same flight, however, was a wine that the panel didn’t seem to like because of a green, herbaceous quality. When asked my opinion (and frankly, I was out-classed by these top somms in their superior ability to taste and describe blind, ubi major minor cessat), I asked the other participants “to cut it some slack,” as it was also one of my favorites in the flight. Anyone who knows me wouldn’t be surprised at the laughter in the room (Devon and Craig and I have tasted a bunch of times together) when it was revealed that my ugly duckling was Italian.
But to my great surprise, it was a wine that I never would have thought I’d like, 2006 Chianti Classico by Badia a Coltibuono, a high-volume winery that has enjoyed wide success in the U.S. thanks to aggressive, intelligent marketing. According to the website, 170,000 bottles of this wine are produced every year, but, frankly, I could really taste place in this wine: it had that characteristic Sangiovese plum note and I liked its food-friendly herbaceousness. For $25, I like it. There you go: rules are rules and there’s a lot to be said for tasting locally.
In other news, another taste of Texas…
Tracie B snapped this slice of Texan life last night outside the Broken Spoke where I played a gig. I gotta say that I love living in Austin… not that the lovely Tracie B has anything to do with it… ;-)
Yesterday, I messaged the VinoWire group on Facebook, asking if anyone knew of a Valpolicella producer besides Zenato who used the term ripassa on its Valpolicella label. (Btw, if you’re not a member of the VinoWire FB group, please join!). Colleague, friend, and fellow blogger Tom Hyland weighed in with Accordini’s Ripassà (or Ripassa’ depending on whether your looking at the label or the winery’s website. Ripassa’ is a Veneto dialectal form of the Italian ripassato, literally passed again or refermented in this case. (I am reminded of Giacomo Leopardi’s famous observation that French is a language of terms while Italian is a language of paroles: like so many lemmae in the Italian lexicon, passare can assume a wide varieties of meanings depending on the context.) Thanks, Tom, for sharing the info and thanks also to Devon Broglie and Angelo Peretti who pointed out that Zenato’s “Ripassa” — without the accent grave or inverted comma — is indeed a trademarked proprietary name.
Has anyone tried the Accordini? Is it good?
In other news…
Just in the from the “unbelievable but true” department: Franco and James Suckling are in the midst of a cordial, collegial, and amiable exchange in a comment thread at James’s blog on the Wine Spectator site.
Here’s the link to the post and thread but since you have to subscribe (as I do) to view the blog, I’ve copied and pasted the exchange below.
User Name: James Suckling, Posted: 03:36 AM ET, May 28, 2009
User Name: Franco Ziliani, Italy Posted: 12:13 PM ET, May 29, 2009
User Name: James Suckling, Posted: 12:26 PM ET, May 29, 2009
User Name: Franco Ziliani, Italy Posted: 04:21 PM ET, May 29, 2009
We’ll have to wait for James’s next move!