My post today for the Houston Press…
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… ;-)
Above: “Maguro sashimi and goat cheese with cracked pepper, Fuji apple and pumpkin seed oil” at Uchi in Austin. If that’s not fusion, then grits ain’t groceries and eggs ain’t poultry…
There’s a new category at Do Bianchi: de austinopoli or on the city of Austin. It appeared for the first time over the weekend, with the “beans don’t burn in the kitchen” post (btw, I swear it wasn’t me who burned the beans: they were burning in Tracie B’s neighbor’s apartment). Austin is my new home (my new desk is arriving this week!) and I’ve already begun posting about our enogastronomic experiences here in Texas. (On Kim’s recommendation, I’ve been reading T. R. Fehrenbach’s Lone Star, a history of Texas, which I find fascinating — the book and the historia.)
Above: “Avo bake, creamy baked tiger shrimp and krab [sic], served in an avocado.” We ordered this dish on the recommendation of my new hair stylist, Felicia. It was a fresh and delicious take on the ubiquitous crab/shrimp casserole you find in Californian “sushi” restaurants.
I’ll confess that I was highly skeptical when so many of my friends (Californians among them) suggested that I take Tracie B to Austin’s top “sushi” destination Uchi. Raw fish in land-locked central Texas? Not exactly in line with the Danny Meyer motto if it grows with it, it goes with it.
What we found was not a “sushi” restaurant per se but a truly delightful and entirely playful “fusion” menu. The restaurant’s signature dish, in particular, “Maguro sashimi and goat cheese” (raw fish and caprine dairy?) seemed to challenge the very tenets of our occidental palates. (In many parts of Italy, for example, the mixture of fish and dairy is considered as taboo as the contact of meat and dairy in kashrut.)
As Franco often points out, rules are rules: I cannot conceal that we both found the confluence of textures to be ethereal (including the delicately unctuous quality of the pumpkin seed oil), the savoriness of the fish an excellent complement to the slightly sweet cheese, and the fattiness of the materia prima utterly decadent.
Rarely do you find waitstaff so knowledgeable (our bartender Scranton was extremely helpful in navigating the unusual menu and negotiating the extensive sake list; he made the long wait at the bar on a Friday night well worth it). We thoroughly enjoyed our experience.
Above: “Tomato katsu, panko-fried green tomatoes.” Need I say more?
In other news…
Who’s Who in America just published these interviews I did with Josh Greene, Eric Asimov, and Lettie Teague (click to read). We had fun with the Q/A and you might be surprised by some of the responses. Buona lettura!
If I don’t love you baby,
grits ain’t groceries,
eggs ain’t poultry,
and Mona Lisa was a man.