Mon October 27, 2014 5:28 pm By Jessica Dupuy

If you're familiar with Texas wines, you've probably heard of Fall Creek Vineyards. Not only is it one of the oldest wineries in the state, dating back to the late seventies, but restaurants and retail outlets across the state keep their bottles in stock. But with its relatively isolated location in Tow--a small community near Lake Buchanan and more than seventy miles northwest of Austin--most foot traffic out to the winery has been confined to weekend road trippers and wine club members out for special events around holidays. 

But kind of like everyone else drawn to the glow of Austin, Fall Creek owners Ed and Susan Auler are moving a bit closer to the city. The winery plans to celebrate its fortieth anniversary by opening a tasting room and production facility in Driftwood. Their new place is going to be located directly across from The Salt Lick, one of the state's most famous barbecue joints. 

"[Salt Lick owner] Scott Roberts introduced me to Driftwood more than twenty years ago," Ed said. "It's an area we've become more a part of since we've sourced many of our grapes from the Salt Lick Vineyards. It made sense for us to have a better connection with the grapes we're using, and we've been waiting for the right opportunity to present itself." 

That opportunity came this past May when Ed learned that a seventeen-acre plot of land just across the street from the Salt Lick--complete with access to Onion Creek and a modern Hill Country home--was available. He bought the property, and is now working on converting the onsite house into three wine tasting areas. He's also adding a patio and several lounging areas for guests. 

During a preview tour of the property, some of Fall Creek's newest wines were served for a tasting. They're the lastest additions to the winery's portfolio, courtesty of winemaker Sergio Cuadra, who joined the team last year after Fall Creek launched a nationwide search for the position. Among them was an experimental Chardonnay, something Cuadra concocted last year, literally hours after he initially arrived to his new job. He gently pressed the grapes and had them put straight into new French oak barrels to ferment just so he could see what would happen. During a first tasting of the wine last year, it was young and creamy with bright acid and pleasant orange, lemon-zest, and faint melon notes. Now, with more than a year of aging in the single barrel it began in, the wine shows a greater depth of maturity with a fragrant nose of orange blossom, ripe pear, and subtle vanilla. On the palate, the wine was alive with racy acidity, broad citrus notes and a lingering finish. The pleasant reception of the wine is great news for the winemaker’s first project with the winery, but it's unfortunate there will be a very limited quantity available once it is bottled. 

For Cuadra, the Chardonnay was more of an experiment than anything else. Not having worked with the Texas climate and with Texas’ diversity of soils, he was curious to see just what Chardonnay, a typically cooler climate grape, could do. “It’s amazing that we’re not seeing heat damage to grapes in the same way we would see it if a place like California had temperatures above 100 for a few days," he said. "Here, grapes seem to have adapted to the extended heat in our summers. The difference that I’m seeing is that the plants just have to work a lot harder and faster to get their grape chemistry to the right levels, which is why we tend to finish our harvest season before anyone else.” 

“No one in the international sphere is going to back up planting Chardonnay in Texas. I never would have. But then you have this. How do you explain this? I’m amazed at how flexible and adaptable these vines are and at the quality of grapes they can produce.” 

The new tasting room and facility in Driftwood will open to the public in early 2015, and Fall Creek plans to plant five acres of vineyard on the property within the next year. 

Thu October 16, 2014 2:04 pm By Patricia Sharpe

Esquire published its annual best new restaurants list, and Texas did quite well, getting three nods (only California had more, with four).

Food writer Josh Ozersky chose the winners, and Austin’s Paul Qui, chef-owner of Qui, received one of the top honor's, being named Esquire’s chef of the year. Knife steakhouse in Dallas was also among the magazine’s top twelve restaurants of the year, while Cured, a charcuterie house and restaurant in San Antonio, was designated one of six runners-up. 

Ozersky called Knife “the steakhouse of the future,” and credited its chef, John Tesar (also chef at Spoon seafood restaurant in Dallas), for sourcing much of its meat from Texas’s 44 Farms and for selling a steak for $25. (Strangely, Ozersky did not mention the steak that has received the most media attention, the special 240-day-aged ribeye.) 

In praising Paul Qui (pictured center, below, with Qui's PR maven, Deanna Saukam, and Ozersky), Ozersky wrote, “Qui came to national prominence a few years ago when he won Top Chef . . . but before that he was revered in Austin for his work at Uchi, the city’s best Japanese restaurant . . . One side of his new restaurant [Qui] has a tasting counter serving as a platform for his most ambitious and precarious creations. A few hundred feet away, on the patio, he’s serving Filipino street food.”  

Fewer words were dedicated to Cured, but Ozersky noted the restaurant's interior design and chef Steve McHugh's specialty items: “[Cured occupies a]n ancient building, gutted out, and filled with all the products of a skilled chef’s imaginings; the place is named for its hams but it’s the whole hogs and other roasted meats that soar the highest.”  

Esquire’s list has undergone a major overhaul this year. In contrast to previous years—when then critic John Mariani would name a large number (upwards of 100) of largely fine-dining venues as the best new places in the country—this year Esquire tapped food writer and personality Josh Ozersky to pull together the list. It is much shorter and much more varied, but there are supplementary goodies online. One such is the writer’s “All-Star Dinner,” with favorite dishes from his travels. 

And just what are the qualifications of Esquire’s new food czar? From his online bio: "Josh Ozersky is the executive producer and host of Ozersky.TV (which makes short videos about the New York food scene). He also writes the “Taste of America” column for Time magazine and is the author of the book The Hamburger: A History (2008). A winner of a James Beard award for food writing, he was formerly the editor of New York magazine‘s food blog, Grub Street. He also produced the festival Meatopia. He lives in New York City."

Thu October 9, 2014 12:18 pm By Dan Oko

Regarded as the Super Bowl of Beer, the Great American Beer Festival, which wrapped up its thirty-second iteration in Denver the first weekend in October this year, offers a chance for brewers to showcase their stuff at the nation’s largest tasting competition. On the floor of the convention hall, however, GABF—which hosts more than 700 brewers and nearly 50,000 visitors annually—the competition devolves into a mutual admiration society a la the Academy Awards, and there's no question that Texas brewers were on the receiving end of a lot of that love. 

Fourteen breweries were awarded sixteen medals (last year, Texas brought home ten medals), including six golds. There were surprises aplenty, with many of the winners clustered around North Texas—as opposed to Austin, which is in danger of losing some of its luster as Texas’ craft-brewing capital. Moreover, of the six gold-medal winners, nary a one conformed to the hop-heavy, alcohol bombs that have been dominating beer sales nationwide the past couple of years. In fact, five of the six MVPs that won gold this year show the heavy influence of British brewing traditions. That was enough to make Texas the fourth-winningest state behind only California, Oregon, and Colorado. 

To celebrate, here’s a look at Texas’ gold medalists—with the caveat that about half of these beers are limited releases you will be lucky to find on tap even at the breweries themselves.

Gold: Aged Beer 

Peticolas Brewing Co. — 2012 Great Scot!
(6.8% alcohol by volume; 24 international bitterness units)

Last summer in Dallas, attorney-turned-brewer Michael Peticolas had a hunch that his aged Great Scot!, a coppery Scottish-style ale built on roasted malt flavors popular in the United Kingdom, might be ready for prime time. “Scotch ales are known to age well,” says Peticolas, who in 2012 also earned a gold medal with his Royal Scandal English Pale Ale. “We did a vertical tasting [when each vintage is tasted], and we were blown away. We were like this ‘2012’ is doing something interesting. It has a lot of chocolate.” With the aged category wide open for any brew older than one year, according to GABF rules, Peticolas wisely grabbed the chance to add to his GABF hardware with this limited-release brew.

Gold: Belgian-Style Lambic or Sour

Real Ale Brewing — Benedictum
(5.4% ABV; IBU n/a)

Wild Texas yeast and sour cherries combine to make this entry from Real Ale’s draft-only Mysterium Verum (“true mystery”) product line an irresistible draw for GABF judges. Tasters are instructed in contest paperwork to judge for “low hop aroma,” “cheesy or floral character,” and “characteristic horsey, goaty, leathery… flavors.” Got that? Well, Erik Ogershok, who joined the Blanco-based company from Victory Brewing in Pennsylvania, certainly did. But Ogershok says ingredients are only part of the magic on this concoction, noting that the beer was fermented in the collection of wooden wine and whiskey barrels Real Ale saves especially for all Mysterium Verum releases, which are typically aged six years or more.

Gold: English-style Brown Ale

Grapevine Craft Brewery — Sir William’s English Brown
(4.9% ABV; 21 IBU) 

One of the newest North Texas breweries, Grapevine just started canning this September, and, for now, its distribution is limited to the DFW area and Austin. Meanwhile, owner Gary Humble, a former pastor, is anything but when it comes to his 2014 win: “That essentially makes us the best English-style brown in the country,” Humble says. According to the GABF tasting, a proper English Brown emphasizes roast malt flavors—Grapevine relies on English imports—and avoids the strong hops aroma associated with IPAs. “It’s the opposite of what’s going on in most of the beer world,” says Humble, noting that Sir William’s also has relatively low alcohol. “But frankly, I founded the brewery, and this is what I like to drink.”

Gold: Extra Special Bitter 

Community Beer Company — Public Ale
(5.5% ABV; 38 IBU)  

Inspired by popular British import Fullers ESB, this is the second consecutive year Public Ale has garnered gold in Denver—all the more impressive given that Community just starting selling beer eighteen months ago (and managed a bronze medal this year for its Ascension coffee beer as well). Community relies on all English ingredients. Acknowledging his debt to the British pub tradition, founder Kevin Carr anticipates being a standard-bearer for American ESBs for years to come. “We have it pretty well dialed in,” he says. “We haven’t changed it since it was first released.” GABF describes the style like this: “The residual malt and defining sweetness of this richly flavored, fullbodied (sic) bitter is medium to medium-high . . . The overall impression is refreshing and thirst quenching.” Sounds like a winner.

Gold: Imperial Stout 

Armadillo Ale Works — Quakertown Stout
(9.2% ABV; 50 IBU) 

Named for Denton’s historic Quakertown Park, Armadillo’s boozy award-winning brew is a little strong for a breakfast beer, but the inclusion of a heavy dose of oats and a touch of maple syrup make it a tempting way to start the day. The brewery is still new—brewing, for now, under a cooperative agreement with Dallas’ Deep Ellum Brewing—but the GABF-winning stout was the result of extensive tweaking and experimentation, says brewmaster Bobby Mullins. “We did a lot of tasting for friends and families,” Mullins explains. “It was sort of no brainer to come out with this as our first release.” GABF describes Imperial Stouts as having “Hop aroma . . . very low to medium, with qualities such as floral, -citrus or -herbal. Extremely rich malty flavor, often characterized as toffee-like or caramel-like.” Mullins acknowledges that the heavy flavors and dark complexion may be a change for Texans accustomed to a lighter warm-weather beers, but Quakertown is sure to find its fans. 

Gold: Ordinary or Special Bitter 

Oasis Texas Brewing Co. — London Homesick Ale
(4.9% ABV; 27 IBU)

Another newcomer busts out with another English-style ale—this time London Homesick from a five-month-old Hill Country operation on Lake Travis that replaced the ill-fated Billy’s Brew and Que. Veteran brewmaster Spencer Tielkemeier, formerly with Austin’s 512 Brewery, takes his “best bitter” as he refers to the style, seriously. In fact, the brewer’s proudest moment prior to GABF was reports from Londoners at the Oasis that this a crisp, light brew designed for easy drinking tasted exactly like something they might find in England. “A lot of Americans find it a little bland or boring,” he acknowledges. “So it was special for us to win, and to have the judges recognize our effort.” Success is due, in part, according to Tielkemeierto the liberal use of imported English Challenger hops and UK yeast strains, and then tuning the mineral content of the water used to match London’s. With London Homesick now being canned—we’ll take him at his word and skip the flight.

OTHER GABF WINNERS: 

Silver:

St. Arnold’s, Weedwacker (German-style wheat beer)
Austin Beerworks, Fire Eagle (American-style strong pale ale)
Thirsty Planet Brewing, Yellow Armadillo (American-style wheat beer)
Pedernales Brewing Co., Lobo Negro (German-style schwarzbier)
5 Stones Artisan Brewery, Aloha Piña (Herb and spice beer)

Bronze:

St. Arnold’s Summer Pils (Munich-style Helles)
Spoetzl Brewery Shiner Bock (American-style Dark Lager)
Rahr & Sons The Regulator (German-style Dopplebock or Eisbock)
Pinthouse Brewpub Jaguar Stout (Wood- and Barrel-aged strong stout)

(Photo: Brewers Association and Jason E. Kaplan)

Wed September 17, 2014 2:38 pm By Jessica Dupuy

Food and wine fans from across the country will have a chance to share in a virtual community dinner in one of four cities on September 20 as part of a special event by Rodney Strong Vineyards. Benefitting the James Beard Foundation, a non-profit organization that supports culinary heritage in American through education and community, the multi-course dinners will take place in Healdsburg, California, at Rodney Strong Vineyards; in New York, at Oceana restaurant; in Miami, at the Biltmore; and in Austin, at Uchi

In previous years, the Rodney Strong has hosted individual dinners across the country with prominent chefs in an effort to introduce food and wine lovers to their broad range of food friendly wines. This weekend’s dinner will be the first to be broadcast live to each of the participating restauarnts on in-house television screens as well as online. 

The evening’s emcee, author and wine personality Leslie Sbrocco, will greet guests and others around the country from Rodney Strong in Healdsburg, California. She’ll be joined by Food & Wine executive wine editor, Ray Isle in New York at Oceana restaurant, Food & Wine contributing editor, Anthony Giglio at the Biltmore Hotel in Miami, and radio show host, Ziggy the Wine Gal at Uchi in Austin, as they connect live to share the evening.

In Austin, Uchi’s dinner is as follows:

Passed appetizers by Jeff Mall of Zin Restaurant & Wine Bar in Healdsburg, CA

Eastside Farm's Eggs & Shishito Peppers, deviled with Miso & Pickled with Ginger.

2013 Rodney Strong Charlotte’s Home Sauvignon

First course by Tatsu Aikawa, Ramen Tatsu-Ya

Kombu Dashi Soup, Foie, Daikon

2012 Rodney Strong Chalk Hill Chardonnay

Second course by Tyson Cole, Uchi Restaurants

King crab, kabocha, nasturtium, lemon

2012 Rodney Strong Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

Third course by James Robert, upcoming Fixe

Smoked Beef Neck, Potato and Peanut, Barbecued Okra

2011 Rodney Strong Symmetry (Red Meritage), Alexander Valley

2010 Rodney Strong Brother Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon, Alexander Valley

Dessert by Janina O’Leary, laV

Chocolate coconut meringue tart, thyme, salted chocolate cremeux, almond

2008 Rodney Strong A True Gentleman’s Port

 

We spoke with Robert Larsen of Rodney Strong Vineyards to find out about the big event and what guests and online viewers from home across the country can expect. 

How did the idea of this virtual community dinner come about? 
Rodney Strong owner, Tom Klein and I had talked about doing something special to celebrate the twenty-fifth anniversary of family ownership. At first, we were just going to host a big dinner at the vineyard, but a few other things came together. We have always been a big supporter of the James Beard Foundation and we have also hosted many celebrity chef dinners across the country for the past few years. Over a few glasses of wine one night, we hatched a plan to do one simultaneous dinner event across the country. 

How did you select the four different cities to participate? 
Well we already knew we wanted to host one at the vineyards in Healdsburg. From there we talked to our staff to see which areas of the country would suit a wine dinner like this. New York, Florida, and Texas are all big markets for Rodney Strong wines and so we started working with the relationships we have in those states to narrow down where we would host each dinner. 

What made you settle on Austin and Uchi for this dinner? 
Austin was a natural pick for us. It's one of the fastest growing cities in the country with people moving there from all over. People are going there because it's a hip place and they like to go out and have a fine meal, which is often accompanied by fine wine. The food scene there is just off the charts and it continues to get stronger.

We have great relationships in Austin and it was immediately clear that Uchi was our top pick for a restaurant host. Getting a chance to work with a James Beard award winner like Tyson Cole of Uchi was also a key for us. 

How will the night go? What can observers expect to witness? 
Each of the dinners are modeled after the special invite-only dinners at the James Beard House in New York. They include a one hour reception with passed hors d'ouerves followed by a five-course dinner paired with our wines. 

A live video feed from each location will link the cities together through an online broadcast with multiple viewing screens in each restaurant so guests can see what other cities are having. Each person at the dinner will receive a program with a complete menu from every location. It will be interesting to lay out a cross section of those menus to see what people are having with each wine.

And what’s great is, even those not attending the event, can watch it live online at RSV25.com

The diversity in food is pretty broad, not only at the Austin dinner, but for each of the dinners. How does this relate to what Rodney Strong Wines are about? 
Our winemakers strive for balance and ripe flavors with proper balance of tannin and acidity and I think that translates across the board for all of our wines. When we drill down to certain sites, it's about the expression of the grapes from their specific plates like our single vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, or our Chalk Hill Chardonnay, which is something we've been making since the mid- 1970s. 

But more than that, our wines lend themselves to a number of different cuisines, which each of the menus being served represent very well.

What do you hope guests will take away from the experience? 
On the face of it, I really hope everyone has a great time. It's a unique experience to eat something different across the country but have the same wines. The shared dinner will be a fantastic celebration. I hope the people sitting around the tables enjoy the experience of having 20 chefs feed all of these people at the same time while they enjoy these wines. We hope it's a great way for them to discover our wines and enjoy them in the future. This is a way for people to virtually come together in for a high-tone experience and see things in a new light. 

We are also excited to be use this as another opportunity for us to support the James Beard Foundation. These chefs are all giving their time to this event for the JBF and it's great that at the end of the evening, the foundation will benefit from such a community experience shared across the country. 

Festivities begin at 7:00 p.m. and tickets are $225 per person. Click here for more information. 

Wed September 3, 2014 1:25 pm By Kate Groetzinger

Just when we think we’ve seen every bit of clothing, every knick-knack, every tchotchke that can possibly be splashed in burnt orange and adorned with the Longhorn logo, someone comes up with an original idea to showcase some pride for the University of Texas. Case in point: the “Hook ‘em donut,” a deep-fried dough ball shaped into the famous hook ‘em hand sign before being coated with an orange, sugary glaze.

The pastry is Pisey Seng’s pride and joy. Seng—or Angel, as she prefers to be called—co-owns Donut Tacos Palace, a small bakery tucked away in a strip mall in Southwest Austin. It may not be as palatial as its name suggests, but Donut Tacos Palace has developed a bit of a cult following. Seng moved from Boston, where she worked as a nail technician after immigrating to the United States from Cambodia, to Austin, in 2006. “One day my brother-in-law says come to Texas. They do good on the donut shop,” she said in English, her second, self-taught language. Seng and husband, Marc, took the advice, moved to Austin, and bought a little shop called the Donut Palace within the year. (They later revamped the store and its menu, and re-named it Donut Tacos Palace.)

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