Texas-based Pinot Noir and Chardonnay fans looking for a safe-bet in their pursuit of quality wines from California should consider an upcoming Houston wine tasting event on Monday, March 30 from non-profit organization In Pursuit of Balance (IPOB). Founded in 2011 by Rajat Parr of Domaine de la Côte and Sandhi, and Jasmine Hirsch of Hirsch Vineyards, to celebrate wineries committed to promoting wines that focus on balance, authenticity of grape growing and winemaking, and the preservation of the varietal characteristics of both Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. To put it simply, this is a group of wine professionals who want to see California turn over a new leaf in winemaking.
This pursuit of “balance,” is in reference to bringing the four primary characteristics of wine, which include fruit, acidity, alcohol, and tannin into balance with one another. If one of these elements overshadow the others, the wine isn’t revealing its complete potential. Often times, it’s a result of too much interference during the winemaking process. It’s become a common practice among winemakers in California who opt for making a particular style of wine they believe will sell well, rather than making a wine that lets the fruit from a particular vintage speak for itself, as you more often find in places like Burgundy, France.
This organized movement towards more balanced wine from this American wine region is in reaction to overly fruit-forward, high-in-alcohol, highly-oaked wines that have become popular from California producers and among American consumers in the past couple of decades. The result, adherents of the movement hope, will be a more prominent style of wine that favors more classic flavors with less alcohol, a restrained use of oak aging, and a more pronounced tart and freshness of fruit from higher acidity in the grapes; the type of wine you’d find in Burgundy, and more recently in Oregon.
Every two years, wineries may enter wine selections to be sampled by a select tasting panel that determines which wineries will be offered membership for a two-year period. On average there are usually around 30 wineries invited to join, which is roughly 16 percent of the total number of wineries that apply to join. Members are then part of a bi-coast event program showcasing their wines to sommeliers, wine producers, wine enthusiasts and journalists as part of a cohesive body of balanced California Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. The two main events are in New York and San Francisco hosting more than 450 attendees. This year, the organization has expanded their event calendar to include Houston for the exclusive tasting.
It’s no secret that in a state flush with big steakhouses, Texans love their wines big and bold; and usually made from Cabernet Sauvignon. But as the state has developed more diversity in culture, cuisine, and wine, a growing number of wine enthusiasts are interested in a lot more than just one sort of wine from only one region.
In general, Texas is one of the largest wine consuming markets behind New York and California, which is why an event like this has made a point to pop up in the Lone Star State.
“Texas has such a dynamic range of wine-loving cities,” says IPOB co-founder Jasmine Hirsch. “Dallas still has a large steakhouse contingent, but a broader base of restaurants that want a different style of wine. Austin is on the other side of the spectrum with amazing diversity of wine enthusiasts. And Houston falls in between. It has this great energy for an event like this. Among all of those cities, I’ve seen first-hand how collaborative Texas sommeliers and consumers are when it comes to finding new and interesting wines.”
Much of that first-hand experience has come from her regular attendance at the Texas Sommeliers Conference (TEXSOM), which hosts around 500 of the world’s top sommeliers, winemakers, retailers and importers for a two-day conference devoted to the perpetually evolving world of wine.
I’m not sure we’d even be doing this event in Texas if not for TEXSOM,” says Hirsh. “That conference has had such a profound effect on the restaurant and sommelier community over the past ten years that has trickled down to Texas consumers. When we asked different restaurants around the state about their interest in carrying wines from IPOB for their guests, we were amazed a the support we received from places like Gemma in Dallas, to LaV in Austin and Pappas Bros Steakhouse and Underbelly in Houston. In our opinion, if you haven’t heard of IPOB, you have heard of these restaurants and trust that they are committed to a dynamic food and wine program.”
Tickets are $115. Participating restaurants include Houston’s own Pappas, Underbelly, Mark’s, Pass & Provisions, Pax Americana, Sonoma Wine Bar, Austin’s LaV, and Dallas restaurants Gemma and FT33.
You may think for that price, there should be more than 31 wines to sample, but what you’re getting is a pre-curated selection of the very best in California Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. At other large wine tasting events, you often put your palate through the ringer tasting through mediocre wines just to find a few you really like. This event saves you the abuse.
It’s also a great opportunity to discover less well-known wineries without actually having to pack your bags to Sonoma. A few of these wineries only produce about 1,000 cases a year and this will be their only public tasting offered to anyone.
“What I like about what In Pursuit of Balance is doing is that they’re starting a discussion between wine professionals and wine consumers about the breadth of wines that can be found in this region of the world,” says James Tidwell, master sommelier and co-founder of TEXSOM. “There is a lot of diversity of wine in California and a lot of different personal tastes. For a while, this side of the personal taste spectrum wasn’t really represented and it’s great to see that it now has a voice.”
The event is expected to draw more than 300 wine and food enthusiasts to sample great food from its participating restaurants along with the select wines represented by winery owners and winemakers who, if nothing else, will do their best to convince you that a great discussion about wine is truly a worthwhile pursuit.