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Food and Wine Pairing with Chef Troy Knapp of The Driskill Grill

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Howdy! It’s your disappearing writer here. Sorry for the extended absence, but it has been a busy few months. Among other things, I spent the spring and summer studying for my Certified Specialist of Wine exam and I passed. Yay! You can expect there will be more wine posts in the future.

I’ve also helped launch a new series of classes with the Wine and Food Foundation highlighting food and wine pairing at area restaurants. It has been so fun to work with local sommeliers and chefs to explore both classic and unusual pairings. Executive Chef Troy Knapp of Austin’s Driskill Grill recently led a group of twenty Wine & Food Foundation supporters through a phenomenal three course tasting at one of our Perfect Pair classes.

Incredible food and wine pairings are usually a collaborative effort between a chef and sommelier as they each own a specific half of the equation, sharing some knowledge in the middle. Chef Knapp has an edge up on the pairing formula as not only is he an experienced chef, but he is a Certified Sommelier. He introduced our group not only to his wine acumen, as well as the new approach to the Driskill Grill menu which they unveiled that week.

butternut squash and vouvray

All the pairings were spectacular, showing off two different wines with each plating, I was wowed by an amuse bouche of butternut squash soup paired with 2008 Domaine Huet, Le Haut – Lieu, Vouvray Demi Sec from Loire, France. While a sweeter wine is not usually my first choice, the Demi Sec harmonized beautifully with the butternut squash and made me long for fall.

The crowd favorite of the night was Chef Knapp’s second course pairing of dry-aged Wagyu flatiron steak with a blind pairing of Temprañillo. Curious if the group could discern the Spanish Rioja (2006 López de Heredia Viña Cubillo Crianza) from a Texas Temprañillo (2012 Bending Branch), Chef Knapp had the group taste the two without giving a clue as to their origin.

rioja pairing2

About half the group placed the wines correctly, but everyone was a winner because the perfectly grilled beef and Bending Branch Temprañillo were a match made in heaven. The dry cherry flavors married well with the steak served atop a carrot puree, roasted beets, summer squash and huckleberry bordelaise.

Ending the night with a 2008 Royal Tokaji paired with a hazelnut torte guaranteed that everyone left full, satisfied and as devoted fans of Chef Knapp and his team at the Driskill Grill.

To learn more about wine and food pairing, join us for the Wine & Food Foundation’s next Perfect Pair class class on Tuesday, October 20th at Arro or at one of Driskill Grill’s pairing dinners, the next one on Tuesday, October 13th is with Master Sommelier Guy Stout. You can learn more about Guy Stout and his journey in the wine world in his interview with Levi Dalton of the I’ll Drink to That podcast.

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Walking the Wild Side of Wine with East End Wines’ Sam Hovland

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One of my favorite things about the world of wine is the sheer volume and variety of what is available. I love that you can tour any part of the world and learn about the area’s history, geography, climate and culinary influences all through a few sips. I’ve never been to Uruguay, Turkey or the volcanic Mt. Etna, but I now know a great deal about those places because of Wine Buyer Sam Hovland at East End Wines.


East End Wines, on Rosewood Avenue just across from Hillside Farmacy, is an affordable place to experiment with new wines. The shop targets an average retail price of $18 per bottle and hosts free weekly wine tastings to introduce their customers to new offerings. (You definitely want to sign up for that email list.) They also host wine classes where you can learn in depth about your favorite vino.

I recently attended a Uruguayan wine tasting at the shop and it prompted me to ask Sam to take me on a tour of some of the other unusual wines they have on their shelves.

The Mile High Vineyard. Torrontes is the flagship white wine of Argentina and has become increasingly popular in the U.S., but it is unusual to find a wine made from grapes grown over a mile above sea level. The Laborum Single Vineyard Torrontes 2013 El Porvenir de Cafayette has the peach and honeysuckle flavors you might expect from this varietal, but because the temperature drops 40-50 degrees when the sun goes down, it also has an uncharacteristic acidity.


“This wine has racy acidity, while you still get that stone fruit and floral character without it coming out as overly sweet or soft,” says Hovland. “It’s pretty easy to enjoy.” This refreshing white from the Salta region retails for $18.

A dry Hungarian.  Hungary is known for it’s sweet wines from the Tokaji (prounced to-keye) region northeast of Budapest, but the East End Wines team prefers the quality dry and sparkling wines.  The Royal Tokaji Furmint Sec 2011 is dry, sleek, light and citrusy white that retails for $17.


“This wine would pair well with a roasted chicken stuffed with sliced up orange and fennel or a whole range of earthy eastern European or Italian vegetable dishes that,” says Hovland.

A volcanic rosé. There are few places as precarious to grow grapes as on the side of Mt. Etna, an active volcano in Catania, Italy on the island of Sicily.  But Frank Cornelissen is not known for shying away from challenges. Not only is his vineyard on a volcano, but he practices organic winemaking and refuses to use sulfur as a preservative, creating wines that are literally alive in the bottle.

The F. Cornelissen Susucaru 6 Rosé is a blend of 80% red grapes and 20% white grapes, from several varietals native to Sicily like the Nerello Mascalese, Malvasia and Cattaratto. The bottle is full of sediment and looks more like a lava lamp than a fine wine.


“This wine is weird,” says Hovland. “It is very tangy and has a still alive spritz. One bottle may be fizzy and one may be more still, but they are fun and worth trying.”  This delightful pink volcano in the bottle retails for $30.

A Turkish Delight. Turkey is known more for its cuisine than its wine, but the vineyards in the Central Anatolia region on the banks of the Euphrates, are producing notable wines that are considered rising values. Made with native Turkish grapes Öküzgözü and Boğazkere, the Kavaklidere – Selection Kirmizi 2010 has intense dried plum and sweet spice aromas and is elegantly powerful and full-bodied on the palate.


“This blend is from interesting varietals that you don’t see that often,” says Hovland. “It comes off like a bit more ripe Bordeaux type of blend and is very versatile as a food wine.” The elegant Turkish red sells for $20.

When you stock your wine rack for the holidays, mix it up and explore a little. The folks at East End Wines are great sherpas for the journey!

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TEXSOM 2014: Exploring Beyond the Noble Grapes

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I had the honor to once again attend TEXSOM, the sommelier education conference hosted in Dallas each summer, but this time with a little different perspective. I participated in the Introductory Sommelier Course and Exam conducted by the Court of Sommeliers, the organization that grants the certified, advanced and master sommelier designations. It was an eye-opening experience of what it means to undertake the certification process and I was both delighted and relieved that I passed my exam. Phew!


Thank you to everyone who helped me study, blind taste and talk me down off the ceiling when I got nervous. It took a village!

After the course, the sessions at the conference seemed downright relaxing – no exam at the end! And, as always, I learned an incredible amount from the Master Sommeliers, writers, educators and winemakers who conducted the informative sessions.

The overarching theme for me at this year’s conference was that winemakers around the world are moving beyond the most popular varietals (Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, etc.) and embracing grapes that are ideal for their climate and region. The result is an emergence of enticing and interesting wines. The challenge? We have to be willing to get out of our comfort zones and try them.

Here is a quick snapshot of some of my biggest takeaways from TEXSOM 2014.

Don’t be afraid to explore the states

We’ve all had wines from California, Washington and Oregon, and maybe you even have a Texas favorite or two (I know I do), but have you tried some of the other states? There are some incredibly interesting wines being made across the country and that was the focus of the Beyond the Big Three panel curated by seven industry leaders. We were taken on a vinous tour that spanned from Virginia to Arizona and included wines from Arizona, Colorado, Michigan, Missouri,New York, Texas and Virginia.

I was intrigued to try so many new wines including a Norton-based wine from Stone Hill Winery in Misssouri. The Norton grape, new to me, is a native American varietal that is planted widely on the East Coast and was planted in Missouri by German immigrants. I also really enjoyed the Michigan (Chateau Grand Traverse) and New York (Ravines Wine Cellars) Rieslings, as well as the Bookcliff Vineyards Syrah Reserve from Grand Valley, Colorado. And, of course, I loved the Texas stars at the tasting, the Duchman Family Winery Sangiovese and the Pedernales Cellars Tempranillo.



Wine writer and educator Paul Lukacs summed up my feelings about this session and the pleasure in exploring new wines. “When wine is well-made outside of the West Coast, it doesn’t taste like a clone of West Coast wine. You are going to get different flavors and characteristics. How many wine lists have we seen that are repeating the same characteristics at different price points. Let’s look at new things. What is the story to tell when they are all the same thing?”

Lukacs’ words rang in my ears this week as I perused a predominantly California list at a restaurant, full of wines I’ve seen on so many other lists, and suppressed the urge to question their sense of adventure.

Portugal is about much more than Port

When you think of Portugal wine, you probably consider Port and maybe Vinho Verde, but you probably do not know much about the other 250 indigenous grape varieties. With a renewed focus on non-Port styles and an increased interest in exporting (thanks EU!), you can now find more Portugese labels on the shelf and restaurant menus.

Master Sommeliers Devon Broglie (Austin) and Keith Goldston introduced us to a number of Portugese gems. Already a fan of Vinho Verde for Austin’s hot summer days and Touriga Nacional when I’d like a deep red to cozy up with, I was delighted to find some new Portugese favorites and even happier that they are reasonably priced.

I’ll be seeking out the Qunita Dos Roques made from 100% Encruzado grapes as well as the Luis Pato Beiras VR Vinhas Velhas from the Baga grape. I’ll also be keeping my eyes peeled for wines from Alvaro Castro who Goldston called “the soul of Portugese wine.” With a title like that, how could his wines not be fantastic.

Embrace your inner gaucho

Until the regional focus on Chile and Argentina led by Master Sommeliers Craig Collins (Austin) and Peter Neptune, I alway thought of South American wine as an acceptable alternative to my other choices when I was wanting to spend a little less. A new wave of young winemakers with a penchant for experimentation is changing all of that and the result is a host of exciting wines from the region.

Collins noted that winemakers are planting increasing amounts of Carignan and Cinsault in Chile and Cabernet Franc, Pinot Noir, Bonarda and Semillon in Argentina. On the Chilean side, two wines from Concho y Toro caught my fancy: the 2012 Terrunyo Sauvignon Blanc and 2008 Carmin de Peumo Carmenere (this one’s pricey at $65, but worth it).


From Argentina, I loved the Mendel Semillon, which Collins dubbed as “gluggable” for its easy drinkability,  am always a fan of the Bodega Colome Torrontes, and if you need a leggy red to go with your steak, seek out the Andeluna Cellars Grand Reserve Pasionado blend of Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot.

Pecorino isn’t just a cheese

No, really, Pecorino is also a wine. This Italian white varietal from the Offida DOCG in Marche makes a crisp, clean wine with a touch of apple and honeysuckle. In the Weird & Wild DOCGs session, Master Sommelliers Brett Davis, Laura DePasquale and W. Scott Harper led us through a fascinating tasting several lesser known Italian DOCGs, or government classified wine regions.

The white varietal Albana was the star of the Tre Monti Vigna Rocca Secco from Emilia Romagna, a region considered the bread basket of Italy because of its fertile soils. With light flavors of honey and peach, this wine would be perfect shared with friends over a  platter of ham and cheese.

As a big fan of Nebbolio, I was excited to discover a region outside of Piedmont (its traditional home) growing the grape. The Nino Negri from the Sfrusrsat di Valtellina DOCG did not disappoint and I will not shy away next time I see a Valtellina Nebbiolo on a list.

Sipping history

I ended this year’s TEXSOM conference with a retrospective tasting from Chappellet Winery. This was my first vertical tasting, sampling several vintages (years) of the same wine to learn how it has aged and changed over time, and it was a revelatory experience.

Chappellet was the second new winery to open after prohibition, Mondavi was first, and has a well-deserved reputation for making outstanding wines. It was an honor to have the owner and Chairman Cyril Chappellet share the winery’s history as we tasted the Chappellet Signature Cabernet Sauvignon from 1975, 1977, 1980, 1987, 1991 and 1997, followed by the Chappellet Pritchard Hill Estate Cabernet Sauvignon from 2005 and 2010.

The wines represented the work of three different winemakers over four decades and you could sense their style in each glass. I came away from the tasting with a distinct feel for Pritchard Hill, even though I’ve never been there, and how the winery is evolving.

Before this session, I had avoided vertical tastings, not understanding why you would want to taste so many versions of the same wine. I won’t make that mistake again. Vertical tastings give you great insight to a wine – its past and its potential.

And a lesson learned

And, one last thing. I learned the hard way during my Introductory course that I need to drink a lot more red wine before my next blind tasting test. I did pretty well with the white wines in the portion of our class where you have to deduce the wine without knowing anything about it. However, when we started analyzing reds, my penchant for roses and whites got in the way and I struggled. Clearly, I have more studying to do… Darn.

Thanks to the Court of Sommeliers and TEXSOM for another year of expanding my horizons and palate. I can’t wait to see what next year brings!




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Harvesting Community and Fun at Texas Vineyards

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Most of us have experienced the joy of  sharing a lovely glass of wine with friends and at Texas vineyards, you can take that experience one step further by being part of the harvest.

Messina Hof

Messina Hof

Starting at the beginning of August, vineyards across the state began harvesting their grapes, rescuing them from the brutal summer sun and transforming them into beautiful vintages. Two years ago, I had the opportunity to participate in the harvest at Pedernales Cellars in Stonewall  and this year I joined the crew at Messina Hof in Bryan.


My friend Stacey at the Messina Hof harvest

My friend Stacey at the Messina Hof harvest

Harvest is truly a community gathering, with the vineyards relying on the extra hands of friends and family to race the clock of mother nature to ensure that they pick the grapes at their peak.

Family and friends pitching in at Pedernales Cellars

Family and friends pitching in at Pedernales Cellars

The grapes are collected in large bins and then processed through a sorter to remove the MOG (material other than grapes). From there, the the wine making begins.


Grape collection in the fields

The sorter

The sorter


Material other than grapes (MOG)

You can participate in grape stomp and harvest events at wineries around the state over the next two weekends. Don’t miss this chance to be part of your favorite wine from the start of its journey from vine to bottle.


(And thanks Lillian for pulling together this list of upcoming events!)

Texas Hill Country Wineries – great website with extensive winery events calendar.

Pedernales Cellars
Grape Stomp 2014
August 22, 23, & 24  Noon- 5pm

Messina Hof
Harvest Festival 2014
August 22-23, Bryan
August 29-30, Fredericksburg

Becker Vineyards 
18th Annual Grape Stomp!
August 23-24, & August 30

Fall Creek Vineyard
25th Annual Grape Stomp & Harvest
August 23, 11am-5pm

Stone House Vineyard
Time to Harvest! 
August 23, 6:30 am

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