Diving into the wine world at TEXSOM

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I had the pleasure of attending TEXSOM, a wine education conference hosted in Dallas, for the second year in a row and was once again awed by how much there is to learn in the wine and beverage world.  I feel like such a novice in that crowd, but everyone is  generous with their knowledge and patient with newbie questions.  Here are a few of my “aha” moments from the conference.

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(These are listed in order learned, not necessarily importance.)

Wine on Tap

The first time I saw the wine one tap at Second Bar and Kitchen, I thought Chef David Bull and crew had lost their minds, but then I listened to their reasons and kind of got it. For a mid-range bottle, kegging the wine minimizes the amount of spoilage and makes service easier. And, the wine was good (this isn’t Franzia, folks). I wasn’t surprised when I started to see the new service option at other venues and was delighted to find it in retail outlets like Whole Foods where you can pick from a variety of sizes to take home with you, not stuck with the standard bottle size.

Free Flow Wine kegs - photo courtesy of Free Flow Wines

Free Flow Wine kegs – photo courtesy of Free Flow Wines

But, I didn’t really get how powerful this alternative for wine service could be until I talked to Free Flow Wines Co-founder and Chairman Dan Donahoe at the conference.  When he told me that a major hotel chain in Las Vegas was saving five tons of garbage a year by using kegged wines instead of bottles, the light bulb went off.  Granted, a restaurant isn’t going to save that volume, but it is still a significant consideration if you are thoughtful about how much waste you are creating.

No, you aren’t going to keg a fine reserve vintage, but that isn’t the majority of wine that is served on a daily basis.  Yay for wine on tap!

Etna and Austin’s fabulous Master Sommeliers

I learned all about Mount Etna in high school Latin and geography, but my teachers neglected to mention that the side of this active volcano is peppered with vineyards. You think Texas winemakers have it tough, these Sicilian wineries are battling an active volcano.  Now that’s extreme farming.

Austin’s Master Sommeliers, Craig Collins of Arro and Devon Broglie of Whole Foods, did an outstanding job guiding us through this region that is quickly growing in popularity. (Apparently, Etna is the new black among wine geeks.)  The wines were lovely with a slight taste of ashy volcanic rock and a bit of salinity from the Mediterranean Sea. Even more fun than discovering these new-t0-me wines, was the engaging presentation by Craig and Devon.  Our master somms are great educators and, if you have a chance to attend a talk by either, you should jump at the opportunity.

Intricacies of Bourbon

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Bourbon mash mixes and a piece from a charred bourbon barrel

I have been drinking bourbon since I was old enough to drink. (Ok, maybe a little bit before that, but let’s not get caught up in details.) My dad always had a bottle of Weller’s in the liquor cabinet and it was our family pour.  I’ve attended other sessions about this beloved libation, but nothing with the depth presented by Master Sommelliers Brett Davis of Doc Crow’s Southern Smokehouse & Scott Harper of Bristol Bar and Grille, two Kentucky gentlemen with a deep understanding of bourbon.

Taking us through a tasting that demonstrated how the combination of corn, rye and wheat impacts the flavor (hint: rye makes it spicier, wheat evens it out) and that the position in the rickhouse (where they age bourbon) changes the quality.  In fact, most of the bourbon on the shelves is made by twelve distilleries and the difference between the bottles is the mix of the ingredients and where the bourbon is aged.  It was a fascinating tour of my favorite spirit.

Texas takes on Tannat 

bending branch wines

Bending Branch wines

To be honest, I’d never heard of Tannat when I signed up for this session, which was all the more reason to learn about this hearty red grape that has been historically grown in the Basque region of France and Uruguay.  Because of it’s tenacity, the varietal has been used throughout South America and California as a blending grape and has now made it’s way to Texas.

We sampled a spicy award-winning Tannat from Bending Branch Winery in Comfort, Texas that would have paired perfectly with a juicy steak or  barbecue.  The winery has been consulting with several other Texas vineyards on growing Tannat and you can expect to see more of this varietal popping up around the state.

Taste Texas Hospitality Suite

texas winemakers

Jeff Ogle (Duchman Family Winery), Pat Brennan (Brennan Vineyards), Kim McPherson (McPherson Cellars) and Fredrik Osterberg (Pedernales Cellars)

Texas wines aren’t new to TEXSOM, but in some ways this year was a bit of a coming out party for our wineries. Often looked down upon by their coastal cousins, Texas wineries have had to prove themselves to the naysayers.  And, with a proper amount of Texas pluck and hard work, the wineries are earning their due.

This year, four of our award-winning wineries who make Texas appellation wines (using grapes only grown in Texas) hosted a Taste Texas hospitality suite at the conference that was so crowded you had to go outside to hear yourself think.  It was fantastic.  You can read more about the event in my CultureMap article.

And, of course, the most important lesson learned at TEXSOM – do not try to keep up with the sommeliers. But that’s a story for a different day.

Want to know more about TEXSOM? Check out Jessica Dupuy’s piece about Austin Sommelier Scott Ota winning the insanely difficult best sommelier in Texas competition and Matt McGinnis’ What Are You Drinking blog for his take on the conference.

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