STIRRING UP INNOVATION
As part of Savor Dallas, Republic National Distributing hosted a panel wittingly titled “Stirring Up Innovation” that focused on the craft spirit movement. Sly Cosmopoulous (yes, it’s on her birth certificate) led the effort as we ventured through a number of unique cocktails, both old and new. My personal favorite was the Dear John, a blend of Garrision Brothers Bourbon, lemon juice, simply syrup, cardamom and elderflower tonic. Second place was the Eclipse Punch, consisting of the five required components of spirit (in this case, chamomile infused Mt. Gay rum), citrus, water, herb and sugar.
The event was more technical than anticipated but delivered a great deal of insight as to the “strategy” of the spirits business. As an ex-investment banker nerd that enjoys these types of lectures, I was hooked. We dove into micro and macroeconomic trends, demographic tendencies (Latin, African-American, etc.) and anticipated foresight in untapped markets. All while sipping freshly made cocktails from the artisans at Bob’s Steak and Chop House. My kind of Saturday.
The two captains commanding Friday evening’s six-course wine dinner pairings came by their trade via unorthodox courses. The Omni’s executive chef, Jason Weaver, is a decorated United States Marine who served in Desert Shield, Desert Storm, and in Somalia for Operation Restore Hope, and later earned his cooking stripes at the School Craft College in Livonia, Michigan. Scott Kozel, E and J Gallo’s winemaker, is a Napa Valley transplant who embraced his true calling in the wine business after a 10-year stint working in Nevada as a mechanical engineer. Had you been among the number who enjoyed the evening’s intimate dining experience, which I was an invited guest, you would have been none the wiser given the creative collaborative experience to come.
Guests were greeted in the upstairs ballroom at the Omni with William Hill’s 2012 North Coast Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon. Of the passed hor d’oeuvres, a succulent and substantial bite of lobster atop soba noodles had me beckoning the server to make another pass. The first seated course was sika venison accompanied with vanilla-infused grilled pineapple and a celery root puree, and paired with the William Hill’s 2010 Bench Blend Chardonnay. While more than a few eyebrows arched at the proposition of a white wine accompanying a course consisting of game, the pairing was spot-on with the softness of the vanilla complementing the buttery richness of the wine. An herb-cured salmon succeeded the first course, followed by a sunchoke ravioli with king crab, garlic and wild mushroom. Unlike any other pairing I’ve experienced, the ravioli course was served with two wines: the 2010 Bench Blend Cabernet Sauvignon and the 2011 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. The exercise was deliberate and highlighted the distinctive bouquet and flavor profiles of the two reds.
The entrée was identified as short ribs, but the consensus at my table was that the delectable “mystery meat” had been misidentified on the munu – short ribs could never be this fork tender. The confusion dissipated when Chef Weaver disclaimed he had utilized the now trending sous vide method of preparation for seventy-two hours to achieve the melt in your mouth quality. The 2009 William Hill Meritage was the perfect accent with a solid backbone and fruity complexion, but not so pronounced that it overwhelmed the course. And, while I believe all of the guests were more than satiated, Jason and Scott bucked tradition again and presented two desserts: lemon yogurt cake with the Lamarca Prosecco and dark chocolate cake with a second helping of the exquisite Meritage. As much as I would have like to see the next surprise around the corner, I was more than content when the curtain closed.
WINE TASTING SEMINAR
Esteemed author Alan Deutschman, who penned A Tale of Two Valleys, once said that drinking in the morning might beckon questions of sobriety unless one was found doing so in a “tasting room.” My tasting room of choice last Saturday was at the Omni Hotel, enjoying the grape juice of William Hill, a boutique California outfit acquired by the E and J Gallo empire, and two houses at the forefront of Texas’s wine scene: Becker Vineyards and Fall Creek Vineyards. Expert co-moderators Michael Green—whose impressive resume includes a 19-year stint with Gourmet Magazine—and “The Wine Curmudgeon” Jeff Siegel, welcomed questions . They were quick to interpret any non-laymen wine terminology.
A flight of three whites commenced with a crisp and refreshing Sauvignon Blanc from Fall Creek. Winemaker Sergio Cuadra, recruited from Chile to continue steering Fall Creek into the next decade, was particularly pleased to see how well the grape adapted and thrived in the local soil. The other white offering from the Republic of Texas, a Viognier from Becker Vineyards, likewise exceeded expectations and delighted the crowd with a $16 price point. Dr. Becker, a still-practicing medical doctor in Fredricksburg, Texas, informed us that Viognier has proven to be a differentiating grape varietal in the state with an excellent production each year. Dr. Becker also enlightened the audience by providing nuggets of information on Louis Pasteurs’ contributions to the trade and the meaning of “malolactic fermentation.”
The red flight didn’t disappoint with its unique blend of Granache, Syrah, and Mouvedre presented by Fall Creek. Despite commanding a higher retail price than most Texas offerings, the attendees did not scoff after sipping. William Hill followed with a smooth and squid ink-colored Cabernet Sauvignon that was sampled at the previous night’s Silverado Trail dinner. Dr. Becker’s Cabernet Sauvignon concluded the tasting and offered a distinctly lighter and elegant profile than the prior glass. Its subtle flavor was extremely enjoyable and imparted by the fresh oak barrels purchased in Missouri. I left the tasting appreciative of all of the wines sampled, and somewhat pleasantly surprised by the first rate grape juice flowing here in the Lone Star state.
Rachel Saldana contributed to this report.