I will be the first one to admit that I know little to nothing about Texas wine. That was true until my good friend and wine mentor Dave Nershi (editor of Vino-Sphere, www.vino-sphere.com/ ) invited me to a Texas Wine Roundup this past weekend featuring wines from the Lone Star State paired with small plates to complement the wine.
I have been fortunate to have been invited to the Nershi's and their hosted thematic dinner/wine events before and the prior experience was nothing short of spectacular. check out my blogpost "A Meal Fit For A King PLUS An Evening To Remember" dated February 6, 2022. These culinary experiences hosted by Dave and his wife Kathy have made it obvious they are more than adept at assembling a memorable meal with the assistance of a few carefully selected friends and I am fortunate to be invited.
Before I go into the details of the meal, let me tell you just a little about Texas wine. Texas is the 5th largest wine producing state in the country and boasts over 400 vineyards and wineries. Texas has more than 4,000 acres of producing vineyard farmland.
So, lets get into the meal...
Cowboy Caviar Tortilla Bites & Shrimp Avocado Cucumber Bites
w/Fall Creek Vineyard 2021 Sauvignon Blanc Escondido Valley
& Wedding Oak 2021 Terre Blanc
The evening started with passed appetizers Cowboy Caviar Tortilla Bites & Shrimp Avocado Cucumber Bites. The shrimp avocado bites got the ball rolling paired with Fall Creek Vineyard 2021 Sauvignon Blanc Escondido Walley. With aromas of white peach and green apple on the nose, it paired perfectly with the shrimp. This was an excellent opening course and pairing setting the stage for the rest of the evening.
I have long been a fan of Cowboy Caviar, being a country boy at heart I can't help but love the delicious black eyed peas with the pungent punch of onion. The freshness of the corn and a hint of vinaigrette opened the door for the Wedding Oak Terre Blanc. This barrel aged combination of Roussanne and Marsanne with aromas of pear and flowers; with green apple and peach on the palate was a wine I am anxious to add to my wine cellar.
Southwestern Fish Tacos with Apple Fennel Slaw,
Chipotle Salsa Cremosa and Cilantro Lime Cremosa
w/Rivenburgh Wine - 2021 Texas High Plains Vermentino - Canted County Vineyards
My contribution to the evening's meal was Southwestern Fish Tacos with Apple Fennel Slaw, Chipotle Salsa Cremosa and Cilantro Lime Cremosa. I literally jumped at the chance to pair something with Vermentino especially since this is a very food friendly wine. Vermentino is one of the few wines that can actually be paired with the difficult vegetable artichokes.
It didn't take me long to settle on fish tacos for the dish, but that was the easy part. I agonized long and hard over what fish to select bouncing between cod and halibut (both very popular in fish tacos). However, after researching which fish were popular in Texas I decided on a very unpopular fish in Texas - tilapia. Tilapia is an excellent source of proteins and nutrients and has a pleasant non fishy flavor. Unfortunately, in Texas they are considered an invasive species and detrimental to a lot of native species like largemouth bass.
To keep with the western theme I marinated the fish in lime juice and lightly seasoned them with Old Bay before broiling them until flaky. This minimalistic approach to the fish avoiding heavy spices and seasonings assured me the fish would complement without being overpowering.
No fish tacos are complete without a crunchy slaw as the base and again I selected my ingredients carefully . Fennel is a vegetable that pairs extremely well with Vermentino, this licorice flavor vegetable also brought crunch to the slaw. Apples also pair well with Vermentino and my slaw had both Red Delicious and Granny Smith. A few julienned carrots, cilantro, lime juice and a generous amount of salsa verde rounded out the slaw.
The chipotle and cilantro lime cremosa sauces added another bit of southwestern Texas flair as well as made the dish more diversified with minimal effort on my part.
With all that said about the tacos I would be remiss without acknowledging the clean, crisp quality of the well made Vermentino from Rivenburgh Wine - 2021 Texas High Plains Vermentino - Canted County Vineyards. This vibrant wine was a joy to pair with exuding aromas of citrus and apple reinforced on the palate. It was one of the best crafted Vermentinos I have been able to experience.
Organic Chicken Thighs with Porcini & Cherries
w/ Texas Heritage Vineyard - 2019 Merlot, Nara Vineyard
With the white wines behind us, the meal ventured into the red wines. It could not have started on a more dynamic note, the combination of chicken thighs with porcini and cherries paired with merlot was nothing less than magical.
The Texas Heritage 2019 Merlot Nara Vineyard was undoubtedly my favorite wine of the evening. This was one of the most intense expressions of merlot I have ever experienced with vibrant, dynamic flavors of black cherry and dark plum exploding on your palate. With a chocolatey smooth finish this is a wine I would love to have in my cellar.
Anyone who really knows me is aware of my affinity for chicken thighs dubbed "the sexy part of the chicken". I fully agree because while most seek out the chicken breast (which can easily be dried out during cooking) and the wings (which are great but not a load of meat) it is the lowly chicken thigh that has the perfect fat to flesh ratio resulting in succulent tasty fowl every time. The subtle tartness and sweetness of the cherries combined with the savory flavor of the chicken were a perfect combination with the fruit and mild tannins of the merlot.
Ma's Smoked Beef Brisket & Barbecue Sauce with Skillet Fried Potatoes, Red Pepper & Onion w/Fall Creek Vineyard - 2021 Mission San Antonio de Valero "Alamo" Cabernet Sauvignon
Just when I thought it couldn't get any better we were presented with Beef Brisket & Barbecue Sauce with Skillet Fried Potatoes, Red Pepper & Onion accompanied by 2021 Mission San Antonio de Valero "Alamo" Cabernet Sauvignon. This dish was truly a labor of love combined with a tribute to an historic Texas moment in time.
First the plate. It featured one of the most famous and consumed cuts of meat in Texas - beef brisket. Although not that popular in the Tarheel Stare, in Texas beef brisket is king. Not only did the dish feature the king of beef in Texas but it also showcased a novel and up and coming cooking technique - sous vide.
For those of you who are unaware of this cooking process, it involves cooking "sous Vide" or under vacuum, immersed in boiling water kept at a constant temperature. The end result is the ability to achieve your desired doneness with virtually no fear of overcooking your meal. For meats like lamb, chicken breasts and seafood like salmon and lobster that are not good overcooked this is a game changer.
The cook who prepared the brisket for this course started out by sous viding the beef for a grand total of 36 hours. In addition many items cooked sous vide will often require a secondary cooking technique to make them more palatable. For example, steak prepared sous vide is generally pan seared briefly in a hot pan to create a seared crust. For the beef brisket, the person who prepared it smoked it in a smoker for another 12 hours.
The end result was some of the most tender, succulent, flavorful beef brisket I have ever had in my life. A worthy pairing for the tannin rich Fall Creek Vineyard - 2021 Mission San Antonio de Valero "Alamo" Cabernet Sauvignon bursting with flavor. The “Alamo” Cabernet Sauvignon exhibits dark cherry, plum, spice and light oak creating perfect harmony between fruit and acidity in this medium body wine with soft tannins. Mission wine is a special commemoration to the heroes who died at the Alamo. Some of the grapes in this wine were harvested from Fall Creek at Driftwood’s Oxbow Vineyard, land originally owned by William B. Travis.
Borracha Beans & Cornbread topped w/ Bacon & Chive
w/ Texas Heritage Vineyard - 2019 Petite Sirah, Paka Vineyards
This course really caught me off guard, very unassuming but packed with flavor. Cornbread, a staple in the South as well as in Texas, combined with "Borracha" or drunken beans. The dish featured one of my favorites pinto beans; but cooked simmered in a beer broth with bacon, onions, tomatoes and spices. This is the consummate Tex Mex meal combining rich flavorful tender beans with hearty moist cornbread.
The Texas Heritage Vineyard - 2019 Petite Sirah, Paka Vineyards was an excellent companion to the aforementioned dish. This award winning wine crafted from Petite Sirah is heavy with black cherry on the nose and dark fruit on the palate. The full body and structure of this wine were outstanding making it uber friendly with the savory beans. Established in 2015 Texas Heritage has rapidly earned a sterling reputation.
Wild Boar Ragu with Pappardelle, Beet Salad
w/ Wedding Oak - 2020 Tannat, Texas High Country
Our final plated course of the evening was a monumental effort which even included bringing in wild boar all the way from Texas! The Lone Star State is home to an estimated population of nearly two million wild boar (feral hogs) and they are found in nearly every county in Texas. This was a first for me and a pleasant one because the wild boar was amazingly lean and had a taste very similar to beef. It was perfect for the ragu or meat based sauce in which the boar was slowly braised. The hearty pappardelle noodles provided a perfect platform for the delivery of the savory stew.
The boar was perfect paired with the tannin heavy Wedding Oak 2020 Tannat, Texas High Country. This varietal, very popular in Uruguay, has found a home in Texas and the result is an inky dark wine with an intense dark plum, licorice flavor. I was so impressed by this wine it may very well end up in my upcoming blind Tannat tasting.
Chocolates and coffee were a fitting end to a meal that was crafted and orchestrated skillfully from beginning to end. Each course was a culinary experience and all pairings with the wines were precise and complimentary. This was my second thematic dinner paired with wine hosted by the Nershi's and if I am lucky it won't be my last. Hopefully this experience and account will inspire you to be open minded and give Texas wine a try. As an advocate of North Carolina wine I am well aware of how easy it can be to have your wine industry go unnoticed. For me, my appreciation of Texas wine has greatly increased and I look forward to my next opportunity to sample wine from the Lone Star State.