Guest Blog: A Hill Country Feast from the Terroir of All Texas Terroirs: Newsom Vineyards
A Guest Blog
by Chef and Author: Terry Thompson Anderson
All lovers of Texas wine should certainly know Ross Burtwell, owner of the Cabernet Grill in Fredericksburg. Ross is a talented and innovative chef who has developed his menu to reflect the way we eat in Texas today. Each dish shows his passion for food, weaving flavors that pair beautifully with Texas wines. A few years back, Ross made the decision to dedicate his entire wine list solely to Texas wines. He’s never looked back, and today Cabernet Grill is known as the destination restaurant for experiencing perfect pairings of Texas foods with Texas wines, virtual proof that “what grows together, goes together.”
Ross began to do some serious Winemaker Dinners, creating luscious menus paired with the wines from specific wineries. The dinners, which allowed diners to not only taste a cross section of wine varietals and styles from Texas winemakers, but to meet and talk with them as well.
A few months ago I was talking to Ross and he mentioned another innovation he was adding to the special dinners. He said that he was doing a dinner based on wines from four different wineries, made from grapes grown by the same grape grower on Thursday, November 3rd. The grower Ross had in mind was Neal Newsom, one of the state’s most respected growers, with 90 acres of vineyards in the Texas High Plains near Lubbock. I was intrigued with the idea and made plans to attend.
It was a meal I’ll not soon forget. Edible Austin publisher Marla Camp and I were honored to share a table with Neal, his wife, Janice and their son, Nolan, the third generation of Newsoms to work the family land, as well as three of the winemakers, Dan Gatlin of Inwood Estates Cellars, and his wife Rose Mary; Gary Gilstrap of Texas Hills Vineyards and his wife Cathy; and Cord Switzer and his wife, Sandy, owners of Fredericksburg Winery. The winemaker of the fourth wine represented at the meal, Monte Dixon, owner of Bar Z Winery, was not able to attend as he wished to spare us all the dose of flu from which he was suffering.
As the guests were seated, Ross emerged from the kitchen to announce the first course, an amuse bouche which he added to the menu in honor of the Newsoms who always always order the dish when they dine at Cabernet Grill – Sesame-Crusted Shrimp with Mango Mayonnaise on a Bed of Jalapeño Slaw. The dish was stellar, a single, perfectly fried shrimp studded with black and white sesame seeds set on on a bed of slaw subtly spiced with minced jalapeño and nested in an oyster shell, then drizzled with the mango mayonnaise. The dish was paired with Texas Hills Vineyard 2010 Pinot Grigio, which has not yet been released to the general public. The pairing was very good, with the deep golden hued wine wrapping its nuances of pear skins and around the sweet, faintly marine flavor of the shrimp, followed by a hint of mango that mated with the mayonnaise, and soothed the spice of the jalapeños to a pleasant glow, while maintaining its flavor steadily through to a fine finish.
Next from the kitchen came striking red ramekins of Spiced Pumpkin Soup, a perfect choice for fall in the Hill Country. The soup was also served with the Texas Hills Vineyard 2010 Pinot Grigio. The wine’s luxuriously silky mouthfeel was a great textural match to the velvety structure of the soup with its smooth top swirl of Tabasco crème fraiche, and a pleasing contrast to the green-nutty flavor and crunch of the smoked pumpkin seed garnish.
The third course of the feast was served with great flair in large rimmed bowls which showcased the towering Pasilla Chile & Cassis Braised Buffalo Short Rib. The pairing here was simply inspired. The Bar Z 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon had an aroma that dazzled, even as it was passed over my shoulder onto the table by the server. With the first swirl I knew that this seven year-old, inky purple gem was thick, full-bodied and rich, with notes of chocolate and cedar. The first taste showed that the tannins had mellowed and integrated, although still discernable, but the deep acidy fruitiness smacked of cassis, or black currants, the darkest of all fruits, was the flavor that filled my mouth. Twenty-eight months in oak had strengthened the tannic structure and added a underlying layer of woody flavor. Ross had indeed made a brilliant pairing here with the earthy flavor of the bison, braised to tender perfection in a stew of pasilla chiles with their notes of leather and tobacco and crème de cassis, a European-style liqueur made from black currants, that sought out the companion flavor in the wine to do a rousing tango on the palate. The short rib was perched on a pillow of smoked onion grits with a scattering of fresh horseradish gremolata. The smokiness of the onion was a perfect match to the minerality of the wine, grown in the porous limestone at Newsome Vineyards. With an elevation of 3500 feet, the vineyard has the ideal combination of hot days, cool nights, and low humidity required to grow great cabernet sauvignon grapes.
The fourth course was not only a welcome Intremezzo, but a surprising one. Ross had created a Texas Hills Sangiovese Sorbet, which he served in an ice “bowl.” The little scoop of ice cold sorbet resounded with the grape’s characteristic raspberry flavors. Even though cold dulls many flavors, I think it actually brightened the flavors of the wine in this sorbet. Marla and I had the added treat of tasting the cold sorbet with a glass of the sangiovese, at room temperature, of course, that Gary had gotten for us. It was a very nice sensory experience, which I’d like to repeat at home!
By the time the fifth course was regally marched into the dining room, audible groans could be heard. The feast had reached Bacchanalian proportions. But who’s not going to taste Beeman Family Ranch Texas Prime Wagyu Strip Steak with Maytag Bleu Whipped Potatoes and Porcini Roasted Shallot Cream? Ross selected Inwood Cellars 2008 “Cornelius” Tempranillo to pair with the wagyu beef. It was another winning pairing. Tempranillo is quickly becoming one of the most popular varietals in Texas. It’s a hot weather grape varietal which originated in Spain. I think that Texas-grown Tempranillo will be one of the benchmark flavors of Texas wine in the future. The Inwood Tempranillo had a great level of acid which stood up to the downright succulence of the beef. The nose promised flavors of deep, rich fruit, and It did not disappoint on the palate. Layers and layers of intense black fruit – black cherries, black currants, and blueberries – spread across the palate, with a weaving of earthiness and a subtle hint of oak, which made the char-grilled flavor of the steak zing, and accentuated the flavor of the porcini mushrooms in the sauce, known for their musky flavor. In the mouth, all was a perfect harmony of the earthy flavors of Texas terroir.
It would be hard to say that dessert was the best part of this meal because each course was sublime, but for the chocolate lovers in the dining room, there was ample room left to savor Ross’s Chocolate Resurrection, a small flourless chocolate cake which he served in martini glasses, topped with a chunky raspberry coulis and sweetened cream. Heavenly on its own with the cloud-like texture of the cake belying the rich hit of bittersweet chocolate, but served with Fredericksburg Winery 2002 Late Harvest Orange Muscat, the dessert course resounded like the icing on the cake. The wine exhibited a rich, deep yellow hue and the nose was rich with orange and a good solid whiff brought a suggestion of brightness, which indeed followed on the palate. This late harvest of muscat grapes from Newsom Vineyard resulted in a wine of highly concentrated fruit and silky sweetness, without a heavy, “sticky” mouthfeel. Its 10 years of aging have resulted in a well-rounded wine. The pairing was like a last waltz, and I was shocked to look down and realize that I had eaten the whole thing!
Okay, Ross, when’s the next dinner?
To see more about Terry’s take on Newsom Vineyards Cabernet wine and food pairing, see: Texas Wine Shrimp Mac & Cheese Delight: My Fatal Mistake in Wine Selection?