Cabernet Grill & Newsom Vineyards: An Interplay of Texas Wine and Food Magic
On a recent road trip to the Texas Hill Country to attend the Wine Revolution Rosé Festival at the Horseshoe Bay Resort, my traveling partner Houston Chronicle Wine Columnist Dale Robertson and I scheduled a meet-up with Nolan and YanMei Newsom at Chef Ross Burtwell’s Cabernet Grill in Fredericksburg. After a long day of driving, talking, tasting and more talking (as many writers do have a gift for gab), we looked forward to a visit getting updated on both hill country and high plains wine scenes from the Newsoms.
The news was good on both counts. According to the Newsoms, there are just about as many new winery licenses being processed in Gillespie County as there are current wineries. If these proforma wineries come to fruition, they could take the number of wineries in and around Fredericksburg to somewhere between 80 and 100. Also, the 2018 spring weather has been generally good to high plains winegrowers with only limited losses due to late freezes. Now, growers are keeping their fingers crossed as they enter hail season.
What we experienced after that was truly a special evening; an interplay of Texas food and wine.
According to Nolan Newsom, “Our special off-the-menu menu tonight started with me selecting of some of my favorite and rarest bottles of wine under our Newsom Vineyards and Inception labels. I rounded them up and took them to Cabernet Grill where Restaurant Manager and Wine Director Elizabeth Rodriguez used a Coravin to extract a small amount of wine from each bottle. She tasted them and provided her notes to Chef Ross and he used Elizabeth’s tasting notes to construct the evening’s preparations to best match each of the wines. It was simply what Chef Burtwell does best; it’s his magic combining Texas food and wine.”
Ross Burtwell has been executive chef and owner of Cabernet Grill since 2002. In 2008, TripAdvisor ranked Cabernet Grill the top restaurant in the nation, and since then it has remained in the website’s Top Ten rankings. Another accomplishment that Chef Burtwell is proud of is his all Texas wine list. Ms Rodriguez now helps him maintain this list of over 100 Texas wine current with new releases. This is a challenging task because of the rapid growth in the state’s wine industry and the increasing number of wineries in Texas making quality wine.
The wines served that evening were definitely special to the Newsoms. They were all made from Newsom Vineyards Texas-grown grapes grown on their over 130 acres of vineyards. Secondly, these wines were made by the Texas winemakers that they feel do the best job making wine from their fruit. Lastly, these wines are sold not under winery labels, but their own Newsom Vineyards and Inception labels.
I knew it was going to be an exceptional evening right “out of the blocks” with the Newsom Vineyards 2015 Oaked Albariño made by Texas’s French winemaker Ben Calais at Calais Winery near Johnson City paired with Chef Burtwell’s Smoked Salmon Rillettes – both offering their smokey richness. I’ve never before tasted an Albariño (known as the white wine of northwestern “green” Spain) with such depth of varietal flavor and luscious and silky mouthfeel. This came from a limited release of this wine that Newsom Vineyards. If this wine was “point”, the next wine, Newsom Vineyards 2015 Pinot Grigio was “counterpoint” with its crisp lemony and minerally nuances. It was served with Chef Ross’s Lump Crab Gratin on plates usually reserved for serving garlicky, buttery escargot; a great presentation and lovely melding of flavors and textures.
Two of the other wines presented were Newsom Vineyards 2015 Cabernet Sauvignons – one made by Pedernales Cellars’ winemaker David Kulken and the second made again by Ben Calais. They offered their contrasting styles; the former with new world fruit dominant construction, lighter on oak and the latter with riper fruit yet held in balance with old world construction layered with new French oak. Chef Burtwell’s on-the-plate “magic” referred to by Newsom paired the Pedernales-made wine with Bacon Wrapped Quail, whereas the Calais-made wine was offered with a very hearty 72-hour beef brisket.
Perhaps the most special and rarest wine of the evening was the Newsom 2013 Inception red blend made at Llano Estacado by executive winemaker Greg Bruni’s team. 2013 was a bad year on the Texas high plains with multiple spring freezes that resulted in a harvest of despair for the Newson family. Nolan’s father Neal delivered his entire harvest from the family’s 130 acres of grapevines to the Llano Estacado Winery loading dock. Per Nolan, “The harvest composed of mostly red grapes didn’t even fill a one-harvest bin designed to hold a thousand pounds of grapes”. Rather than just blend in into the Llano Estacado production, the winemakers decided to barrel it separately. The resultant wine that established the Newsom wine brand in the marketplace was a cabernet-centered blend supported by Sangiovese and other who-knows-what red varieties.
We savored one of only a few bottles left of the 2013 Newsom Inception that helped launch the Newsom brand from the vineyard to their Comfort tasting room. This wine offered suitable tasting gravitas with a depth of fruit, a bit of old world Italian and earthy nuances that paired well with Chef Burtwell’s Braised Niman Ranch Short Rib, reduction sauce and wonderfully rib-sticking, three-cheese grits.
Salutations to all involved in making this evening a remarkable experience that ranks at the top of those I’ve had in the twenty-plus years of wine writing. In order, thanks to the growers (The Newsom Family), the winemakers (Kulken, Calais, and Bruni), the wine director (Elizabeth Rodrigeuz) and the chef (Ross Burtwell).
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If you have not already experienced Newsom wines and/or Cabernet Grill (or even if you have), it is high time to visit the Texas hill country to do so:
Newsom Vineyards in Comfort Tasting Room: 717 Front Street, Comfort, Texas 78013. Click here for their Facebook page.
Cabernet Grill at Cottonwood Village: 2805 S State Hwy 16, Fredericksburg, TX 78624. Click here for their website and reservations portal.
If you want to try your hand at Chef Burtwell’s dining creations, get a copy of his cookbook at Cabernet Grill or online (Click here).