A Texas Wine and Food Experience – Gone to the Dogs

What better way to appreciate wine and food in Texas but through a common appreciation of dogs. To be specific, last night’s wine and food experience would not have happened but for such a situation.

Yesterday evening’s dinner was prepared and served by private chef, Gary Mularski of Dining Chez Vous (http://diningchezvous.com). It was “payment” for watching Gary’s new dog, a young female Labradoodle named Reagan. Reagan met us at the door with tail wagging and wet dog kisses.

To make a long story short….Labradoodles are the cute, smart and hypoallergenic hybrid creatures composed of Labrador Retriever and Poodle DNA. My dog, Rubio*, a two year old male Labradoodle, came from the same breeder (www.labradoodlebabies.com) in Beaumont, TX, as did Reagan. When it came time for Gary and his wife Joan to pick up their new puppy from the breeder, they had already committed to an out of town vacation. My wife volunteered us to watch Reagan for a week. My memory recalls a whirlwind time with Rubio and Reagan tussling, rolling, playful biting and tugs-of-war with everything and anything they could find. There were only a few short bursts of animal indignation when Rubio’s claim to his food was questioned. Little Reagan got the message.

[*NOTE: You can vote for Rubio in his Halloween get-up dressed as Sherlock Homes complete with “hounds” tooth cape and deerstalker hat. He is trying to solve the “Lost Bone Mystery”. Go to: http://www.thedogtrainingsecret.com/blog/inspector-rubio-sherlock-holmes-costume/]

We told Gary that his offer of a personally prepared gourmet dinner was a grand idea. However, I volunteered that he had to let me bring the wine (wink, wink). Chef Gary approved and emailed us the following menu that got my salivary juices flowing and provided input for my wine selections:

Roasted Pepper & Gorgonzola Bruschetta
Red & yellow peppers, Gorgonzola cheese, basil oil on garlic toast

Sweet Duck Sausage
Served with cherry compote, foie gras mustard & mixed greens with red wine vinaigrette

French Whole Wheat Baguette with Chèvre Parsley Butter

Braised Beef Short Ribs – Slow Braised in Red Wine
Served with caramelized Parmesan Polenta & orange glazed carrots

Pecan Chocolate Chip Pie
Served with homemade French vanilla ice cream

The reason for the “wink, wink” above, as you can probably guess, was because I was going to bring a selection of Texas wines. Gary and his wife had not previously sampled wines from Texas. Somewhat surprised with my complement of Texas wines, Gary said that he did not think that Texas had a climate for grape growing. Being in Houston, this is a judgment-in-error made by many locals and people from around the USA. I explained that, in Texas, the higher elevations, drier conditions and sandy soils in the western part of the state provide conditions not much different to those in well known wine regions like Rioja Alta in Spain, Bandol in the south of France, and the Mendoza in Argentina. While on a roll, I added that Texas is the state ranked fifth in the wine production just behind California, Washington, New York, and Oregon, and over 1 million people a year now visit Texas wineries.

The Starter

I realized that the starter and first course on Chef Gary’s menu required an intensely flavored white wine for a successful pairing with the bruschetta and duck sausage. The hint of sweetness in the sausage plate came from both the cherry compote and the addition of cherries in the sausage. Therefore, the white wine would also need to provide a sensation of sweetness, but crisp acidity and dryness to cut the fats in the cheese and sausage. To fit these requirements, I chose Brennan Vineyards (www.brennanvineyards.com) 2008 Viognier. While being dry and not oak aged, it yielded intense fruit flavors of white peaches and citrus. The mouth feel was full and the finish satisfying with the ability to combine with Chef Gary’s offerings of bruschetta with Gorgonzola and multifaceted duck sausage plate.

The Main Course

Braised short ribs are acknowledged to be one of the richest red meat preparations. This arises from immersion, slow cooking, and the reduction of a bottle of red wine with carrots, onions and tomato. It also gains intensity from the caramelized crust that forms on the surface of the meat during the final stage of cooking. Chef Gary’s preparation did not fail. It reached the anticipated pinnacle of opulence.

Realizing the intensity of this dish, I reached for two of Texas boldest red wines made so far. The first wine was Becker Vineyards (www.beckervineyards.com) 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve. It was well extracted and made with premium grapes from long time Texas grower, Neal Newsom (www.newsomvineyards.com) in his vineyard in the Texas High Plains Appellation near Lubbock Texas at an elevation of over 3,500 feet.  Hot days and cool night prevail in this region. The Becker Cab poured with a deep purple color into the glass, generous a full complement of fresh, ripe dark berry flavors rounded out with a dollop of toasted oak.

The second red wine was from Blue Mountain Vineyards (www.texaswinetrails.com/pat_j.htm), a winery in the land of the Marfa Lights (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marfa_lights) that was long acknowledged for its ability to make the best red wine in Texas. This wine was the Blue Mountain 1998 Cabernet Sauvignon made by legendary Texas winemaker Patrick Johnson. The Blue Mountain vineyard was located near Fort Davis, Texas at an incredible elevation near 5,000 feet where during the growing season the days typically reach ninety degrees, but the night time temperatures an plunge into the fifties. Regrettably, the taste of this wine will have to last in our minds forever as the vineyard is no longer in production with its vines having succumbed to Pierce’s Disease, the scourge of Texas grape growers. Despite its age, this wine showed excellent fruit extraction to match the intensity of sauce served with Chef Gary’s short ribs. It also had aged qualities gained during the past eleven years producing a dark red garnet color along with qualities of black cassis with hints of cedar and leather.

Dessert

The final course was dessert: Chef Gary’s Pecan Chocolate Chip Pie with almond crust served with his homemade vanilla ice cream…OMG! Wow, this southern favorite was never so good. It was sweet and nutty with lots of dark chocolate chips through and through. A splotch of his homemade ice cream on the side ameliorated a bit of the sweetness while yielding a sumptuousness that few desserts can deliver.

My sentiments with respect to a wine pairing for pecan pie can be summed up in one word – Port. I brought a bottle of Texas Kiepersol (www.kiepersol.com) Three Barrels Port. This port-style wine rested in oak for 32 months yielding a nose of almonds, caramel, honey, and jammy fruit.

After coffee and thanks to Chef Gary and Joan for the fine dining and wine pairing experience, and a few more puppy hugs and kisses, we bid our hosts adieu and made our way back home with a goodly sized piece of pie. I think that I could really get used to this personal chef thing!

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