A Tip of My Hat: Calling All Texas Wines

I got a call last weekend from a fellow in Chicago that has what some might say is a crazy idea. That is, start a restaurant featuring an all-American comfort cuisine menu complimented by an American-only wine list. To go more out on the limb, he wants the wine list to feature fine wines from as many states as he can find that can deliver quality wines. It may sound crazy, but I think that it is actually a “crazily intelligent” idea. Regional American wines are getting better and are now reaching the quality point they need to compete successfully with the major wine producing states and regions overseas, as well. I see this situation daily down here in Texas and recently I was similarly impressed with wines from Colorado, Missouri and Virginia.

The man with the “crazy” idea is Steve McDonagh who is half of the two man culinary team of Dan and Steve that own “The Hearty Boys” Catering (www.heartyboys.com). They are opening a new restaurant, Hearty (www.heartychicago.com) opening soon in Chicago.

So far, they have lined up a long list of wines from states other than the common go-to states of California, Oregon, and Washington (although they will be on the wine list). Some of the featured local wines included on his new restaurant wine list are given below. Steve’s call to me was to try to solicit my help to locate Texas wineries that would be interested to provide their wines for his restaurant, but that can offer premium quality.

Local/Regional wines on Hearty’s wine list (So Far):

Sparkling Wine
Gruet, Blanc de Noir NV, NM
 
White Wines
Hickory Creek, Semi-Dry Riesling Baroda, Mi
Dr Frank, Dry Riesling ‘07 Finger Lakes, NY
Barboursville, Viognier Reserve ’07, Va
Salmon Run, Rkatsiteli ’08 Finger Lakes, NY
Sharpe Hill, Ballet of Angels, NV Conn

Red Wine
Bridge Lane, Cab Franc NV Long Island, NY
Barboursville, Cabernet Franc Va
Hearn County, Petit Verdot ‘03 Az
Biltmore Century NC
Dos Cabeza El Norte ’06 Az

Dessert Wine
Persimmon Creek Ga

Steve related to me, “We believe that there is so much more to a meal than the food and drink aside from the atmosphere and the company. There’s great excitement in trying new things and being exposed to other areas, cultures and ideas. I love the idea of having people come to our restaurant in Chicago and leaving having tasted something that they wouldn’t have had otherwise.”
 
He continued by saying, “Our menu is twists on comfort foods; which by definition are American.  So I want my beer and wine lists to reflect America, too. Plenty of places try do that, but they concentrate too much on California.  That’s a valid approach, but it doesn’t push the envelope.  My hurdles are in two areas; education and cost.  As far as education, people need to know that a Cabernet Franc from the Finger Lakes won’t taste like the California Cab Franc that they’ve had before… but that’s OK.  These grapes are grown in different regions under different conditions and will taste of where they’re from [terroir!]….and it SHOULD be a different experience. The other issue is that these smaller vintners generally have greater overhead versus the amount of wine they produce, and their wines are sometimes more expensive…so it’s a tough sell for me to coax folks a bit out of their comfort zone and spend money on something unfamiliar.

I added my comment to Steve’s by saying that this is precisely why the patrons of Hearty should feel OK spending a little more for a new regional wine. After all, it is new! It’s different! But, they should have faith that Steve and Dan have carefully selected wines from these new states and regions that will be worth the experience. Most restaurateurs just don’t take the time and effort that Steve and Dan have to bring new wines into the mainstream restaurant setting.”
 
Steve and Dan are really excited to show that their patrons don’t have to go out of the US-of-A to have a full and varied wine experience.  It is also obvious that Steve knows his limitations and strengths. He said, “I’m not a sommelier. I’m not even the guy with the most educated palate; BUT, I do know what my food tastes like and what wines will taste good with it.  I know what I like and am approaching the wine list from a direction where I think most Americans will be comfortable.”

I have to give a tip of my hat to Steve and Dan to acknowledge their bold move to include local wines from around the United States, including Texas, if he can find interested wineries from our fair state. Steve is even working to establish distribution for these wineries to facilitate their sales in the Chicago area.

Thanks Steve, best of success and let us know how it goes!

Happy Regional Wine Week – See www.drinklocalwine.com

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