Recently I visited Texas wine country, about which I wrote this column for Wine Review Online.
Texas may be the 5th largest wine-producing state in the US, but it's not easy to find Texas wines on a wine list. Many fine-dining establishments in Dallas carry only a token Becker Vineyards wine or two.
Thus I was delighted to discover Fredericksburg's Cabernet Grill, which has an all-Texas wine list.
Chef Ross Burtwell is originally from Detroit, but he's a believer in the locavore movement. He had about 50% Texas wines until a couple years ago, when he decided to go all Texas, all the time.
And why not? I've never understood chefs at restaurants like Chez Panisse -- yes, I'm talking about Saint Alice -- who brag everywhere about their commitment to local rutabagas and arugula, and then push wine that was shipped across the ocean. You're either local or you're not -- and Cabernet Grill is defiantly local.
That doesn't make it easy. Texas has more than 150 wineries, most of them tiny, few of them with distribution. "Many of these wines have traveled here in the back of my car or the back of the winemaker's car," Burtwell says.
I did not meet anybody in Texas with a wider perspective on Texas wine or a greater knowledge of its current best bottlings. He turned me on to my favorite Viognier, from McPherson Cellars, and my favorite Tempranillo, from Inwood Estates.
And his wine list is priced so fairly that it's almost unreal. Nothing cost more than $55 on the day of my visit. The higher-priced wines are the best value; some are barely $10 over retail, because Burtwell wants you to try them.
The food is local too, in the quirky Texas Hill Country way. During my visit, he was getting outstanding seafood from the Gulf of Mexico that went into an excellent Jumbo Lump Crab Gratin with red chile garlic butter, served in an escargot dish for easy picking, that I suppose won't on the menu for a while. Fortunately, he's also got local pecans, wild game and -- it's Texas -- beef.
But that's not all: the region was originally settled by German immigrants. "They used a lot of smoking, brining and canning techniques," Burtwell says. And then there's the Mexican influence; next to the crab gratin, my favorite dish was a Black Diamond Buffalo Enchilada. I also loved the Bacon-wrapped Quail stuffed with fresh jalapeno with a sundried strawberry and Port wine sauce over cheddar-scallion potatoes (shown).
As I said about Texas in the column, I'm not sure I'd fly all the way from California just to try the wines (unless you're me; I did).
But I loved Fredericksburg, a friendly town with a no-chain-store main street that's the intersection of cowboys and artists. And it's less than two hours drive from Austin.
So if you are in the area, and you're at all curious about Texas wine, Cabernet Grill is the place to be.