Soter Winery and Akaushi: A Tasty Pairing
Photo by Mai Pham Got beef? Pepper-crusted akaushi ribeye steak is melt-in-your mouth tender at 60 Degrees Mastercrafted
Eclipsed by the street construction taking place on the stretch of Westheimer Road directly in front of it, 60 Degrees Mastercrafted, the restaurant by master chef Fritz Gitschner, opened this past November to little fanfare. Since then, however, the roads have cleared, and a new patio has been finished just in time to usher in the lovely spring weather. Suddenly, like the parting of clouds to let the sunshine through, it's as if the spotlight has finally been turned onto this River Oaks restaurant.
Certainly, that's the feeling I got when I arrived to a full house recently for an inaugural wine dinner featuring Soter Vineyards. Organized by Vanessa Treviño-Boyd, the beverage director at the restaurant, the evening promised to be filled with Pinot Noir and Gitscher's brand of "ranch-to-table" dining featuring steaks made of heart-healthy akaushi beef.
Photo by Mai Pham Asian-style pork belly canapes, one of three served during the champagne reception.
"Would you like to try our Asian-style pork belly?" asked a server circulating the room with a tray of canapés. Silver spoons of thinly sliced pork belly were topped with dark brown sauce of Asian-spiced sweet soy; the bites were delicious. As were the small croquettes filled with bone marrow that gushed in your mouth, as well as the smoked white fish with julienned green apple.
I was standing by the bar with Marc Borel (formerly of Backstreet Cafe, and the current GM at Coppa Ristorante on Washington Boulevard), sipping on a fabulous glass of pink bubbly as the canapés came around. We both enjoyed it so much, we asked for a second pour, and it wasn't until later that I found out we'd been drinking a very limited-production Soter vintage 2009 Mineral Springs Brut Rosé, which is currently sold out on the winery's website.
Photo by Mai Pham From top left, clockwise: Soter 2011 North Valley Reserve Pinot Noir, Soter 2009 Mineral Springs Brut Rose, Soter 2011 Mineral Springs Ranch Pinot Noir
"That Brut Rosé was fantastic!" I exclaimed as Treviño-Boyd ask me how things were going. I'm a light drinker, so it's rare for me to indulge in more than one glass of anything. When I told her so, she smiled knowingly. "It is, isn't it?" she replied. "Most restaurants get only six bottles of these each year, so we were very lucky to get the 12 bottles for this dinner."
Personally, I think luck had little to do with it. Treviño-Boyd's pull as one of our city's finest wine professionals allows her to choose exceptional-quality wines to showcase in Houston. And as the evening progressed, it became clear that Soter was not just an ordinary vineyard, but one where sustainable practices are employed, and great attention is paid to the terroir, (Soter is based in Mineral Springs Ranch in Oregon's Willamette Valley) its expression in the fruit, and the way in which this translates into complex, elegant, high-caliber wines.
With regard to the Brut Rosé that I enjoyed so much, several things had to happen for it to become so remarkable. Made of a blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes, the fruit had to be picked at the right time so as to maximize sugar content while simultaneously capturing the complexities of the terroir. The method of production was also key: "We use the traditional French méthode champenoise to make the Brut Rosé, a laborious process which employs a secondary, in-bottle fermentation process to produce the bubbles," explained James Cahill, Soter's winemaker, who had flown in to attend the event. "When the fermentation process is complete, the dead yeast settles at the bottom of the bottle, and we have to remove it by a process called disgorging, which forces the yeast out of the bottle, leaving only the liquid. As you can imagine, this leaves only about two-thirds of the liquid."
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