Austinite Joelle Cousins Wins "Best Texas Sommelier" Competition

Categories: Wine Time

Photo by Alfonso Cevola.
Joelle Cousins, center, was the winner of the 2014 "best Texas sommelier" title at Texsom in Dallas yesterday.
Austinite Joelle Cousins (above, center) took home the "best Texas sommelier 2014" title at the conclusion of the annual sommelier conference Texsom in Dallas last night.

Cousins competed against 24 Texan sommeliers, including seven Houstonians, for the honor.

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Houstonians Compete for "Best Texas Sommelier" Title

Categories: Wine Time

Photo by Jeremy Parzen.
Many of the Houstonians competing in this weekend "Best Texas Sommelier" event attend the weekly wine education seminars held by the Houston Sommelier Association.
Competition will be fierce this weekend at the annual "Best Texas Sommelier" to be held at the Texsom conference in Dallas.

Of the 25 competitors, seven are Houstonians: Paulina Avendano (Granduca Hotel), Andres Blanco (Caracol), Jarrett Buffington (The Capital Grille), Brett Forsberg (currently unaffiliated but part of the Camerata at Paulie's circle), Matthew Garcia (The Capital Grille), Dario Najera (Arturo's Uptown Italiano), and Whitney Seng (River Oaks Country Club).

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Competitive Wine Prices at Coltivare Pair Well

Categories: Wine Time

Photo by Jeremy Parzen.
The D'Orta-De Conciliis Falanghina sells for just $38 at the Italianate eatery Coltivare on White Oak Drive in the Heights.
Back in 2009, when the Houston wine scene was just beginning to take off, then-sommelier Antonio Gianola asked a visiting wine writer to cast his gaze across the dining room of the now defunct Catalan.

"Look," he said with evident pride, "there's a bottle of wine on every table."

It was a seminal moment in Houston's evolution as a wine-hip city: Antonio's aggressive pricing, then a novelty, became the model for many of the restaurateurs and wine directors that would open new venues in the years that followed.

The wine list at the Italianate eatery Coltivare on White Oak Drive in the Heights seems to have borrowed a page from Antonio's much-missed wine list.

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Fluff Bake Bar's Rebecca Masson Secures a Space for Her Brick & Mortar Bakery

Photo courtesy Fluff Bake Bar
Rebecca Masson sometimes goes by the moniker "sugar hooker," because she brings sweets to the masses. And she's sassy.
Back in December, the "sugar hooker" Rebecca Masson launched a successful Kickstarter campaign to raise $50,000 to help build out her dream bakery. Hundreds of Houstonians donated more than $53,000 to the cause, but then Masson got back to work, and we didn't hear much more about the upcoming bakery. Until now.

Today, Masson announced that she's secured a space at 304 Gray in Midtown, the former location of Sweet Lola Yogurt Bar, for her bakery Fluff Bake Bar. She anticipates spending the next three to four months turning the space into the ideal dessert bar and opening late this fall.

"Every person who graduates from culinary school says 'I'm going to open a restaurant or bakery,' and out of 5,000 people, maybe five of them do," Masson says. "So I've been saying this since I graduated culinary school. It's time to pull on my big girl panties and do it!"

When it opens, the bakery will be the first of its kind in Houston, thanks in large part to Masson's experience in professional pastry kitchens across the country and her notion that everything tastes a little sweeter with some bubbly (and beer) to go with it.

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Rockstar Winemaker Pax Mahle Takes Houston by Storm

Categories: Wine Time

Photo by Jeremy Parzen.
Samantha Porter, left, who recently quit her position as wine director at Osteria Mazzantini, tasted with rockstar winemaker Pax Mahle yesterday at Caracol.
A Houston wine writer considered himself fortunate to get an audience with rockstar winemaker Pax Mahle yesterday while the charismatic sommelier cum winery owner was in town to show his wine to buyers and speak at a sold-out wine dinner at Pappas Bros. Steakhouse.

That's not to say that Mahle is pretentious or stuck up by any means.

But his two handlers -- like rock band tour managers -- were quick to whisk the "talent" to his next gig after a wham-bam-thank-you-ma'am pre-dinner tasting with said writer and a handful of top Houston wine professionals.

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Where Are Houston's Female Sommeliers?

Categories: Wine Time

Photo courtesy Adele Corrigan
Vanessa Trevino-Boyd, left, and Adele Corrigan, two of Houston's handful of female sommeliers.
Quick, name all of the female sommeliers in Houston.

OK, if you can't name all of them, name at least ten.

Trick question. Here in Houston, we have only a handful: Vanessa Trevino-Boyd (60 Degrees Mastercrafted), Samantha Porter (freelancing), Annette Amaya (Cru Wine Bar), Angie Chang (Sonoma Wine Bar) and Cathy Nguyen (Mark's). There's also Adele Corrigan of 13 Celsius, who many people consider a sommelier, but who hasn't actually taken the test because, as she says, "I just don't need it right now."

"I feel like the word "somm" now days is to describe the position you have, not necessarily your certification," Corrigan explains. "There are so many different schools now that sommelier has become a generalized term. You can call me whatever you want: Sommelier, beverage director, wine lady."

Whatever you choose to call her and her fellow "wine ladies," it's a fact that there are far fewer women in the industry than men. This is true nationwide, but the numbers are particularly startling here in Houston.

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Proposed Go Texan Wine Labeling Changes Don't Go Far Enough

Categories: Wine Time

Photo by Jeremy Parzen.
Lewis Dickson, owner of the Cruz de Comal winery in the Texas Hill Country, is one of the handful of Texas winemakers who bottle Texas-grown grapes exclusively.
On Thursday of last week, the Texas Department of Agriculture (TDA) released the text of a proposed amendment to its Go Texan licensing rules for Texas wines.

Go Texan is a TDA marking program that helps to promote awareness of Texan agricultural products (including wine). It allows approved growers and producers of Texan foods and wines to add the Go Texan logo to their labeling.

Currently, the TDA allows Texan wine producers to use the logo as long as the wine is "produced" or "processed" in the state of Texas. In other words, even if none of the grapes are grown in Texas, a winemaker can still label it using the Go Texan logo.

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Chilean Winemaker Delivers Surprising, Refreshing Food-Friendliness

Categories: Wine Time

Photo by Jeremy Parzen.
Leading Houston wine blogger Amy Gross (left) was one of the guests at an intimate tasting hosted by Chilean winemaker Felipe Tosso (right) last night at Churrascos on Westheimer.
"When I was younger," said Chilean winemaker Felipe Tosso last night at an intimate tasting of his wines at Churrascos, "I made big and bold, intense, tannic wines. But now that I'm older [in his early 40s] and now that I'm a father and more mellow, I make more food-friendly wines. I want to have fun drinking my wines."

I rarely accept invitations to tastings like the one held by Tosso last night. But at the urging of a wine colleague from New York, I was inspired to attend.

"You might find that they surprise you," she told me.

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Bobby Stuckey, a Master Sommelier Not Afraid to Get His Hands Dirty

Categories: Wine Time

Photo by Jeremy Parzen.
Master Sommelier Bobby Stuckey doesn't just lecture about wine when he pours at a wine dinner. He jumps right in with the waitstaff and "works the floor" with them.
The A-list always comes out when Master Sommelier Bobby Stuckey and his business partner, celebrity chef Lachlan Patterson, come to town to cook and taste wine.

Last night found the two of them at Reef, where Patterson prepared a meal inspired by the cuisine of Friuli (northeastern Italy) and Stuckey poured current releases from their line of Italian wines.

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A Fantastic Rosé for Houston to Call Its Own

Categories: Wine Time

Photo by Jeremy Parzen.
This superb rosé from France is imported by Houston wine maven Doug Skopp, owner of Dionysus Imports.
Americans have a truly unique relationship with rosé.

During the 1970s and 1980s, when middle-class Americans were becoming wine-aware for the first time in our nation's history, the wine industry aggressively marketed cheaply made "blush" wines to the masses. Lancers Rosé, Mateus Rosé, and "White Zinfandel" by Sutter Home were just a few of the many wine products that became commercial icons of "big wine" during that era.

I call them "wine products" because many of those bottlings were actually "wine coolers," highly manipulated wine to which flavorings and sweeteners were commonly added.

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