By Amie Nemec
Looking for something special in the Hill Country? Ab Astris Winery is not only a beautiful setting with some fantastic 100% Texas wines, but now, they offer a stellar food pairing experience! This is not your usual wine-and-cheese sort of tasting. At $70 a person, this is definitely an elevated experience. Each of the five wines served is expertly paired with a dish handmade with care by the resident Sommelier, Mitchell. The foods are sourced locally and the menu changes seasonally to ensure freshness.
The menu when I attended was the start of their summer pairings and had a decidedly Italian flair.
Our first course was a light and complex antipasto board with cheese, salami, artichoke, petite peppers, and more. It paired nicely with their light and complex rosé called Aurora, which is a blend of Cinsault, Mourvèdre, and Montepulciano. While this is not a traditional Provençal rosé blend, it is made in the spirit of the light French dry rosé. These grapes play well together and yield layers of fruit and floral flavors in a delicate balance. I would keep this wine on hand for the hot summer afternoons to come and is an easy go-to for a cheese and charcuterie plate at home.
Next came the ‘Primi’ course. This house-made bread with Mitchell’s own sourdough starter was thinly sliced, toasted, and topped with an onion and tomato jam and fresh baby tomatoes. The dish was rustic, and its acidity played well with the Apricus Rosé, which is a blend of Montepulciano, Petite Sirah, and Tannat. Again, this rosé is not a traditional blend of grapes, but all sourced from the younger vines on the estate. The finished wine is quite savory and herbaceous, not what you may expect from a rosé. I highly recommend the wine as a fun tool for playing with food pairings. The complexity does well with many tomato-based foods, which can sometimes be tough for pairing. The savory notes of this wine make it a hit with many folks who think they don’t like pink wines! In fact, if you were to taste this blindfolded, you’d probably think it’s a chilled lighter red wine.
Our ‘Insalata’ course was the most beautiful salad I’ve seen and tasted in quite some time. This bowl of toasted grains and seeds included local peas, colorful baby carrots, and a mix of a slightly spicy tomato aioli, topped with beautiful herbs and flowers. It was like a party in my mouth! The crunchy toasted grains balanced nicely with the delicate herbs while the spice balanced things out. The Stello white blend is a dry wine of Roussanne, Clairette Blanche, Picpoul Blanc, and Marsanne. A traditional French Rhône Blend that includes four grapes each proving to grow well in Texas. I’m excited to follow the progress of the estate Clairette Blanche, as it is the first to be planted here in our state and there is very little outside of the Rhône Valley of France. This is a light and lively white with nice acidity and flavors that lean towards tropical. I loved the Picpoul Blanc single varietal wine but now this is one of my favorite Texas whites!
As we moved to our main course, it was solidified that every course just got even better than the one before. A large meatball of bison and wild boar, set atop a ricotta parmesan polenta and topped with a simple tomato sauce was layered together with great care for subtle flavors. I love traditional Italian food and this meatball was juicy, flavorful, and just outstanding. The 2017 Montepulciano is a fantastic traditional Italian wine that traditionally goes well with a tomato-based dish. These grapes were sourced from Reddy Vineyards in the Texas High Plains and produces some of my favorite red wines in our state. The wine is drinking well today but also shows the ability to age for another five years or even more. I highly recommend picking up a few bottles. It’ll be a perfect pairing to elevate an easy frozen pepperoni pizza at home.
And we finished our lunch with a light dessert of Almond Olive Oil Cake and fresh Blackberries paired with the 2016 Maximus red blend. Oftentimes people think a wine served with dessert needs to be a sweet wine. I disagree, as I think it’s best to focus on enhancing a flavor of the dessert dish. In this case, the blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Tannat, and Petit Verdot is a decidedly dry and bold wine. The delicate cake, which was not very sweet but instead a bit savory and nutty, added a light note to the wine and the blackberries brought out the fruity jammy notes of the wine.
I will also point out two of my personal favorite Ab Astris wines, which are the Picpoul Blanc that I touched on earlier, and the sparkling Estate Petillant Naturel made from Clairette Blanche…I took two bottles home.
After our tasting, I was able to take a moment to walk along the vines to look at the progress of this year’s crop. The Tannat is looking quite nice with a full canopy and plump new berries. Much conversation has been focused on this year’s freakish freeze and how the grapes may be affected. It’s encouraging to see much of our Hill Country fruit on track for a good harvest this year.
This tasting experience is by appointment only and there are only 10 people in the intimate setting. You can reserve on their website www.abastriswinery.com or you can pop in to enjoy a regular tasting or a glass on their lovely covered patio.
About the Author
Amie Nemec is a longtime wine lover, Sommelier, and founder of Perspective Cellars tasting room in Fredericksburg, Texas. She is now venturing down the path to learn winemaking, so, along with wine writing and food pairing posts, be on the lookout for Amie’s wines in coming years!