Texas Wine Lover was invited for this coverage. All opinions, experiences, and photographs are entirely our own.
Sage Restaurant, Thursday, September 7th, 2023
Featuring: Sage Executive Chef Henry Gutkin
Sage Restaurant & Lounge on Austin Street in Fredericksburg was the location of a special Winemaker Dinner on September 7th, hosted by Texas Hill Country Wineries (THCW). Upon arrival, folks gathered in the bar area ordering drinks from the impressive cocktail menu and visiting while the final dining room preparations were made. Passed appetizers of toasted herb focaccia and Italian prosciutto with Texas goat cheese followed as old and new friends visited. A small group of media representatives moved upstairs to meet and share with representatives of each winery and the Texas Hill Country Wineries staff, January Wiese and Kate LaFleur. Eventually, the call to be seated was made, and the 50 attendees found a place at a table to enjoy the evening.
It should be noted that all proceeds from these THCW Winemaker Dinners support the Texas Hill Country Wine Industry Scholarship Program which helps provide young Texans with educational opportunities in Viticulture, Enology, and Hospitality programs in Texas. THCW has been able to award over $75,000 in scholarship funds to 60 students. Another Winemaker Dinner is planned for December 3rd hosted by Hill & Vine in Fredericksburg. Please make note of this event on your social calendar.
It was my pleasure to participate in this event as a member of the media via an invitation from Morgan Perry (PR) with the goal of writing a post about the food and wines. The first wine, Texas Wine Collective 2021 GSM, was served with the passed appetizers. After everyone was seated, Beth Bayliss, Texas Wine Collective General Manager, spoke briefly about this medium-bodied, easy-drinking red wine comprised of Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvèdre. This was followed by five courses and an intermezzo prepared by Executive Chef Henry Gutkin and his staff, served at table.
The first course was a steamed dumpling with Canadian lobster and heirloom tomatoes in a saffron seafood essence. The wine served was Hye Meadow Winery 2022 Albariño sourced from Smith Block Vineyard on the High Plains. This was a delightfully refreshing white with subtle citrus flavoring and bright acidity that enhanced the dish. Proprietor and winemaker Mike Batek spoke about the wine and mentioned how busy everyone was as the 2023 vintage is in full swing at most Texas wineries. This was a delicious and well-coordinated pairing.
The second course was thin sliced aged Wagyu bresaola served with whipped feta cheese, roasted butternut squash salad garnished with pomegranate and cauliflower crostini. This might sound a bit complex, but everything meshed together well. The crostini, more like breadsticks, was a nice touch. The accompanying wine was Texas Heritage Vineyard 2019 Carmenere sourced from Narra Vineyards. Winemaker Tyler Buddemeyer spoke about this lovely red wine produced from the somewhat unusual Carmenere variety that originated in Bordeaux, France, but is now widely planted in Chile. The grape is doing quite well in Texas, too, as this pairing aptly demonstrated.
The third course was a bit of a surprise as fish was served with red wine. The dish was poached halibut with thyme and parsley bedded on a rich and delicious black garlic mushroom cream. The wine was Airis’Ele Vineyards 2021 Nichol, a 50/50 blend of Petite Sirah and Petit Verdot. Proprietor Brett Perrenoud addressed the attendees describing this darkly colored, medium-to-full bodied red wine with a relatively gentle finish. The surprise was how well the wine matched the dish, mainly due to the mushroom sauce (that Chef Gutkin mentioned contained morels for better flavor). Many attendees later commented that this was their favorite dish and pairing of the evening.
An intermezzo of Sage Granita with smoked sea salt prepared from Texas Heritage Vineyard Viognier was a pleasant touch at this point in the dinner. The icy granita entered the mouth almost like a snow cone, but quickly melted to a delicious splash of floral, fruity Viognier on the palate. Chef Gutkin deserves special credit for the effort required to create this frozen delight from a 13% alcohol wine.
Course number four was stuffed quail and duck duo accompanied by sauteed corn and green peas with a spiced pecan crumble, all sitting in a flavorful Malbec jus. The quail was mostly deboned (kudos to the kitchen staff that did the prep) and was deliciously buoyed by the pieces of roasted duck. The veggies brought a splash of color to the plate as well as serving the role of a non-traditional starch. Oh, the wine, you ask – that was Kuhlman Cellars 2018 Malbec-Merlot sourced from Lahey Vineyards and Bingham Family Vineyards. Newly designated winemaker Zachary Raines spoke about this rich blackberry and black cherry flavored wine and his appreciation for the Kuhlman philosophy of winemaking. This was certainly another inspired food and wine pairing.
The fifth course was dessert – a “tonic” marshmallow with dulce de leche cream spiced by a lime infusion and vanilla. This was served with Stone House Vineyard “Scheming Beagle” Port. Edward Foulke discussed this wine describing the method of production and the delicious baked plum, raisin, and dark chocolate flavors enhanced by vanilla cream notes on the finish. Lots of folks mentioned they would be happy to take home a cup of the dulce de leche cream.
At this point, Sage Executive Chef Henry Gutkin arrived to take a bow and answer questions about the menu and his preparations. There were several comments about matching halibut and mushroom cream with red wine. He was pleased that everyone enjoyed that food and wine combination and noted that some morel mushrooms were used to enrich the flavor of the sauce. Other comments indicated that folks were pleased and impressed with the viognier granita. It was certainly apparent that Chef Gutkin is not only a skilled hand at planning and preparing a menu, but also has an impressive understanding and appreciation for pairing wine with food.
Goodbyes were offered to table partners, friends, and associates as attendees began to finish the evening. Terrific food was matched by delicious wines and a successful fund raiser was completed. Thanks to Texas Hill Country Wineries for organizing, Chef Gutkin, and Sage Restaurant & Lounge for hosting, the wineries for their contributions to and participation in the festivities, and the attendees for supporting a most worthy cause.
Start making plans to attend the next THCW Winemaker Dinner at Hill & Vine on December 3rd, 2023.