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Sunday, March 9, 2008

Our Vintner's Dinner in Fredericksburg

The Cotton Gin Restaurant and Lodging

The main reason for our stay in Fredericksburg (besides my making a living) was to attend the Texas Wine Maker Vintner Dinner at the Cotton Gin Restaurant. Jan and I had stayed at this wonderful place a year or so ago, and we enjoyed the experience very much. Such a blend of "old fashioned" and "new-fangled" we hadn't been treated to since our stay at Laurel Springs cabins in Gatlinburg, TN on our honeymoon. The campus has 6 real log cabins that were moved here from Kentucky and Tennessee. Our cabin, the Rio Grande, had a perfect blend of old and new, such as a working fireplace with oak wood stacked outside the front door (it was winter when we stayed there, so the fire was both sensual and comfortable!) and a wide screen TV with cable and a DVD player. There was a jacuzzi tub in the bath area, and a large high four poster bed that was a pleasure to sleep in.

The restaurant is a masterpiece of old Texas charm and insanely delicious cooking. With a high ceiling, stained glass windows, and a huge boiler (used in cotton production I assume) over the fireplace, it's an elegant and fun place to drink wine and taste a few treats. The wines were set out in the order we were to drink them, whites in their icebuckets, and reds at room temperature. In the picture above, the woman at the "head" of the table sipping some of her wares, is Paula Williamson, the owner of
Chisolm Trail Winery, one of only three female-owned wineries in Texas. Paula is a pleasant, friendly person, and she really knows her stuff about wine!

Our first course, the soup, was
Roasted Delicata Squash Bisque with Toasted Hazelnut Creme Fraiche
and a 2005 Texas Blanc du Blanc called "High Noon"
(I am putting up a picture of the wine label, because the photo I took of the dish was almost pure white from the flash) This bisque was the tastiest soup ever, we both agreed. Light and flavorful, we could have stopped right there (but were glad we didn't have to!).

But there was more to come!

For the salad course, we were served:

Ginger Salmon Gravlox Martini with
Cucumber noodles and shredded basil
and a 2006 Texas Blanc du Blanc, "Belle Starr"

I guess you don't have to look too hard to see that it was beautifully served and as tasty a salmon salad as I have ever eaten. The wine, a little less sweet than the High Noon, was much more to our liking and added to the enjoyment of the dish. Great!

Next was the
Rosemary Roasted Bandera Quail with
Sundried Strawberry butter and
Wild Rice Pancake, with
"Lil's Red Satin" Cabernet Sauvignon

The dishes just kept getting better and better! The Red Satin wine was very smooth and tasty without the tannins that give so many wines their harshness. Paula came around to each group and told the story of each wine, and something about the label or process of making the wines. This particular wine was specially made for Valentine's Day. The atmosphere was very informal and informative. But there was still more to come!

We were getting happier and less hungry by the minute, as the servers attentively poured glass after glass of the wonderful wine selections. For the next course we had:

Hill Country Syrah Braised Lamb Shank with
Citrus Horseradish Gremolata and
Amish Butter Whipped Yukon Gold Mash, and
the 2006 "Diablo"

Jan and I disagreed a little bit about this dish. She has never been fond of lamb, and was not enthusiastic about the flavor of the meat. I thoroughly liked the dish -- and the wine, much bolder and heartier than the Red Satin, complemented the lamb to a tee. We both liked the mashed potatoes, and thought the presentation was delightful.

And who could pass up dessert? Not us! We were served:
Pistachio Crusted Triple El Rey Chocolate Terrine
with Navan Cognac Creme, along with
2001 Cabernet Sauvignon Dessert Wine

While the dessert and wine were being served, we listened to a very interesting talk about the chocolate company Chocolates El Rey, and were surprised to learn that their office was right in Fredericksburg TX! We learned all about the varieties of cacao beans, from Criollo (The King of Cacao, in danger of extinction) to Forastero (alien), a more disease resistant Amazonian cacao. We were very interested in the process the company used to turn the cacao beans into rich dark chocolate. The photo above is blurred, my apologies, but the chocolate layers were smooth and dense and made our spirits soar. Paula also told us the story of the Cabernet Dessert wine, how the grapes almost got thrown out because they looked so different (brown and wrinkled) than the other bunches. The workers kept tossing the grapes out of the machines, and Paula kept throwing them back in. The result, which reminded Jan and I of port, perfectly complemented the dark chocolate flavors. We learned that there is as much lore and history in making chocolate as there is in making wine. We enjoyed every minute of this Vintner's Dinner, and will go back as soon as we can.

See you soon, and I'll give you a "behind the scenes" look at the Houston Zoo.

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