Web Extra: Chef Ross Burtwell
Wine, Dine, Divine: Fredericksburg chef shares Texas wine picks with Texas Highways readers
I recently caught up with Fredericksburg chef Ross Burtwell, who made the decision a few years ago to serve exclusively Texas wines at his restaurant, the Cabernet Grill, which lies just south of Main Street (www.cabernetgrill.com). We discussed wine-and-food pairings, up-and-coming grapes, vintners’ dinners, and the fried-chicken-and-waffles trend. And then I discovered that Texas Highways played a role in Burtwell’s career path. Read on! —Lori Moffatt
“I have always been interested in cooking,” Burtwell told me. “Even as a kid growing up in Detroit, I followed my mom around the kitchen. But I never really considered a career in the culinary arena. But in the 1980s, I was working what I’ll call a dead-end job in Dallas, and I found myself thumbing through an issue of Texas Highways. Y’all had done a story about Dallas chefs, including Stephan Pyles and Dean Fearing, who were at the forefront of the Southwest cuisine movement. I looked at the photos, read the story, and was inspired by the combinations they came up with. And I decided that, well, a career in cooking might be worth pursuing.
“What I didn’t realize at the time was that the nation’s best apprenticeship program was, and still is, in Dallas—offered by the Dallas Chapter of the American Culinary Federation’s Chef Society. So I apprenticed for a few years, went to culinary school, and have worked in restaurants ever since. In 2002, I opened the Cabernet Grill. We don’t have white tablecloths, but we offer what we call ‘upscale, fine dining.” We prominently feature Hill Country ingredients like quail, venison, and pecans, for example—paired with a 100 percent, all-Texan wine list.
“About 2 year ago, we made the decision to drop the few remaining Californian and Australian wines from our wine list, and lo and behold, wine sales jumped 28 percent that month. And they haven’t slowed down. I’m not aware of any other restaurants that serve exclusively Texan wines.
'While you’ll find wineries doing great with standard varietals you might associate with California ... the really exciting things are happening with grapes that are especially well adapted to Texas, such as Syrah, Primativo, an up-and-coming grape called Blanc du Bois, Viognier, Sangiovese, and Black Spanish.'
“One of the first things you need to know about Texas wines is this: While you’ll find wineries doing great with standard varietals you might associate with California, like Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, the really exciting things are happening with grapes that are especially well adapted to Texas, such as Syrah, Primativo, an up-and-coming grape called Blanc du Bois, Viognier, Sangiovese, and Black Spanish.
“One of my absolute favorites is Inwood Estates’ Tempranillo. Inwood Estates is in Dallas, and right now it doesn’t sell its wines to grocery or liquor stores. This is one of the most outstanding Texas wines I’ve come across—it definitely as a bit of oakiness, tobacco, and plum—with a very slight vanilla on the end. I like to pair it with an oak-smoked beef tenderloin. We use a dry rub on the beef, which really picks up the flavors in the wine.
“Another personal favorite is Flat Creek Estate’s Super Texan Sangiovese—it’s their play on the Italian “Super Tuscan” blended wines. We match that one with bacon-wrapped quail, served with a spicy raspberry demi-glacé. The slight notes of raspberry and pepper in the wine pair up with the sauce and flavor of the quail.
“Here’s another one from a Fredericksburg winery—Chisholm Trail Winery’s Blanc du Bois. Blanc du Bois is one of those up-and-coming grapes in Texas. It’s a dry white wine, and the grapes are resistant to Pierce’s disease, which can be a problem here in Texas. The wine has a bit of a grapefruit nose, and it’s really crisp, so it goes well with seafood. We pair it with cilantro-pesto grilled shrimp, served with a ruby-red grapefruit buerre blanc. All the flavors really roll across your tongue.
“This one was a surprise—we recently did a vintner’s dinner with Grape Creek Vineyards here in Fredericksburg, and they have a nice Cabernet Blanc—it’s a sweet blush wine, in the White Zin style. We made grilled quail with a cayenne-honey-grape glaze, and served them with jalapeño waffles. I had read about the trendy combination of fried-chicken and waffles, and I wanted to come up with a Hill Country version of that. “
From the June 2012 issue.