I joined the Austin Food Blogger Alliance last month (yay!!!) and attended my first AFBA happy hour. It was everything I hoped for. :)
For starters, The Austin Winery is located in East Austin. A similar concept to the microbreweries popular all over Austin, it brands itself as an “urban winery” and is located in an office park much like the microbreweries around Austin. If you plan to visit, watch for this sign (and in particular, watch for the “VASA” part of it, as The Austin Winery only has their sign on one side (I did a u-turn at the post office down the street and then found it).
They have a nice-sized parking lot shared with other businesses in the building. I’m guessing they get the parking lot to themselves at most times when winery traffic is high. You can find them on the right side of the building facing the parking lot.
The atmosphere is nice and relaxed, with a more clean-cut, natural-lit front room facing the parking lot that feels nice for small cocktail events and an intimate back room filled with casks and a warm lamplight glow.
I especially loved this light fixture in the back room.
This place also has very friendly entrepreneurial owners and great stories behind some of the wines.
The Sauvignon Blanc’s Wild Hare name honors the mother of one of the owners, deriving from the year of the hare when he was born and “sauvage,” French for “wild.”
We tasted a total of eight wines (all but #7 on the tasting list and one new one). My favorites? The Chardonnay was excellent, one of the best Chardonnays I’ve had. Very smooth and buttery. The two stronger Pinot Noirs (#4 and #5 on the tasting list) tied for my favorite, with the second strongest (#4) having a richer and smoother flavor and the strongest (#5) having more of a biting spicy flavor. And the Zin was awesome, spicy just as Zins should be. We got to try an early sampling of a Malbec Cabernet blend, one of their first wines using Texas grapes. It was pretty good, with an interesting acidic flavor.
Several of their bottles sport labels with whimsical animal illustrations by Nic Mathis, while the three Pinots’ labels have a triptych purple mountain watercolor landscape painted by one of the winery owners. These three were my favorite labels, but I’m sorry to say they won’t stay the labels for much longer. They’ll shortly be replaced by animal illustration labels (which I’m sure will also be gorgeous) to match the rest of the line.
And now for the food! After sampling all of these dishes, I found myself tempted to ask Chef Crusco about those cooking classes he mentioned he teaches. First came dates stuffed with Gorgonzola dolce, smoked almonds, orange blossom honey, citrus zest, and parsley. A delicious blend of sweet and salty!
Next came a classic gazpacho (forgive my blurry photo; guess I was too eager to taste it!), one of my foodie soft spots. The consistency and flavor brought back memories of Spain.
Next we sampled coulotte crostini, topped with smoke roasted sirloin cap steak (a flavorful cut not commonly sold in stores), ground mustard-horseradish crema, fried shallots, and oregano.
We ended with a granita made from the Austin Winery Sauvignon Blanc, lemon and grapefruit shaved ice, and mint. The ice consistency was so smooth it almost seemed creamy. And the flavor was amazing, almost like a perfectly iced-down citrus cocktail. Definitely my favorite dish of the evening, and that says a lot since it was competing with gazpacho!
And finally, Chef Crusco sent us all home with some alfajores de maizena: butter cookies filled with homemade dulce de leche and toasted coconut. These cookies melt in your mouth. Needless to say, they were gone within an hour of my arriving home. Yum! I wish Chef Crusco’s food was a permanent fixture at the winery, as I know I’ll miss having the food pairings the next time we visit.