Liquid Assets

The economic downturn has created an unexpected windfall for local wine lovers

TRIO at the Four Seasons
TRIO at the Four Seasons (Photo by John Anderson)

The Wine Floodgates Open

The economic downturn has created an unexpected windfall for local wine lovers. Wineries and their distributors are sitting on large quantities of high-end wine, and just like every other business today, they need to keep inventory moving. Add to that the fact that Austin restaurants and wine bars are anxious to draw the type of customers who like those high-end wines, though they may have turned reticent in the face of a weak economy. So suddenly, it's all the rage to offer often-rare wines paired with multicourse prix fixe meals or grouped together in a large tasting, passing substantial savings on to the customer.

TRIO at the Four Seasons (98 San Jacinto, 478-4500, has really set a high bar with both sommelier Mark Sayre's rare wine discoveries and chef de cuisine Todd Duplechan's inventive cooking. The restaurant's small wine dinners sell out almost immediately, so it's best to get on the waiting list early. Dinners usually run $95 but are still a great value. For example, here's a single course from a five-course meal served last week: a 100-point (The Wine Advocate) Clos Erasmus from Priorat that would normally run between $700 and $1,000 on a restaurant wine list (except you'd never find it) paired with a porcini soufflé with a touch of Texas Jerky Powder and cauliflower with some salty and creamy Valdeón cheese. Marvelous! The next TRIO wine dinner is Friday, May 29, featuring the wines and foods of Washington state, currently the most exciting wine area in the U.S.

The Driskill (604 Brazos, 391-7041, pulls some of its top wines and sets up a contest. On Sunday, May 10, it will be serving high-end Spanish wines from Rioja, Ribera del Duero, and Priorat. Spain's wine quality is exploding these days. Unfortunately, so are the country's wine prices, so the Driskill's $25 price tag for this particular tasting is welcome. The Driskill tastings are on the second Sunday of each month, 3-5pm.

These are just a drop in the bucket. In fact, along with bimonthly or quarterly wine dinners at most of the steak houses, there are a number of specialty events at restaurants and wine bars each week, including:

• Shoreline (98 San Jacinto, 477-3300, has new Wednesday $35 prix fixe dinners, where a nice wine is matched with each course for just $10 more;

• Cannoli Joe's (4715 Hwy. 290 W., 892-4444, does very affordable, charity-themed Tex-Italia Wine Celebrations on Wednesdays and Thursdays (see "Cannoli Joe's" for review);

• Taste Select Wines (202 W. Cesar Chavez, 478-2783, has a Tuscan dinner Monday, May 4, and one focusing on the Loire Valley on Tuesday, May 19;

• Roy's (340 E. Second, 391-1500, third Thursday wine club offers special wines and appetizers; and

• Les Amis du Vin ( organizes extravagant movable feasts at selected restaurants around the city during the year.

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The Wine Floodgates Open, TRIO at the Four Seasons, the Driskill, Shoreline, Cannoli Joe's, Taste Select Wines, Roy's, Les Amis du Vin

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