Visitors to the Dionsio Winery Wine Festival sample the award-winning rich reds, crisp whites, and sweet fruit wines from a selection of local wineries. Local restaurants and vendors whip up delectable dinners and food pairings, while merchants peddle memorable keepsakes and handmade jewelry. Energetic classic rock outfit Thermal Fusion fills the air with a catchy live soundtrack, as staff fill commemorative wine glasses with endless samples of Dionisio's delicious wines. With food, wine, and tunes provided by Houston-based bands and businesses, the fest is a better way to celebrate the local culture than nibbling sandwichs into the shape of the Astro's stadium.
Since 2006, La Fuente Winery has brought the flavors of Chilean wines to Texas, winning recognition at the Houston Rodeo International Wine Competition for their varietals. Most notably, they produce a spicy carménère red wine, a grape very similar to merlot that was wiped out by disease in France. The vines survived on the shores of Chile and worked their way into bottles of uniquely Chilean vintages.
When Enchanted Manor Winery's chief mead-maker handcrafts his honey brew, he follows a recipe from a 17th-century cookbook from the court of King Charles I. These medieval techniques inspire the winery's special mead for the annual Texas Renaissance Festival, which is brewed from Texas wildflower honey and sipped from knightly knee cops. Enchanted Manor also whips up modern meads flavored with orange blossom and oak, mixed with pear wine, or brewed from the honey of the guajillo flower.
In addition to its signature meads, Enchanted Manor Winery whips up small batches of wines from grapes, peaches, and other fruits, and augments their stock with bottles from nearby wineries. Enchanted Manor also hosts special events such as sangria nights, mead tastings, and wine classes.
Inside the Four Seasons Hotel Houston, executive chef Maurizio Ferrarese draws on his Italian upbringing to create an ingredient-driven menu of locally sourced Italian fare. Ferrarese always puts his guests first, leaving the kitchen to visit tables as much as he can and even inviting guests to make special requests if they want to test his creativity with original dishes. He doesn't mean to downplay the regular items on his menu, saying, "I designed it so that I have a menu full of dishes that I would recommend blindfolded."
Inside the dining room, servers deliver orders of veal and seared tuna with puffed pantelleria capers or house farm greens with Texas Lone Star goat cheese in small-plate form to share with friends or purposely hide from mortal enemies. Main-course options include seasonal risottos, veal osso buco with glazed root vegetables, and the chef's signature housemade braised-beef ravioli with black truffle and corn purée. During Sunday brunch, cooks mix together eggs and fresh vegetables behind omelet stations and replenish the seafood bar's platters of roasted salmon and striped-bass broccolini.
The modern decor contrasts the rustic recipes with its vivid color, red leather accents, and tabletop holograms. Four private dining areas offer different experiences for small gatherings, from the chef's table with views of the kitchen to the cozy wine cellar with a corked floor and a display of 1,250 bottles.
Since opening in 2003, The Tasting Room has morphed from a wine bar to a full-service restaurant with four locations—all while retaining its wine-bar charm and racking up numerous awards and accolades. Diners can select libations from a list that boasts more than 200 wines, pairing them with contemporary dishes whipped up by executive chef Jonathan LeBlanc. TTR offerings run the gamut from small plates of mini grilled sandwiches and classic bruschetta to entrees including creole-spiced quail and Jamaican jerk chicken breast, which diners can savor at windowside tables or on the plant-ensconced patio and garden area.
The eatery doesn't just sate hunger for eclectic classics and thirst for fermented grapes. It also hosts live music, meetings, and events such as 2011's Grapes vs. Grains, which pitted beer against wine in a liquid wrestling match. The owners have their hands in other culinary enterprises, too. There's the Houston Cellar Classic, for example, an annual celebration of food and wine. Also popular is MAX's Wine Dive, a destination for gourmet comfort food best defined by its slogan—"Fried chicken and champagne? ... Why the hell not?"
Surrounded by Winetopia's brick-laden walls, visitors sample a succinct selection of tapas, absorb the notes of live music and karaoke, and explore the flavors of rare wines gathered from around the world. In the dining room, the arched tops of built-in wine cabinets fit snugly into exposed-brick walls, and the chatter of guests clustered around intimate tables syncs with the clinks of wineglasses alighting on a granite-top bar. A menu of small plates romances appetites with everything from light snacks, such as marcona almonds and indian popcorn, to more substantial morsels, including veggie samosas. Plates strewn with various cheeses find companionship in chatty napkins and the sweet notes of fresh fruit or the deep flavor of assorted cold cuts. The rotating selection of more than 200 small-production wines overrides the need for a formal list, so instead sommeliers pilot patrons through vinos imported from New Zealand, South Africa, Oregon, and Argentina. The less traveled can charter entire flights of wine or sign up for a tasting class, or eschew grapey spirits altogether for one of the bar’s 59 domestic or imported beers.