At Congress, in Austin, Texas, wine steers the eclectic American food offered, with some signature dishes served tableside. The wine program “compl[ies] with the philosophy of the food: high-end, quality-driven, unique and fun,” says June Rodil, beverage director. Wine Enthusiast tapped the mastermind behind the award-winning wine list for the ins and outs of it’s creation.
Wine Enthusiast: We hear you are passionate about Burgundy. Tell us about some of your best Burgundy pairings at Congress?
June Rodil: I absolutely love Burgundy. It’s beautiful, food friendly, legendary, haunting, challenging and delicious all at once. I doubt I’ll ever fully understand the region, but am delighted to keep trying.
One of my favorite pairings is a rich, structured red Burgundy like Domaine Denis Bachelet’s 2007 Gevrey-Chambertin Vieilles Vignes with our White Lobster Bisque that’s served with smoked-Fresno and tomato jam and lobster fritter. Some guests are surprised to hear a red wine suggestion with this dish, but the lushness and creamed weight of the bisque with the smoked jam hold up nicely to an age-worthy Burgundy. The fine tannins and irony minerality carry and complement the richness of the soup, while the concentrated fruit notes and tea and floral elements marry wonderfully with the smoky sweetness of the Fresno and tomato.
I love white Burgundy with the cheese course. While some people prefer reds, I often pair whites with our cheese courses. It provides a nice “lift” to the meal after an entrée that is usually paired with an appropriately heavy red, since Chef Bull is known for rich meat dishes. Menus that progressively get heavier and heavier can sometimes be daunting, and sneaking in a white wine before dessert can reawaken a palate. Our La Tur cheese (a Piedmontese-blended cheese made from sheep, cow and goat milk) served with grapefruit confit and house-made graham cracker goes beautifully with Albert Grivault’s 1999 Meursault. The age in the wine gives rounded, oxidative notes that mimic the creaminess of the cheese and complement the sweetness of the graham cracker, while the still-present citrusy minerality cuts through the smooth milk fat and enhances the raciness of the grapefruit.
W.E.: What is the Austin wine scene like?
JR: The wine scene here is fun and emerging. It’s exciting to be part of a city that has a growing food and wine scene, and dare I say, it’s exciting to help provide a voice for it, however small it may be. Austin isn’t a pretentious town, and nor is its wine service. We’re about seeking out new things and producers that speak to our passions. We’re less so about the hard sell of the most expensive or iconic wine, and more so about finding the perfect wine for each person’s particular taste.
W.E.: What’s the most popular bottle ordered off your wine list?
JR: California Cabernet is king at our high-end restaurant. Popular brands sold here are Chateau Montelena, Heitz and Groth. Closely following Cabernet is domestic Pinot Noir like Littorai, Evening Land Vineyards and Emeritus. After these two popular categories, the most popular option is actually a selection of wine pairings that is tailored to your meal.
W.E.: What’s one trend in wine you wish would die out?
JR: It’s a toss-up between two things:
I wish that the perception that one gets headaches from drinking red wine because of sulfites would go far, far away. First, generally speaking, there are sulfites in all wines, and there are higher sulfite counts in white wine than red wine. Also, I suspect that people who do get headaches from red wine intake may have allergies to tannins or perhaps histamines in the oak that is used. Finally, it’s just sad that someone would deny themselves such a range of deliciousness and half of the wine world because of something that they may not know entirely about.
Second, I wish people would order more Champagne and stop drinking it only for special occasions. I am passionate about Burgundy, but I am obsessed with drinking Champagne as often as possible. Life is a special occasion, so we should drink things that make us happy. Champagne is one of the most food-friendly wines on earth, and I dare someone to not smile when they drink it.
Here is a customer favorite at Congress for you to make at home.
Seared Sea Scallops with Jicama Salad, Coconut Cream, Cocoa Nib and Chocolate Mint
Recipe courtesy David Bull, executive chef and owner of Congress, Austin, TX
4 seared sea scallops (recipe to follow)
½ cup coconut cream (recipe to follow)
1 cup jicama mint salad (recipe to follow)
3 tablespoons cocoa nib crumble (recipe to follow)
Maldon sea salt, to taste
Chocolate mint leaves, for garnish
Slice the seared scallops into 3 even pieces from top to bottom to form square-shaped slices.
On a serving plate, lay the scallop slices in a straight line, leaving a 1-inch gap between each piece.
Place small dollops of the coconut cream in between each scallop and place the jicama mint salad directly on top of the coconut cream.
Sprinkle the cocoa nib crumble in a straight line over the scallops.
Season the scallops with Maldon sea salt to taste and garnish each slice with a small leaf of chocolate mint. Serves 2.
For the seared sea scallops
4 dry-packed sea scallops, U-10 count
Sea salt, to taste
2 tablespoons canola oil
Season scallops on all sides with sea salt. In a large sauté pan set over a high flame, heat the canola oil, allowing the oil to smoke.
Sear each scallop for 2–3 minutes per side, creating a dark brown crust on the top and bottom of each scallop.
Remove the scallops from the pan and allow the scallops to rest for 5 minutes before slicing.
For the jicama mint salad
¼ cup lime juice
⅛ cup extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt, to taste
¼ cup shredded fresh coconut, toasted
¼ cup julienned fresh mint
4 cups julienned jicama
Whisk together the lime juice, olive oil and sea salt in a small bowl.
In a separate bowl, combine the toasted coconut, jicama and mint. Drizzle in the lime vinaigrette and toss to mix well. Season with sea salt to taste.
For the coconut cream
1 cup heavy cream
½ cup Coco Lopez coconut milk
In a large mixing bowl, combine the heavy cream and coconut milk. Whisk thoroughly until soft peaks are formed.
For the cocoa nib crumble
¾ cup sugar
⅛ cup light corn syrup
⅛ cup unsalted butter
½ teaspoon baking soda
¼ cup cocoa nibs
⅛–¼ cup tapioca starch, optional
Combine the sugar, corn syrup, butter and ¼ cup of water into a small sauce pot set over medium heat. Bring the mixture to a light boil and cook for 12–15 minutes, or until it reaches a light caramel color. Remove the pan from the heat.
In a separate bowl, combine the baking soda and cocoa nibs. Add the cocoa nib mixture to the caramel and return to the pan to medium heat. Cook the caramel until a rich amber color is achieved.
When the desired color is reached, pour the caramel while it’s hot onto a baking sheet lined with a silicone baking mat. Spread the caramel around the mat as thinly as possible, then place another silicone mat on top. Using a rolling pin, roll the caramel out to a thin, even thickness. Allow to completely cool at room temperature.
Once completely cooled, break the caramel into even pieces and place into a food processor. Add a small amount of tapioca starch and pulse until a coarse-sand consistency is reached. Add more tapioca starch as needed to reach proper consistency. Keep the finished crumble stored in an airtight container.
Wine Recommendation: “My favorite pairing for this dish is a Riesling from Mosel, Germany,” says June Rodil, beverage director. “The delicacy and complexity of the dish mimic the delicacy and complexity of the wines from this region. Try Zilliken’s 2008 Estate Riesling. The kiss of sweetness on the midpalate sets off the natural sweetness of the scallops and coconut cream, while the bracing acidity cracks like a whip and echoes the crunch of the jicama salad. The Riesling’s tertiary notes of herb and honeyed orange oil complement the bitterness of the cocoa nib and chocolate mint, adding layers of complexity to the pairing.”