Auber: Texas Hill Country named a top worldwide wine destination

Is this warmer weather making you start thinking about day trips to the Hill Country wineries?

Well, you aren’t the only one.

In Wine Enthusiast’s February issue, the magazine said the Texas Hill Country was one of the 10 best wine travel destinations in 2014, naming Driftwood Vineyards, Bending Branch Winery, Lewis Wines, Flat Creek Estate and other area wineries in a spread that also suggested where visitors can stay overnight and where they can eat.

The accolade was a pretty big deal to these wineries, all featured in the magazine’s “best of” list right alongside Languedoc, France; Umbria, Italy; and other internationally known wine hotspots.

“Wine Enthusiast’s recognition of the Texas Hill Country as a top 10 wine destination shows Texas’ emergence as a fine wine region equal to its peers around the globe,” Julie Kuhlken, co-owner of Pedernales Cellars, said.

It’s not for nothing that the Hill Country is getting such attention, as many local wineries, despite last year’s challenges to the grape harvest, continue to produce wines that showcase Texas’ potential. Pedernales Cellars, for example, is releasing a trio of new wines in the coming weeks, including different versions of two already popular red and white blends and a brand-new white blend that uses five grape varietals.

The 2013 Cinco combines Chenin Blanc, Roussanne, Viognier, Blanc du Bois and Albarino – a mixture Pedernales chose to both capture “the Texas terroir in an entirely new way” and to make up for the low-yielding harvest of certain white varietal grapes, a news release said.

Pedernales’ other upcoming wines include the 2012 GSM and the 2013 Vino Blanco.

Once the wines are released, they’ll be available at stores across Texas and, of course, at the Pedernales tasting room.

You can start planning a springtime trip to the Hill Country with a mobile app launched late last year by Texas Wine and Trail, an online publication started in 2012 to cover the growth of Texas’ wine industry and tourism. Available for both iPhone and Android users, the app is a handy guide for wine lovers who might not know how best to explore area wineries.

It features a list of wine-related events; a map that can help you find wineries and tasting rooms as well as restaurants, hotels and wine stores; and even a page of grape varietals that do well in Texas, such as Tempranillo, Malbec and Riesling, each with a brief summary about them.

To download, type “Texas Wine and Trail” into your app store.

The ‘official’ drink of Austin

Last week surely was a happy one for the restaurant Qui. On top of being named best new bar in Texas by Texas Monthly and best restaurant in the country by GQ, the restaurant by James Beard winner Paul Qui received another accolade: winning big at last week’s Official Drink of Austin competition, a collaboration between Tipsy Texan’s David Alan and the Austin Food and Wine Alliance.

The goal of the competition was for bartenders from local bars and restaurants, including Whisler’s, Drink.Well and Weather Up, to create three Austin-inspired cocktails using Texas-made spirits. Drink.Well, for example, paid homage to Lady Bird Johnson with grapefruit-heavy “Lady Bird’s Pearls,” and Whisler’s had local butcher shop and salumeria Salt and Time smoke maple syrup for the “Mighty Oak.” Six judges (one of whom was the Statesman’s food critic, Matthew Odam) and a sizable crowd at the AT&T Executive Education and Conference Center tried the various drinks — each bar team made a long drink, an up drink and a shot — and voted on which one they thought was deserving of the official drink of Austin title.

Cozy craft cocktail lounge Midnight Cowboy and the Four Season’s Trio restaurant both crafted drinks that were chosen for the final round, along with Qui, but it was Qui’s “Tepache” that ultimately took top prize.

Midnight Cowboy’s “Joe Buck” (named after the main character in the 1969 film “Midnight Cowboy”) and Trio’s “Red Handed Stranger” (named after, yes, Willie Nelson) couldn’t best the “Tepache,” a cocktail that Qui currently offers on the menu, although last week’s version didn’t feature Lone Star beer as it usually does. Balcones Rumble, lemon juice, Texas honey and Qui’s homemade Tepache (a cold, fermented beverage made out of the flesh and rind of pineapple) all went into the winning drink.

The event, which returned after a two-year hiatus, raised money for the Austin Food and Wine Alliance’s culinary grants program.

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