Fun in the Sun with Food and Wine: Brenner's Wine Fest

Brenner's on the Bayou is definitely one of Houston's best-kept secrets. Set against a hillside off Memorial Drive at Westcott, the gem of a restaurant directly overlooks the bayou, with extensive grounds that boast trickling water features, lushly rolling hills, a gazebo and winding walkways. It's a place that takes you away from Houston and makes you feel like you're somewhere like Lake Tahoe -- at one with the wilderness.

It's also the perfect venue for an outdoor party, as demonstrated by the huge turnout for Saturday afternoon's sold-out annual spring wine festival, better known as Brenner's Wine Fest.

This is one of those parties that you'll never forget, one that you'll attend and want to come back to year after year. Though it was my first time attending, it was clear that many of the guests were regulars, showing up in large groups with family and friends, some with large blankets to spread out over the grass.

The event was set up with ten white tents, each with assigned wine and food stations. The tents were spread out on the upper and lower levels of the grounds, with a large stage at the base of the grounds for the live band.

In all, there were 21 wines to taste, with food offered by Brenner's and its sister restaurants under the Landry's umbrella, including Ryan Braden of Brenner's on the Bayou, Tam Nguyen of Red Sushi, Ricki Cruz of Grotto, Andrew Oliver and David Hernandez from McCormick & Schmick's, and its pastry chef, Eunice Grassa.

I spent most of my time on the upper landing, enjoying the delicious meatballs and antipasti served by Ricki Cruz of the Grotto; tuna sashimi and spicy tuna rolls by Tam Nguyen of Red Sushi; and tuna taco with cucumber wakame, pork belly and smoked salmon cones by Andrew Oliver of McCormick & Schmick's.

Instead of trying to taste all the wines on offer, I was content to stick with a few that I knew I would enjoy, indulging in three glasses total: the Matanzas Creek Chardonnay, a crisp and fragrant yet lush white wine that was perfect for that day; a refreshing 2011 Crossbarn by Paul Hobbs Chardonnay; and a 2009 Freemark Abbey Cabernet Sauvignon.

In the end, I couldn't have asked for a more perfect afternoon. Like many others, instead of leaving when the event ended, we wanted to draw out the afternoon for as long as possible, retiring to a corner on the well-appointed patio, where we lounged on the cushioned chairs until the sun set and the air grew chilly.

Will I be back next year? Most definitely. I'll not only return, I'll be sure to corral some friends to come along, bring a blanket and plan to spend a fantastic day of wine, food and fun in the sun.

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