The 2011 Rodeo season has officially kicked off -- at least as far as food and wine lovers are concerned -- with the announcement of this year's top winners of the annual International Wine Competition.
Last night at the Best Bites and Rodeo Uncorked! Roundup, the winners were announced in grand style on a center stage that was the core of a concentric series of circles, made up of tasting stations for wineries and more than 70 of Houston's best restaurants. Making their way through these circles like some food-laden labyrinth were more than 4,000 guests.
And behind the curtains in the judging area, a group of 25 celebrities, Rodeo officials and food writers (myself included) were doing the tough job of choosing a favorite dish from among those scores of restaurants in an elaborate blind tasting.
At my judging table, which included KTRK anchor Tom Koch and KHMX DJ Dave Morales, so many of the dozen entries were above-average that it was difficult to gauge them against one another. But a simple shredded pork taquito in a small corn tortilla with salsa verde ended up being the group favorite.
Good thing, too, as that pork taquito from Molina's went on to win second place overall when the group of "supertasters" convened the initial round of judging to parse through all the semifinalist foods.
Here's how the final winners stacked up:
Popular Choice Award
- 1st Place: Royers Round Top Café
- 2nd Place: Del Frisco's Double Eagle Steakhouse
Trailblazing Appetizer/Entrée Award
- 1st Place: Beef Short Rib Roast Ragu on Polenta Grand Parma from Hasta la Pasta Italian Grill
- 2nd Place: Pork Taquito with Green Sauce from Molina's Cantina
- 3rd Place: Blackened Tenderloin and Fleming's Potatoes from Fleming's Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar
Two-Stepping Bread/Cheese/Dessert Award
- 1st Place: Veldhuizen Cheese
- 2nd Place: Pip's Just Great Coffee
The potatoes from Fleming's were as popular at the supertasters table as the actual steak was; high praise for a steakhouse's side. And imagine my shock when I found out that the beef short rib we all adored came from Hasta la Pasta!
And the dessert portion of the judging panel didn't include any actual desserts this year -- just cheese and coffee -- something for which we found ourselves thankful. It seems that Houston's developing a more continental approach to the dessert course, instead of going the easy route and looking to satisfy a sweet tooth.
The results of the International Wine Competition follow on the next page.
2011 International Wine Competition Champions:
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- Grand Champion Best of Show: Alexander Valley Vineyards CYRUS, Alexander Valley, 2006
- Reserve Grand Champion Best of Show: Stanton Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, Oakville, 2007
- Top Texas Wine: Becker Vineyards, Viognier, Texas, 2009
- Top Spanish Wine: Acústic Cellar Blanc, Montsant, 2009
- Top All-Around Winery: d'Arenberg, Australia
- Top Wine Company: E&J Gallo Winery
- Top Sparkling Wine: Heidsieck & Co. Monopole Blue Top Brut, Reims, NV
- Top White Wine: Vasse Felix Chardonnay, Margaret River, 2008
- Top Red Wine: Vision Cellars Pinot Noir, Gary's Vineyard, Santa Lucia Highlands, 2008
- Top Sweet Wine: Dr. Konstantin Frank Vinifera Wine Cellars Riesling, Bunch Select Late Harvest, Finger Lakes, 2008
- Top Value Wine: Fat Monk Merlot, Central Coast, 2009
The champion wines will be auctioned off at the Rodeo Uncorked! Champion Wine Auction and Dinner on Saturday, March 5, at 5:30 p.m, beginning with a silent auction. Dinner starts at 7 p.m. and the live auction at 8:30 p.m. Tickets are $300, while a reserved table for 10 is going for $3,000.
For more photos from the evening, check out our slideshow.