Rob Moshein - The Austin Wine Guy

Mont Gras at Congress.

September 14, 2011

For the sake of ethical disclosure, Yr Mst Hmbl & Obdt Svt was invited by Palm Bay International to attend a dinner with Santiago Margozzini, winemaker for Mont Gras Winery in Chile, at Congress, as their guest.

I, of course, love to meet winemakers, and sample their wines with them.  The added bonus of my first meal at Congress, David Bull's flagship restaurant downtown was awesome! I was pleased to RSVP yes!

Congress is a cool, elegant space, but not stuffy.  The staff is warm, friendly, attentive, yet also very much "comme il fat" as to service, not missing a beat, even bringing me soda water and a clean napkin when I dribbled a large drop of red wine on my shirt!

Santiago is a warm, friendly guy. Clearly knows his stuff, and is proud to admit he learned much under the tutelage of Paul Hobbs, who was consultant to Mont Gras for years.  An active guy, we chatted about his triathlon training and his passion for tennis!  He knows his stuff, and had my appreciation when he allowed that "if you work hard in the vineyard, you don't have to work at all in the winery after harvest". Truer words never spoken.

We tasted the Reserve wines, which are the ones in the US, Yes, they are in grocery stores. They are only $12, which is the current sweet spot of the wine market retail, so worthy of a taste to see.  The Sauvignon Blanc was a bit flabby, Citrus/peach on the nose, a touch of white asparagus. Round, soft with lime hints on the palate. Pleasant enough, at the price I suppose, the sur lie aging helps, but lacking a good acidity to pair with food.

The Carmenere was the best one of the bunch, beefy, red fruit nose with a touch of red licorice. Medium palate, a tad thick in weight showing more beef and dark fruit. Not very complex and the valley floor origins show that. I wish the fruit was grown upslope.  The Cabernet, well was "customer driven" in style. Rather flat, light and not the least challenging or complex. Not my style, but then this is grocery store wine at $12. It would work for a large party or backyard BBQ with a lot of guests who aren't really into wine seriously.

Now the FOOD is a whole other story. Beef tartare with summer truffle was off the hook, as my 30something colleagues say. One of the finest plates of it I have ever had, just good delicious beefiness, with the earthy truffle adding fine notes.  The broiled spot prawn was amazing. The only downfall of the dish was I wanted a second prawn instead of just the one! Veal tenderloin and veal cheek was, well plate-licking worthy. Chef Bull personally brought us a mid meal treat of veal meatball slider with a sweetbread on brioche. Yummy personified.

Two last wines, Quatro, a Bordeaux style blend of Cab, Carmenere, Syrah and Malbec. My favorite wine of the evening, with a BDX reminiscent nose of red cherry and cedar with some beefy warmth from the Syrah. Dark fruit, silky mouthfeel and body.  At only $16 this one is a contender and paired well with dinner.   Last wine up was the new "icon" wine from Mont Gras, "Akel Kiñe" a red blend 90% Carmenere and 10 Cab Sauv. Hand selected vineyards of 16 year old vines. Licorice nose with some spicy mace. Complex but light, decent tannins.  I wanted to be more impressed, clearly Santiago was very proud of the wine and they had put a lot of time into it.  Only 400 cases made, $50 price point.  Sadly I couldn't see the value for the dollar here. It had just been bottled and shipped from New York, so maybe it was wound up and shocky. Hard to say. I liked Santiago, so hope this is the case.

The evening, though, was all about the food. Congress is the "new sheriff in town" setting the standard. Not cheap, but worth the price, especially the seven course tasting menu. Food is amazing. Service amazing. Staff wonderful. Wine list is one of the best in town and will be covered separately, as it deserves!  June Rodil the Beverage Director and major Somm, and Paula the floor somm are amazing! My only complaint of the evening was the valet parking. For $8 they should not make me wait fifteen minutes for my car when there was only one other person waiting, nor when I handed him a $20 to ask me "you want change??" then make me wait the fifteen minutes for my change until the car comes. Fix the valet.

Congress, I will return!


Rob Moshein
Austin Wine Guy

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