Most of what follows appeared in the Houston Chronicle’s Rodeo Section a week ago. But I’ve made a few updates, too.
Although it may seem incongruous at first glance, bubbles and bull riding will share almost equal billing during the 2023 Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo. But it makes perfect sense considering that promoting agriculture through a vast array of scholarships is at the center of the Rodeo’s mission and grape-growers are most definitely farmers.
However, the man behind the current Grand Champion Best of Show bottle is the rapper Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson, which segues nicely, too. Music, of course, is a critical component of the 20-day jam on the NRG grounds that’s part sports spectacle, part music festival and part wine-tasting. Once again, the Rodeo’s Champion Wine Garden at Carruth Plaza between NRG Stadium and the Astrodome, will become the city’s most visited wine bar for 20 evenings – Feb. 28 through March 19 – and Jackson’s Le Chemin du Roi Brut Champagne figures to be flowing freely there, along with the other most decorated wines.
Jackson considers Houston home these days, so his Le Chemin du Roi champagne’s topping a field of 3,071 entries from 18 countries is all the more special. A regular bottle of his bubbles sell for about $142 at Spec’s, but a special nine-litter bottle brought in a record $325,000 at the Rodeo Uncorked Champion Wine Auction and Dinner Sunday night. Le Chemin du Roi had previously claimed Reserve Grand Champion honors in 2021.
Jackson stepped up personally, too, spending $165,000 for a nine-litter bottle of the Reserve Grand Champion Best of Show, the 2020 Bernhardt Winery Antiquity Reserve Chardonnay Danube Plain.
Live music adds to the Wine Garden’s nightly energy and there’s an added educational component with almost daily seminars featuring food and wine pairings presided over by some of Houston’s leading oenophiles. The series kicks off Wednesday evening with Ryan Levy’s presentation about pairing wine with “decadent” chocolate.” Levy, co-owner of the Houston-based Nice Winery, is himself a former Rodeo scholarship recipient, and he readily credits that assistance for helping make his career in wine possible.
His 2018 Cabernet Franc from California’s Paicines AVA was the Reserve Grand Champion for 2022 and a nine-liter bottle of same sold for $200,000 at the Champion Wine Auction. Three of his wines earned double golds this year. Levy will also conduct a a tasting of the competition’s highest-scoring bubbles on Thursday, March 9.
Master Sommelier Guy Stout presides over a tasting of the top award-winners Tuesday, March 14. Reservations for the complete seminar lineup can be made at rodeohouston.com/wine.
The Wine Garden will be open from 4 to 11 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 4 to midnight on Friday, 11 a.m. to midnight on Saturday and noon to 10 p.m. on Sunday. And everything you need about the 77 wines in the lineup can be found at http://rodeowinegardenwine4me/home. My wine friend Amy Gross did a remarkable job of setting up this app. Brava!
The Rodeo wine “season” officially kicked off with the Round Up and Best Bites competition at NRG Center last Sunday, when more than 450 wines and signature dishes from 100-plus local restaurants were available for tasting.
The top two finishers in each category:
Outstanding Showmanship Award — 1, Eculent. 2. Brother’s Produce.
People’s Choice Award — 1. Cotton Culinary, The Cotton Pearl (duck fat crostini with wagyu beef and lemon verblanc pearl). 2. Patra Lee’s Kitchen (caramel stracciatella ice cream with praline ethiopie and whiskey caramel swirl).
Tasty Tradition Award — 1. Joyce’s Seafood & Steaks (white chocolate bread pudding). 2. Carrabba’s (meatballs and romano cheese with homemade pomodoro sauce).
Trailblazer Appetizer Award — 1. Low Tide Kitchen & Bar (Ceviche with Cilantro Citrus Sauce on Corn Tortilla Chip). 2. Terrace 54 Bar & Table (Bang Bang Shrimp tossed in its signature bang sauce.
Lone Star Entrée Award — 1. Patagonia Grill & Café (sausage-ribeye outside skirt Steak). 2. Calavera Mexican Kitchen (Taco Al Pastor with grilled pineapple, salsa taquero with onion and cilantro, corn tortilla)
Two-Steppin’ Dessert Award — 1. Mostly Chocolate (Tequila añejo 2.0, barrel aged tequila chocolate bonbon, a caramelized, lime sea salt & tequila infused ganache layered with a creamy milk chocolate tequila ganache). 2. Whisky Cake (whiskey cake).
Rookie Award — Patra Lee’s Kitchen (caramel stracciatella ice cream with praline ethiopie and whiskey caramel swirl).
The Barbeque Cookoff champions will be determined this Sunday, while the Champion Wine Auction happens Sunday night. It figures to raise in excess of $1 million through both live and silent bidding. In 2022, a consortium of bidders paid a Rodeo record $250,000 for a nine-liter bottle of the Grand Champion Best of Show, the 2017 J. Lohr Vineyards Cuvee PAU Red from Paso Robles.
Once the Rodeo starts, the Wine Garden will be open from 4 to 11 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 4 to midnight on Friday, 11 a.m. to midnight on Saturday and noon to 10 p.m. on Sunday.
The 2023 Rodeo Uncorked! International Wine Competition champions:
* Grand Champion Best of Show: Le Chemin du Roi Brut, Champagne AOC, NV
* Reserve Grand Champion Best of Show: Bernhardt Winery Antiquity Chardonnay Reserve, Danube Plain, 2020
* Top Texas Wine: Becker Vineyards Barbera, Tallent Vineyards, Texas Hill Country, 2019
* Top Red Wine: Bernardus Marinus Estate Red, Carmel Valley, 2015
* Top White Wine: Chateau Saint-Roch Old Vines White, Cotes du Roussillon AOP, 2020
* Top Sparkling wine: Champagne Nicolas Feuillatte Reserve Exclusive Brut Rosé Champagne AOC, NV
* Top Dessert Wine: Dandelion Vineyards Legacy of Australia Pedro Ximenez, Australia, NV
* Top Region Wine: Henschke Henry’s Seven Red, Barossa, 2020
* Top Value Wine: Risata Wines Moscato d’Asti DOCG, 2021
* Top Wine Company – E&J Gallo Winery
* Top Region Wine Company – Deutsch Family Wine & Spirits
* Top All-Around Winery – Becker Vineyards
* Top Texas Winery – Messina Hof Winery
Grand Champion Best of Show wines though the years:
* 2023 – Le Chemin du Roi Brut, Champagne AOC, NV
* 2022 – J. Lohr Cuvee PAU Red Paso Robles 2017
* 2021 – Alexander Valley Vineyards CYRUS Alexander Valley 2014
* 2020 – Piper-Heidsieck Brut Champagne
* 2019 – Graham Beck Brut Rosé South Africa
* 2018 – J. Lohr Vineyards Signature Cabernet Sauvignon Paso Robles 2014
* 2017 – Arinzano Gran Vino Blanco, Pago de Arinzano 2010
* 2016 – Orin Swift Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon Mercury Head Napa Valley 2013
* 2015 – Rombauer Vineyards Diamond Selection Cabernet Sauvignon 2010
* 2014 – Antinori Guado al Tasso Bolgheri Superiore 2009
* 2013 – Alexander Valley Vineyards Cyrus Alexander Valley 2008
* 2012 – Antinori Guado al Tasso Bolgheri Superiore 2007
* 2011 – Alexander Valley Vineyards Cyrus Alexander Valley 2006
* 2010 – Davis Family Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2005
* 2009 – Vina Robles Suendero Paso Robles 2006
* 2008 – Stags’ Leap Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2003
* 2007 – Clos du Bois Marlstone Alexander Valley 2003
* 2006 – Raymond Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley 2001
* 2005 – Hang Time Pinot Noir Santa Maria Valley 2003
* 2004 – Alexander Valley Vineyards CYRUS Alexander Valley 1999