This Friday and Saturday brings the second annual San Antonio Cellar Classic, sponsored by Max’s Wine Dive and the upcoming Boiler House Texas Grill.
More than 80 wineswill be poured during the event, which brings together additional restaurants, all in an effort to showcase how well wine pairs with food.
Max’s executive chef, James Moore, sat down recently with chef de cuisine Clint Connaway, wine sales manager David Hood and online wine director Greg Steiner to discuss the event.
Hood: We have one of the most carefully constructed wine lists in the city, with more than 150 varieties from around the world, and we’re always adding more wines to that list, some of which we’ll be debuting at Cellar Classic. We’re working with more Texas wines, like Bending Branch — we’re the only San Antonio restaurant where you can find them. There’s a lot going on with Texas wines. We’re seeing a departure from conventional varietals and more experimentation with reds and whites like Picpoul Blanc, Tannat and Petite Sirah. Texas wineries are looking at other parts of the world, matching soils and climate to what we have here and venturing into those areas. It’s not just Chardonnays or Cabernets — they’re playing it less safe and we’ve got some interesting things to feature for Cellar Classic.
We’re also adding more Spanish wines to our portfolio, and we’ll be featuring those at Cellar Classic. But people shouldn’t come to Cellar Classic just to taste one wine or because we’re featuring a certain winemaker — they should come because we’re featuring so many wines and winemakers, names they don’t know but will want to once they taste them.
Q: How do you select the wines for Cellar Classic?
Steiner: Our staff works with wineries, importers and distributors to see what’s available, what’s hot and what we like, and we select from there. We leverage our buying power to come across opportunities that others can’t offer and ultimately, the deals are terrific. Our volume drives great prices, so if someone tastes something they like at Cellar Classic, they can take it home for a great deal.
Our buying power also means that we have the chance to work with wineries to make specific requests — for instance, maybe we ask them to leave the wine in oak for a little longer, or they create labels specifically for us. At times, we’ll even buy out an entire vintage, so there’s no where else you can get that wine other than from us. We work so closely with them — our relationship with them is truly a partnership that can create unique wine finds for our guests.
And of course, we like to feature things that are unique and cool: we’ll be including a Vicius Albariño that’s been aged at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean. The movement of the ocean actually helps the aging process and there is an ever so slight impartation of ocean salt water flavor that finds its way into the cork and therefore in the wine which gives the wine an amazingly addictive salinity. The result is maybe the greatest bottle of Albariño wine you will find. That’s something you won’t see at a typical wine tasting! It’s also one of the reasons that Cellar Classic is great place to discover new wines to add to your collection or the perfect spot to start a collection of your own.
Q: Why does Cellar Classic feature food alongside the wine tasting?
Moore: Food and wine are the perfect marriage because they enhance each other so well. Characteristics in wine change the flavors and dynamic of food while you’re eating and food can bring out nuances in wine. Wine that might taste flat in one note changes when paired with the right food. The right pairing can make the wine more full-bodied and more dynamic. We wouldn’t think of doing a wine event without including food.
Q: What makes Cellar Classic so great?
Moore: Cellar Classic is helping establish and nurture a culture in San Antonio that hasn’t existed before — featuring food and wine in one event. Being such a wine-centric company, hosting an event of this nature allows us to share our exploration and appreciation of wines and how they accompany food.
Connaway: It’s far from the typical wine tasting. I’d say it’s the antithesis of the typical wine tasting. And it’s a window into what we do and what we’re about. Cellar Classic gets people out sampling wines in a cool atmosphere, outside of a restaurant setting in a fun, free-flowing event. Food, wine and music — it doesn’t get better than that. And you can take home the wines you like.
Hood: We’re in a unique position: we order and sell a lot of wine. In fact, we are one of the largest purchasers of wine in Texas, so we have the opportunity to feature wines that you wouldn’t see in other places. You can explore different grapes, different makers, and wines from different parts of the world all in one building. Cellar Classic lets us feature the unexpected and wines people haven’t had the chance to experience. And our team will walk you through what you taste and what to look for in the wines we’re featuring. It’s sampling wine and great food with very knowledgeable wine friends and even though it’s only the second year to hold it here in San Antonio, we know it’s already become a tradition.
Q: What are the rules of wine today?
Connaway: The idea of whites with fish and pork, reds with beef—all of that is gone. A really nice light red could go with salad or fish . . . the way we’re cooking these days, its more variety. At Max’s Wine Dive we have big, bold flavors, so you need wines that can stand up to that.
Of course, you can’t serve dessert wines with dinner, but as far as reds and whites, you could have a fish dish that’s blackened that goes well with red. There are Sauvignon Blancs that hold up to a steak dinner or a burger.
Moore: You have to pair based on the components and structures of the dishes, not because someone thinks you should. But you need to drink what you like: there are so many different wines and grapes; it’s about your preference and personal tastes.
Q: What’s the Cellar Classic Reserve Dinner?
Moore: The dinner is an opportunity to expand what we do every day — pair great food and wine — and raise it to a different level. With five courses, we can explore more pairings and flavors. It’s not just each course, but how the courses all work together.
Connaway: With five courses, it’s more expansive than what we normally do at Max’s, but it’s going to be fun to do that within the Max’s environment. It’s going to be something unexpected from us—we’re really looking forward to it. I like to heat things up with spices and then cool them down building up to the entrée. We may even toss in a palette cleanser with a surprise sixth dish. I like to mess around with the senses. Sweet and savory, hot and cold . . . it’s another play on juxtapositions which is what Max’s Wine Dive is all about.
Q: The Grand Tasting includes other restaurants rather than just featuring MAX’s and the new Boiler House Texas Grill. Why?
Moore: Events like this help expose more people to better restaurants, different cuisines, chefs they haven’t experienced, so we want to share this opportunity with other chefs and restaurants. This event is not about us, it’s about the culinary scene in San Antonio. An event like this can expose you to a wider audience. By including other establishments, it helps them gain exposure and talk about what other wines they have as well and maybe reach a different audience than what they may usually see.
Connaway: It’s a way we can work together to build more interest, support and appreciation of wine and food — something we can all enjoy. It’s also fun to get out of the kitchen, walk around the “yard,” visit with the other chefs, see what they are doing, and talk with our guests. Cellar Classic is a celebration of food and wine for the staff as well, we enjoy it just as much as our guests. San Antonio is a cool city and we need a food scene that matches that — Cellar Classic helps better define us as a destination for great food and wine.
San Antonio Cellar Classic’s reserve dinner begins at 6:30 p.m. Friday at Max’s Wine Dive, 340 E. Basse Road. The price is $125 per person or $225 per couple and is limited to 40 guests. Saturday’s grand tasting is at the stable at the Pearl Brewery from 1 – 4 p.m. Wine, food and music will be available. Tickets are $40 per person for general admission or $90 per person for VIP. For more information, click here.