Talking Wine with Craig Collins

We’ve partnered with a host of talented bloggers from around the web to let you in on some of the stories behind the wide range of talent at this year’s festival. From profiles and interviews to recipes and previews, follow along for the inside track on all things AFWF.

We’re kicking things off with Ginny Bell of Ginny’s Austin, who will be taking a look at two of the wine + spirits experts ready to share their knowledge next month at the fest!

What better way to continue our countdown to the 2014 Austin Food and Wine Festival than checking in with a person who has been instrumental player in the Texas wine industry for over a decade? Master Sommelier Craig Collins first discovered his love for all things wine while working at a Texas winery during his college days.

While most his classmates were more than likely drinking cheap beer and boxed wine, Collins followed his newfound passion to Italy for a semester abroad to deepen his understanding of the wine industry. Following graduation, he began a successful career as a wine consultant while working tirelessly towards gaining his prestigious Master Sommelier certification.

Meanwhile, former college roommate Andrew Curren was busy building his own successful culinary career while working in some of the best kitchens in New York. After relocating back to Texas, Chef Curren joined the Elm Restaurant Group in opening Austin favorites 24 Diner and Easy Tiger.

When it came time for the group to open their third spot, Arro, it was only natural Curren & Co. would tap Collins to help curate the upscale French eatery’s wine list. Together with friend and fellow Master Sommelier Devon Broglie, Collins created a top-notch, exclusively French wine list that is approachable, well priced, and unexpected.

A partnership years in the making, Collins officially joined the Elm Restaurant Group at the end of last year. In his role as Beverage Director, he not only oversees Arro’s wine list, but he is also busy curating Easy Tiger’s craft beer selection and its expanding list of reserve whiskeys. At 24 Diner, Collins matches Curren’s elevated diner food with fantastic wines from some of the best boutique wineries in California and Washington State.

For the Elm Restaurant Group’s fourth concept, an Italian wine bar to open Summer 2014, Collins will have the opportunity to revisit his formative semester abroad as he puts together what will certainly be one of the best wine lists in town.

Join Master Sommeliers
Craig Collins and Devon Broglie
California Enlightenment
Sunday, April 27
2:00-2:45PM (Oak Tent)

At this year’s Austin FOOD & WINE Festival, you will be discussing the next wave of California wines. How has the region evolved as of late?

There are several winemakers crafting wines that are stylistically different than what we have seen from California vineyards in the past. Some are harvesting the grapes earlier (which creates lower-alcohol wines), while others are making amazing wines from non-traditional grapes such as Arneis and Ribolla Gialla.

Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay will always be king and queen of the region, but even some of these wines are receiving less oak treatment and less extraction. Each of these evolutions creates wines that are more approachable and food friendly. I am currently showcasing several of these innovative wines on the list at 24 Diner.

Besides California, which regions or varietals are you currently excited about?

I have always loved Italian wines, and now more than ever, we are seeing more value-oriented wines coming to the US. I love the reds from Sicily, specifically the Nerello Mascalese grape from Mount Etna. Pinot Grigio from Alto Adige, Italy, is clean and crisp, perfect for an Austin summer.

What is your philosophy in pairing food with wine?

You should start with matching the weight of the dish with the weight of the wine. Although there are other general guidelines to follow, at the end of the day I encourage my guests to drink what they want with what they like to eat. If you order a bottle you don’t like or do not typically drink in search of the perfect pairing you will likely be dissatisfied with both the food and the alcohol.

At Arro, you helped put together a 100% French wine list that is both well priced and unique. Now you are currently working on an Italian concept to open this summer. What is your approach when putting together a wine list, and what can we expect for this latest venture?

I strive to make my programs easy and approachable for the guest while representing tremendous value in each category and price point. It is also important that every selection be the best representation of the specific grape and region.

Image Courtesy MadBetty

With our new Italian concept, guests will find an approachable wine list with around 100 selections and likely 15 by-the-glass offerings representing classic Italian grapes and regions. On a recent trip to Italy, I was able to directly source some fantastic wines, and we are also working on our own house red and house white blends that will be served on tap.

If you could enjoy one bottle of wine over dinner, what would you be drinking and what would be on the menu?

I love the Sangiovese grape, and there is no better expression of it than an aged Chianti Classico. Give me a 2004 Felsina Chianti Classico paired alongside one of Chef Drew Curren’s pasta dishes, and I am a happy man.

It really is dependent on my mood, but I always have a bottle of Rosé, Champagne and Riesling in the fridge. Right now, I’ve got the 2013 Massican Rosé from California, Bruno Paillard Brut and the 2012 Dönnhoff Riesling Trocken (Dry). Hedges Independent Producers Merlot from Washington is an easy go-to for me.

Image Courtesy CultureMap | Keith Davis Young

Easy Tiger arguably has one of the best craft beer programs in Austin, in addition to an impressive menu of reserve whiskeys. What are you drinking when not sipping a glass of wine?

When I have tasted wines all day, the first thing I crave is a lighter-style beer. Real Ale Brewing’s Hans’ Pils and Austin Beerworks’ Pearl Snap both do the trick. At the close of the night, there is nothing better than a Negroni on the rocks with an orange peel.