Congress Austin Wine Director Paula Rester Talks Texas Wine

By on February 5, 2014 Texas Wine News

Robin Sinhababu, Texas Wine and Trail February 05, 2014

Paula Rester is Wine Director at Congress, one of Austin’s fanciest restaurants. She’s also studied acting at UT, performed at Austin’s Blue Theater and Hyde Park Theater, and lent her voice to anime, video games, and commercials.

Presumably, some of these productions were funny or even silly, because funniness and even silliness are a distinctive part of tasting wine with her. Not that she’s reeling off jokes the whole time, or decanting in wicker baskets: there’s the quiet attention to details of appearance, aroma, and taste that you’d expect when tasting with a Certified Sommelier like her, just paired with an underlying goofiness that might jump out at any moment.


We sat down in Congress’s private dining room to taste a couple Texas wines, and first up was the Perissos 2011 Roussanne/Viognier/Muscat. “It’s very complex,” Rester found, “especially on the nose, and I think it has a lovely dry finish.”

“I love that it’s dry. I’ve had some straight dry moscatos, and I love that they’re taking this wine that we’ve been making into a sweet wine and then fermenting them out to dryness. You get the fruit and aromatics, but it’s not that cloying mouthfeel. This wine is quite rich, but I would drink more than a glass of this, which is great.”

Rester took over Congress’s wine program from June Rodil, who left to join Chef Paul Qui’s new operation in East Austin. She has a few favorite Texas producers, one being Louis Dickson of La Cruz de Comal Wines in Canyon Lake, whose wine she’s used to pair with tasting menus.

“I’ve done the Aprés [a fortified white dessert wine from 100% estate Blanc du Bois] with a more dessert-driven foie gras course,” she says; “that worked out really well.”

“This one was a torchon that was rolled in crushed biscotti, and had kind of an orange gel, so there was more of a citrus component, and then candied Marcona almonds, which were really great because his wines have those sherry-like, nutty undertones. I think it showed really nicely.”

She paired another Texas white at a recent event for Austin’s Sustainable Food Center: “Our pastry chef Erica created a really interesting dessert with Poteat strawberries and spring peas, but the peas were done in a dessert format, and I was looking for something that had some crunchy green tones but a little bit of sweetness. We did the Spicewood 2011 Roussanne, and it showed really nicely. I think people really enjoyed it. Those stone fruit and hay tones, crunchy green undertones, but still enough sweetness up front to make sense with a dessert pairing.”

Next up: the 2011 “San Fernando Academy” blend from Pontotoc Winery which Rester finds “a little muted at first,” with some florals that she attributes to the Cabernet Franc in the blend.

That blend is 27% Cabernet Franc, 26% Sangiovese, 16% Mourvedre, 14% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Carignan, 6% Tempranillo, 3% Grenache, and 1% Syrah. Seriously.

“That’s a very specific cepage,” Rester notes. “It’s the question, did they bring all these grapes in and coferment, did they vinify them separately, where does the Cab Franc come from?  Because I don’t think it came from Texas.” [Editor’s note: the Cabernet Franc did come from a Texas vineyard.]

Whatever its origins, she likes the wine. “It’s bright. I like the mineral component. And the tannins are kind of furry and rustic, which is appropriate for the varietals that are represented.”

“What’s the alcohol on this?” she asks. The bottle indicates 12.5%. “That’s great!”

Asked what dish at Congress this blend could pair with, Rester suggests “an escolar that’s done on the grill. It’s done with our fingerling potatoes, and beurre rouge sauce, but it has a juniper crust with ramps, and I think that would be really good with it, because it has acidity to cut through the richness. Then, definitely all those red fruits and pomegranate, cranberry qualities would be really nice with the verjus.”

Paula ResterPaula Rester served as a Captain and Commis Sommelier at Congress from its opening in December 2010 until January 2012 when she left to become the General Manager at Vino Vino in Hyde Park. Under Paula’s leadership, Vino Vino was named one of “America’s 100 Best Wine Restaurants” by Wine Enthusiast magazine. Congress and the Lake Austin Spa Resort were the only other two establishments in Austin to also be awarded this designation. In October 2012 Paula rejoined the Congress Austin team as the Sommelier.

Prior to working at Congress, she held a management position at Uchi under Tyson Cole, and also worked with Stephen Pyles and Lisa and Emmet Fox. Paula is a Level II Certified Sommelier with the Court of Master Sommeliers and a Certified Specialist of Wine with the Society of Wine Educators.


Perissos Vineyards
7214 Park Road 4 W
Burnet, Texas 78611
Phone (512) 820-2950

La Cruz de Comal
7405 FM 2722
Canyon Lake, TX 78133
Phone (830) 899-2723

Spicewood Vineyards
1419 Burnet County Road 409
Box 248, Spicewood, TX 78669
(830) 693-5328

Pontotoc Vineyard
17519 College Street
Pontotoc, TX 76869
Phone (512) 658-0023

Robin Sinhababu, a North Carolina native, is a waiter and wine buyer in Austin. Since 2005, he’s covered music, food, and art for various radio stations and online media. His attention is often drawn to diners’ preconceptions of grapes and regions, and to how restaurants format their wine lists.

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