Aside from countless James Beard Award nods and noteworthy beverage programs comprising 250-300 varietals, one commonality between Flora Street Café and LAW at the Four Seasons Resort and Club Dallas at Las Colinas is a passion for Texas wine.
In 1982, James Beard Award-winning chef Stephan Pyles, then a budding chef in his late 20s, opened his first restaurant with his friend and managing partner, George Majdalani. They called it Routh Street Cafe, and it was the only restaurant in Dallas at the time with an all-American wine list.
“We distinguished the wines as either ‘imported’ or ‘domestic,’ ” says Majdalani, with the latter referring to anything produced in Texas and the former covering everything else.
Thirty-five years later, as Majdalani looks back on those early years from the private dining room of the duo's latest culinary endeavor, the award-winning Flora Street Café, it appears that history does indeed repeat itself. The concept of Pyles’ Flora Street Café is an homage to the arts. So while it is the whole package that’s assisted in Flora Street’s accumulation of local and national accolades, the artistic display of culinary talent is only enhanced by an equally thoughtful beverage program.
Earlier this year, Flora Street earned a spot on Wine Enthusiast’s list of Top 100 Wine Lists, solidifying its place as a progressive contender in a cutthroat industry and an increasingly competitive market.
“The depth is not in the vintage, but in the varietals,” Majdalani says of the wine list, which consists of a selection from regions all over the world.
Flora Street sommelier Vincent McGrath added that the uniqueness of the wines gives the list a well-rounded edge among other top-tier dining establishments.
“We have wine from [the country of] Georgia, which is where wine actually originated,” he says, “as well as varietals from Austria, Slovenia and other areas you may not typically see.”
There’s also a substantial number of Texas vineyards on the list, offering evidence of the progress the state’s $2 billion wine industry has made over the last 10-20 years.
Further evidence can be found a half-hour away at the Four Seasons, where master sommelier and resort beverage manager James Tidwell is a walking encyclopedia on the Texas wine industry. At the Four Seasons’ restaurant, LAW, which focuses on Texas-sourced ingredients, Tidwell’s wine list begins with a full page of Texas-grown recommendations.
Tidwell is also a founder of TEXSOM, the largest sommelier conference in the world, which is hosted annually at the resort. In other words, he’s kind of a big deal in the wine world. His advice to someone who may not recognize a certain varietal or may have had a subpar experience with a Texas wine previously? “Try them again,” says Tidwell, who’s still realistic about statewide industry standards. “Yes, some wineries are probably underfunded or less exposed to international standards, so they may be less consistent in their winemaking.” Nevertheless, this could be said of inexperienced or underfunded wineries anywhere—France and California included.
Most importantly, though, growers in Texas vineyards are working with the varietals that prefer a warmer or harsher climate, as opposed to working against the forces of nature. “Rather than trying to grow grapes you think people want,” says Tidwell, “the idea is, if you grow the grapes that work best in certain places—and you’re passionate—you’ll create an entirely new market to bring greater exposure to the industry.”