For wine lovers, discovering a new wine - a bold, dense, peppery Merlot, for example, or, say a vivacious, Sauvingnon Blanc with luscious fruity notes and a subtle minerality - may be the ultimate high. But to many wine buffs, nothing is better than spending a few days in New York, San Francisco, or even France or Italy eating at restaurants with great wine lists.
Luckily, McKinney's wine enthusiasts don't have to travel far to enjoy pairing great food with fantastic wine. Rick's Chophouse in downtown McKinney has been recognized by Wine Spectator with the 2012 Award of Excellence.
According to Rick's owner, Rick Wells and server, Ian Whitcomb, the journey to receiving the award was an 18 month long process. Whitcomb, 28, who just happens to be a certified sommelier, and Rick's Beverage Director, Donald Killian, collaborated on an effort to convince Wells that the restaurant should upgrade its wine list and apply to the magazine for an award.
Wine Spectator's recommended criteria includes offering an interesting selection of wines which are appropriate to their cuisine and appeal to a wide range of wine lovers
Whitcomb, "wine bible" in hand, said, "There was already a great list in place, (at Rick's) but, in my opinion, it was missing a lot. It's important to represent all the sub-districts of, for instance Napa Valley, or to represent the Columbia Valley in Washington, or to represent the pure expressions of France or Italy."
"We needed to make the list wordly. We don't just run a restaurant here, we have side rooms for special parties, we have a hotel, we have a ballroom - we have events. We have folks coming in (to Rick's) to experience Texas culture. So it was also a priority for Donald, Rick and me to have something that was both familiar and local," Whitcomb said.
"Ian is pretty amazing," Rick Wells added, joining in the conversation. "Ian tries to give everybody else credit, but the majority of the reason that we got this Wine Spectator Award of Excellence is because of him."
Wells said that through other restaurants he has owned around the country he had applied for the award 3 times without success. Working with Whitcomb, he realized that his previous attempts were made without a well rounded wine list.
"Those other restaurants probably had sexier, more high ends lists, Wells said, but they we not very well rounded. Ian understands the wines of the world."
Whitcomb said that the wine list at Rick's is "pretty classic" and insisted that the award was the culmination of a partnership between Rick, Killian and himself. "We are all partners in this project and Donald knows the higher end selections," Whitcomb said.
What's the secret of their success? Whitcomb says as a sommelier, he has to taste wines every week and narrow down the choices according to the restaurant's needs. "I taste blind, not aware of price points and ultimately select the wines that I'm most impressed by. You have to trust your palate," he emphasized.
"Donald keeps me grounded. Otherwise, I'd probably have gone all out. I get to use my creative side while he keeps track of the numbers," Whitcomb said.
Rick's Chophouse features a wine list that is organized by varietal, but unlike many restaurant wine lists, it is not organized by price, but from lightest to heaviest with regard to the oak aging, the tannin and body, or alcohol content, of the wine. Whitcomb explained that about a third of the wines on their list come from wineries that turn out under 3000 cases per production. That exclusivity, he said, is also important as the team selects wines. The average price of a bottle of wine at the restaurant is competitively priced at somewhere around $50 to $60.
"I can still go into some restaurants and be intimidated by the wine list, but we offer a very hospitable list here at Rick's," Wells said.
Whitcomb said, "This is not an exact science, (choosing a wine to go with a meal) but our servers are well trained. I want to remove pretension from a pretentious subject. Rick has done a remarkable job here in McKinney and the goal is to share our special wines with our customers as if they (our customers) were close friends or family."
So how do you choose a wine that will best compliment your menu? Whitcombs "rules" are simple. Don't order tannic wines with fish - tannins love fat and there isn't much fat in fish. Tannins go fabulously with meats with a higher fat content. Fish selections pair well with wines that are more acidic. Match regional dishes with wines from the region. For example, when eating Italian foods, choose an Italian wine.
Most importantly, he stresses with passion, order what you like!
Rick's Chophouse is located at 107 N. Kentucky Street in historic downtown McKinney.
Editor's Note: Don't miss clicking on the video below to hear more about Rick's Chophouse and its wine selection. Andy Doyle, owner of McKinney Wine Merchant, recently discussed Rick's selection of wines during an interview for Stuart J.'s Lens on TSB.