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Restaurants

Wine’s Psychology Queen

This Young Austin Drinks Guru Gives Up Health Care for the Restaurant Life

BY // 01.10.18

I love to talk about wine with people who share my passion for it. We open bottles, we trade stories about travel and winemakers,  terroir and residual sugar, and we talk of taste and food and restaurants. We recommend wines to one another, we drink, and we learn a lot. In Wine Talk, I introduce you to some of my friends, acquaintances, and people I meet as I make my way around the world, individuals who love wine as much as I do, who live to taste. You’ll appreciate their insight, and I hope you’ll learn something from them as well. 

Amber Frye came to my attention in the fall of 2017 when I was planning a visit to Eberly, a restaurant in Austin, Texas, about which I had heard great things. (I was also told it was a beautiful restaurant, and that was certainly no exaggeration.) Schedules and timing prevented us from meeting when I dined at Eberly, but a series of email exchanges led me to see that Frye is an enthusiastic and young wine professional who knows that the learning never ends, a vital quality that usually produces better results for the guest.

She has a degree in psychology, and fell into the restaurant world in a fortuitous way: She was working as an administrator in the health care sphere and grew frustrated that her degree was not being utilized. While debating the merits of pursuing a master’s degree she accepted the offer of a friend and began working as a server in an Italian restaurant in Boston, a restaurant that, it so happened, was part of the Barbara Lynch Gruppo. Lynch, an admired chef — a legend, really — had assembled a great team at Sportello, and Frye began learning, a lot and fast.

She moved to Austin in 2015 to work with Mark Vetri (a Lynch alum), and, shortly thereafter, when his group was bought by Urban Outfitters, followed her instincts to Eberly, where she was hired as the director of the wine program there. If you are planing a trip to Austin, book a table and ask for Frye. I think you’ll have a wonderful time.

The main dining room at Eberly is functional and luxurious at the same time. (Photo by Merrick Ales)

PC: Tell us about three wines you think are drinking well at the moment. What makes them worthwhile? How about a food pairing for each one? Would be nice to know where readers can purchase them/how much they cost (retail and at restos).

As far as wines that are drinking “well,” I think that would depend on one’s tastes. I am a firm believer that wine is subjective. There’s a time and a place for young wines; the same philosophy applies to bottles that are developed.

Personally, my choices span from seasonal traditions to regions that I am studying at the moment.

Pierre Peters Cuvée de Réserve Blanc de Blancs, Champagne, France, NV This is a Grower’s Champagne that proves to me time and time again that you do not need to spend a ton of money to have a great bottle of sparkling wine. It is a blend of over two decades of their harvests from Grand Cru villages, and the result is finessed and harmonious.

For pairing, honestly? Fatty or fried foods. At the end of a long night, this is a wine I want with French fries… I’m serious. The acidity on the wine gives such balance and the bubbles give everything you are tasting such a lift. The price on this wine will range between $40 to 50 retail, but not more.

Edi Simčič ‘Duet’ Red Blend, Goršika Brda, Slovenia – 2010 Although Slovenia is about the size of New Jersey, it is one of the most exciting areas in Europe for wine. They plant varietals from well-known Cabernet to lesser-known grapes, like Vitovska. This wine is a red blend made up of 80 percent Merlot, 10 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, and 10 percent Cabernet Franc. This wine is a great example of taking guests on a journey without being unapproachable — it is a medium-bodied, complex wine without being too demanding on the palate. Blackberries hold their own with a touch of spice.

I would pair this with hearty seasonal foods, such as roasted pork loin with root veggies. One may have to go to a specialty shop for this wine. I really like the Austin Wine Merchant. It should be around $50 retail.

Robert Sinskey ‘P.O.V.’ Red Blend, Napa, California, USA – 2013 I have yet to have a Robert Sinskey bottle that was not drinking well. He produces wines which are honest and nuanced, something I seek when searching for a drink. This particular bottle is called ‘P.O.V.’ — for “point of view” — and is his current release of Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Cabernet Sauvignon. Dark fruits in this wine steal the show. Pair that with a spiced and smoked meat — when in Texas, after all — and you’ll be singing this wine in high praises.

Finding a bottle like this for around $35 is of such value. Did I mention his wines are also biodynamic/organic?

PC: If cost was no consideration, tell us the one bottle you would add to your personal collection, and why.

Domenico Clerico, Ciabot Mentin Ginestra, Barolo, Piedmont, Italy, 1986. It is a long-standing tradition in some circles to buy a newborn baby a bottle of “birthday wine” to be opened on a later date or special occasion — a graduation, wedding day, etc. I would love to have a bottle from my birth year to open when I hit my next decade milestone. I’ve chosen to drink from Italy, since that is one of my favorite countries to drink from. Specifically, Domenico Clerico (who, sadly, passed away in 2017).

PC: What is your favorite grape, and why?

I do not have a favorite grape, but there are grapes that I gravitate toward. When thinking of wines that I drink for pleasure, I enjoy white wines with a “flintiness” and high minerality. An example of a crisp wine like this would be a Pinot Grigio from Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Italy. Specifically, Collio — a type of soil in this region is “ponca” (marl that is super-high in minerals).

PC: How about one bottle that our readers should buy now to cellar for 10 years, to celebrate a birth, anniversary, or other red-letter day?

The first time I ever toasted a special event, it was with Champagne. I can’t think of anything more iconic than laying down a bottle of Pol Roger “Sir Winston Churchill.” The wine has a maturity about it that promises to age gracefully.

PC: Where is your go-to place when you want to have a glass or bottle?

Outdoors, of course. There have been a few occasions in the past year where I have purchased a botte at the Austin Wine Merchant, and enjoyed it poolside with some friends. Locally, I recently had the pleasure of having Happy Hour at Winebelly here in Austin. Their list is killer, and I love that they feature some geekier, high-quality wines. I enjoyed a glass of Loimer Brut Rosé.

From Austria with love …

PC: If there was one thing you wish everyone would keep in mind when buying and drinking wine, what is it?

Do not, for one second, think that to enjoy a wine you have a know a lot about it. Enjoying wine should never be intimidating or solely for those “in the know.” Just because a wine has a high price tag does not make it a “good wine.” Wine, like art, is subjective. Who cares what everyone else likes to drink? It all comes down to whether you enjoy the taste and experience you have

PC: What is your “wine eureka moment,” the incident/taste/encounter that put you and wine on an intimate plane forever?

The answer to the question lies in my previous answer for what wine to cellar for a special occasion. My experience with wine, up until my first serious serving job, comprised of my relatives enjoying a bottle of wine on holidays. It was not discussed really outside of that. When I starting serving and learning about wine, the list I was working with was 100 percent Italian. I thought I knew some Italian wines up until that point… like Chianti (Sangiovese) or Barolo (Nebbiolo). However, working there opened my eyes to Etna Rosso (Nerello Mascalese), Gavi (Cortese), and a whole bunch more wines with names I couldn’t pronounce at the time.

Every Tuesday, our wine director at the Barbara Lynch Gruppo, Cat Sirile, and her team would host “Wine Words,” a class exploring different regions and the faces behind the bottles we drink. The first few months were hard, because I was embarrassed to admit I was inexperienced. I was faking it, hoping I would “make it.”

My “wine eureka moment” came one day when we were assigned the task of writing a paragraph describing wine using emotions. The point was to emphasize that the strong feelings paired with sight, smell, and taste play a huge role in memory. This explains a lot about why I can still remember what my grandmother’s purse smelled like (Doublemint gum) — an emotional connection to it. I try to utilize that whenever I am trying new wine.

PC: What has been the strangest moment or incident involving wine that you have experienced in your career?

I think I have been fortunate in my career thus far that I have not had anything too odd happen to me, but one of the most coincidental moments in my life was this past year. I was attending VinItaly with a distributor and we had an appointment with E. Pira in Barolo. Paula Rester (an amazing woman and the wine director of LaCorsha Hospitality) and I went into a wine shop in the quiet village square. The only other person in the shop perusing happened to be none other than Kerin O’Keefe of Wine Enthusiast. Needless to say, I was so thrilled to have met her. She is such a wealth of knowledge, and I am humbled to have made that connection. I was also surprised to learn she is from Boston — my hometown.

Your favorite wine reference in a work of literature?

“Good wine, good company, good welcome can make good people.” – Henry VIII, Act I, Scene 4, William Shakespeare

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