The Judgment of Houston – Rodeo Uncorked 4 min read

I have never been to the Lone Star State. Nor, like the song goes, do I have any “exes in Texas.”  Fortunately, my first Texas experience was wine related. This year, I was privileged to travel to Houston to judge at Rodeo Uncorked, the third largest International Wine Competition in the country. This charitable event is for a formidable and humbling cause; to raise scholarship funds benefiting children who otherwise would not be able to attend college.


I learned about some of the area’s finest establishments. Here are some of my recommendations:


  • New York Strip

    The Pappa Bros. New York Strip.

    All carnivores should check out Pappas Bros. Steakhouse.  They offer the finest steaks in town, accompanied by a 2,300 bottle wine list.

  • Killen’s Barbeque served the most mouth-melting brisket I have ever had. It also boasts the supremacy of pork belly in the world.
  • For craft cocktails, try Federal American Grill and sample their Old-Fashioned, a classic concoction with their own unique spin
  • Pop into Anvil’s for a perfect Pliny’s Tonic.
  • There is plenty of great shopping at the renowned Houston Galleria.
  • For lovely accommodations, checkout JW Marriott in downtown Houston. It’s a modern, upscale property, with an edgy décor, that is mere blocks from a number of hip and happening bars.


The Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo is the largest in the world and is Texas’ longest running livestock event. Rodeo Uncorked is one of over a dozen events that are presented as part of the show. This extravagant wine competition is followed by a three-week wine celebration which features the winning wines.


Many people perceive Texans as beer drinkers. It may be surprising to learn that Texas consumers love wine.  While many East Coast wine drinkers may look to the Old World, Texans have a particular fondness for New World, especially California wine. I had some fantastic conversations with local collectors and the level of enthusiasm for Napa and Sonoma was formidable. Living an hour from one of California’s finest wine regions has spoiled me. I unwittingly take my generous access for granted. It’s good to be reminded how lucky I am.


With 2,500 entries, as judges, we had our work cut out for us. We were split in groups of five, and offered several wines in each category. Some sessions featured as many four dozen samples, some just a handful. This was a blind tasting. All we knew was the varietal and the approximate price range. This year’s featured region was the Pacific Northwest, but the submissions came from all over the world, including submissions from Croatia, Portugal and New Zealand. Texas offered 267 locally made wines.


Reviewing the roster of submissions, there were some serious wine stars present, many of whom I have written about:



The eventual top winners were:



Given the volume of high quality submissions, it’s astonishing that B.R. Cohn won in two categories. Is it that, among its peers, on that day, these wines persuaded the majority of adjudicators? Had it been a different day would the results have been the same? You be the judge. The bottom line is that B.R. Cohn makes fantastic wines which outshined their formidable group of peers. The beauty of consensus-based blind judging is that the majority vote, not individual preferences, count in the end.


I confess my ultimate votes went to a California Pinot Noir and a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. That’s where my palate led me.


As a Californian, I’m often taken aback by southern hospitality. It’s easy to forget how kind southerners can be. My hosts were gracious, extremely polite and nurturing. I felt appreciated and cared for, from random gentlemen holding doors for me, to the general sense of respect and consideration, that was an overarching baseline. In my Judgement (of Houston), that makes it a Grand Champion.


And for that, this Thanksgiving, I am deeply thankful.


Ilona Thompson

Ilona Thompson is Editor-in-Chief at PalateXposure, a destination site for oenophiles, gourmands and luxury travelers. She also recently launched #Wine, a site dedicated to wines and spirits reviews, and #Photography, a site devoted to high-quality wine, food, and travel related photography.

  • Wine Girl

    Texas is definitely on my radar to visit because of all the great restaurants. I think I was a teenager last time I drove through.
    I am quite surprised that BR Cohen won for both red and white wine. They have excellent wines and a beautiful property. Last time I was there I didn’t want to leave. I was sad when I read the property was recently sold.
    The story behind this winery would make for a good movie.
    Yes, the hospitality of southern folks is rare to find anywhere else.
    Although I was raised in beautiful California, being born in New Orleans is very apparent in my respect for others. Some people find my hospitality difficult to understand. I always remind them that I was born in the south.

    November 27, 2015 at 9:06 am

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