La Buena Vida Vineyards has always been one of Grapevine's premier wineries, known for its highly regarded port and breathtaking facility.
Its patio is an oasis right off Main Street, with gardens, stone pillars and a babbling fountain inlaid with Spanish blue-and-white tile. It makes for an idyllic place to sit and enjoy one of LBV's flights of wine.
Now you can nosh on well-prepared food as well, thanks to an expansion by owner Gina Puente. In April, she and chef Stephan Pyles announced their plans to open a pair of wine bars at DFW Airport and Love Field, called Sky Canyon Wine Bar. Puente hired chef Mariano Fernandez to oversee her food program, and La Buena Vida became a beneficiary. It has a greater focus on its food program, with an expanded menu and dinner service, and tables on the patio and inside the tasting room/gift shop. No scrimping here, either: It uses flatware, ornate glass plates and large, decent wineglasses, of course.
Fernandez previously worked at Nana and Sangria, and his expertise was evident in the dishes sampled on a recent Friday night. Even something as seemingly basic as a cheese plate showed thoughtful composition and pristine ingredients.
Panini sandwiches ($10) were extra-large and boasted wonderful combinations of ingredients. The roast beef came with caramelized onions and green peppers. Smoked turkey had capicola, tomatoes and cream cheese. The vegetarian came with an unusually thoughtful selection of vegetables that included zucchini, eggplant, asparagus and red bell pepper -- far beyond the squash-and-onion combo often served. The panini were grilled, then cut on the diagonal -- good for splitting along with a cheese plate.
A Mediterranean cheese board ($24) had crackers, green olives, hummus, grapes, strawberries and an entire 5.2-ounce disc of Boursin cheese. Every element on the plate was flawless. The hummus was addictively creamy and garlicky, the grapes crisp and fresh, the crackers pleasingly salty. The price had been dropped to $17 as a nightly special, and that seemed more in line for the value. Our only wish was for the hunk of cheese to be halved, perhaps in its place a couple of nuts or another kind of cracker.
The buzzy thing La Buena Vida is doing is paella ($20 full portion, $10 half), from 7:30 to 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday nights only. Fernandez pulls out a massive 36-inch paella pan and makes a show of it, simmering the ingredients on the patio so that it feels like a laid-back backyard barbecue. Misters kept the patio cool; a musician sang and played guitar.
The paella was a model rendition, with chunks of seafood peeking up through the bed of saffron-tinted rice. Our half portion netted us plenty of perfectly cooked shrimp, scallops and calamari, and a couple of mussels and clams still in their shells. The rice was creamy, with the perfume of saffron and an underlying flavor of fresh seafood that it absorbed from the cooking liquid. Splitting a small portion plus a cheese plate and a panini sufficed for dinner that night, with leftovers for lunch the next day.
Of course, one must sample the wine, and LBV's flights are the best way to do it. The winery makes about 10 wines, working with original winemaker Bobby Smith as well as Texas winemaker Kim McPherson of McPherson Cellars in Lubbock. It has an additional 20 or so bottles from wineries around the world.
The flights feature themes such as Texas wines, or wines of spring. If mixing and matching is not your thing, order a glass of LBV's Redheaded Stepchild sangria ($8), which recently won a gold award in the Lone Star International competition. Better yet, get the whole bottle.