Garganega pairs well with Vietnamese (Thank you! @Femme_Foodie & @TonyVallone)

Above: Writer Mai Pham and restaurateur Tony Vallone, two of my favorite people on the Houston food and wine scene.

When the occasion is BYOB at an Asian restaurant, my friends expect me to bring something Natural and stinky, crunchy and funky — a delight for those who like the adventurous and unexpected and a conversation piece for the more conventional among us.

But unforeseen events last night made it impossible for me to dip into our cellar before joining my friends Mai Pham, her wonderful husband Michael, and my good friend and client Tony Vallone and his top staff for dinner at the amazing Jasmine restaurant in Chinatown, Houston.

There aren’t a lot of retail wine options on Sunday in Texas (where wine is not sold until after 12 p.m. on Sundays). And so I figured my best bet was an upscale supermarket, the Kroger on Buffalo Speedway (Kroger is actually a large commercial chain, but it’s Buffalo Speedway location is a “flagship” outpost).

Above: Real wine for under $15? Pieropan delivers.

Honestly, there’s not a lot of wine at Kroger that I can palate. And the European selections are limited to the usual suspects.

But what a fantastic surprise to find Pieropan — Garganega with a smaller amount of Trebbiano di Soave — for $13.99! And they had it already chilled…

The wine — with its zinging acidity and that unmistakable volcanic minerality of classic Soave — was ideal with the fattiness of fried whole catfish.

Above: Mai and Michael showed us how to roll the catfish with carrots, cucumber stalks, and mint in large rice wafers that had been softened in warm water. Catfish doesn’t have a much nutritional value, noted Michael, but it’s delicious.

Great value and great flavor in this wine… and great versatility (the saltiness and fattiness of the catfish reminded me how well this wine would pair with whole fried goby from the Venetian lagoon).

BTW, if you’re having issues with the pronunciation of Garganega, you’ll find it among the grape varieties in the Italian Grape Name and Appellation Pronunciation Project.

Mai and Michael, thanks again for turning us on to Jasmine.

And Tony, thanks for treating us to a great dinner.

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