Abe Schoener, Passopisciaro, and Justin Yu’s new kitchen: all in a day’s wine in Houston

From the department of “it’s been a hard day’s wine”…

What an incredible “wine” day yesterday in my adoptive hometown, Houston!

It started with a wonderful trade tasting of Passopisciaro and Trinoro wines at my new fave Houston BBQ destination, The Pit Room (see the spread below).

It peaked with a intensely engaging and delightfully intellectual guided tasting of wines by Abe Schoener of Scholium Project fame.

And dulcis in fundo, the day’s coda came with a ethereally light and wholly satisfying meal at B[etter] L[uck] T[omorrow], celebrity chef Justin Yu’s newest entry and one of the most anticipated restaurant openings of the year (see the establishing shot below).

Another one of the day’s highlight’s was the arrival of the current issue of Wine & Spirits magazine wherein I offer a review of Vinology, the wine bar and wine shop that has quickly become the new epicenter for the vinously inclined among us.

That’s Thomas Moësse below (second from left) in a photo that I snapped at the trade lunch where we tasted Etna and Val d’Orcia wines together. He authors the wine program at Vinology and he is the top Italian wine professional imho working in Texas today, although his expertise isn’t limited by any means solely to the Italic peninsula.

Man, what a day of tasting extremes! From the heights of Etna to Abe’s highly thoughtful, provocative California winemaking.

I’d never had the chance to taste with Abe and I found the experience exhilarating, I have to say. He’s one of the best technical tasters I’ve ever sat down with in the U.S. His style and his approach to wine reminded me of the Italian intellectual celebrity, writer, and taster Sandro Sangiorgi, to give you a reference point.

But the thing that impressed me the most about his session was his seemingly innate ability to explain even the most subtle and challenging technical aspects of tasting and winemaking with great clarity. When and if you ever get the chance to taste with this dude, take it. Great experience, where everyone, myself included, walked away with brain cells churning through thought like Saccharomyces cerevisiae munching on sugar.

Houston’s new and expanding role in the American fine wine scene was put into context when we arrived at BLT at the end of our night. James Beard-winner and founder of the superb but now shuttered Oxheart, Justin is arguably Houston’s most well known chef. The new restaurant and bar is his most recent venture with celebrity mixologist Bobby Heugel, another one of the city’s food industry notables.

When we sat down to order, we were asked for our IDs, not to verify our age but to sign us up as members of a private drinking club. Even though the law was overturned in last November’s elections, Justin’s new place stands in a still dry area of Houston, the Heights, where alcohol has been officially verboten since the 1910s. (Check out this super cool article on the subject and its loopholes by Houston writer Nick Hall for PUNCH.)

Ever since a brave restaurateur established the first private drinking club in the Heights in the early aughts (if I’m not mistaken), countless fine dining establishments with world-class wine and cocktail programs have opened there.

But the anachronism is a reminder that history still casts its long shadow on this great metropolis of the South.

That shadow is long but the future is bright, my friends. Come see me in Houston some time. I promise you we’ll drink well!

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