3 Master Sommeliers, a top Barolo producer, and an erstwhile Francescana chef? Man, Houston’s wine and food scene really sucks (NOT!)

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Last Friday I was massively enjoying an epic flight of Oddero Barolo, Barbaresco, and Barbera d’Asti at one of my adoptive city’s hippest new restaurants, and it occurred to me: Houston is a real backwater, ain’t it?

I mean when you’re seated with three Master Sommeliers, including two that run one of the most highly acclaimed steakhouse lists in the country, and being fed by an erstwhile Francescana chef, you just really wish you were among the lucky few who get invited to media lunches with globally renowned publicists and leading Italian wine writers and experts.

But hey, not everyone can have all the fun, can they?

From left in the photo above, that’s Steven McDonald MS, Jack Mason MS, June Rodil MS, advanced sommelier Brandon Kerne (another badass), and chef Felipe Riccio, who not so long ago returned from a few years working in Massimo Bottura’s Osteria Francescana kitchen in Modena (Felipe’s story about making chilaquiles for Bottura is amazing, btw, but that’ll have to wait for another day, another blog post).

There was actually another Master Sommelier on the premises but he was otherwise occupied and too busy pouring wine to rich folk to stop by our table.

Also in attendance were Jane-Paige d’Huyvetter (likewise a badass), wine director at the super swank River Oaks Country Club; Weston “Piedmont Guy” Hoard (Oddero’s importer); and Ian McCaffery and Nathan Smith (Piedmont Guy’s distributor in Texas).

It was really interesting to hear Pietro Oddero talk about his family’s philosophy and approach to their classic Barolo (thank you, Americans, for not saying “normale” Barolo, an egregious misnomer for Barolo or any top appellation for that matter).

Americans are so single-vineyard focused (my impression not Pietro’s) that they often miss the point: the classic Barolo cuvée, blended from an estate’s top vineyards and rows, is the purest expression of the appellation and vintage. The single-vineyard designates are great (and I collect a lot of them). But they reflect a micro, highly localized expression of the appellation and vintage. They can be great and I love drinking and collecting them. But it’s always the classic wines, in Barolo and Barbaresco, that I find most compelling.

That’s Felipe’s housemade spaghetti tossed in caponata above. Utterly delicious.

A propos single-vineyard designates, the Piedmont Guy (above) and Pietro discussed Oddero’s recent acquisition in the Monvigliero cru in Verduno township.

The 2015 Oddero crus — Rocche di Castiglione and Villero — were still very tight in the glass. Excellent, with the immense promise you expect from a house like this, but not forthcoming with their fruit.

My favorites of the flight were the 2014 and 2015 classic Barolo and the 2016 Barbaresco Gallina, which was showing beautifully, really ready to drink.

When Tracie and I decided to move from Austin to Houston six years ago, it was to be closer to family, hers and mine, and the support we need with small kids in the house. But our adoptive city was already starting to emerge as a food and wine “capital of the South,” as one glitzy magazine called it a few years ago.

Over the arc of time that we’ve lived and thrived here, Houston’s become a true epicenter of the American food and wine renaissance.

Just considering the amount of sheer talent and experience seated around the table with me on Friday, not to mention the caliber of the wines we enjoyed and the fact that a winery principal was there with us, it’s hard to argue that Houston isn’t one of the country’s top enogastronomic destinations. The food and wine speak for themselves… Don’t believe me? Come visit and the first bottle of Barolo is on me!

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