Wine Insider: Pricing Extremes, Good and Bad, at Marco Wiles's Dolce Vita and Vinoteca Poscol
An Italian wine insider's wine, like this rare and gorgeous Riesling from the Oltrepò Pavese appellation in Northern Italy, is aggressively priced at Dolce Vita. A more common wine like the Pieropan Soave, also a favorite of mine, is marked up far above Houston standards.
Photo by Jeremy Parzen.
In October, when Eating...Our Words published "Houston's 10 Best Destinations for Wine," a number of readers complained in the comment section that none of Marco Wiles's restaurants had been included (his Da Marco was excluded, as were all "trophy wine" destinations; see the intro to the post for the explanation of criteria).
Some -- anonymous commenters, of course -- even had the gumption to suggest that I was biased against Wiles and his restaurant group.
My response (see the comments) was: hogwash. I promptly offered to meet any and all takers for a glass of wine and a nosh on the following Saturday evening at Wiles's Vinoteca Poscol on Westheimer (at the aperitivo hour so that the appointment wouldn't encroach on anyone's dinner hour). Please meet me, I wrote. I'm buying.
No one came. And so I sat alone at the bar, munched on Prosciutto and Montasio (a cheese from Friuli), and ordered a bottle of Pieropan Soave, one of my favorite white wines from Italy and a wine considered by most industry observers a "value-driven" bottle.
The wine was delicious and the Prosciutto a little dry and yellow around the edges but wholesome nonetheless. The cheese wasn't exactly sliced the way they do it in Friuli. And it didn't seem to be "aged," though the menu claimed it was. But it was fresh and tasty.
The only problem was that the markup on the Pieropan was egregiously high.
At one point, I noticed that a waiter was decanting a bottle of Planeta Nero d'Avola, also a (presumably) value-driven wine. I was curious as to why such a humble -- however lovely -- bottle was being decanted. The bartender told me that "every bottle over $60 is decanted" at Poscol. Go figure.
He also confirmed that all the stemware at Poscol is made of glass and that crystal or otherwise fine stemware is not available.
In light of this, I'm going to stand by Poscol's omission from the "Houston's 10 Best Destinations for Wine" list.
This is how the bottle of Pieropan, one of my favorites, was presented to me on the evening that I snacked and sipped alone at the bar at Poscol.
Photo by Jeremy Parzen.
For those who continue to question its exclusion, please have a look at the wine list (posted online, with pricing) and note that it's primarily sourced from Texas's "big two" distributors and that there's virtually no wines from Houston's many independent purveyors.
What to make of all this? Marco Wiles is a businessman. And you can't fault someone for believing in the bottom line. This is America, after all!
The good news is that Nathan Smith, one of the leading wine professionals working in Houston today (and someone who travels to Italy and the Italian wine trade fairs to be in touch with what is happening there), has been slowing revamping the list at Marco's Dolce Vita.
At this member of the Wiles franchise, the Pieropan costs $2 more than at Poscol!
But there is also a true treasure chest of aggressively low-priced groovy, hipster and insider-only classics.
One was the Bruno Verdi Riesling Renano (in the photo above), one of the most stunning white wines I've had in Houston this year. Any trade observer would agree that its price was more than fair.
Another was the Ferrando Erbaluce di Caluso La Torrazza, a relatively esoteric wine from the tiny appellation's leading producer, made from grapes grown on his top estates.
As it opened up, this wine was simply stunning, one of those game-changing wines. And it was only $3 more than the Pieropan!
The "salsicce e friarielli" pizza at Dolce Vita. "Friarielli" is a Neapolitan word for a local cultivar of broccoli raab that is particularly bitter and tender. The broccoli raab on this pizza was the same brand you find at your local gourmet market but it was delicious nonetheless.
Photo by Jeremy Parzen.
Last night, as I sat at the bar and enjoyed the "salsiccia and friarielli" pizza (just try to say friarielli!), Smith explained to me that he's trying to introduce these lesser known wines at attractive prices as he hopes to entice his guests to step outside their usual comfort zone.
It's a wine list in transition (and he hinted that he might take over the program at Poscol as well). It has its gems (many, in fact), but it also has its pitfalls. Smith essentially inherited it from his predecessor, and he's in the process of revamping it.
I have a lot of admiration for Smith and his wine knowledge, and I'm excited to see what he's going to do with this list. The dude defnitely has the chops, and I'll be back for sure to cherry-pick some of the extreme values at Dolce Vita.
But I'm going to stand by its exclusion from the "top 10."
And if anyone wants to meet me there for some Prosciutto and a bottle of Erbaluce, just let me know: I'm buying (I'm not kidding).