In the five years that it was open, the sorely missed Catalan Food & Wine Bar on Washington earned no less than three nods for the Best Wine List in Houston here at the Houston Press Best of Houston® Awards.
It was certainly my favorite wine list in the city, in part because of the extraordinary breadth of wines, European and domestic; in part because of the extremely aggressive pricing; but most of all because of the author and curator of that list, Antonio Gianola (above), one of the most dynamic figures on the Houston wine scene.
Since the venue closed in June of last year, Houston wine insiders have anxiously awaited Antonio's next move. But high hopes for his new wine bar, tentatively called Sprezzatura (after the Renaissance Italian term for the courtier's mastery of dissimulation), have remained woefully unfulfilled.
Yesterday, when I met with Antonio over a glass of South Tyrol (German-speaking) Pinot Grigio at Haven, he informed me that current plans have been derailed by a skittish investor. Although he remains optimistic and is working on new financing, he said, the road ahead remains filled with challenges.
That's not to say that he hasn't been active. He's been working since last year for one of our state's top wine brokerages and you'll often find him with a leading Italian winemaker "working the market," as they say in wine trade parlance, hawking wine and taking orders.
"Working on this side of the business," he told me, "has given me new insights into how our business works."
"This experience will be extremely useful when I finally open my own place," he said with his trademark soft-spoken confidence and gentle, methodical manner.
He remains one of the most beloved characters in the Houston restaurant world, and it was great to see the staff at Haven light up when he walked into the room.
Our conversation ranged from a once-in-a-lifetime but tragically corked bottle of 1989 by Nicolas Joly to the controversial architect of modern Nebbiolo, Giorgio Rivetti, and his winery, La Spinetta.
No matter what the vinous subject, to converse with Antonio on wine is to enter into a Renaissance courtier's world of oenophilia, and his discourse is always as eloquent as his palate is refined.
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He is a true Renaissance man, a prince among wine directors who -- sadly for us -- awaits his next throne.
Houstonians, get this man a wine bar, stat!