Wine Time

Sommelier Sean Beck Always Stumps Me at Backstreet Café

"Anything but Italian!" I exclaim as I find a seat at the bar at Backstreet Café, where Sean Beck curates one of the best by-the-glass wine programs in Houston.

I have nothing against Italian wines. In fact, I'm a big fan of Sean's Italian selections.

But because Italian wines are my main vinous interest and passion, I always encourage Sean to take me outside of my comfort zone.

And on my recent visit, as always, he poured me something that I'd never tasted before, a Roter Veltliner, a pink (not white or red) grape grown in Austria.

Most believe that it's not related to the more famous Grüner Veltliner which is widely cultivated in Austria, although some find similarities in its tasting profile.

This bottling by the Ecker-Eckhof winery was spicy and aromatic and it had a wonderful spearmint note that made it pair superbly with a steaming plate of mussels and garlic-rubbed and toasted crostini. I loved the wine's freshness and bright acidity and I was thrilled to be turned on to a grape I'd never tasted before.

Of course, Sean couldn't resist stumping me with an Italian entry as well.

As he poured me a glass of the Renieri Rosso di Montalcino from Tuscany -- a younger-vine and less tannic expression of Brunello di Montalcino -- I could see that he relished the fact that I had never tasted the wine. It's new to the Houston market, he told me.

It had all the classic traits of honest Sangiovese. And by honest, I mean that it wasn't tarted up to be something that it's not.

Fresh and bright in the glass, it had healthy acidity, ripe plum flavor, and that bright ruby red color that traditional Sangiovese should have (if it doesn't, someone's messed with it during the winemaking process).

And so here I am, an Italian wine afficionado, once again stumped by my colleague.

How does it feel?

100 percent delicious.