Wine Time

Osteria Mazzantini's Samantha Porter Tells Stories With Wine

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Porter acknowledges that the list is partially influenced by one put together by Bobby Stuckey at Frasca Food and Wine, which is located in Boulder, Colorado. His wine list is imbued with the history of locations and varietals, and Porter liked that he took the time to explain the wine to his customers. She has set out to craft a list that's a little more understandable to the layperson, though. She notes that though Stuckey's list influenced the structure of hers, she's placed more emphasis on tasting notes than history.

"I think it's important for people to know what Italian wines taste like," she says. "Italian wines are intimidating, even for me."

Though Porter has received certification from the Court of Master Sommeliers, she's still fairly new to the wine industry. She started out as a cook in various kitchens around Houston, including a stint as sous chef for Downhouse when it first opened. In college she was studying restaurant management when she took a wine class and instantly fell in love.

"I was kind of lacking the intellectual side of cooking in my management classes," she says. "I still wanted all of the food and wining and dining that I loved from being a cook, as well as the relationship you build with people because of it, but I was missing the intellectual stimulation. With wine, I got everything I wanted."

Upon discovering this passion, Porter got a job at 13 Celsius, where sommelier Adele Corrigan took the young wine enthusiast under her wing. Later, Porter took an internship in France and lived at a vineyard in Alsace for half a year. This enabled her to travel all over Europe to visit wineries and even help in the production of a few wines. There's a wine on the list at Osteria Mazzantini made from grapes that Porter stomped with her own two feet.

When she returned home, she met John Sheely, interviewed with him and was immediately hired. Four days after graduating, she started a new job, and on that first day of work Sheely informed her that she'd be creating the wine list for his new restaurant, Osteria Mazzantini. Far from being intimidated, Porter embraced the opportunity.

"When I came back from Europe, I was so inspired," she says. "I saw things that Houston hasn't picked up on yet. As soon as John told me I'd be opening Mazzantini, I was so excited to share my experiences with others. John gave me free rein to create what I wanted."

Part of what Porter has brought to Houston is an attention to female winemakers and biodynamic processes. She makes note of both in her wine list, and she makes a conscious effort to include a great selection of wine made by women (as winemaking has long been a man's sport), as well as wine produced by vintners who work with the land to create the most natural products possible.

"I want people to realize that there's so much history and culture to wine," she says. "It's romantic. We've been making wine since 3000 B.C., and there's so much art to it. I feel like my list is written in sort of a romantic sense, because wine is romantic."

The story continues on the next page.

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Kaitlin Steinberg