Houston, is that a frico dropping?
By my count, there were roughly forty of our city's top wine professionals in the room, all listening with rapt attention and relishing savory nuggets of wine wisdom imparted by Master Sommelier Bobby Stuckey (above).
And I'm not talking benchwarmers. This was an A-list, a who's who of the sommeliers and wine buyers that have helped to make the Houston one of our country's leading fine wine markets: Sean Beck (Backstreet Cafè and Hugo's), Joseph "Grappa Joe" Kemble (Spec's), Vanessa Treviño Boyd (Philippe), Antonio Gianola (Houston Wine Merchant), Steven McDonald (Pappas), James DeLeon (Kroger)... (I've only listed the people we've had a chance to profile here at the Houston Press, but these were just a handful of the crème de la crème of the Houston wine scene in attendance.)
There's not much that can command the undivided attention of so many superstars under one roof.
But then there's Bobby Stuckey.
He and his business partner, celebrity chef and James Beard winner Lachlan Mackinnon-Patterson were in town to present the new vintage of their line of wines, Scarpetta, and to do a pop-up event at Uchi.
For the occasion, Chef Lachlan created an authentic Friulian meal inspired by the menu at their Boulder restaurant Frasca, including a classic crispy frico (fried Montasio cheese) and his signature riso marinara (above, the seafood risotto served in and around the bay of Trieste, in northeastern Italy).
The meal was intended to complement the wines -- Friuliano, Pinot Grigio, and Sauvignon Blanc from Friuli; Barbera from Piedmont -- but conversation and Q&A spanned everything from "orange wine" to the finer points of "old school" Alsatian Pinot Gris and the advent of stone-fruit-driven Sauvignon Blanc in the 1990s. The wines -- the Barbera and Sauvignon Blanc were standouts for me -- were a jumping off point for a much more expansive discourse on the state of European wines in our country today. That's not unusual for a wine educator like Bobby, a self-proclaimed "wine geek" whose passion for great wine always trumps salespersonship.
Also a Beard-winner, 40-something-year-old Bobby has played an avuncular role in the Texas wine scene: A veteran speaker of TexSom (the annual Texas sommelier conference) he regularly tastes with Court of Master Sommeliers candidates from Texas, often inviting them to his restaurant in Colorado for tasting sessions.
As I looked out on to a room full of Houston best and brightest wine professionals, I couldn't help but think of what a unique gathering this was, its collegiality and its participants' shared sense of purpose.
When he poured his Pinot Grigio, Bobby noted that "a noble wine doesn't have to be expensive" (the retail price of Scarpetta Pinot Grigio is around $20 in the Houston market). A glass of modestly-priced Pinot Grigio paired with a humble fisherman's risotto and Houston's top wine personalities who had gathered to taste, trade notes, and break bread with a colleague from the north? I can't think of anything more noble than that.