Wine Time

Inside The Glass: Sean Beck

Sean Beck has been a figure on the Houston wine scene for 22 years.
Sean Beck has been a figure on the Houston wine scene for 22 years. Photo by Kenn Stearns

In the service industry, wine buyers are considered especially talented. In Houston, those responsible are members of an elite squad. For them, two things are pretty much certain; a career in this field began with one memorable sip, and second, they probably rush home in between lunch and dinner service to feed some sort of pet, or little human. These are their stories.

Sean Beck greedily thumbed through the article for a second time. Luxury Champagne, something he didn’t know much about but wanted too. He was fortunate to have found the topic in print; it sure beat shelling out $19 a month for an online read half as good. The feature lifted the curtain on the tête de cuvée of two prestigious Champagne houses. Microscopic bubbles. Interesting.

One week later at the Omni Hotel, the 23-year old wine director of Backstreet Café laid eyes on the very label, the very tête de cuvée still gripped in his memory. Pol Roger. Cuvée Sir Winston Churchill.

Distinguished in dress as a lord from times past, Christian Pol Roger stood carefully pouring the 1988 vintage into a gaggle of bobbing, empty wine glasses.  Beck couldn’t believe it, like a bedtime story not soon forgotten he had just walked the miles of underground caves where Pol Roger bottles were kept and riddled by hand. And today, right now, in his glass were a few precious sips of— microscopic bubbles. “I felt the dance on my tongue.” Minutes elapsed listening to the family history from the source itself.

Long beloved by England’s royal family, not to mention former Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill, the Pol Roger house produces a scant 110,000 cases of bubbles a year. Some say Champagne is meant to be enjoyed young and that it doesn’t age well— not the case actually, Champagne ages quite gracefully. In fact, the more time spent resting on lees in the bottle, the more biscuit, the more unctuous the celebration when finally opened. For more than 100 years, Pol Roger has produced Champagne worthy of royal weddings or in the case of Sir Winston Churchill, a bad day at work circa 1941.

As a salute to the Prime Minister who was a longtime customer and friend of Odette Pol-Roger, the champagne house crowned its tête de cuvée, their premier line, Cuvée Sir Winston Churchill and made it in the style he loved; pinot noir driven with age. Billed as robust and full-bodied, a tip of the hat to the pinot noir, the  bubbly is sprinkled with elegance from the small percentage of chardonnay included. Because tête de cuvée’s are only made in excellent vintages, and because this line in particular is aged ten years before release, it is a monumental bottle indeed.

“’88, ’85, ’93, ’96,” Beck smiles, it’s been his go-to for over 20 years. “When my wife and I started dating I took her out for that, when we signed the deal on Hugo’s I presented Tracy and Hugo with a bottle, it’s a magical wine, it will stick with me forever.”

Tracy Vaught at  Backstreet Café has been jazzing up flavor on the busy River Oaks corner of Shepherd and the Bayou for more than 35 years. From a pup to one of the most respected voices in the Houston wine community, Sean Beck has worked alongside her for the last 22 of them. The wine list he’s curated and beverage program he’s created have earned him several awards locally as well as national acclaim. Beck also oversees H-Town Restaurant Group concepts like Hugo’s, Caracol, and Xochi.

Oh, and he used to have a few dogs, Andouille and Maggie.
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