One hundred and fifteen pages of wine containing 3,500 labels is what Julie Dalton, an Advanced Sommelier who’s two thirds finished with her master’s certification, is working with at Mastro’s Steakhouse. To store the $3.5 million dollar catalog known as The Cellar of the Post Oak Hotel property, wine is spread between three floors of the hotel, a handful of wine rooms, and racks lined to the ceiling, all temperature controlled except for the basement.
’98 Opus One—they have it, they have ten, and within moments of a message being shot off via Slack, a wine runner has packed the bottle—or ten, and is safely on his way to Mastro’s or Willie G’s or one of the six other outlets under the liquor license.
Monthly inventory of the whole shebang requires many hands, meaning master sommelier Keith Goldston, the nine certified sommeliers on staff, and more. “It takes a village,” says Julie Dalton, who moved to Houston a year and half ago to help open the project as well as work under her mentor, Goldston. In the short time she’s been here, she’s splashed into the scene, most notably by winning the 2018 Iron Sommelier Competition that benefits The Periwinkle Foundation.
Twenty years ago, the West Virginia native, who’s already had a career in biotech, held an unfinished bottle of Silver Oak Alexander Valley, in the empty Pelican Club room at Gaido’s in Galveston. Waiting tables there while studying Marine Biology and Entomology at Texas A & M, she had already made the decision to learn more about wine from a fiscal standpoint. Because the more expensive the bottle, the larger the tip— but this wine was different. This mouthful of cabernet struck her unlike any by the glass wines she had been trained on. This was really good.
“The world is so enormous, I just became enamoured with all the pieces and parts of wine.” Though she held Silver Oak as her measuring stick for some time and it was her initial inspiration to learn more, working with Goldston at Mastro’s, she smiles, “I’ve tasted more Grand Cru Burgundy and classified First Growth Bordeaux in the past year and a half than I have in my entire life.”
In Baltimore, Dalton worked in the biotech industry, but always kept a hospitality job on the side, until 2010 when she decided to just go for it full time. “I knew I had the personality to wait tables, but I’m also a scientist and for a while thought, ‘I should do that.” Jumping into the restaurant life felt complete. “It’s in your blood, you need it—it’s like water.”
While she admits she isn’t a musician, there is nothing like a perfectly composed moment of sound to bring her to tears. Well, maybe a ‘01 Tenuta Friggiali Brunello di Montalcino enjoyed on the couch with her chef friend—or an ’02 Les Suchots Vosne-Romanee Premier Cru Burgundy paired with a tuna steak and seared foie gras at The Inn At Little Washington. Or a dry, mineralistic reisling alongside a marbled, medium-rare ribeye. “If everything is perfect, I will shed a tear because all the pieces, that moment in time, were just sublime.”
While dry reisling with steak is an off the beaten path pairing, it works, she says.
“If you think about the steak and all the butter it sits in, it presents the bass and tenor, and maybe the broccoli represents the alto, but the soprano comes from the dry reisling and all of a sudden the chorus is complete—I like hearing all parts of the harmony.”