There's an old and chiasmatic adage often uttered by the great wine lovers of Europe: No wine without food and no food without wine. To those who truly love wine, no glass is complete without the complement of food.
In America, the utterance of the binomial wine bar seems to elide wine's natural companion. Wine bars are places you go to drink wine, whether paired with food or not. After all, that's the American way, isn't it? In America, the proverbial wine is not for culling the nuance of flavors from a given dish and aiding the digestion by means of balanced alcohol and acidity. No, in our country, it's for gettin' yer drink on. As Merle Haggard sang it, wine take me away/where I can lose myself.
Without naming any names, it's not a stretch to say that the overwhelming majority of "wine bars" in Houston are simply glorified bars -- and often singles bars -- where wine is featured as the "wine" of choice.
But today a new bar has been set for the Houston wine bar scene by classically trained opera singer David Keck's extraordinary Camerata on Westheimer (adjacent to Paulie's), named after the celebrated Camerata de' Bardi of Renaissance Florence, a music salon cited by many as the birthplace of lyric opera.
The by-the-glass program at Camerata changes daily and it offers guests an ample selection of European and domestic wines in half and full pours. Wines that have been opened from the previous day are discounted with no strings attached.
Bottles are organized by weight (in other words, light-, medium-bodied, or rich) and among other categories, it includes wines that are "potentially funky," where funk is a gauge of a bottle's low added sulfur content.
Most of the wines are organically or biodynamically farmed and many are "natural" wines (grown without the use of chemicals and fermented with naturally occurring yeast).
But the thing that really sets the enogastronomic experience at Camerata from the rest of Houston's "wine bars" is the simple but extremely thoughtful wine-friendly food options.
No, no stinky, petroleum-based truffle oil here.
Keck, a Master Sommelier candidate who lived in New York City while studying at the Juilliard School and who has traveled the world as an opera singer, brings a new and fresh sensibility to the wine bar concept here in Houston.
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Absent are the shock-and-awe menu items that pepper the menus of the majority of Houston wine bars.
Instead, his staff delivers intelligently selected cheeses, expertly sliced prosciutto di Parma (not an easy task nor one regularly performed competently in Houston), and other artisanal charcuterie (La Quercia from Iowa and Fra' Mani from California) -- classical wine bar fare intended to accentuate the nuances of the wine selections.
It's the type of wine bar where any wine professional or true gourmet -- from anywhere in the world -- would find her/himself at home: A great selection of wines by the glass and a focused wine-friendly menu that actually allows the guest to enjoy the wine.
Chapeau bas, David and team! It was high time that someone raised the (wine) bar.