As most of you know, I moved to Houston about six months ago. Most of you also know that Houston is located in the state of Texas, and for a life-long (or at least close) east-coaster, the thought of moving here caused at least a bit of trepidation.
Well, I am happy to report that Houston is not nearly as bad as I had feared. There is a vibrant food and wine scene and with the help of a few friends, I am starting to tap into it. Last week, for instance, I was invited to an incredible dinner by another East Coaster-turned-Houstonian, Jeremy Parzen, author of, among other things, the acclaimed Do Bianchi blog.
The dinner was held at Tony’s, the venerable Houston restaurant, where Jeremy also serves as a consultant. Shortly after walking in, I was handed a glass of 2015 Vietti Moscato d’Asti “Cascinetta’–a traditional style Moscato, which is neither overly fruity nor unctuously sweet, and, coincidentally, the first Moscato I ever tasted however many years ago ($15. Very Good to Outstanding, 88-90 Points).
Soon after getting my glass, I moseyed on over to Jeremy who was chatting with Luca Currado, the famed head of Vietti. After introductions, a bit of flesh-pressing, and a couple of refills of Moscato, we sat down to my first of what I hoped would be many meals at Tony’s.
As the first course of Scallop Crudo was being served, we switched to the 2015 Vietti Roero Arneis (Retail $25. A traditional style Arneis: clean, precise, great acidity. Really nice. Outstanding 89-91 Points) as Luca stood before the room to provide a bit of history of his family’s winery and the importance of Arneis.
Vietti technically dates from 1873, but the family had been making wine for centuries before, so it is difficult to say when the winery actually began. What is clear is that Luca’s father, Alfredo, invested considerable time and money in the 1960’s to rediscover and cultivate a nearly extinct variety that the locals called “white Nebbiolo.” At that time, there were only about 4,000 vines of Arneis left, but now, 50 years later, it has become the white wine of Piedmonte. This will be 50th anniversary of Arneis for Vietti and the total production of the variety in Roero is expected to hit 60 million bottles this year.
After the fresh and flavorful scallops, Luca once again rose to introduce the next two wines.He started by intimating that he loves Barbera since, as he stated, “the best wine is the one you drink with one leg under the table” (i.e., eating). He added that while the nobles drank Barolo, Barbera was for everyone–or as his wife put it, “it is like a black Hermes bag: it goes with everything.”
He loves the variety so much that he wanted to plant more Barbera around the grand Cru vineyard of Scarrone. His father told him that he was crazy to waste such prime vineyard land for Barbera and told him instead to plant the open area with Nebbiolo. Luca called the nursery and ordered Barbera anyway, knowing he would have a good two years before his father could possibly find out. Unfortunately for Luca, after just a few months, one of the other growers in the area called his father to ask why he planted Barbera on such hallowed ground. His father was apparently more than a bit perturbed–until a few years later when he was able to finally taste the wine. The 2013 Vietti Barbera d’Alba Vigna Scarrone (Retail $40. Fresh and bright with great fruit and a subtle earthiness. Very Good to Outstanding 88-90 Points.) has become perhaps the benchmark for barberry in Piedmont.
The second wine, the 2010 Vietti Barbaresco ‘Masseria’ (Retail $75. Wonderful nose of violet and dark berry fruit. Paradoxically luscious while also austere. Outstanding 91-93 Points) came from what Luca referred to as an “epic vintage.” Clearly a relief since the previous vintages had been less than stellar (during which he took some solace in the advice that he had once received from his grandfather: “‘Luca, there are two things in life that do what they want: Mother Nature and your wife.'”).
We then moved on to the last two wines, both Barolos. Of the 20 “Grand Cru” vineyards in Barolo, Vietti owns part of 15 of them thanks to Luca’s great-grandfather who, after living in the U.S. for over a decade, returned to run the vineyards. He had a vision for the region, and felt that it had the capability to produce magnificent wines. Thus, he bought up a lot of land, at a time when the land was relatively cheap and before others had recognized the potential.
2012 Vietti Barolo Castiglione: Retail $65. A blend of wines from several different vineyards. Whoa. Perfumed , floral, whoa. On the palate, this is clearly a baby but wholly cow. Like most of Luca’s wines this is rich yet restrained with incredible depth and finish. Whoa. Outstanding. 92-94 Points.
2012 Vietti Barolo Brunate: Retail $160. More restrained nose but whoa. Double whoa in fact. Earthy, layered, intense fruit, the star of the show for me, but it still needs a bunch of time. But holy cow. Outstanding Plus. 94-96 Points.
Luca had a few more stories to tell, but at this point in the evening I put my phone down and just soaked it all in: Vietti, Tony’s, Houston. It has only been six months, but I think I will be able to survive down here.