Culture / Foodie Events

International Houston Restaurateur Rails Against the Wine Marketing Machine

This Guru Knows Small Wines Sing

BY // 12.02.16

I love to talk about wine with people who share my passion for it. We open bottles, we trade stories about travel and winemakers and terroir and residual sugar, and we talk of taste and food and restaurants. We recommend wines to one another, we drink, and we learn a lot. In Wine Talk, I will introduce you to some of my friends and acquaintances — individuals who love wine as much as I do, who live to taste. You’ll appreciate their insight, and I hope you’ll learn something from them as well. 

Gianfranco Percovich grew up working in his family’s restaurant in Uruguay, and food and wine have been constants in his life. He learned from an uncle how to taste and make wine, and his enthusiasm and passion for Tannat, the national grape of his homeland, is infectious. I dined at his Houston restaurant, Sal y Pimienta, one evening this week, and in addition to the great food — Uruguayan strip steak, wonderfully constructed empanadas, thoughtfully chosen wines — the sight of Percovich dining with his family was a highlight of my visit.

He’s a tall man, but not imposing. His smile is a great attribute in his line of business, and it seems to benefit his guests, all of whom were drinking, eating, and talking with élan. Percovich likes small producers and dislikes empty marketing. We need more of his type.

Here’s Percovich’s Wine Talk:

Tell me about three wines that are drinking well at the moment. What makes them worthwhile? How about a food pairing for each?

Well, I am going to select three bottles from the same producer. I’ll start with “La Playa” from Montes Toscanini. From Canelones, Uruguay. Very fresh, light tropical fruit notes, nice medium acidity, unique product. Limited quantities are produced, and this is hard to find in Houston. This Sauvignon Blanc — hand-picked, stainless steel — goes well with ceviche, carpaccio del mar, tuna tartare, salads, and vegetables. We have it for $28.

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Next, the 2015 “El Papo.” It’s a young Tannat, also from Montes Toscanini. It spends four months in French oak. Tannat is considered Uruguay’s national grape. This wine’s soft tannins make it great on its own, and with empanadas, Provolone, and steaks with chimichurri sauce. It’s on our list for $38.

Montes Toscanini

Finally, Toscanini’s “Criado en Roble.” This is a Tannat Riserva, aged for 15 months in oak. It possesses an intense ruby color and complex and mature aromas — think coffee, leather, tobacco. A silky wine, with mature and round tannins. Long finish, great paired with short ribs, lamb chops, rib eyes. This one’s priced at $64 a bottle, and there’s not much of it.

Let’s say that cost is no consideration: What’s the one bottle you would add to your personal collection?

One would have to be the 2009 il Nero Tannat from Antigua Bodega Stagnari. Three  years in oak, two in bottle. A unique, elegant, velvety, big, and smooth wine. Deep and gentle. A unique piece of art from Uruguay.

What is your favorite grape? And why?

One word: Tannat. It produces noble wines, wines with a lot of personality. It’s originally a French grape, but the great Pascual Harriague introduced it to Uruguay in the 19th century.

How about one bottle that our readers should buy now to cellar for 10 years in anticipation of celebrating a birth, anniversary, or other red-letter day?

The 2012 Gran Enemigo, from Alejandro Vigil. From Mendoza; it’s 100 percent Cabernet Franc, and it’s wonderful.

What is the one thing you wish everyone would keep in mind when buying and drinking wine?

I urge people to buy hand-picked, small-production wines, from boutique wineries. Don’t buy because of the marketing.

Where is your go-to place when you want to have a glass or bottle outside your home?

With friends and family; when the occasion is to celebrate with loved ones, the location doesn’t matter.

What was your “wine eureka moment” — the incident/taste/encounter that put you and wine on an intimate plane forever?

Making and tasting wines with my uncle in Uruguay when I was a teenager.

What has been the strangest (or most interesting) incident involving wine that you have experienced in your career?

When people buy wines because of the name or the marketing behind the brand. It’s something that happens that shouldn’t.

Want more Wine Talk? Check out these stories:

Terry Theise Talks Riesling and Champagne
The Wine Daughter
A Man of Letters and Wine
Ms. Champagne Wants a Nebuchadnezzar
The Wine Artist Goes for Chardonnay
This American Loves Spain and Its Wines
Houston’s Wine Whisperer Has a Soft Touch
Blackberry Farm’s Somm Pours in Splendor
Mr. Pinot Noir: Donald Patz of Patz & Hall
A Cork Dork Wants to Spend More Time in Tuscany
Sommelier Turned Restaurateur Daringly Goes Greek
Texas Master Sommelier Debunks Wine Geeks
A Bottle From Gigondas Changed This Houston Man’s Life

Oil Man Falls in Love, and the Rest is Good-Taste History
Ryan Cooper of Camerata is a Riesling Man
Mixing It Up With Jeremy Parzen, an Ambassador of Italy
Sommelier at One of Houston’s Top Wine Bars Loves Underdogs

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