Culture / Foodie Events

Ms. Champagne: This Wine Guru Started as a Waitress, Hates Prejudging Grapes and Knows Rock Stars Drink Differently

BY // 11.03.15

I love to talk about wine with people who share my passion for it. We open bottles, and we trade stories about travel and winemakers and terroir and residual sugar, and we talk of taste and food pairings and cost. We recommend wines to one another, and 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 and learn about it. You’ll appreciate their insight, and I hope you’ll learn something from them as well. 

I was introduced to Adele Corrigan, who oversees the wine program at 13 Celsius, by a friend whose palate is similar to mine. She told me that I would like the place, so I went and immediately grew fond of Corrigan. She’s enthusiastic, she’s a great host, and she always has great recommendations for her guests, whether they’re looking for something from the Loire Valley or a Mosel Riesling. She knows what it means to work hard in a tough career field, having started as a server in a restaurant, and she appreciates that one never stops learning about wine. I have had some great conversations with her about everything from traveling in Mexico to the joys of a great Champagne, and look forward to more.

13 Celsius is an inviting place to drink some wine, and Corrigan will make sure you get what you’re looking for, even if you don’t know what you want. Give it a try if you haven’t already.

Tell us about three wines you think are drinking well at the moment. What makes them worthwhile? How about a food pairing for each?
Domaine Faillenc “Sainte Marie” — Corbieres, Languedoc, 2013. I fell in love with the funky red toward the end of the summer. I had been drinking whites and rosés, but this red’s profile really hit the spot. The nose is textbook “barnyard.” I remember that before the natural-wine movement made its way to the Houston market, this wine is what you would pour for someone who wanted a truly funky, earthy, dirty red. The palate, however, is much more elegant, with ripe raspberries and medium acidity and tannins. I would pair this with roasted pheasant and some sort of a red berry sauce and wild-grain stuffing. We sell it for $42 a bottle at 13 Celsius. [Look for it for around $17 at your wine merchant.]

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Next up is Ezio Trinchero “Terra del Noce” Barbera d’Asti — Piemonte, 2010. I love Italian wines. This wine has been one of my favorites for years. I fall in love with every vintage all over again. This producer works with Barbera in a unique and delicious way. There’s something on the finish of this red that is so thought-provoking. It’s almost savory and nutty, but there’s great balancing acidity. I love serving this wine to people to get their take on what it is the wine reminds them of. I would pair this with pizza. We sell it for $45 bottle at 13 Celsius. [You can find it at select wine sellers for approximately $22.]

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Finally, Pierre Gimonnet “Cuvee Paradoxe” Brut, 1er Cru, Côte des Blancs 2006. A guest left about half of a bottle of this grower Champagne at 13 Celsius one day and I put it at the back bar and forgot about it for a few hours. When I came back and tasted it, the bottle was warm and half flat, but it was amazing. I could actually taste the wine underneath the bubbles, and it was delicious. Some very serious wine professionals have been preaching about how Champagne needs to breathe, just like a red wine, and this bottle made me believe that. The way the nose and the palate develop after an hour of being open is a great experience that I like to share with guests. My favorite Champagne pairing is Lay’s potato chips. We sell it for $135 a bottle. [This vintage is priced between $60 and $75 at various merchants.]

If cost was no consideration, tell us the one bottle you would add to your personal collection.
A giant bottle of fancy Champagne. Literally as big as they make ‘em. Something like a Nebuchadnezzar of Taittinger La Francaise. I want a bottle big enough that I would need help picking it up (84 pounds of bubbles). A bottle so big that you have to chill it down in a whirlpool tub and need at least two people to pour.

What is your favorite grape, and why?
I’m not sure I could honestly answer that with one definitive varietal. Grapes act differently in different parts of the world. I might say Nebbiolo or Pinot Noir, but that’s not always true. It depends on the producer, location and vintage. But if I had to pick, I’d say Nebbiolo in an excellent vintage from a great producer in Barolo and/or Barbaresco.

How about a bottle one should buy now to cellar for 10 years to celebrate a birth, anniversary or other red-letter day?
Dal Forno Amarone. First of all, these bottles are angry if they are opened too soon. And secondly, once you’ve had one that has matured, it’s unforgettable.


Your establishment excepted, what is your go-to place when you want to have a glass or bottle?
Dolce Vita. The program there is smartly edited, and I always have a new “wine experience” when I visit. Plus, I love Italian wines. I will look at the wine list, then I just let [beverage director] Nathan Smith pick something out. He always has something interesting open and will pour me a glass or taste of really great and unique things.

One thing you wish everyone would keep in mind when buying and drinking wine?
Forget any preconceived notions that you may have about a grape or region. You’d be so surprised that a wine you may have had once can taste different in the hands of another producer or when it’s made in a different region of the world. Always give things a second try and keep an open mind.

What is your “wine eureka moment” — the incident/taste/encounter that put you and wine on an intimate plane forever?
I had just started at 13 Celsius and was sitting outside on the courtyard one night with some highly respected wine guys. We were drinking and having a conversation about the industry. I had been studying wine, but was still very much a novice. I remember listening intently to every detail these guys were talking about, even though I had only a vague idea of what was going on. In the midst of the conversation, one of the wine gurus to the right of me hands over his glass of wine and asks me what it is. I took one whiff and a quick swig and knew what it was right away. New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. It was the first time I had even attempted to blind-taste anything. I remember it being a moment of reassurance that maybe I could do this, too.

What has been the strangest moment/incident involving wine that you have experienced in your career?
A few years ago, I was invited to go backstage and drink wine with Maynard James Keenan, who’s from the band Tool, before the show. He actually makes pretty good wines, and a few select buyers were invited to taste through his new vintage in his dressing room. As we arrived at the Toyota Center, the head of security did a good job in threatening us to not mention anything related to the band or his personal life. If we asked a question that wasn’t directly related to wine, he warned, we would be immediately escorted out and banned for life

I remember standing in a concrete hallway outside of the door to the dressing room, the faint sound of classical music playing, and this drill sergeant head of security yelling at us like delinquents. When we were allowed into the dimly lit room, everyone was too shy to really ask any questions for the fear and accidentally saying the word “Tool.”

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