Wine Talk: Sommelier Turned Houston Restaurant Owner Daringly Goes GreekBY James Brock // 08.31.15
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 first met Evan Turner at Iron Sommelier in Houston in 2014, and his enthusiasm about Greek wines — which is what he was pouring at the event — was infectious. I’ve had my fair share of Greek wines over the years, but I have never met anyone more passionate about them. (In fact, he would be a great spokesperson for the Greek Wine Bureau.) He’s smart — our conversations zoom from tennis (McEnroe and Serena) to German laws to the euro crisis. And when it comes to wine, he’s not pretentious. He wants people to drink Greek, but he also likes seeing people enjoying wines that they love.
He opened Helen Greek Food and Wine in July of this year, and the restaurant with the all-Greek wine list is off to a great start. (I’ve dined there on two occasions thus far — the food is very promising — and plan to do so again soon.) Turner was born in Norfolk, Virginia, and has lived in, among other places, New York, where he worked as a bartender and, later, a sommelier. His home, however, is wherever he lays his wine key, and Houston wine lovers are lucky to have him.
Tell me about three wines that are drinking well at the moment. What makes them worthwhile? How about a food pairing for each?
Well, we are still in Houston summer, so I am big on whites and rosés. Also, since I am a shameless promoter of Greek wines, I believe that if you are not drinking Greek in the summer, you are damaging your soul. Here are few:
Troupis Winery Fteri Moschofilero 2013. This is simply the greatest summer white you will consume this year. We serve it by the glass at Helen for $13. It is stunningly aromatic with notes of orange blossom, citrus and rose gardens. On the palate, it is crisp and clean with racy acidity that makes it brilliant on its own or brilliant pared with anything from fresh fruit to seafood.
Another glorious summer wine is Kir Yianni’s 2014 Akakies sparkling rosé of Xinomavro. This is about as unique as sparkling wine can get, a méthode champenoise wine made from Xinomavro, a grape best known (if at all) for producing amazing long-lived red wines. This rosé has a stunning nose of strawberry, cranberries and acacia flowers. On the palate it’s like drinking a picnic out of a glass. Strawberries, watermelon and a hint of cherries. We sell all of our wines at Helen either to-go or to enjoy on site, as we have a beer/wine license only. You can get Kir Yianni Akakies for $22 to take home with you from Helen.
Finally, I love Malagousia. I would bathe in it if I could. If you try only one Greek wine, get a glass of Gerovassiliou Malagousia. It won a gold medal at the Texsom tasting competition,and we serve it by the glass for $15.
Let’s say that cost is no consideration: What’s the one bottle you would add to your personal collection?
This is always a tough question, but if I were loaded I would love to have a bottle of any 1999 Domaine Romanée-Conti Grand Cru I could get my hands on.
What is your favorite grape? And why?
Xinomavro. Without a doubt. It is graceful, flexible, amazingly long-lived and has such stunning complexity. In 10 years they will consider Xinomavro the equal of Nebbiolo and Pinot Noir. Book it.
How about one bottle that our readers should buy now to cellar for 10 years, to celebrate a birth, anniversary or other red-letter day?
The 2011 Domaine Karydas Xinomavro. From the home of Xinomavro, Naoussa, 2011 is the current release. It will run you around $40 and will be incredible 10 years from now. A brilliant example of how well Xinomavro ages.
What is the one thing you wish everyone would remember when buying and drinking wine?
Drink what you want. Scores do not matter. No one —I repeat, no one — drinks wine in a clean room with a lab coat on and a clipboard in one hand. That is basically what scoring wine represents. Drink with loved ones, family and friends, and every wine will be perfect.
Where is your go-to place — other than home or Helen — when you want to have a glass or bottle?
I have two. One is 13 Celsius, which is just beautiful. The location is beautiful, the selection is beautiful, the staff is beautiful … even the orchestra is beautiful. (Sorry, had to make the Cabaret reference, could not help myself.) The second is El Meson, around the corner from Helen. They have great selections, and Peter Garcia is one the greatest treasures in the Houston hospitality community. I would pay double just to sit and pick his brain for an hour.
What was your “wine eureka moment” — the incident/taste/encounter that put you and wine on an intimate plane forever?
In 2001, post-9/11, I was living in New York City, and as you can imagine, it was a horrible time. I had been taking sommelier classes at Windows On the World at the time, and suddenly it was all gone, including two classmates who worked there. A month or so later I had the chance to drink some Xinomavros that had some serious age on them, and they were glorious. It was a thunderbolt moment. Right then and there, I decided I wanted to work with Greek wine as much as I possibly could. I have been moving toward that goal ever since. I went to my first winery in Greece as a teenager, had been in love with the country from the day I first visited there there, and there I was, years later, in NYC as a sommelier tasting these amazing Greek wines, and it all just clicked. I knew this was my path, to work with Greek wines one way or another. Slowly but surely I just kept pushing toward that goal. As an aside, “eureka” being a Greek word seems particularly apropos here.