Matthew Pridgen will find you a great bottle at Underbelly, and you can drink it there or buy it to take home. (Courtesy Matthew Pridgen)
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.
When I decided to move to Houston, back in 2013, I started doing some reading about the city’s restaurant scene. I also asked a friend, John T. Edge, about his opinion and experiences in Houston. In my research, one name kept coming up: Underbelly, which was one of the first places I visited when I arrived in the city. It may have been on that evening that I first met Matthew Pridgen, the restaurant’s general manager and wine director. I recall thinking that he had a great rapport with guests, and an unassuming and respectful manner. I liked that, and him. He has worked alongside executive chef Chris Shepherd years now, and is an integral part of the popular restaurant. Whenever I find myself there, I make sure to say hello to Matthew, and find out what he’s been drinking. It’s always a pleasure.
Tell us about three wines you think are drinking well at the moment. What makes them worthwhile? How about a food pairing for each one?
2014 Onward Skin Fermented Malvasia Bianca, Suisun Valley. This is a fairly new wine made by Faith Armstrong, whose main focus is Pinot Noir. She got a call a few years back about this old vineyard of Malvasia, and purchased all the fruit on the spot. The wine stays on the skins, as a red wine would, and the result is a richly textured, herbaceous, and floral wine with light tannin structure. I absolutely love it with the Cha Ca Style Snapper Chris does at Underbelly featuring turmeric, fresh herbs and fish sauce. We sell it for $43 list/$26 a bottle.
NV Daumas Gassac Rosé Frizzante, Languedoc. I love sparkling wine, and rosé, so sparkling rosé, well, that’s just a bonus. This is a Cabernet Sauvignon-based sparkler from an incredible estate in the Languedoc. It is made in the Charmat method, meaning it undergoes one fermentation only and is bottled under pressure. The result is a vibrantly pure and fruity wine with sweet notes to the fruit. We have it for $22 retail at Underbelly.
2011 Clos Lalfert VdP de l’Herault, Languedoc. Right down the road from Daumas Gassac are the wines of Baptiste Lalfert, a relative newcomer to making wine, but you would never guess by tasting his wine. And by wine, I mean the one wine he makes. The blend varies from year to year, and the 2011 is 95 percent Syrah and 5 percent Cabernet Sauvignon from a vineyard that sits at the foothills of the Cévennes mountains and benefits greatly from the cool mountain air.
It’s aged in used oak for one year, and the resulting wine is one of great complexity: lifted aromatics of sweet blue and black fruit with spice, garrigue, game and light smoke notes. I recently had it with smoked beef shoulder, candied radish and butternut puree, and it was a perfect pairing for a cold rainy night in Houston. We offer it for $71 list/$43 retail at the restaurant.
If cost was no consideration, tell us the one bottle you would add to your personal collection, and why.
I have always wanted to try a bottle of 1974 — the year I was born — Diamond Creek Volcanic Hill Cabernet. I’ve loved the wines since the first time I tasted them, and visited the winery on my first trip to Napa years ago. They are incredibly long-lived wines, and from what I have read the ’74 is drinking really well. I hope my wife reads this, since my birthday is coming up!
What is your favorite grape, and why? If you don’t have a favorite, tell me about one that you really like.
I get this question a lot. I can honestly say I don’t have a favorite grape, but I probably drink more Grenache-based wines from the South of France than anything else. These wines are generally made with little to no oak, and are very food-friendly, with hints of spice, mineral and herbs. Great on their own or with food.
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?
I recently added some 2010 Arnot Roberts Fellom Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon (from the Santa Cruz Mountains) to the cellar for my son’s birth year, and will be adding the 2012 when it is released for my daughter’s. I’m a huge fan of their wines, and the Cabernets are incredibly complex and tightly wound, perfect for laying down for a special occasion.
Your establishment excepted, where is your go-to place when you want to have a glass or bottle?
I don’t get out much as much as I used to, but if and when I want to relax with a glass or bottle I bee-line it down Westheimer to Camerata. David Keck is an all-around awesome guy, and his knowledge and passion for wine makes for a great experience there.
If there was one thing you want everyone would keep in mind when buying and drinking wine, what is it?
Drink what you like, not what someone tells you to drink because it “scored high”. The best way to learn about wine is to taste for yourself, and develop your own opinions on why something tastes good to you.
What is your “wine eureka moment,” the incident/taste/encounter that put you and wine on an intimate plane forever?
I was working at Mark’s in the late 1990’s and we had a private event with incredible Champagne, Burgundy, and Bordeaux from the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. I was tasked with opening and tasting all the bottles prior to the dinner. It was my first time tasting wine that was older than I was, and I knew then that wine and I would have a long and loving relationship.
What has been the strangest moment/incident involving wine that you have experienced in your career?
Since being involved in wine, I have always worked at independently owned restaurants. Years ago I approached a table that had ordered a half bottle of Napa Cabernet. I did not notice until I presented the bottle that the vintage had changed from what was on our list. I asked the guest if they would still like the bottle or if they preferred a different one, and they agreed to the original. After opening and pouring a taste the guest said that the wine should cost less since it was a more current vintage, to which I replied, I wish that were the case, but high-end wines from Napa rarely decrease in price from one vintage to the next. He then proceeded to berate me and call me a “corporate guppy” and tell me I didn’t know what the hell I was talking about. I corked his wine and gave him the check.
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