Jessica Elaine Garcia grew up around wine and food, and has found her niche in her family's restaurant, El Meson.
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 great people — 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.
Jessica Elaine Garcia was born to the world of food and wine. Her father, Pedro Angel Garcia, opened Houston’s El Meson with his father in 1981, and many of her days and nights have been spent in the popular restaurant since then. I met her a few months ago at El Meson, and we talked Spanish wines, and Riesling, among many other things. Dining with her and her mother and father was a pleasure, and her sense of gratitude at being able to follow in her father’s footsteps was evident.
She has put in some time working at wineries in California and New Zealand, and served as sommelier at Casanova, a restaurant in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California. She is currently the wine director at El Meson.
Tell me about three wines that are drinking well at the moment. What makes them worthwhile? How about a food pairing for each?
Let’s start with the 2007 R. Lopéz de Heredia, Viña Cubillo, Rioja Crianza. Lopéz de Heredia is all about tradition. Their wines are held back until they’re ready to drink before being sold. They do extensive ageing in large, neutral-oak barrels, and then place the wine in small new barriques made with American oak, so you get the soft and velvety tannins and the vanilla and dill aromas. While most Rioja crianzas on the market right now are from 2012, R. Lopéz de Heredia’s current release crianza, Viña Cubillo, is 2007. Also, their white wines age for decades. Houston Wine Merchant just got its shipment of whites from R. Lopéz de Heredia. We carry 2003, 2000, 1994, and 1991 whites at El Meson, and you can find th 2007 Rioja Crianza for around $30 at Houston Wine Merchant; we sell it for $62. Pairing: Paella del Meson and Piquillos de la Tierra; the saffron and pimentón flavors in these dishes feel so right with this wine.
Next, the 2009 Nuestra Señora de Remelluri, La Granja, Rioja Gran Reserva.
Telmo Rodriguez is one of my favorite Spanish winemakers. He’s all about terroir, that a very specific place produces a very specific wine. He respects the old ways of making wine, uses no chemicals, and allows the sense of place to be expressed in the wine. Some of the vines used in this wine are 100 years old, and it’s not all Tempranillo. There is some Garnacha and Graciano, with a little uncertain field thrown in. Look for it at Houston Wine Merchant for around $90, and we offer it for $130. Pairing: Ropa Vieja – This complex red wine has a long finish, so pair it with braised meat. The flavors of the meat and the wine linger for a fulfilling experience.
Finally, the 2013 Descendientes de J. Palacios, Petalos del Biezro. This wine is made in northwest Spain, along the pilgrimage path of St. James, El Camino de Santiago. It’s made with a local grape called Mencia that I love. It can be made as a full-bodied wine with firm tannins, like Petalos, or with lower alcohol and higher acidity. We also have in our cellars at El Meson the top-tier 2005 Villa de Corullón by Palacios, which is drinking spectacularly right now. Get the Descendientes for around $24 at Houston Wine Merchant; we have it on our list for $52. Pairing: Chuletas de Cordero (Lamb chops) – This full-bodied wine loves grilled meat with fat, preferably lamb.
Let’s say that cost is no consideration: What’s the one bottle you would add to your personal collection?
DRC all the way, Domaine de la Romanée-Conti La Tâche Grand Cru. Cost would have to be no consideration with this one. What more can I say? I think the wine speaks for itself. It is the benchmark wine. I am 100 percent certain that it is every sommelier’s dream to taste the wine from this vineyard. 2005 was an exceptional vintage, I would start there and hang on to that bottle.
What is your favorite grape? And why?
Grenache. Lately, I have been intrigued by 100 percent Grenache wines from California. Two names: Tribute to Grace, or Dragonette Cellars Grenache. I think the grape by itself can make something that is exceptional, with really interesting aromatics such as black tea and flowers. However, the variety’s structure — it’s light on tannin, color and acidity — and other issues, such as its susceptibility to rot or need of a hotter climate to fully ripen — make it more suited to blends. You find it as a chief proponent in wines from the Côtes du Rhône and the Priorat region in Spain. The wines from these areas are definitely some of my favorites.
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?
A spätlese Riesling from Rheingau. But forget 10 years; keep it for as long as you want, the older the better. This would be the wine you would buy when your child is born and keep for them until they are old enough to drink it, maybe a bit longer than that, until they are old enough to appreciate it. Schloss Johannisberg has a long and illustrious history with winemaking in the region.
What is the one thing you wish everyone would keep in mind when buying and drinking wine?
I encourage everyone to try something they’ve never had before. There is so much out there on the market, and a lot of amazing wine gets passed simply because it isn’t as well known. What makes my job worthwhile is getting to introduce guests to the wine that could be their new favorite.
Besides your own establishment, where is your go-to place when you want to have a glass or bottle?
13 Celsius. Adele Corrigan, the wine director and general manager there, has put together an amazing wine-by-the-glass list. I always find something I am excited about or dying to try, and the staff is lovely as well as knowledgeable. I always feel at home there.
What was your “wine eureka moment” — the incident/taste/encounter that put you and wine on an intimate plane forever?
I do not recall there ever being an exact moment, and I think the reason was because it was always around. My father is knows a lot about wine as well, so I can only assume I learned a thing or two via osmosis. This intuition and familiarity with wine (which I still work daily to improve) came in handy, because I went to college with an aversion to cheap wine. Thanks, Pops!
What has been the strangest (or most interesting) incident involving wine that you have experienced in your career?
My most interesting experience with wine in my career was the addition to my resume of working crush. I worked with Jeff Pisoni during the 2012 harvest. Taking part in the winemaking process is one of my most precious memories. It was tough work, as Jeff had warned me, but I am so proud of myself for doing it. I still dream of making my own wine someday.
Want more Wine Talk? Check out these stories:
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