David Keck, the man in charge at Camerata, has a thing for Syrah. (Photo by Debora Smail)
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 liked David Keck from the moment I met him. He was behind the bar at Camerata at Paulie’s, where he holds court as sommelier — it was in the summer of 2013; I had just arrived in Houston, and Camerata had recently opened — and as I was perusing the list he tactfully asked if I had any questions. I noticed that his manner was gracious and respectful, and sensed that he was there to put enjoyable, honest wines in front of his guests. He has been doing that regularly since then at Camerata, the place I go when I want to drink in public in Houston. Keck has assembled a great team, and Camerata’s list is rich with wines I like. Keck does not drink wine because it makes him feel sophisticated, and he does not speak with customers as if they know nothing and are therefore inferior in the taste department. This is a good thing. He continues to pursue wine certifications from the Court of Master Sommeliers, and he is continuing, as all lovers of wine do, to learn. I look forward to our future conversations and tastings.
Tell me about three wines that are drinking well at the moment. What makes them worthwhile? How about a food pairing for each?
In the summer in Houston, I always lean toward nice, clean, dry rosé — it’s a perfect wine by itself, but also pairs beautifully with food. Right now I particularly enjoy Bruno Clair Marsannay rosé 2013. It is not just delicious, but also has a lot going on and deserves some contemplation. I think rosé is the best pairing for richer fish dishes, so try this with grilled salmon or an ocean trout crudo. We have it for $59 at the bar.
G. D. Vajra’s Barbera d’Alba 2011 is a great medium- to full-bodied red wine from Piedmont in northwest Italy. Full of red fruit and bright, vibrant floral tones, it is an amazing wine with red-sauced pastas, pizza, and even game. It goes for about $45. Finally, one should always have a great bottle of Champagne on hand to celebrate, and we’ve recently added Thierry Massin’s 100 percent Pinot Noir Brut to the list ($75). From a lesser-known region in Champagne, the Aube, it is rich and concentrated with lots of brioche and spicy character. Built for dinner, it would pair nicely with sauced chicken dishes or even roast pork.
Let’s say that cost is no consideration: What’s the one bottle you would add to your personal collection?
Gentaz-Dervieux “Côte Brune” Côte-Rotie, and if I’m going to be greedy, 1978. I love Syrah, and Marius Gentaz was considered by many to be a master of this grape, working in some of the most coveted and revered sites in the Northern Rhône valley in France. They are expensive, yes, but not because of scores or cult status (although they certainly have that), but rather because of scarcity due to the tiny amount produced. Those who have had the wines get misty eyed, and I’d love to have such a Syrah-based religious experience. Marius has sadly passed and these wines will never exist again.
What is your favorite grape? And why?
I tend to wax poetic about Syrah an awful lot — I always like the underdog, and Syrah tends to be overlooked in the wine world. Capable of being lean and herbaceous, full and rich, peppery, spicy, leathery or fruity, there really is a Syrah for every season. Right now, when it’s 100 degrees outside, Syrah rosé does just fine!
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?
I think Champagne is one of the most cellar-worthy and frequently the least-cellared wines in the world. I’d lay down a bottle of 2009 Special Club from Moussé Fils. It’s 100 percent Pinot Meunier from a wonderful little grower-producer (Champagne producer that grows their own grapes as opposed to buying them). The wine is rich and beautifully perfumed, but I’d love to see how 10 years in the bottle help it develop.
What is the one thing you wish everyone would keep in mind when buying and drinking wine?
To build relationships with your sommeliers and retail salespeople the same way you do with a doctor, auto mechanic, etc. Our jobs may not determine life or death, or whether you get to work on time, but we do actually commit our lives to understanding beverages and how to help you find the perfect beverage. If more people spent time cultivating that relationship, they would drink better, for less money, and more happily, on a regular basis. Trust your sommelier, not some magazine, blog, or instant-gratification app or Google search. Trust me, Google does not really know how that wine tastes, and a score online will never define a wine’s value to real people.
Besides your own establishment, where is your go-to place when you want to have a glass or bottle?
I love going downtown to bother Justin Vann at Public Services. His list is fun and delicious, and if I decide it’s whiskey-o’clock, I can easily transition.
What was your “wine eureka moment” — the incident/taste/encounter that put you and wine on an intimate plane forever?
I honestly never had that moment. I grew up with wine on the table and it has always been something that I respect, love, and rarely consider food without. There have been revelatory bottles, but no single “ah-ha!” moment.
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