Sébastien Laval had a life-changing experience in Châteauneuf-du-Pape.
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.
Sébastien Laval and I share at least one thing in common: We both had epiphanies near Avignon, and they both involved wine. I met Laval in Houston in 2013 when I was dining at a restaurant; he was the sommelier and beverage director there, and we discussed France and food and magical Provence. His enthusiasm and knowledge enlivened that meal, and I enjoyed sharing tales with him. I did not see him again until earlier this summer; again, a restaurant was the venue of our encounter – Laval is the sommelier and assistant general manager at Table on Post Oak – and we picked up right where we had left our initial conversation.
He poured some great wines and we talked about Châteauneuf-du-Pape and the state of Houston’s restaurant scene. Sébastien is good for this city’s wine culture, and I urge you to visit his place of work and have him open a bottle for you.
Tell me about three wines that are drinking well at the moment. What makes them worthwhile? How about a food pairing for each?
Bourgogne Blanc from Bouchard Père & Fils 2013. I love this wine’s fruit-acidity balance and simplicity, which makes it a great food wine for dishes in light sauces, such as salmon. This wine was available at Central Market on my last visit, and we serve it for $12 a glass/$40 a bottle at Table on Post Oak.
The rosé “Prestige” from Château Minuty in Côtes de Provence is my go-to rosé this year. Its intense aromas, delicate texture and the freshness of the fruit make it the perfect wine for the end of the summer in Houston and, honestly, for the entire year. This rosé pairs wonderfully with a wide range of salads and seafood. We sell it for $47 a bottle, and you can find it for around $25 at good merchants..
Then there’s the wild blend of Syrah, Grenache, Sangiovese and Petite Sirah in “La Cuadrilla” from Stolpman in Ballard Canyon, Central Coast California; when you drink it you are also supporting a new American AVA. This wine is a real-crowd pleaser: it is fruit-forward with terrific concentration, but also finishes long with hints of spices and just enough acidity. It pairs nicely with spiced-up meats and fish, as well as barbeque. We serve it for $13 a glass, and the maker sells it for $22 a bottle.
Let’s say that cost is no consideration: What’s the one bottle you would add to your personal collection?
Any vintage of Château d’Yquem in Sauternes that is more than 20 years old would be my top pick. Old vintages of Château d’Yquem have an extraordinary complex fragrance upon opening the bottle. It is elegant and poised, and the texture is amazingly silky and oily. You’ll go back again and again to the glass to make that sublime moment last forever.
What is your favorite grape? And why?
My favorite varietal is Syrah, for its simultaneous strength and restraint. It is greatly versatile, depending on the location where it is grown, and it seems to grow only in the most beautiful landscapes.
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 La Rioja from Faustino is impressively inexpensive and is able to age equally well. A recent vertical tasting with vintages dating back to 1963 proved it in a striking way.
What is the one thing you wish everyone would remember when buying and drinking wine?
Oxygen is key; you have to let it breathe! I surprised myself (and everyone around me) last summer decanting a bottle of Côtes de Provence Rosé. Everyone tried to convince me I was crazy, but after tasting the decanted wine, they all had to admit I was right. Oxygen (to a certain extent) pushes the fruit and aromas forward in any wine.
Where is your go-to place when you want to have a glass or bottle?
Camerata; I love the ever-changing selection there.
What was your “wine eureka moment” — the incident/taste/encounter that put you and wine on an intimate plane forever?
After working at Hotel Zaza for two years, from 2009 until 2011, I decided to take my wife, my 8-month-old son and my cats to France. We were on vacation, driving from Florence back to Cahors, my hometown. We stopped in Avignon, capital of the Rhône Valley, to rest for a few days. I went straight to Châteauneuf-du-Pape, 15 minutes away, to sample the vintage at Domaine du Vieux Télégraphe. I was poured a glass of their Gigondas property, Domaine les Pallières “Terrasse du Diable” 2008, and the fruit, the spices, the acidity and the elegance of the wine completely blew me away. I knew there was no return from my visit in Châteauneuf-du-Pape. A few weeks later, I was managing two restaurants in Avignon.
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