Doris Metropolitan’s Exuberant Wine Guru Dishes on the Houston Restaurant Life, Her Favorite Bottles and French Literature

We're Talking Grapes With Daisy Durham

BY // 12.21.23

I love to talk about wine with people who share my passion for it. We open bottles, we trade stories about travel and soil types, terroir and residual sugar, and we talk of taste and food and restaurants. We recommend wines to one another, we drink and we learn a lot.

In Wine Talk, I introduce you to friends, acquaintances and people I meet as I make my way around the world, individuals who love wine as much as I do, who live to taste, who farm and make wine and share their enthusiasm for life. You’ll appreciate their insight, and I hope you’ll learn something from them as well. 

I first met Daisy Durham in 2016 or 2017 at The Texas Wine School in Houston. I was there for a tasting — was it a Piedmont evening, or perhaps selections from Umbria? No matter what we were tasting, I clearly recall Durham’s exuberance and curiosity. She politely asked questions about the wines, and tasted with thought. I spoke with her briefly, about food, as I knew that Durham cooked and worked as a private chef. I was unaware at the time that she studied French literature, or would have discussed Rimbaud and Colette with her.

I’ve kept up with Durham’s activities in the Houston wine world from afar, and she’s been on my Wine Talk candidate list for a while.

Durham, who was born and raised in Santa Fe, New Mexico, is now the wine director at the high-end Houston steakhouse Doris Metropolitan — she previously worked at Brennan’s  — a job she began in July. Her current wine list at Doris Metropolitan reflects her skills and Durham has plenty of takes on sauternes and birth-year wines, among other topics.

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?

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Daisy Durham: First, Héritiers du Comte Lafon, Mâcon-Villages, chardonnay. The Héritiers wines demonstrate that Mâconnais expressions of chardonnay can stand side by side with many stalwarts of Burgundy. I often enjoy a glass or two with the scallop appetizer at Doris. (Editor’s note: One can find bottles of this wine starting at around $32.)

Macon is an excellent chardonnay, and a great value.
Macon is an excellent chardonnay, and a great value.

Next Flâneur, La Belle Promenade, pinot noir. I am a big fan of Oregon pinot noir in general. The higher elevation vineyards yield lighter bodied wines. This one is earthy yet refined. Mushroom ravioli with some sage would be a brilliant accompaniment. (Editor’s note: I recently purchased a 2019 vintage of this wine for $54.)

And finally, Château de la Font du Loup, Châteauneuf-du-Pape ($50). From vines on La Crau, winemaker Anne Charlotte Melia-Bachas crafts this elegant wine instinctually. It punches well above its weight and would pair beautifully with lamb chops and ratatouille.

How did COVID-19 change your life, both personally and professionally?

DD: COVID-19 brought the private dinner party back in vogue. My private chef work was in great demand. As a result, I was able to develop my wine and food pairing skills. That had always been an interest of mine. As I worked to find cool wines to serve with my food (and knowledgeable servers to pour them), I deepened my relationships with suppliers and distributors.

If cost was no consideration, tell us the one bottle you would add to your personal collection, and why?

DD: A 2002 DRC Romanée-Conti. My birth year was unremarkable nearly everywhere. My daughter’s, however, was pretty great in regions that I love. Since I have a certain love affair with Burgundy, this one seems fitting to me.

Burgundy is heavenly wine area.
Burgundy is heavenly wine area.

What is your favorite grape, and why?

DD: I don’t have a single favorite grape as far as drinking wine is concerned. But I love the history and tenacity of viognier. It’s an ancient grape that was marginalized. By the mid 1960s, there were only about three hectares under cultivation in the Rhône. It was nearly extinct. But it rallied, and now. . . bravo, viognier. While it may not be my favorite, I do find well-made viognier a thing of beauty.

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? 

DD: Paolo Scavino, Rocche dell’Annunziata Riserva, 2016. This is my commentary from The Sommelier Selections page on our wine list: “The wines from Paolo Scavino are meticulously crafted examples of Barolo. This is especially true of their riservas, of which the Rocche dell’Annuziata is the crown jewel. 2016 yielded a well balanced and beautiful representation of nebbiolo – silky texture enhanced by a palate replete with dark fruit and wild cherry.

It is a precocious wine with fascinating complexity and a notably long finish. If you engage it patiently, it will reward you with a memorable expression of Northern Italian finesse. The fine-grained tannins are virtually seamless in their integration and provide evident, but not overwhelming, support to this simply gorgeous ingenue.”

Where is your go-to place when you want to have a glass or bottle?

DD: If I’m solo, you’ll generally find me at Vinology on Bissonnet. If I start listing reasons why, I’ll sound like their PR rep.

If there was one thing you wish everyone would keep in mind when buying and drinking wine, what is it?

DD: I often compare the experiences of tasting and buying wine to those of engaging with visual arts. People have different tastes. While I may like Degas and Pollock, you may prefer Rembrandt and Vermeer. Neither of us is “right” or “wrong.” If someone who has only experience with “starving artist sales” or the wall-art section at Home Goods asks you to share your knowledge or perspective, try to remember that we were all novices once.

Daisy Durham enjoys a favorite libation.
Daisy Durham enjoys a favorite libation.

What is your “wine eureka moment,” the incident/taste/encounter that put you and wine on an intimate plane forever?

DD: Ahhh. . . 1962 Chateau d’Yquem in front of the main fireplace at my mother’s art gallery in Santa Fe, New Mexico, when I was maybe 10 years old. One of her clients brought the bottle in to commemorate a sale and I was allowed to taste. It was transformative.

It became my habit to look in every wine shop for bottles of sauternes that I could never afford, or, for that matter, legally buy. But it eventually became my habit to keep a bottle or two in my cellar at all times.

What has been the strangest moment or incident involving wine that you have experienced in your career?

DD: My former husband lived and worked in China, so our daughter and I have dined alone since she was a baby. Before she was able to speak she was insistent on smelling my wine. Even though she didn’t necessarily understand me, I talked about my wine to her and so by the time she was about 4 years old, she simply understood why we proof each bottle.

Eventually she got the job of smelling the first pour and would proclaim proudly, “Mommy, this wine is NOT corked.” One day, she smelled the glass, screwed up her face and said to the waiter, “This wine smells BAD.” To both of our astonishment it was, in fact, corked.

Side note: She turned 21 this month and has asked for WSET certification as her birthday present.

Ernest Hemingway's passport photo ca. 1921.
Ernest Hemingway’s passport photo ca. 1921.

What is your favorite wine reference in a work of literature or a film?

DD: My bachelor’s is in French Lit, so you’d think it would be from Proust or Flaubert. But, alas, I resort to Hemingway in “Paris est une Fête” (“Paris is a Feast”): “I asked the waiter for a dozen portugaises and a half-carafe of the dry white wine they had there … As I ate the oysters with their strong taste of the sea and their faint metallic taste that the cold white wine washed away, leaving only the sea taste and the succulent texture, and as I drank their cold liquid from each shell and washed it down with the crisp taste of the wine, I lost the empty feeling and began to be happy and to make plans.”

For more from James Brock, check out his Mise en Place.

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