Visit Houston recently invited Houston sommelier and cicerone Justin Vann to LIVE CHAT with our Facebook friends. Justin's been named Sommeliers of the Year by Food & Wine and touted as one of six Sommeliers to Watch in 2015 by Bon Appetit. Basically, he knows his stuff. Check out the Q&A below. When you're done, head to his current project Public Services Wine & Whiskey and try one of his recommendations in person!
Q: I'm in charge of mimosas at a brunch this weekend, can I get away with a reasonably-priced bottle of bubbles? I love my friends and all, but I'm not breaking the bank on their breakfast. What's your recommendation?
Definitely do not spend a bunch of money on wine you intend to pour orange juice into, but make sure it's something you would drink sans juice. A couple brands I like for mimosas are Mercat Cava, and Gruet (an amazing sparkling wine from New mexico). Again- this is also a fantastic opportunity to buy a magnum. Because double mimosas.
Q: Hi Justin! Are there good red wines under $20? I love Malbecs, Pinots, etc. What should I look for?
There are tons of good red wines under 20$. For an interesting spin on malbec check out the french region of Cahors, which is predominantly malbec (you find good ones under 20). And an analog for pinot noir that I may be guilt of using too much is Gamay- the main grape of beaujolais. Beaujolais is probably what I drink more of than anything else.
Q: Do I have to store my wine in a temperature-controlled cellar?
If you intend to age them long-term, yes. If you intend to drink them in a few weeks, dont sweat it. You want to avoid high temps and temperature fluctuation. A good cheap temporary location to store valuable wine is your closet. Just dont put wine on top of your fridge. That's where wine goes to die.
Q: I'm mostly a whiskey drinker, any recommendations on a good wine to start with?
Since whiskey is pretty heavy as beverages go, I think you should start with heavy wines. Things like California Zin, Australian Shiraz, and Argenitian malbec will catch your attention easily. From there, go to lighter bottles. Drop by Public Services for a longer answer!
Q: Dear Justin, I'm a huge fan of your signage at the D&Q, when you say "this is a Bordeaux you can afford" I think - I better try this! What is one of your all-time favorite bottles of wine and where were you when you had it?
Glad you dig the demented shelf talkers! My all time favorite is probably the 1982 Gruaud-Larose bordeaux I tried at UofH when I was studying there. But my current favorite is the Envinate Taganan red and white from the Canary Islands (both at D&Q). I haven't had a wine blow my mind for so little money in a while.
Q: What kind of wine would you recommend to someone who's really into heavily peated scotch?
I love these kinds of questions. While it's hard to replicate the medicinal flavor of heavily peated scotch, it is possible to find a really smoky funky wine. Natural wines often have a lot of these intensely savory, funky notes. Some that I would recommend off the top of my head are the envinate Taganan red from the canary islands, Olivier Cousin Pur Breton, and Cornelissen contadino from etna. ALSO, Lopez de Heredia Vina Gravonia is a white rioja that tastes eerily like bourbon. All these wines are available at D&Q beer station on 806 Richmond. Great question.
Q: What is your go-to special occasion wine? (That can be purchased at Specs)
That's a tough question, mostly because I never end up drinking the same wine twice for special occasions (this is a product of ADD, not being a snob). The wine that I most frequently drink on special occasions is aged red wine. There's nothing quite like well-aged Bordeaux or burgundy, and spec's has a ton of it. Just tell them your price point (be willing to spend at least 60 bucks for the good stuff). But seriously, I drink everything for special occasions. In the right context even a bud light feels like a celebration.
Q: What's your favorite Pinot for pasta for a casual dinner party? Hosting one on Friday.
My favorite inexpensive Pinot noir from california is called The Pinot Project. It's sourced from lots of really good lots of juice all over the state and will cost you maybe 16.99. This is also a situation where I would promise everyone pinot noir and show up with gamay from beaujolais!
Q: What wine is good to serve if I'm throwing a house party (group of people with various tastes)?
Focus on wines that don't have extremes of flavor- nothing too light or too heavy, not too earthy or too fruity. But just because you're serving a wine that's middle of the road flavor wise doesn't mean it has to be boring. On reds for example, merlot is really safe because it's not too much of any one thing, and you can find really affordable badass bottlings. Venica Merlot from northern Italy for example is amazing around 20 bucks.
ALSO, please consider using magnum bottles (1500ml or larger), simply because they are badass.
Q: Any suggestions for a white wine drinker that would like to "branch out" into the world of red wine? I've tried sips of various reds and never find one I like.
I would focus on Pinot noir to start- its definitely a red but is very low intensity. I don't mean to sound like a broken record but you might also try Gamay. It's even lighter than Pinot noir and even drinks well with a slight chill. Rose is also a good way to start introducing red fruit flavors into your rotation without getting into all the intensity or red wines.
Q: Any suggestions for a white dessert wine?
YES. This is one of the categories that got me interested in wine initially. My personal favorite is Royal Tokaji co. 5 puttonyos from Hungary. Its about 40 bucks but I promise you it is so good your brain will fall out- definitely worth it. See also, Auslese riesling, Sauternes, Jurancon, de bartoli marsala, chambers muscadelle, ausbruch from Austria, I gotta stop here or I won't get to any more questions. If you want more dessert info drop by public services.