David Keck, sommelier and co-owner of Camerata wine bar in Montrose, earned the highest distinction for wine professionals this month. After passing a grueling series of exams that included a one-hour mock restaurant service and a blind tasting where he had to identify six wines in 25 minutes, Keck became a master sommelier.
That makes Keck one of two master sommeliers currently living in Houston. His mentor, Guy Stout of Glazer’s Distribution, is the other one. We caught up with Keck to talk about his newly earned title, Texas wines, and Houston’s best wine lists.
What does becoming Master Sommelier mean to you?
For me, it was really huge just to be able to give back to the community. A huge part of what we do, or at least what the court of Master Sommeliers stands for, is paying it forward. Getting the certification is great but it more has to do with what comes after in respect to paying it forward and mentoring the next generation of sommeliers.
Wine can be intimidating to many people. What do you tell people who aren’t that familiar with wine?
Our list can be a little bit challenging just because we work with a lot of wines from a lot of regions all over the world and grapes that people are probably unfamiliar with. A huge part of it is reminding people is that it’s just fermented grape juice. At the end of the day, the goal is to find them a wine that they want to drink and that they’re not paying more than they want to pay for it and that we cover all of those bases. It’s never about simplifying or dumbing down the subject. It’s about making people feel comfortable about asking questions and realizing that no matter where you are in your wine education, whether it be total novice or master sommelier, there’s still a huge amount to learn.
Tell me a little bit about Texas wines.
There are a lot of fantastic wineries in Texas that are really changing their approach to winemaking. To some extent the beginning part of the vine planting culture was built around a lot of varieties that were popular and that people wanted to grow here, and I think now the movement is much more toward varieties that are successful here. So we’re seeing a lot more Rhone varieties, a lot more Tempranillos, Spanish varieties, things that grow well in our climate and they’re making really fantastic wines. And I think the white wines, particularly from the Rhone varieties, like Viognier and Roussane are showing some of the best stuff that Texas can produce.
What Texas vineyards would you recommend?
I think Pedernales is great. Duchman Family Winery is wonderful. The owners are actually Houstonians so I always like to support what they do but they also focus on exclusively Texas grapes, which is always good. McPherson up in the Texas High Plains is great. And Perissos Winery is terrific. We don’t actually work with their wines right now because they’re a little bit pricier than a lot of what we work with but they’re fantastic.
Aside from Camerata, where can people go for a good wine list?
Houston is blowing up right now with great places to drink. As far as wine bars are concerned, I always send people to 13 Celsius, Public Services Wine & Whiskey downtown is great. Justin [Vann] carries a very eclectic and delicious list down there. On the restaurant side, Pappas Bros. is the only place in town that has a whole staff of sommeliers on the floor and those guys are great. I mean all of them are exceptional wine professionals. You know, it is Pappas Steakhouse, it’s not going to be an inexpensive place to visit necessarily but with a team like that you know that they will find a wine to drink at any price point and it will overperform. Evan Turner’s list over at Helen’s (Greek Food & Wine) is spectacular. It is eclectic just by virtue of being all Greek but I think what he brings to the Houston scene is spectacular and he has so much passion for it. Sean Beck does a great job with his restaurants [Caracol, Hugo’s, Backstreet Cafe]. Over at Underbelly, I think Matthew Pridgen is doing a great job with that list. It’s super fun.
Are you working on any new projects?
Nothing really that I can talk about yet but there’s always an ongoing conversation. Right now, I have two sommeliers who are sitting for their advanced sommelier course this year and one who’s sitting for the advanced sommelier exam so I’m pretty heavily involved with making sure that they’re all ready for their test.
Is there anything you’d like to add?
Houston’s such an amazing wine town right now and it continues to grow. I’m excited to see what happens. The past five years have been hugely formative and I think the next five are going to be even better.