SoVino: Round Two

After the little preview I got while out with Andrew for my birthday, I had to make a second trip to SoVino and see what else it had to offer. The whole experience was fantastic! Both owners (Manfred Jachmich & Elizabeth Abraham) were there mingling with patrons (which I loved) and couldn’t have been any nicer. I think it is great that they are so involved with their business. This time I went with three friends and we had dinner as well as wine.

The food menu is as creative as it is delicious. We started with the Bruschetta and then I had the Roasted Beet Salad with Goat Cheese and Pistachios. For my entrée I ordered the Mussels which were really good. They had an excellent flavor and I would definitely order them again. They were served over a polenta cake with a mushroom ragout. Mmmm mmm. My friend Catherine ordered the Short Ribs served over Gruyère polenta. Wow. Next time I am there and feel like drinking red wine… watch out! Short ribs all the way! AJ and Lauren split a Pizza and the Shrimp and Grits which was very tasty but really spicy so watch out if you don’t like spicy food! If you do, you’ll love it!

Speaking of wine… let’s get to the good part! First of all, let me say how great our waiter/wine guide was. His name was Jesus and I hope that some day you are lucky enough to have him as your server. We had such a wonderful time talking about the wines we were trying and you could tell he was genuinely interested and excited about the wines that they offer. He had a great knowledge of all of them and even wrote down a few more suggestions for me to try on my own. Since a bottle doesn’t go too terribly far with four people, we were fortunate enough to get to try several of the white wines on their list. We actually started with some sparkles (Catherine called ahead and they had it waiting on ice for us at our table) for a belated birthday toast for me and then also for a congratulatory toast for Lauren and AJ who just got engaged. We had plenty of reasons to celebrate!

We definitely got the night started off right with the Lucien Albrecht Cremant d’Alsace Brut Rosé which is a sparkling wine made from 100% Pinot Noir grapes. This rosy French treat was crisp with light flavors of strawberries and cream. It was fruit forward but not too sweet. Overall, it was very enjoyable. After we were done toasting, we moved on to still white wine. We began with the 2006 Alexana Pinot Gris by Revana Family Vineyards. This is a fairly new winery and this was their first Pinot Gris and it was lovely. It had flavors of citrus and honey with just the slightest hint of creaminess. I think it was lacking a little in structure but it was still good. They have a vineyard in Napa where they produce Cabernet Sauvignon but this was a project out of Willamette Valley, Oregon which is known for great Pinots. Interestingly enough, the owner of the winery, Dr. Revana, is a local cardiologist here in Houston. Next we tried the 2007 Whitehaven Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough, New Zealand. I really enjoyed this wine because it was drier and sharper which I prefer. It definitely had some grassy flavors going on and Lauren made the comment that it smelled like Christmas trees while Catherine said it tasted like cactus. I plan on trying this one again at home. Jesus was kind enough to bring out a few little tastes for me so I could sample a few other wines. One I honestly can’t say that I was crazy about but I am really glad that I tried it because it was by far one of the most different wines I have ever tasted. It was a 2007 Colomé Torrantes from Salta, Argentina. It had a soapy, bitter taste (think arugula) and the most interesting part was that the flavors hit the roof of my mouth and not my tongue. I thought I was going crazy but he said that he thought the same thing and Catherine agreed with me as well. I had just never tasted a wine like that in my life. He said that he did not like it the first time he tried it but it has grown on him and now he quite enjoys it. I would try a glass again just for research purposes but I don’t believe I’ll be buying a bottle any time soon to drink at home. He also gave me a little taste of the 2007 Graffigna Pinot Grigio which he said is currently one of their best sellers. It is from San Juan, Argentina and I can see why it is popular. While there really isn’t anything extraordinary about this wine, it was very crisp and clean and tasted like you were biting into a fresh green apple. It is a perfect summer wine. When they brought out our dessert (Cranberry Bread Pudding and S’Mores… yum and yummier) they also brought out a dessert wine for us and it was really good. We had the Two Hands, Brilliant Disguise Moscato Sparkling 2007 from Barossa Valley, Australia. Dessert wines are still fairly uncharted territory for me so I was glad to have the recommendation. So far I have no complaints!

SoVino has quickly become one of my favorite Houston wine bars and/or dinner spots. The atmosphere is right up my alley and you can’t beat the food and wine selections. While the wine list isn’t huge, I believe they are going for quality over quantity as every wine I have tried there has given me something to write about and I can’t say that for a lot of places. The staff is friendly and knowledgeable and I can not imagine going there and not having a fabulous time. I will definitely be back soon!

Sommelier: suh-mah-‘yAy
A wine steward; specializes in all aspects of wine service

I can’t really say fairly that they are the best in Houston because I haven’t met ALL of them but they are by far the best I have come across in this city. Recently, I was lucky enough to enjoy a celebratory dinner at Catalanoff of Washington. It was actually our one year anniversary and the exact spot of our first date. We absolutely will not be waiting another full year before returning. I think our first visit was just too blurred by visions of romance to even notice how wonderful the setting was. We noticed this time. Our waiter was amazing but in addition to his fantastic service we had not one but two sommeliers working with us to make sure we had the perfect wine to go with our meal as well as dessert. They didn’t shy away from any question (and I always have plenty) and they actually took what we said to heart. They recommended wines based on what they believed we would truly enjoy, not just the most expensive on the list (and we didn’t give them a limit). I find that truly impressive. Everything we drank that night was recommended by them.

Being a celebration, we had to start with a few bubbles. You can’t celebrate properly without them in my opinion. We had a delicious half bottle of Guy Larmandier Cramant Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs Brut from Vertus ($31). It was wonderfully crisp and clean and refreshing. It had enough pop in every sip to make a little go a long way and it wasn’t overly sweet for a pre-dinner toast. Everything about it was perfect for that occasion and it definitely created a buzz of excitement for what was to come.

During our dinner we enjoyed an absolutely breathtaking Spanish Tempranillo Vino de la Tierra de Zamora – Vinas del Cinit Vino de la Tierra de Zamora “Cenit” ($49). This was one of the very best red wines I have ever tasted… sexy and complex. It was so smooth but had enough substance to give every sip a value all it’s own. We ate a variety of foods with this wine and it went well with almost anything which makes it even more of a gem. Everything from foie gras to pork belly to rabbit pie… I understand that this must sound like a crazy menu but believe me when I tell you it was one of the absolute best meals I have had in ages. We do the “small plates” which make for a tapas style dinner. I always enjoy this the most because you get to taste so many different wonderful things. To do that and find a wine that you enjoy with every dish is challenging. Definitely a must try!

For my favorite part of every meal, dessert, we really branched out and let the sommelier talk us into a dessert wine which I have always shied away from. I learned a very valuable lesson this night. I told him that I was worried about having “too much sweet” with the sweet wine along with a sweet dessert. He quickly told me that the trick is to get a wine sweeter than your food. I called him crazy but told him to bring it on. Wow. He was right! I thought sweet + sweeter would = disaster/sugar coma but I was wrong! It was a wonderful combination! It really helped bring out the flavors in the food and the sweet of one almost helped counter the sweet of the other. I don’t know how it works… nor do I care as long as it’s as delicious as that was. Yum. The wine we enjoyed was a Sauternes but I am ashamed to admit I do not remember the exact one. I was on sensory overload at this point as I often am after such an outstanding culinary experience. The dessert was a peach tart with foie gras sliced across the top. Yeah it just doesn’t get any better than that.

If you are ever in Houston and enjoy having someone who knows what they are talking about take you by the hand and guide you through an overwhelmingly wonderful wine list then you should visit Catalan immediately.

Bon Apetit & Happy Sipping!