In June I had the opportunity to meet James Watkins, sommelier at L’Olivier Restaurant & Bar in Houston, at a dinner hosted by Chateau La Nerthe wines and Pasternak Wine Imports.
James immediately struck me as someone who really enjoys learning about wine and wants to share his enthusiasm, but not in an overwhelming or snooty way… just like a regular guy who happens to wear a suit and enjoy delicious wines. And he’s built a wine list for L’Olivier that is varied in price, region and style… and has nearly thirty wines by the glass to get you started.
Before our dinner in June, he decanted the wines for two hours and was meticulous in serving each at the appropriate temperature. This guy wasn’t messing around. What I really liked about him, though was that, as serious as he seemed to be about the wine, he was also completely approachable. I would definitely trust this guy to suggest wines for me… and I’d like to hang out with him to hear more of his stories in learning about wine.
I was thrilled when he agreed to share 5 Wines to Enjoy with us.
“I studied Government/History at UT-Austin, worked my way through school at Ruth’s Chris on 6th street, began helping with inventory as one of the head servers told me that everything I needed to know about wine was on the back label. Clearly this is not the case, but it is where I got my start! I was Certified as a Sommelier in the Court of Masters in 2006, moved to Houston shortly thereafter to work in the wine program at Vic & Anthony’s. I left there in 2010 to run the beverage program for The Azuma Group, and have since joined Chef Olivier and his partner Mary to work at L’Olivier. My goal is to provide my guests with a memorable experience, and with one that is driven by Sommelier-style service, with a touch of southern hospitality. I engage the guest, ask questions, delve into what their tastes really are.”
James’ Top 5 Wines to Enjoy
One white wine under $20 and widely available in the US:
- Gerard Bertrand ‘Vin Gris’, 2010, Tautuvel
Ok, I’m cheating here a little bit, this is a white wine made from red grapes, I typically drop it in under rose’s. In any event, it’s light, fresh, and perfect for shellfish or for any patio weather!
One red wine under $20 and widely available in the US:
- Mulderbosch ‘The Faithful Hound’, 2006, Stellenbosch
South African wines are highly underrated, and in this situation, you have a true Bordeaux style blend grown in some of the world’s oldest soil.
One splurge (whatever splurge might mean to you):
- Hubert Lignier, 2009, Fixin Available at L’Olivier for $155
The wines of Hubert Lignier are some of my favorite Burgundies, long have I been intrigued by Fixin AOP though. A blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Blanc (Max 15%), this wine is austere and delightful at the same time, and any time I see it, which isn’t often, I talk myself into it!
Two others of his own choosing (these may be either easy or hard to find):
- Duchman Family Vineyards, 2010, Vermentino Available on tap at L’Olivier for $7/Glass
This wine has a special place in my heart, and on my wine list, it’s one of the few wines that gets a description of my admiration underneath it. It’s fairly small production, and the grape is best known in Sardegna and Liguria; however, it thrives in the hill country of Texas!
- Cadrans de Lassegue, 2008, St. Emilion Available at L’Olivier for $11/Glass
2nd Label to Lassegue, these aren’t younger vines that are being trained to some day take over Lassegue, they’re all 80 years old. An immense value available from a young winery in Bordeaux with intense roots and amazing wine making skill.