Wine Bars

Grape Expectations at Camerata

Operatic intensity descends on the Houston wine scene.

By Jeremy Parzen October 31, 2013 Published in the November 2013 issue of Houstonia Magazine

David Keck, Wine Director at Camerata

Image: Tam Vo

1834 Westheimer Road
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You know the Houston wine scene has matured when a sommelier can get away with excluding Pinot Grigio from his wine list altogether. Then again, Camerata Wine Director David Keck has earned the right to curate the wine list his way.

A classically trained opera singer and alumnus of both Columbia University and the Juilliard School, Keck gained much of his wine knowledge during his many years spent touring the world as a performer. Unsurprisingly, his bar is a nod to the celebrated Camerata de’ Bardi of Renaissance-era Florence, a music salon often cited as the birthplace of lyric opera.

“We wanted to create a room where people could talk about what they were drinking,” says Keck, who runs Camerata with business partner Paul Petronella (who also owns Paulie’s, a casual Italian cafe next door that serves excellent housemade pasta).

On a recent evening at Camerata, the guests weren’t just tasting and talking about the wines they had in the glasses before them. They were studying them.

There were two open copies of Master of Wine Jancis Robinson’s Wine Grapes on the counter. In one corner, a young wine professional was surrounded by notebooks and binders, prepping for his Society of Wine Educators Certified Specialist of Wine exam. (Keck, who was a finalist in last year’s Texas’s Best Sommelier competition, has completed all but one of his Court of Master Sommeliers exams; he expects “to be seated” for the final exam in 2014.)

The by-the-glass program at Camerata changes daily but always offers an ample selection of European and domestic wines in half and full pours. Wines opened the previous day are discounted.

“Stop drinking Pinot Grigio and drink this right now. Seriously.”

Bottles are organized by weight (light-, medium-bodied, or rich). The list includes a Potentially Funky heading—the funk being a gauge of a bottle’s low added sulfur content. Most of the wines are organically or biodynamically farmed, and many are so-called natural wines; that is, the grapes are grown without the use of chemicals and fermented with naturally occurring yeast. 

Currently, no Pinot Grigio is offered. Although the selection of quality Pinot Grigio continues to grow in Houston (Venica and Scarpetta are great examples), Keck, like many of his counterparts, has been disappointed by the proliferation of insipidly inoffensive Pinot Grigio that seems to be everywhere on restaurant wine lists. 

For Camerata guests who crave the grape Mariah Carey immortalized in song, ex-opera singer Keck recommends a substitute: Villa Bucci Verdicchio from the Adriatic coast of Italy. “It’s delicious,” writes Keck in his tasting notes. “Stop drinking Pinot Grigio and drink this right now. Seriously.”

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