Texas Native Matthew Pridgen Picks Texas Wines for Iron Sommelier
The Houstonian ballroom was awash in purple and blue. Spotlights focused on Houston’s best and brightest sommeliers at the Periwinkle Foundation’s Iron Sommelier Competition. Each Sommelier poured and discussed their personally selected wine: zippy whites from Greece, sparkling wines from Britain, bold reds from Mexico and ancient varieties from the Canary Islands. From across the ballroom, I saw Matthew Pridgen, wine director for Chef Chris Shepherd’s Underbelly and OneFifth restaurants. What caught my eye was Pridgen’s casual look with shirt sleeves rolled high while presenting his wines in front of a large Texas flag.
Once I moved in close, I saw that Pridgen, a fifth generation Texan, was pouring wines from La Cruz de Comal, a Texas hill country winery. What made Pridgen’s selections unique was their local flare from the winery’s owner, Houston trial lawyer cum winegrower Lewis Dickson supported by friend and natural wine guru Tony Coturri. Further distinction came from the fact that Dickson only grows two grape varieties and neither are European wine grapes. Both wines selected by Pridgen are made from hybrids of native American grapes and European vinifera developed over decades to centuries to grow in conditions local to the Texas Gulf Coast, East Texas and the Texas Hill Country. From his Underbelly wine list, Pridgen’s white wine was ‘Petard Blanc’ that came from Dickson’s estate-grown Blanc Du Bois and his red wine ‘Troubadour’ that was made from the estate Black Spanish grapes. Pridgen’s descriptions of these two wines stated:
“Troubadour is dark in color, almost opaque. The nose jumps out with floral notes, blackberry and spice. The palate follows with intense blueberry and tart dark cherry, generous acidity and tannin carrying the flavors through the long finish.” Petard Blanc is pale yellow with light green to the rim. The nose is dominated by citrus and stone fruit with an herbaceous edge. The palate shows lemon zest and candied orange in spades with mouthwatering acidity that begs for food.”
When asked, Pridgen was very matter-of-fact to support his choices. “As a Texas native son, I was proud to be able to present these Texas wines. The wines were also in keeping with Chef Chris Shepherd’s farm-to-table passion at Underbelly,
said Pridgen. "When Chris started Underbelly, he focused on ingredients authentic to their location. He asked me how to make a wine list that paired with this concept. After some thought, I decided to make a list consisting of only wines from wineries that were family owned and operated that spoke with authenticity of the place where the grapes were grown like Dickson’s.”
Pridgen added: “I guess that I could have showed up with just about any wines. But, I knew I was doing something that nobody else would do. The wines from La Cruz de Comal really opened my eyes to what could be done in Texas. They speak volumes because of the history of the grapes and their authenticity of place they show in the glass.”