Tips from a Texas Steak House Sommelier

Which wine with which cut of steak? Find out from Drew Hendricks, who oversees the Grand Award-winning list at Pappas Bros. in Houston
Jul 21, 2010

Drew Hendricks, 33, is the director of beverage education and wine for the Houston-based Pappas Restaurant Group. He oversees the wine and beverage programs for the group’s 89 restaurants, including Pappas Bros. Steakhouse Houston, a new Wine Spectator Grand Award winner this year, and Pappas Bros. Steakhouse Dallas, a Best of Award of Excellence winner since 2000.

Prior to his current position, Hendricks, a native Texan, was the wine director for Charlie Palmer at the Joule in Dallas, a Best of Award of Excellence winner, and served as the onsite wine director at Pappas Bros. Steakhouse Dallas for four years. In 2008, Hendricks passed the difficult master sommelier examination. He’s also the cofounder and president of the Texas Sommelier Association, which hosts the annual Texas’ Best Sommelier competition. He spoke with Wine Spectator recently to tackle tough wine service questions, give his wine picks for the prime steak cuts and offer advice to aspiring sommeliers.

Wine Spectator: How did you get into wine?
Drew Hendricks: I got into wine through cooking. I had lived in Germany for a few years and got into food and wine there. When I came back to the States, I went to culinary school and got more and more into wine from there.

WS: You’re a sommelier at a steak house. What is the difference between pairing a wine with the three major steak cuts: filet mignon, New York strip and prime rib eye?
DH: It’s all about the fat content of the cut. With filet [or tenderloin], you’re going want rich bold flavors because tenderloin, without all the marbling, is an under-utilized muscle in the animal, so it doesn’t develop a whole lot of flavor. I think Châteauneufs are great with it. Some new-style Spanish wines are really cool with filet too.

Moving into the strip, I think you can keep some of that boldness, but you want to add some tannins and a little acidity. I think Sangiovese is a wine you would want with that, or an old-school style of Zin, like Rafanelli, but not the big fruit bombs. I also think Washington Syrah is a great choice with it’s middle ground of acidity and tannins.

When I eat rib eye, I want Pinot Noir or Barolo, something high in acid, high in tannins that takes care of all that richness and protein that’s in my mouth. It’s cleansing.

WS: Both Pappas Bros. Steakhouses offer more than 30 wines by the glass. Is it a challenge keeping them fresh for the guests?
DH: Every wine is vacuum-pumped, and we have a two-shift shelf life for a bottle of wine. So if we open a bottle on Monday night and it’s not gone by the end of Tuesday night, it’s discarded. The premium wines, we preserve with gas. In our Houston location, we’re installing an Enomatic, but we also have a Cruvinet system that we serve big bottles out of. So if we want to open something like an ’85 Caymus Special Selection 6-liter, we can sell it by the glass, as well, on a nitrogen system.

WS: Tasting a customer’s wine before serving can be a controversial service tactic. When a guest orders a bottle of wine, do you and your sommeliers taste the wine before you serve it?
DH: No, we don’t. I did that at Charlie Palmer. It’s one of Charlie’s things that he has his sommeliers do, and I see some benefits and some distractions to it. While I taste the wine to ensure that the wine is sound, I think, more often than not, guests actually taste the wine in hopes that they like it. And if I taste the wine, and say this wine is sound, yet they taste the wine and don’t like it, they would be hesitant to raise an objection to the wine because a perceived expert has tasted the wine. And I don’t want anybody in our restaurants having any wine on their table that they don’t care for, whether the wine is flawed or not.

WS: When do you decant a bottle of wine?
DH: Whenever someone wants it decanted [laughs]! Personally, I decant a lot of young Cabs. I decant old Cabs. But I am of the school of not decanting old Burgundies, and I don’t know if I have any argument with why or why not. I’ve done it both ways, and I don’t think there is any marked decrease in quality of the wine when you decant it. It’s a more delicate wine and leaving it in the bottle seems to retain the quality of the wine for a longer amount of time. But if people want their old Burgundy decanted, I’m going to decant old Burgundy.

WS: What advice would you offer to an aspiring sommelier?
DH: Get a good mentor. Whether you are working for the person or not, I think it’s important. And also I think it’s becoming more and more important to go after some kind of credential. Obviously, I support the Court [of Master Sommeliers], but there are a lot of other great programs out there with the Society of Wine Educators and the Master of Wine. Just like the MBA became very important in the business world, I think that some sort of credential is going to become very important in our world, if it has not already. I don’t think America is on any downward trend of per capita consumption of wine, so we are going to need more sommeliers as time goes on.

WS: Your restaurant just won a Grand Award for your wine list. Tell us about the process of building such an extensive cellar.
DH: For us, it’s been the work of many years. The great thing about it was that I didn’t have to do it by myself. I had lots of help and guidance from friends and coworkers, especially on how to go about getting certain things in a state like Texas. For Alto in New York, all you’ve got to do is consign one person’s cellar. But we can’t do that. We have to purchase the wine legally, which means I have to go through a distributor. It becomes imminently more difficult.

WS: What are your goals going forward with your wine program?
DH: We will continue to purchase rare and exciting wines, because we sell the wine [in our cellar], luckily for us. The other night we sold out of four vintages of Mouton. This person came in and bought two bottles of ’45 Mouton. So now I have to go find ’45 Mouton and find a way to get it here. It’s always a challenge.

Dining Out Restaurant Awards Sommelier Service Steak/Beef Serving Wine People

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