Poitín restaurant has one of the city’s best new wine lists

Four years ago, at the relatively advanced age of 20, Shannon Noelle Crow first seriously intersected with wine. And anyone who has come to know the animated sommelier at the new cultural-melting-pot restaurant Poitín (pronounced PUUT-cheen) just west of downtown will be surprised to hear it wasn’t love at first taste.

Recently arrived as an exchange student in Buenos Aires, Crow admits she was a nervous wreck to begin with, living with a new family whose language she had come to learn but didn’t yet understand. When presented with an introductory glass of Argentine wine by “my house mom,” a lovely, kind woman named Nellie who spoke only Spanish — or so she assumed — Crow was nonplussed. She found the red stuff overly bitter for her taste.

So she dumped in a spoonful of sugar. It became a teachable moment.

“If you do again, I will effing kick you out of house,” Nellie said, using English and a little “French” for emphasis to ensure Crow’s comprehension.

“I was like, ‘OK, OK,’ sorry!!!’” Crow recalled. “I got used to wine fast, and I fell in love with it.”

Having grown up in “an aggressively dry family” and choosing on her own to assiduously avoid alcohol because she was a middle-distance runner at Dallas’ Richland High School, she went off the trails — but, ultimately, in a constructive, life-affirming way. The grape quickly became her new best friend. Her thirst for knowledge, formerly focused on finance and economics, now comes with a happy buzz.

That’s how she wound up assembling one of the most creative, focused, smartly organized and value-driven wine lists to come on board in Houston recently. Many bases get covered in her “120ish” bottle selection that’s divided into three parts: “Testaments to Time” (bottles from established regions and famous grapes), “Variations on a Theme” (an uncommon grape, a little-known region or a unique stylistic take on an established wine) and “Uncharted Territory” (challenging and intellectual wines that all have a story, an adamant reason for existing).

 

Crow also has a seasonal “Beat the Heat” page, which currently features three Old World ciders, a pair of French sparkling rosés and four still pinks from California and Oregon. Three intriguing by-the-glass bubbles options are also on offer, including a Lambrusco Montericco from Italy’s Emilia-Romagna attractively served in an old-fashioned champagne coupe.

Whatever the word is that means exactly the opposite of jaded describes Crow. Perhaps effervescent works best. Having embraced what she concedes is “a churn and burn business,” she’s driven to keep her thinking far removed from the box and her nightly energy level high. “My personality helps me sell my wine,” she said, “and I’ve been allowed to fully express myself (in the wines she’s choosing to sell).”

Toward that end, she said it’s a pleasure to have an under-bearing owner, the Irish émigré Ian Tucker, and a general manager, Todd Leveritt, who gave her only “vague financial parameters — they told me to ‘go for it’” — when it came to purchasing bottles. But chef Dominick Lee’s food, representing 18 cultures by his own count, is the star of the show. Crow calls her wine only “a condiment.”

All-natural is her ultimate goal because, she said, “natural wines are alive. They have energy. Maybe they can’t carry a huge steak, but they work with what we’re doing here. Growing grapes in rich soils, then pounding them with fertilizers, that’s insane. … We have a wine that’s certified salmon safe because my chef gets wild-caught salmon. Why on the Earth would I buy a wine they put chemicals on that washes off into the ocean to ruin the thing that my chef is doing?”

 

Poitín (named for a distilled beverage steeped in the lore of Ireland; “póit” is the Irish word for hangover) has been serving since early May but celebrated its official grand opening only last week. If you read this and want to go meet Crow, be warned: She’ll be in California for a few weeks to catch her breath while getting her hands dirty in the vineyard, working with Massican winemaker Dan Petroski (the San Francisco Chronicle’s Winemaker of the Year for 2017) and New Zealander Angela Osborne, a staunch grenache partisan who put down roots in the Santa Ynez Valley.

Crow calls Osborne “my favorite winemaker in the whole world.” Her 2015 A Tribute to Grace “Vie Caprice” is on the Poitín list for $89. Ditto Petroski’s Massican 2016 Sauvignon Blanc ($67).

As for Crow’s “house mom” down in Buenos Aires, they still stay in touch by phone.

 

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