By the time I started covering the wine beat in late 2007, Pappas Bros. Steakhouse already had the best wine list in Houston. Since then, however, it has also put together a stable of wine talent that rivals anyone’s anywhere
with three Master Sommeliers and six Advanced Sommeliers on the three-restaurant roster.
An important constant over the years has been Robert Smith, who plays the Bill Belichick role for a franchise full of Tom Bradys, serving as the Pappas Bros. executive wine director. According to Smith, they’re a for-real
team like the Patriots, too.
“Everyone is down to earth, approachable, friendly and very capable,” he notes. “They are always helping each other and learning from each other. I see a group of friends working together with the ultimate goal of giving our guests a great experience. It is a very cohesive team of wine professionals.”
The 50-year-old Baytown native has a long history with the Pappas Bros. brand. He helped open the original Galleria location in 1995, then moved to Dallas when the steakhouse there came on line in 1998, assuming the role of wine director. He brought his family back to Houston in 2004 for the same job here, and he held that
position until 2013, when the decision was made to open another Pappas Bros. downtown. (Its first customers walked through the doors in November 2015.) At that juncture, Smith took on his current big-picture role, coordinating the programs at all three restaurants.
Note, the downtown spot just earned the best-of-the-best Grand Award designation from Wine Spectator, giving Pappas Bros. the hat trick. The Galleria restaurant had garnered same in 2010 and the Dallas location followed
suit in 2011.
Like most of his peers, he grew up in the restaurant business familiarizing himself with the better-known wine regions, saying: “Early on, I gravitated to the red and white wines of Burgundy, and they are still my favorites to drink. Very close behind are Northern Rhône reds, Champagne, aged Bordeaux, mature Rioja and Piedmont reds. I have always been drawn to red wines possessing higher aromatics, texture and freshness. Furthermore, I usually favor white and sparkling wines with tension and verve.”
But Smith also shapes the lists for the other more casual spots owned by the Pappas family, including Yia Yia Mary’s, where the food and wines speak with a pronounced Greek accent. The best Greek varietals, well represented at Yia Yia Mary’s, have also turned his head, as you’ll see here.
Three of Smith’s favorite Greek wines
2018 Domaine Skouras ‘Salto’ Moscofilero
Smith says George Skouras “is making the best Moscofilero in Greece right now. This one is made from a highelevation single-vineyard site using a single clone of moscofilero. It’s light and refreshing with a crisp edge, lemon-lychee fruit and a slightly salty mineral finish.” Skouras left Greece for Burgundy in 1980 to study winemaking at the University of Dijon and launched his business six years later. Today he’s one of his country’s preeminent producers.
Pairings: Zucchini fritters, grilled or fried calamari, dolmades or any other seafood appetizer
Price: $9 for a glass, $34 for a bottle
2018 Parparoussis ‘Petite Fleur’ Rosé of Sideritis
“Sideritis is a white grape with pinkish skins grown in the northwest Peloponnese,” Smith notes. “The juice spends some time on its skins to give it a light salmon color. Because this grape is most often used as a component for blended whites, it’s rare to see this wine made as a single variety, but Parparoussis has deftly demonstrated just how good this grape can be on its own. It has medium weight with apricot, melon and peachpit notes, with a tangy mineral finish.” Founded in 1974 by oenologist Athanassios Parparoussis, the winery is on the northwest coast of the Peloponnese.
Pairings: Grilled or fried seafood, grilled eggplant dip, octopus and rotisserie chicken, especially when served on Yia Yia’s patio
Price: $60 for a bottle
2014 Domaine Karydas Xinomavro
Smith calls this his “sleeper red wine” because it comes from a very small producer in the Naoussa region of Macedonia. “Xinomavro is one of the noble red-grape varietals in Greece,” he says, “sharing some of the characteristics of Italian nebbiolo and aglianico. Karydas is the benchmark for great xinomavro. It has aromatic spiced red fruits, medium to full body and structure and a vibrant acidity to carry flavors long through the finish.” More than two decades ago, Konstantinos Karydas established his Karydas Estate in Ano Gastra, a prominent grape-growing region in Naoussa.
Pairing: Lamb oreganatto and moussaka, or any other beef and lamb dishes
Price: $70 for a bottle