Matthew Pridgen, General Manager and Wine Director at Houston’s Underbelly - Wine & Spirits Magazine

Matthew Pridgen, General Manager and Wine Director at Houston’s Underbelly

Born and raised in Houston, Matthew Pridgen began his career behind the bar at Mark’s American Cuisine. After seven years, he moved on to become a sommelier at Catalan, where he first met chef Chris Shepherd. When the chef struck out on his own, Pridgen followed him to Underbelly in Houston’s Montrose neighborhood.

A Glass at a Time

When we first opened, we weren’t ready to open the actual restaurant just yet, so we went with the wine bar, to slowly introduce our concept. We started with a large selection of by-the-glass offerings and half bottles, and it’s always stuck. If anything, our by-the-glass list has grown, and we do happy hour twice a day, between 3PM and 6:30PM, and after we close the restaurant at night, from 10PM to midnight….As for the Meyer-Näkel Ahr 2014 Spätburgunder, people will ask for a glass of pinot noir and it is the only one we offer by the glass. They try it and like it, and when I tell them it’s a pinot from Germany, they look at you like, what? I like to get something in front of people and get them to ask questions.

On Rosé Versatility

I’m a huge champion of rosé, still or sparkling. It goes particularly well with our food, with its subtle elements of spice. We also cure all our own meats in house—with the charcuterie plate, rosé is a perfect pairing. I generally push rosé on everyone, and will typically have two still rosés and one to two sparkling rosés on the by-the-glass menu.

Mencia Ascension

If I collect enough of one variety, I’ll put it in a section, create a category. Mencía is the latest one I’ve put on there, and I’ve gotten a great response. There is the Palacios family [Descendientes de J. Palacios 2012 Bierzo Villa de Corullon], or the Quinta Boavista Terras de Tavares from Portugal’s Dão region. It is absolutely fantastic: 2006 is the current vintage, and it just drinks beautifully right now.

Match of the Year

Chef Shepherd went to Vietnam last year and traveled extensively. After returning home, he did a dish inspired over in Vietnam: a cha ca thang long with snapper. Basically the fish was marinated in turmeric and yogurt, roasted in the oven, and served on top of rice noodles with fresh herbs and fish sauce. It’s such a vibrant and flavorful dish. I tasted it with the Luis Rodriguez 2012 Vina de Martin Os Pasás [a blend of treixadura with albariño, lado and torrontés from Ribeiro in Galicia] —a minerally, crisp, beautiful white wine that is floral and aromatic—and with the snapper it was just amazing.

Caitlin Griffith knew her future career would entail food and drink when, at the age of six, she munched an anchovy from her father’s Caesar salad thinking it as a small strip of bacon—and was more than pleasantly surprised. While enrolled in New York University’s Food Studies program, she learned the secrets of affinage in the caves of Murray’s Cheese.