Buying a bottle of wine from your local retailer can be a little overwhelming, whether it’s a large warehouse chain, your nearby grocer, or a darkly lit cellar-style shop with stacks of wooden wine crates cracked open and a few aisles of racks bearing wines with dusty labels. Knowing where to go and which retailers to trust can be a crucial factor in the wines you purchase to enjoy at home.
In 1973, Griffin Smith Jr. wrote a story for Texas Monthly headlined “The Best Texas Wine Stores” in which he gave an overview of the status of wine selection in the Lone Star State, which at the time was “not exactly a wine-buyer’s paradise” when compared with larger markets such as New York, San Francisco, or Washington, D.C.; it also offered a few suggestions on where Texans could find quality wines at a good price. Today, things are a bit different. Not only has the national demand for wine increased over the past four decades, with nearly the entire world of wine at our fingertips when we walk into an average grocer or big-box wine retailer, but Texans have come a long way in their thirst for wine knowledge.
Gone are the days when the everyday customer walked in for a pricey bottle from Bordeaux, Burgundy, or Napa Valley (though there are still plenty of customers in the market for these wines). Instead, there’s a broader curiosity for the crystalline wines of Austria, the searingly vibrant whites of New Zealand, the earthy, mineral-driven reds of Italy’s volcanic Mount Etna, and the versatility of grapes such as chenin blanc from South Africa.
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It doesn’t hurt that thirteen of the nation’s 103 master sommeliers work in Texas (six reside in Houston alone), as do myriad advanced-level and certified sommeliers. This, in addition to the many professionals who have sought other certifications and gained extensive knowledge through many years in the industry, has added to a broader outlet of education and opportunity for wine to become more accessible and approachable to Texans.
Interestingly, while Smith conceded that good wines could be found in each of the major Texas cities at the time, Dallas seemed to be the hub for great wine. Nearly fifty years later, Big D is still a heavy hitter when it comes to great selection—particularly through stalwart retailers like Sigel’s Fine Wines & Great Spirits and Pogo’s Wine & Spirits—but it’s quite possible that Houston and Austin have gained the edge over Dallas, with a broader selection of boutique retailers focused on quality, well-priced wines that are in keeping with today’s more progressive consumers.
Texas has come a long way with availability, thanks to larger demand and a higher distribution of wines from around the world. Much of this can be credited in no small part to native Texas outlets such as Houston-based Spec’s and Richard’s Liquors, Austin’s Twin Liquors and Whole Foods Market, Dallas’s Sigel’s and Pogo’s, and San Antonio’s H-E-B, Central Market, and Joe Saglimbeni’s Fine Wine. But when it comes to unique, curated selections offered at accessible price points and with friendly, expert hospitality, there are some retailers that simply stand out. Here are our seventeen favorite wine shops in Texas, with a few top wines from each, just in time for the holidays.
The Austin Wine Merchant
Ask any wine professional in the state what their favorite retailer is, and the most frequent response will be the Austin Wine Merchant. That’s because for 28 years, owner John Roenigk and his well-trained staff have set the standard, not only with an excellent, high-quality wine selection but also with hospitality. Customers are often offered shawls to wear as they wander the sub-62-degree aisles and get attentive service in finding, or ordering, exactly the wine they seek. “In a retail setting, we don’t have the luxury of seating our guests at a table with white linens and serving them for a couple of hours, like you would at a fine-dining restaurant,” says Roenigk. “We have maybe five to ten minutes to fulfill their wants and needs in short order. So excellent customer service is crucial . . . There’s a fresh and engaging willingness for us to help people get into the bottle of wine that they really want.”
2017 Coudoulet de Beaucastel Côtes-du-Rhône, $26: “This wine is generous and then, somehow, firm, almost crunchy, on the palate in evidence of its stoney origins in close proximity to Châteauneuf-du-Pape. While this smacks of a Côtes du Rhône that should age nicely, we would suggest it’s gregarious enough for enjoying even now.”
2004 Charles Heidsieck Blanc des Millénaires, $213: “Blanc de Millénaires is the ultimate in the range of fine sparkling wines. Produced only in certain vintages where conditions allow 100 percent of chardonnay from four grands crus, this wine offers delicate aromas suggesting citrus, apple blossom, and orchard fruits, particularly the mirabelle plum.”
Sunrise Bottle Shop
Located in northwest Austin, this shop, also known as Sunrise Mini Mart, has been around for more than 25 years, but according to owner Sam Rojani, it didn’t set it sights on serving a more curated selection of fine wine and craft beer until a little over a decade ago. Today, Sunrise attracts a varied clientele of wine professionals and enthusiasts with an eclectic collection of classic, conventional, and natural wines.
2016 Domaine Sebastien David L’Hurluberlu, $24: “I really love cabernet franc from the Loire Valley, and this one is particularly good. Its light body offers a smoky character on the palate that lends itself to a variety of holiday cuisine.”
2016 Louis Damien Bouchacourt Une Tranche Made in Chenas Gamay, $28: “This is a great patio wine, with soft tannins and full fruity notes, but it’s also a little funky and smoky, which makes it a great wine to pair with chicken or duck.”
Texas Reds and Whites
With a location near the Austin Convention Center since 2017, Texas Reds and Whites owner Martha Fischer has taken on the task of sharing Texas wine in the shop’s tasting room with anyone and everyone who has curiosity. “I want customers to see that Texas has great, award-winning wines and give them a chance to taste for themselves,” says Fischer, who stocks more than one hundred Texas wines and craft beers.
2017 Ron Yates Petulant Naturel Malvasia Bianca, $30: “This is a delightful sparkling wine that is perfect for the holidays, with beautiful floral aromas and a crisp grapefruit finish.”
NV Messina Hof Sparkling Almond, $30: “This demi-sec sparkling wine has a delightful almond taste and a touch of sweetness. It’s a really fun aperitif wine that is always a crowd-pleaser.”
Travis Heights Wine & Spirits
In 2003, Travis Heights Beverage World opened as a spinoff of Austin’s beloved corner store/cafe Whip In. After years of building an expertly curated selection of wines and spirits, the popular South Austin establishment was renamed Travis Heights Wine & Spirits earlier this year. “We love wine. We taste every wine we buy and select what lands on the shelf based on quality and value, balancing for appellations, varietals,” says wine buyer Eric Pèlegrin, a French native who tastes an average of fifty new wines per week with his staff to keep the shop’s selection fresh and compelling. “We love to introduce our customers to smaller, independent, and outright rogue producers that are transparent about their winemaking processes, while tending to steer them away from mass-produced, more-commercial brands.”
2016 Chateau Bichon Cassignols Graves Blanc, $22: “Cabernet franc and gamay are kings of the holiday table, with pinot noir and sauvignon blanc following close behind. N’est-ce pas?” says Pèlegrin, who sticks to these four iconic grapes for his go-to suggestions. “For white wine, this Graves blanc, a Bordeaux blend of sauvignon and sémillon, offers grace, balance, and superb versatility, especially at the holiday table.”
2018 Guimaro Ribeira Sacra Mencia, $22: “One of my personal favorites, the Guimaro Ribeira Sacra Mencia from northwest Spain is a red that sings and hums, and gets inside your head in the most pleasing way!”
Whole Foods Market (Flagship)
Though Whole Foods locations abound throughout the country, those looking for a particularly excellent wine selection should head to its flagship store on North Lamar Boulevard, where wine buyer Erika Widmann has been doing her best since 2016 to craft a unique sampling of wines for customers with varied preferences. “My goal is to offer not just great wine but wine that is also affordable, accessible, and relevant,” says Widmann, who has more recently put an emphasis on natural wines. “These are the wines I could afford to drink myself and have an interest in, and luckily I’m not alone!”
2018 Hervé Villemade What’s Up Pet Nat Rosé, $27.99
2018 Hervé Villemade What’s Up Pet Nat Blanc, $27.99
2018 Hervé Villemade Vin de France Gamay, $19.99
2018 Hervé Villemade Vin de France Sauvignon Blanc, $21.99: “We’ve just received our allocations from Hervé Villemade, a French winegrower in the Cheverny appellation of the Loire Valley. I love these wines because they’re great for folks who love interesting low-intervention wines that are easily poured for friends and family and will suit most palates.”
Le Caveau Vinotheque
Le Caveau Vinotheque opened in 2017 in Dallas’s Lake Highlands neighborhood with a goal of bringing a fun, educational experience to the community. Owner Thierry Plumettaz organizes weekly tastings as well as food and wine pairings to give customers an opportunity to try smaller producers and more obscure appellations, all in a non-pushy, relaxed setting.
NV Lucien Albrecht Brut, $20: “Sparkling wines are always a hit during the holidays. I like to recommend Cremant d’Alsace for their price point. This wine is a blend of pinot auxerrois, pinot blanc, and chardonnay, and is always a very consistent product.”
2017 Château des Jacques Moulin-à-Vent Clos de Rochegrès, $40: “I always like to introduce customers to cru Beaujolais. Too often people assume that cru Beaujolais is the same as Beaujolais Nouveau, but they are so far different in flavor and style. [This wine] is superb. It is the vineyard that sits right under the windmill [the moulin] with a southeastern exposure.”
Veritas Wine Room
Brothers Bradley and Brooks Anderson have garnered a winning reputation for their Dallas-area restaurants Boulevardier and Rapscallion. In 2008, they opened Veritas Wine Room as an expression of their personal love for wine, as well as to cater to a neighborhood in need of great wine selections. “We wanted the look and feel of a pub,” Bradley says. “The atmosphere is decidedly casual, but our attention to the wine is not. We have a rotating selection of approximately four hundred wines from around the world and offer approximately thirty wines by the glass. While wine can be a daunting subject, we hope to demystify it in a relaxed manner.”
2017 Seven Springs Gamay Noir, Eola-Amity Hills, Oregon, $35: “This gamay from Oregon produces guaranteed smiles and is perfect for your holiday bird. Serve it with a slight chill, and be careful: it is thoroughly drinkable and goes down way too easy!”
2014 Château de Pibarnon Bandol, $40: “This Bandol wine simultaneously exudes density and finesse. The makeup is primarily mourvèdre with a splash of grenache. The 2014 is ready to be enjoyed this holiday season, but the wine also has the tenacity and fortitude to be laid down for a holiday down the road.”
Somm By Epicure
A relative newcomer to Dripping Springs, on Austin’s western outskirts, Somm By Epicure offers artisanal cheeses, meats, chocolate, and a rotation of more than three hundred wines. In addition to spotlighting boutique producers from around the world, co-owner Jerry Gray also puts a focus on value, with most of the shop’s wines falling somewhere between $8 and $34. “We want to bring higher-quality wines at extremely competitive prices to serve the surrounding Hill Country communities,” says Gray, whose general advice to guests is to drink what they love. “Conventional wisdom is fine, but if it doesn’t suit your palate, be brave enough to go your own way!”
2016 Ruhlmann-Schutz Chasselas, $20: “A Swiss grape grown in Alsace, France, with lovely white floral aromas and a dry, very neutral palate with a touch of minerality. This wine is crisp and clean and provides a lovely backdrop to your holiday feasting.”
2017 Lail Vineyards Blueprint Cabernet Sauvignon: “A beautifully balanced Napa cabernet that costs less than $75 a bottle and drinks superbly.”
Bringing a wide range of primarily French offerings to Fredericksburg since 2017, La Bergerie operates as a Parisian-style cave à manger, specializing in fine wines, cheeses, and charcuterie. Considering its small-town location, “Our hope is that local winemakers and industry folks can have access to unusual or highly allocated wines that can further their education while also providing a comfortable space for newcomers to wine to explore,” says co-owner John Washburne. “Our shelves are stocked with mostly French wines, but we have a good representation of Texas, California, Italy, and Spain.”
2017 Domaine Saint-Cyr Chénas, $30: “I always veer toward Beaujolais this time of year, and this is one of my personal favorites. It has the typical gamay qualities of Beaujolais but reaches a bit deeper to me.”
NV Renardat-Fâche Cerdon Bugey Sparkling Rosé, $20: “I always love sparkling rosé, and this wine is perfect for the holidays. It’s got a good bit of residual sugar balanced with nice acidity. It’s also pretty low-alcohol, so it won’t knock you out if you start drinking it early.”
The Heights Grocer
Blink for a second and you’ll miss this little corner shop in the Heights neighborhood. But don’t let the small, quirky space fool you. The Heights Grocer takes its selection of one-hundred-plus wines seriously, but offers it in a fun, unpretentious way. It was the hope of owner James Havens to make high-quality wine an everyday option for customers at affordable prices, and in the type of corner store anyone might visit for a quart of milk or loaf of bread. “I love how strange and small of a space it is,” Havens says. “It allows us to have new selections every week, and we love being hyper-creative all the time. We want to create a fun, judgement-free shop, with bottles that fit minimal-intervention standards. We want our customers to feel comfortable stepping outside of their comfort zone with a new varietal or region, but it’s just fine if they want to come in for the same bottle they know and love.”
2018 Valentin Morel Poulsard Les Trouillots, $42: “I want to be buried in the Jura region of France. These wines are so versatile and pair with any food, but will hopefully also please the aunt you only see every five years. Similar to gamay, this wine is a bit more elevated with a little bit more texture.”
2019 Costadila Vino Bianco Frizzante 330slm, $32: “A sparkling wine with a little skin contact! Made from glera, verdiso, and bianchetta Trevigiana, this wine has a beautiful, crisp mousse, with flavors of dried thyme and spiced apple and a full savory finish. It checks all of our boxes for the holidays and is perfect to begin a meal or to finish the night.”
Houston Wine Merchant
Nestled between Montrose and River Oaks, Houston Wine Merchant has been an independently owned retailer since 1984, when it first opened its doors as Wines of America. As demand for wines from around the world increased, the shop changed its name in 2000 to reflect its broader focus on wines from more than twenty countries. “From half-bottles to large-format Nebuchadnezzars, every one of our nearly 2,500 selections was chosen with care in order to assist with wines for everything from a casual Tuesday dinner to a special gift, or collectable bottles for the cellar,” says general manager Antonio Gianola. Two weekly tastings focus on different regions and countries to introduce guests to new wines, regions, and styles, and the added perk is that most of the inventory is listed on the website, allowing customers to shop online and request in-store pickup or delivery options.
2016 A & G Fantino Rosso dei Dardi, $20: “This wine gives Barolo-like character for an accessible, everyday price. It’s perfect for the season’s heartier fare, like rich grilled or braised foods, and its price point is friendly for enjoying frequently.”
2018 Domaine de l’Ecu Muscadet Sèvre-et-Maine Classic, $19: “From the French muscadet region at the western point of the Loire Valley, this white wine is made from melon de Bourgogne grapes. Often designed to be appreciated young and ‘on the fruit,’ the mouth provides a beautiful vibrancy with lime and soft notes of the sea. Its very persistent and long finish begs to be paired with Texas oysters on the half shell, shellfish, seafood stews, or served as an aperitif. Often seafood is best in colder months, and Texas oyster season starts in early December, so this is a great selection to have on hand this season.”
Kroger Cork & Tap
In 2016, the Ohio-based Kroger grocery chain selected one of its locations in Houston’s Heights neighborhood to open an in-store wine and beer bar called Cork & Tap, under the direction of Jaime Deleon, the adult beverage sales manager of the store’s Houston division. With particular autonomy to bring in unique selections, Deleon has built the program to feature more than 2,000 wines and 700 beers from around the world, making this Kroger location a wine and beer destination for enthusiasts throughout the city.
2018 Saint Cosme Côtes du Rhône, $15: “From one of the oldest estates in the Rhône Valley’s Gigondas appellation, Chateau de Saint Cosme dates back to Roman times. This wine is produced from 100 percent syrah and offers intense, aromatic notes of extracted black fruit and spice with deep flavors and firm tannins, a perfect match for your holiday rib roast.”
2015 Kir-Yianni Ramnista Xinomavro, $24: “From producer Kir-Yianni, this Ramnista is made from Xinomavro, a red grape planted throughout central and northern Greece. With bright acidity followed by earthy spice, black cherry, raspberry, and tobacco ride along dusty tannins through to a lingering finish. This wine would be great with slow-cooked meats in rich sauces and marinades, particularly lamb.”
Light Years Natural Wine Shop + Bar
In 2018, Steve Buechner and business partner John Glanzman took the ambitious step to open the progressive Montrose-area wine bar and retail space Light Years, devoted exclusively to natural wines. “We really wanted to fight the good fight for wine that is made with nothing added and nothing taken away,” says Buechner, describing a process of winemaking that has more recently become the latest wine-world trend. “We wanted to demystify wine and make it truly fun and accessible in a way that is often given lip service but rarely practiced.” Light Years has the deepest and broadest selection of natural wines in Texas, many of which are not available elsewhere in the state.
2019 Les Foulards Rouge Octobre, $27: “This is a 50/50 grenache-syrah blend from the Roussillon region in southern France with just a little bit of grenache. It is both powerful and refreshing, produced with carbonic maceration, which makes it similar to a Beaujolais wine.”
2018 Bodegas Marenas Montepilas, $27: “We love this white wine from Andalusia in southern Spain. Montepila is a unique grape that is native to the region and offers savory notes similar to the style of a gin martini. It’s perfect as both an aperitif or with food.”
Montrose Cheese & Wine
Perhaps the most recent locale to open its doors, Montrose Cheese & Wine arrived on the Houston scene as a serious contender with only six hundred square feet of space to operate both a wine bar and cheese counter. With more than 150 labels to buy off the shelf, as well as a rotating by-the-glass list for customers to sample while they browse, this corner spot has the added benefit of offering one of the best cheese selections in town, with regular nibbles placed out to taste throughout the day. “Houston is an ultra-competitive wine market,” says wine director Ryan Cooper. “There’s more than a handful of great wine shops and bars within a square mile of our shop, not to mention a few behemoth grocery stores with pretty legit wine programs. Most people end up buying their wine with larger retailers because it’s convenient and the perception is that independent wine shops are expensive and stuffy. We wanted to challenge that stigma by devoting the majority of our shelf space to a curated global selection of responsibly farmed artisanal wines that cost less than $40.”
2016 Loxarel Amaltea Brut Nature, $18: “During the holidays and in the colder months, we eat a lot of richer foods, so I tend to suggest wines that are fresh and lively. It’s also a celebratory time of year, so you should always have some quality, affordable bubbly on hand for the whole family to toast with. This dry sparkler from Penedès, Spain, punches way above its weight class, especially for being biodynamically farmed. The label for this wine can make it hard for consumers to take it seriously, but rest assured, this stuff is magic.”
2018 Domaine Sérol Les Originelles, $20: “Beaujolais is everyone’s holiday go-to, but there’s a lesser-known region just west in the southern Loire Valley called the Côte Roannaise, also dedicated to gamay. The Sérol family have been making wines here since the nineteenth century and have been organic for more than a decade. Our staff and patrons love the Les Originelles for its food-pairing versatility, its red-fruited electricity, and price point.”
Marfa Wine Co.
The second retail location for Heights Grocer owner James Havens, Marfa Wine Co. was born out of his many visits to the West Texas town and noticing a void in the availability of good wine. “It’s a community that knows what they want, but the wine scene did not reflect that,” Havens says. “There were mass-produced bottles being sold for twice what they should be. We offer more than bottles at the same markup we have in Houston. We also have a wine bar component, so you can come in for a glass or a bottle and take it to go. Many of these wines are so special, and if we can be tied to a wonderful memory in Marfa, our job is done.”
2018 Occhipinti SP68 Bianco, $32: “A beautiful wine that shows what a little skin contact from the grapes can do to add a little texture to wine. It’s a great way to discover the floral sides of skin contact without breaking the bank.”
2018 Teutonic Red Blend, $27: “Made from 20 percent pinot noir and 80 percent gewürztraminer, this wine could almost pass as a rosé. It offers bright acidity but some really light floral notes that can easily pair with most holiday dinners and will please the in-laws. This is hands down one of the highest-selling wines for us. We absolutely love selling it!”
High Street Wine Co.
Noted for bringing a fresh approach to wine in San Antonio, High Street Wine Co. opened in 2016 as both a wine bar and retail outlet at the Pearl near the city center. General manager and beverage director Scott Ota balances his offerings to include a diversity of classic wines as well as interesting discoveries. “Through any bottle of wine that we sell, we hope to inspire our guests to love and appreciate wine and continue to be curious about finding something new and interesting,” says Ota.
NV Bérêche Brut Reserve, $70, and NV Bérêche Reflet d’Antan, $175: “The holidays should always include Champagne, and we’re super excited about Bérêche. They make an array of different wines, but two of their bottles best represent the breadth of our program. First is their Brut Reserve, which is a classic blend of pinot noir, chardonnay, and pinot meunier. This wine is accessible and approachable for any wine lover with an appreciation of craftsmanship. Second is a super unique bottling called Reflet d’Antan, a multi-vintage blend of older reserve wine dating back to 1985. It’s rare to see a Champagne fractionally blended with a formula closer to a sherry solera, but the complexity gained through blending and oxidation is delicious and thought-provoking. This is a multilayered wine with incredible length and the versatility to pair with a variety of foods.”
2015 Sandro Fay Costa Bassa Valtellina Superiore, $32: “Think of Valtellina as a budget-friendly Barolo, but from higher elevations and a cooler climate, which allows for a refined and elegant expression of the nebbiolo grape. Softer expressions of nebbiolo are great for many guests, as the aromas offer the refinement of pinot noir with a firmer structure for fans of cabernet sauvignon. And best of all, Valtellina wines typically come in at half the price of its neighbors in Barolo and Barbaresco! Sandro Fay is a small, family-run house that farms everything by hand and with a delicate touch.”
Waco Wine Shoppe
Serving the Waco community since 2014, the Waco Wine Shoppe, owned by wine importer and store owner David Mayfield, has earned a reputation for promoting wines that reveal the human element of wine—it is an agricultural product, after all. “We want to be able to share stories about the growers we work with and to give our customers context as to why these wines exist and why these growers work so hard to make them,” says Mayfield.
2019 Croci VDT Lubigo Frizzante, $24: “This wine from the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy is made by hand and without chemicals or artificial yeast. It’s an ‘orange wine,’ which means the white grapes have been aged on the grape skins for about a week. This white sparkler is made from ortrugo, a native grape to this region. . . . It’s a completely unique wine and is traditional for this part of Italy.”
2018 Les Lunes Chardonnay, $30: “I know a chardonnay seems like a boring choice for a recommendation for the holidays, but this one is special. This wine is everything you’ve ever wanted in chardonnay but never knew to ask for. The vineyards have been farmed organically since the vines were planted in 1972 by the Barra family in Mendocino County, California.”