For a long while in Marshall, a town of 23,000 in far northeast Texas, there wasn’t a place where you could purchase a glass of wine. Like many other towns and counties in the region, it elected to go dry several years before the start of Prohibition and effectively remained so for decades after its repeal. Marshall’s folly was ironic because since at least the 1870s it considered itself “the Athens of Texas” because of its relatively well-educated citizenry and, eventually, its abundance of colleges. The Greeks, after all, were fueled by their viticulture, but that fact apparently found no purchase in a town with two Baptist churches (the Prohibitionists’ house of worship) flanking the courthouse square.

So when I visited Marshall in the fall, armed with this much-too-sober history, and settled in for a dinner at Pazzeria by Pietro’s, a casual Italian American restaurant downtown, I did not expect the waiter to hand me a wine list that would make Dionysus himself blush with delight. The menu featured hundreds of wines, the bulk of them Italian reds and West Coast cabernet sauvignons and pinot noirs, but also robust showings from Argentina, France, Germany, Portugal, and Spain. The selections, which amount to a $250,000 collection, were varied, sophisticated, and, best of all, incredibly affordable. That combination has attracted customers from Dallas, Houston, and further afield, such as high-price lawyers flying in from New York to argue patent cases at the federal courthouse nearby.

I ordered the spaghetti polpette (deliciously seasoned meatballs with chunky marinara sauce) and a bottle of barbera—a common table wine in Italy that can be tricky to find stateside—that was listed for $32. I later looked up the label—Bruno Giacosa Barbera d’Alba 2017—and found it listed for retail at the same or even higher prices. I returned two more times during my stay and bought three other bottles from Pazzeria’s in-house wine store. In Marshall—Marshall!—a connoisseur may come away boasting veni, vidi, bibi, cheaply!

I sought out the person responsible for my bacchanal and found him in Giuseppe Filippazzo, Pazzeria’s amicable, fast-talking, fifty-year-old owner and manager. Filippazzo was born in New York to Sicilian parents who moved to Longview and opened Pietro’s, a fast casual pizza joint, in 1979. Filippazzo—everyone calls him Joseph—entered the family business, expanded Pietro’s, and, in 2015, opened Pazzeria. He did not initially envision it becoming a wine destination. “We started with only eighteen selections,” he told me in a perfect Long Island–Italian American accent. Today Pazzeria has more than five hundred.

“I wish we could drop this list into some of Houston’s wine-focused restaurants,” said Brandon Kerne, a master sommelier in Houston, instructor at the Texas Wine School, and manager of boutique wine store Art of Cellaring. I reached out to him to get a sense of how unique this kind of place is in Texas. “There are a lot of classic Italian grape varieties but also a lot of nerdier, hard-to-find stuff that is fun and at good prices.”

Why Dallasites Are Traveling to Marshall Just to Drink Wine
The entrance at Pazzeria by Pietro’s. Les Hassell/Harrison Magazine
Why Dallasites Are Traveling to Marshall Just to Drink Wine
A pasta entree at Pazzeria by Pietro’s. Les Hassell/Harrison Magazine

Filippazzo said his extensive selection came about almost unintentionally. “Collecting wine started as a hobby, and then it became a passion,” he said. As he explored wine and grew the menu, he noticed customers taking an interest in the new selections, almost like they were exploring with him. “The addition of vineyards and different categories came about because of the guests,” he said. “Ultimately they were the driving force.” When selecting a wine, Filippazzo makes sure it isn’t available at major grocers, and he often makes the trek to Dallas to sample new selections at wine exhibitions put on by vendors. “We found a model we liked. Most restaurants sell wine at a markup. We do not. Ours is at retail or a little above,” he said. “That way we’re able to sell multiple bottles of wine versus maybe not even selling one bottle.” Key to Pazzeria’s model is that it also serves as a wine merchant: customers can purchase any of the listed wines a la carte, no meal necessary—but you should get a pasta or pizza anyways because the food is very good.

James Tidwell, a master sommelier in Dallas who cofounded the Texas Sommelier Conference, was also impressed by the breadth and affordability of the wine list. “Honestly, it’s hard to find that in a lot of big cities,” he said. Tidwell took particular note of the Italian whites from northeastern Italian winery Venica & Venica on offer. “Those are wines that I would pluck off the list and enjoy with almost any of the food.”

It may seem incongruous to drink such a rarefied wine with, say, a $16 lasagna or a pepperoni pizza, but that may in fact be the best way to enjoy it. “There is a theory that the more complex the wine the simpler you want the food to be,” Tidwell said. “You want a blank canvas to show something on.”

But for those deeper-pocketed diners who want to splurge on the food, Filippazzo has them covered, too: out through the back of Pazzeria, in a lovely, exposed-brick space that also serves as its wine storage room, is a separate restaurant, Tavolo 13. The steak-focused “fine-dining speakeasy,” as he called it, has a small but carefully crafted menu with items such as a beef carpaccio with caviar.

Either way, Marshall is now a wine destination and that is something worth ringing bells about.