A restaurant wine list can be intimidating. Considering that the choice you make will affect your dining experience as well as your wallet, the pressure is real, particularly if a lot of the offerings are unfamiliar to you. Some of the state’s best restaurants try to ease that pressure with an expert service staff to help guide you. They also offer a trustworthy and approachable wine list. It doesn’t need to be long—though there are certainly some excellent page-turners out there—but it does need to be balanced by style, grape, place, and vintage. Here are our 35 favorite wine lists in Texas, organized by category. We also talked to the beverage experts at each restaurant to get tips or their favorite picks.
Category: Deep and Wide
These restaurants feature wine menus that are diverse in regions and grapes, allowing diners to explore premium wines from all corners of the earth. Their depth is found in the many vintages of iconic labels that have been laboriously collected, along with hard-to-find producers. These are wine lists to take your time with. But don’t be shy about engaging an in-house sommelier. All of these restaurants are fully staffed with friendly experts to help guide you to exactly the right wine for your overall experience.
Though slightly shorter than the others in this category, Flora Street’s list stands out for its ability to offer a well-rounded selection of wines that not only represent a wide range of varieties and styles from across the world but are at a diversity of price points. According to beverage director Frank Horak, the list is built to mimic the level of hospitality people have come to expect from celebrated chef Stephan Pyles, whose calling card has long been his excellent food along with a warm and engaging atmosphere at all of his dining establishments.
Horak’s Insider Tips: “Right now, our selection of Grüner Veltliners are a secret weapon when pairing with some of our food. While my favorite selections change daily, I’m a big fan of sharing Texas’s McPherson Cellars’ sparkling Chenin Blanc, which we pour on our food pairing menu. I also love the sparkling rosé from England’s Chapel Down.”
With only 66 seats at this intimate Knox/Henderson restaurant, Gemma manages to offer a remarkably wide selection with more than 250 wines, all of which are aggressively priced with the customer’s pocketbook in mind. “Our philosophy has always been to offer affordable wines that aren’t ridiculously marked up. We want to give our customers quality wine at a great value,” says beverage director Brian Huynh. (You’ll find more than two dozen bottles under $50.) The list is richly populated with food-friendly wines from many small producers from all over the world, though French wines account for about 40 percent. (Word to the wise: if you want to dig even deeper, ask for any special offerings on hand. Huynh always has a little something in his cellar.)
Huynh’s Top Pick: The 2011 Clendenen Vineyards Nebbiolo, Santa Maria Valley, California. “I absolutely love this wine. The tannins are beautifully softer than Italian Barolos, and the wine itself is lighter than many pinot noirs. For $79, it’s a steal on the menu.”
A staple of the Austin fine-dining community for decades, Jeffrey’s has evolved over the past few years to become one of the state’s top steakhouses, with one of the deepest wine lists to boot. Its biggest challenge is having very little space to store its wines. It’s also a challenge for beverage director Patrick Olds. “It’s a really fun job to live through because you have to immerse yourself in a mind game of understanding what’s selling, what people are asking for, filling the small, ever-changing voids on the list, and tracking down virtually unattainable wines. As soon as you start to feel content, that is when you can fall behind.”
Olds’ Insider Tips: “We recently tracked down some Spring Mountain Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon from 1979 to put on the list. Anytime you can drink old Napa cabernet from a great winery is a special treat. This wine is forty years old and is absolutely on fire in the glass. I also love a few bottle selections that are exciting to share, including the 1998 Bonneau du Martray Grand Cru Corton-Charlemagne and the 2015 Alain Graillot ‘La Guiraud’ from Crozes-Hermitage.”
Celebrating a full year in its posh location at the Post Oak Hotel, this premium steakhouse artfully skews heavy on indulgent fare, and by extension, the wine list is both ambitious and inspiring. Pages are saturated with coveted treasures, which was the bidding given by owner Tilman Fertitta of Landry’s empire fame to Master Sommelier Keith Goldston when he was lured away from Washington, D.C., to build this list. “Fertitta’s approach for the whole property of the Post Oak Hotel was to add a level of luxury that was missing in Houston. And the wine list needed to match that,” says Goldston. “My task has been to make this list not only the best in Texas but in the country.” In the past year, Goldston and his hand-picked team of expert sommeliers have quickly outpaced the existing Texas standard pressing in on its primary competitor, Pappas Bros. But Goldston sees the long-established Pappas family as a worthy friend rather than foe. “There’s no question Pappas Bros. has set the bar for wine in all of Texas,” says Goldston. “Houston is the fourth-largest city in the country, and we need to have the food and wine scene operating at a level that meets that distinction.”
Goldston’s Insider Tips: Pay attention to South African Chenin Blanc. “This category has been blowing me away in terms of quality and ageability,” says Goldston. “For a country that was once cut off from the modern world, some of the Chenin Blancs coming from here are some of the best in the world, and they only grow deeper and more complex with age.” Goldston is also partial to the deep vintage offerings from Laurel Glen Vineyard and Chateau Montelena. “Bettina Sichel was kind enough to offer us fourteen older vintages of Laurel Glen Vineyard Estate Cabernet, and we took all of it,” says Goldston. “And we couldn’t pass on ten vintages of Montelena in three, five, and six-liter formats. This is the kind of Napa Cabernet people should be salivating over.”
When it comes to steakhouses, the track record that Pappas Bros. has cultivated since its beginnings in 1995 has positioned it among the crème de la crème in the country. And while the steaks are undeniably delicious, one could argue that the wine programs at each location are what set the restaurant well above the rest. In fact, both the flagship Houston Galleria location and the Dallas location are the only two restaurants in the entire state that hold the coveted Wine Spectator Grand Award—each location manages well over three thousand bottles each. It’s a merit master sommelier Jack Mason and his team of wine directors, Steven McDonald, Bill Elsey, and Barbara Werley—also a master sommelier—take extremely seriously. “With a continued focus on maintaining the Grand Award, my focus has been on creating verticals of different producers in many areas with vintages dating back as far as I can source,” says Werley. For Mason, the task has been about looking to the future. “I’m always looking at how we can push things further,” says Mason. “We’ve also put a lot more energy into a broader range of Champagnes and Burgundy offerings, which are surprisingly popular, considering we primarily serve steak.”
Pappas Bros. Insider Tips: “I think white Burgundy is sorely overlooked on our list, and it’s where you can really get some great value,” says Mason. “Be sure to save room for the dessert wine cart we’ve added at all locations.” Adds Werley: “It’s always hard to choose some of my favorites, but right now I’m a big fan of Washington state red wines.”
Category: Short and Sweet
Not all restaurant concepts are a fit for an extensive menu. Instead, a shorter, more curated list of select wines is more appropriate. These lists require focus and intention, keeping everything from the dining menu, value, and diversity in mind. The wine menus included in this category have mastered the art of the short list, offering plenty of opportunities for sweet discovery.
With its meticulous and dynamic dining menu, it’s only fitting that Barley Swine’s wine list is well honed and tightly manicured as well. With an array of flavor inspirations served up by Chef Bryce Gilmore and his team in the restaurant’s signature small-plate format, beverage director Stefan Davis has carved out a wine menu that offers wines with balance, brightness, and a touch of weightiness to pair well with the various dishes. You’ll find very little in the way of conventional wines. “I want to take people on a wine tour to places they may not typically go,” says Davis. “If you’re open to Baga from Portugal or a natural Carignan from California, we’re going to share it with you.”
Davis’s Top Pick: 2015 Kiralyufvar Tokaji Furmint Sec, Tokaji, Hungary. “A dry style of this classic Hungarian grape offering vibrant acidity along with a a weighty palate with notes of kumquat, baked green apple, honey, and almonds.”
With its inviting patio garden in the Heights, this New American eatery with a decidedly Italian inspiration has been a Houston hot spot since it opened in 2014. Not surprisingly, its wine menu is similarly designed. With virtually no room for wine storage in the small restaurant space, this list is tightly manicured by general manager/sommelier Leonora Varvoutis, with many exciting Italian, French, and other Old World finds. But it’s also peppered with a handful of hidden gems.
Varvoutis’ Top Pick: 2016 Gio Chardonnay, Primorska, Slovenia. “This is a great discovery wine for people who love chardonnay but never knew it was being grown in Slovenia. It falls right down the middle of the line with weight and zippy acidity.”
The little sister of Italian osteria Lucia, Macellaio—pronounced “Ma-che-lie-oh” and meaning “butcher” in Italian—opened in June in Oak Cliff’s Bishop Arts District. As its name implies, this casual South Dallas spot focuses more heavily on charcuterie and cheeses, though there’s a full menu of Italian, Spanish, and French-inspired fare to enjoy. For this wine list, co-owner and beverage director Jennifer Uygur expanded her selections beyond Italian to include a broader range of European finds, along with a few New World favorites as well. The short two-page list is almost exclusively priced under $70, with the exception of a handful of more indulgent selections.
Uygur’s Top Pick: 2016 Masseria Li Veli Susumaniello, Puglia, Italy. “Most people expect big wines from Puglia’s Negroamaro and Primitivo grapes, but this one is very different. It’s like a fruity blaufränkish with black cherry notes and a grilled herb finish. From the boot heel of Southern Italy, this style of wine is not as elegant as some northern Italian wines, but it’s a delicious wine, a true diamond in the rough. It’s the number one seller on the list, and though it’s $50, it’s no consolation prize.”
You don’t feel like you are in San Antonio when you are in this lovely little place just outside the King William District. In fact, the elegance and sophistication in the atmosphere are reminiscent of some flashy New York restaurants. At its core, Maverick is a Texas brasserie, so it is admittedly French, with a Texas twist. To follow suit, beverage director Josh Thomas crafted a list that is French-driven but balanced with selections from all over the world. “We wanted to provide something for everyone at all price points,” says Thomas. “This is really an everyday restaurant, but we’re easily able to deliver for that special occasion as well.”
Thomas’s Insider Tips: “Take advantage of the Champagne; it’s generally at a smaller markup than any of the other selections,” says Thomas. “Overall, there’s a good chance that the higher the price point you go, the better the deal will be on the wine itself. And if you’re looking to go deeper for something special, be sure to ask for our reserve list.”
Located in a charming old bungalow just north of downtown, Olamaie has elevated classic Southern comfort food with elegance and refinement. When it first opened in 2014, the wine list was exclusively American, part of the restaurant’s commitment to a truly iconic American foodway. Today, crafted by the restaurant’s wine buyer, Gretchen Van Eck, and overseen by general manager Roberto Ainslie, you’ll find a couple of Champagne selections along with a handful of other European and Australian offerings sprinkled throughout the menu, but by and large, a very engaging collection of American wines dominates the list.
Ainslie’s Top Picks: “Three bottles I currently love right now are the 2015 Bertin-Delatte “L’Échalier” Chenin Blanc from Rablay-sur-Layon, France, which is an example of our departure from an American-focused menu. But my two favorite California picks would be the 2015 Hirsch Vineyards “Raschen Ridge” Pinot Noir from the Sonoma Coast and the 2016 Piedrasassi Syrah from Santa Barbara County.”
The evolution of James Beard Award winner Justin Yu, Theodore Rex is a more casual, scaled-down bistro than its swanky predecessor, Oxheart. For the wine menu, beverage director Justin Vann had a little more free reign than with the previous constraints of Oxheart’s set tasting menu. “At Oxheart, we had a lot of aggressively unusual wines that were served as part of the tasting menu, but since guests now have an a la carte menu with T-Rex, I wanted to offer a range of both classic and lesser-known wines, along with a broader range of full-bodied, bolder wines. The only catch was, I was constrained to a one-page trifold menu, which means this list is bursting at the seams with about a hundred great wines.”
Vann’s Top Pick: 2013 Clos Lentiscus “Brut Nature,” Sumoll, Penedès, Spain. “This is one of my absolute favorite Spanish sparkling wines and definitely leans more toward the adventurous side of things. The intensity of the Sumoll grape makes for a deep, savory rosé that you’ll never forget.”
With only eighty seats in this new Lower Westheimer locale that boasts a menu representative of Houston’s rich cultural diversity, wine storage is pretty tight, which limited beverage director Matthew Pridgen to the wines he could include. To date, the menu sits with a diminutive lineup of 45 wines, each given a significant amount of consideration to land a spot on the list. For Pridgen, the wines had to pair well with the menu and maintain the casual vibe of the restaurant. “I love offering delicious and unique wines, but this is just on a much smaller scale than any list I’ve ever done. I found I was much more excited to find a cool new wine that I could put on the list for $40 rather than finding an equally cool one that I could have put on for $400.”
Pridgen’s Top Pick: 2014 Strub Riesling Kabinett, Niersteiner Brückchen, Rheinhessen, Germany. Pridgen calls this wine one of his list’s “best-kept secrets.” “I always price Riesling aggressively because it’s delicious and a great food wine that not enough people drink.”
Category: Wines by the Glass
The by-the-glass section of the wine list is really the gateway to a restaurant’s wine program. It should be a filtered-down version of the best selections you’ll be able to find on the bottle list. It also happens to be where restaurants stand to make the widest profit margins, and sadly, many lists offer lower-quality wines at a higher price point in an effort to boost profits even further. By contrast, a great by-the-glass list will be thoughtful and engaging, and it should offer a good range, allowing guests a chance to try something new without having to commit to a whole bottle.
For more than a decade, 13 Celsius has been the standard bearer for wine bars not only in Houston but across Texas. Wine director Adele Corrigan manages a deep by-the-glass program that changes seasonally, offering wines from all around the globe. With anywhere between 75 and 100 by-the-glass selections, this seemingly simple neighborhood wine bar offers a world of discovery. (You’ll also find more than 300 by-the-bottle offerings.) “If you’re looking for a funky natural wine or a Grand Cru Chablis, we’ve got you covered,” says Corrigan. “I like wines that tell a story. So you’ll find wine from small producers and obscure parts of the world here.”
Corrigan’s Insider Tip: “Opt for the three-ounce-pour options. This feature is way underutilized on the menu, and this is where you can have the most fun and taste through more of the menu without getting inebriated. I’ve been on a Sicilian kick, so I love the 2015 Cantine Barbera ‘Amanno’ Zibbibo and the 2016 Ciro Biondi ‘San Nicolo’ Nerello Mascalese. But I’m also a big fan of the 2017 Teutonic ‘Recorded in Doubly’ Muscat from the Willamette Valley in Oregon.”
This modern wine bar at the Pearl has taken the San Antonio wine scene to a higher level. With more than two hundred selections, the menu is constantly evolving. “My primary goal for High Street is to offer wines that are approachable and accessible for anyone who walks through the door,” says general manager Scott Ota. High Street offers two ways to enjoy small wine pours: by the glass or a flight, which gives guests an opportunity to feed their curiosity with three 2-ounce pours of different wines. “And because our flight wines are also offered by the glass, we have a very diverse selection of unique offerings that are great for both the introductory and experienced wine consumer.”
Ota’s Top Pick: 2015 Kumeu River Chardonnay, Auckland, New Zealand. “I love this wine because it takes a fairly common grape like Chardonnay and makes into something great. It has the nuance and delicacy of Burgundy but the sunshine and brightness of New Zealand. It’s a great value bottle.”
When most people walk up to Lamberts, a self-proclaimed “fancy barbecue” restaurant, the immediate beverages of choice that come to mind are beer or cocktails. In this case, wine takes a seat in the very, very back. Which is why this list is worth uncovering. You may not expect great things, but in beverage director Devon Miller’s estimation, that’s exactly what you’re going to get. “We are straightforward in our approach to offer a variety of wines that fit with the food, but we’re also going to deliver on quality wine selections with a unique touch,” says Miller. Among our favorite finds are the 2016 Dog Point Sauvignon Blanc, from New Zealand, and the 2015 Domaine Des Gravennes Côte du Rhône, a steal by the glass at only $11.
Miller’s Insider Tips: “I love the 2017 Broc Cellars “Khou Khou” Cabernet Franc from Santa Barbara County. This is in a different style of Cabernet Franc than you would see from the Loire Valley or Bordeaux. I love this small California producer. They farm organically, and everything is kid-glove meticulous when it comes to winemaking.”
One of Houston’s long-established best-kept-secrets, which now resides along White Oak Bayou in the Heights, Rainbow Lodge is a rustic-chic spot led by the culinary prowess of chef Mark Schmidt. Accompanying a varied menu of game and seafood, the wine list, managed by beverage director Marc Borel, is in and of itself a sizable menu that warrants a spot under the Deep and Wide category. (It has more than 500 selections.) But it’s the extensive Coravin by-the-glass list that caught our eye as particularly unique for this category. The Coravin is a unique device that allows you to access wine from a bottle without pulling the cork by using a small, hollow needle. When used correctly, the technology eliminates the chance of oxidation, which allows the restaurant to sell through a bottle of wine that is offered by the glass over the course of several months. It’s a service that Borel thought to use when he realized many of his guests were interested in the Top Ten wines from Wine Spectator, which were available only at prohibitively high prices. So he started offering them by the glass using the Coravin. “Now I have a whole list of wines, previously accessed and still drinking as fresh as the day they were bottled. Verticals of Opus One, twenty-year-old Burgundies, expensive Napa cabs, all available by the glass and served tableside.”
Borel’s Insider Tips: Borel will even get you a glass of something that’s not currently on the Coravin list. Any bottle listed for more than $150 is available by the glass. All you have to do is ask.
Located in the Crescent Hotel in Uptown (with one other location, in Plano), Sixty Vines is a casual wine bar and eatery that has excelled in the realm of by-the-glass offerings. The name Sixty Vines refers to the sixty taps along the backbar, most of which are wine, that guests can access for glass pours. In recent years, more and more suppliers and wineries have begun to offer their wines in a keg, which keeps wines fresher longer, an ideal format for by-the-glass menus. (It doesn’t hurt that the kegs are also more environmentally friendly.) In addition, there is also a list of sixty bottled wines available by the glass. “This allows us to offer guests the chance to experience classic regions and higher-end wines that aren’t in kegs at the moment,” says beverage director Ken Freeman. “The idea of kegging wines is slowly spreading worldwide, so we use our by-the-glass program to provide wines from both the New World and the Old World.”
Freeman’s Insider Tip: “One way we provide value is through our Wino Wednesday promotion, which offers half off our premium by-the-glass wines [anything over $20 a glass]. Our guests are able to drink these premium wines at half price once a week and discover some of the star-studded producers we have on our list.”
Category: Regional Focus
It’s often said that food and wine that grows together goes together. And when it comes to perfect pairings, this wisdom also applies. For restaurants with a regional focus on cuisines such as Italian, French, or Spanish, creating a list of wines that best reflect the true flavors of these places around the world becomes a unique challenge. The wine lists in this category excel at offering wines that will draw you closer to these parts of the world.
Bar none, this is the best Champagne and bubbles program in Texas. Yes, there are probably more Champagne selections on this list (250-plus) than anywhere else in the state—maybe even the country—but more importantly, the pricing is remarkable. For a style of wine that is often reserved for special occasions and therefore marked up to exorbitant prices, the a’Bouzy team, assembled by owner and longtime Houston restaurant and bar veteran Shawn Virene, offers some of the lowest markups on these special wines than you’ll find just about anywhere. The overall message is that Champagne—or any sparkling wine—should be enjoyed anytime. It pairs beautifully with seafood, charcuterie and cheeses, French fries, fried oysters, fried chicken—emphasis on anything fried—and even a well-prepared ribeye. You’ll also find a generous nod to other sparkling wine selections as well as a nicely curated offering of red and white still wines.
a’Bouzy’s Insider Tips: If you want to enjoy a delicious glass of bubbly that’s perfect for any day of the week, the Champagne Le Mesnil Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs Brut is a steal for $44 a bottle. But if you’re feeling particularly ritzy, treat yourself to a glass of 2009 Louis Roederer “Cristal” Brut. It may be $69, but it’s vintage, which makes it extra special.
This glamorously gilded locale has earned an impeccable reputation for serving up French classics with a modern twist from celebrated chef Bruno Davaillon, a native Frenchman from the Loire Valley. Naturally, it has an equally provocative beverage menu composed exclusively of French wines. For beverage director Andrew Schawel, the most important task in building the list was to represent every region of France at all price points, particularly in the range of $60 to $120. But for the customers who want Grand Cru Burgundy, the restaurant also has access to some really special wines from producers all over France. “When we come across things that are particularly rare, we snatch them up,” says Schawel. “Beyond that, our staff works really hard to help translate for customers who aren’t as familiar with French wine. If they like Plumpjack, we’ll guide them to something like Pomerol, or to the Southern Rhône if they want a richer, California-style pinot noir.”
Schawel’s Insider Tips: “Always pay attention to the Prestige Pours we offer using Coravin. It’s not unusual to have something like the 2015 François Carillon Chassagne-Montrachet, a premium chardonnay from Burgundy, on offer. And if you’re looking for a great deal on reds, the 2015 Vieux Télégramme Châteauneuf-du-Pape, from the Southern Rhône Valley, is a perfect choice.”
This charming osteria in South Dallas has made a name for itself with its classic Italian fare, its two-month reservation wait list, and its well-manicured wine menu brimming with regional Italian finds curated by co-owner and beverage director Jennifer Uygur. “Italian wine is built to be a part of the meal. It pairs beautifully with the right balance of weight and acid. And there are so many different grapes, literally thousands of them, to explore throughout the country. There are so many ways to find something that people will enjoy,” says Uygur.
Uygur’s Top Pick: 2016 Venica & Venica Sauvignon Ronco del Cerò, Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Italy. “I think Italian white wines are underappreciated across the board, but I do love this Venica & Venica offering. It’s gorgeous and full—perfect for people who like rich white wines with a little tropical character.”
Rather than having a regional focus on one country, the beauty of Sachet is its emphasis on the flavors that surround the Mediterranean Sea. And with a food menu as dynamically provocative as this one is, its wine list had better be its equal. In this case, beverage director Cameron Cronin overdelivers on expectations, offering a deep dive—pun intended—into the array of wines from this part of the world, many of which are yet undiscovered by most Americans. Guests will find wines from Greece, Sicily, Corsica, Slovenia, Macedonia, Catalunya, Lebanon, Morocco, and Israel. “The wine list offers wines that complement our menu but also offers a chance for discovery with historic and eclectic selections as well as both traditional and esoteric flavor profiles,” says Cronin. “It’s a list that’s outside of most of our guests’ previous wine experience by design, so we do our best to make everything accessible in both flavor and value.”
Cronin’s Top Pick: 2012 Domaine des Tourelles “Grande Cuvee” Syrah du Liban, Lebanon. “In terms of value, this is an excellent wine worth mentioning. This is a Lebanese Syrah produced by a winery established in the mid-1800s. It’s an exceptional wine with a style amenable to both New World and Old World palates at under $65!”
With a menu that goes deep into the intricacies of Oaxacan food from celebrated James Beard Award–winning chef Hugo Ortega, the goal for beverage director Sean Beck was to build a wine list that would be equally as introspective. You’ll find plenty of wines on this list from around the world, each carefully selected to deftly pair with the nuances of the food. But Beck took his list a step further, featuring a sizable selection of Mexican wines. “Mexican food in general is often passed off as beer and margarita cuisine, yet Mexico has a five-hundred-year history of growing wine. Virtually no one knows about it in America, which is what makes it the best-kept secret,” says Beck. “Right now Mexican wine has entered into a period of amazing quality, and it only made sense for us to show our pride in all that Mexico has to offer, both in food and beverage.”
Beck’s Top Pick: 2015 Valle de Corona Tempranillo, Valley de Guadalupe, Mexico. “I had a chance to visit this property with my family when we stopped in Ensenada. I was seriously impressed with their attention to detail,” says Beck. “The wines from this family have always been good, but they excel with Tempranillo. This wine is so rich and warm with baking spices and darker fruit characteristics than you would find in Spanish versions.”
Category: Zany and Adventurous
While it’s possible to get away with off-the-wall dogmatic lists that predominantly showcase a sommelier’s favorite cult wines, the lists in this category did an excellent job of offering a healthy number of left-field wines without completely leaving the planet. These wines walk the line between classic styles and modernity with a particular tactfulness. You’ll likely find grape varieties you’re familiar with, but from lesser-known parts of the world, or wines that veer toward the unusual in their method, such as orange wines (white wines fermented with the grape skins) and Méthode Ancestrale (or pétillant-naturel, pet nat) sparkling wines.
At Aviary, the three key words that drove beverage director Alex Bell when building his outside-of-the-box menu were affordable, approachable, and, above all, fun. Though the list is long, with a medley of flavor profiles and styles, it’s by no means burdensome and relies on a tongue-in-cheek categorization of wines based on pop culture icons such as Jayne Mansfield for rosés; Frank Zappa for funky, obscure whites; Steve McQueen for robust reds; and Willie Nelson for older vintage wines. (There’s even an “Andre the Giant” section for those who want larger-format wines.) To date, the engaging program has been a great success among guests. “We wanted to give people a relatable connection right off the bat that would instantly put any apprehension about wine to rest and let them have a little fun,” says Bell. “I find it super important to show people that the world of wine is really just a sea of synonyms. Unknown varieties are just a friend you haven’t met.”
Bell’s Insider Tip: “Something I really love is our 12½ program, which essentially includes a dozen oysters and either a half bottle of sherry or a half bottle of bubbles. In Jerez, Spain, the go-to pairing is Manzanilla, which is super dry and savory, with a little salinity. We offer a 500-milliliter bottle of Orleans Borbón Manzanilla Fina Sherry. But if the dry ocean and savory charm isn’t your bag, we also play into our absolute adoration for bubbles and offer a split bottle of Faire la Fête Crémant de Limoux. The way that the bubbles push the citrus tones of oysters to the forefront on a rush of effervescent kisses is almost earth-shattering. Either option is yours for only $45!”
Perhaps one of the most brilliant concepts to hit Austin, this little Neapolitan-style pizza joint (now with two locations) offers a pretty progressive and extensive wine list that reflects some of owner Steven Dilley’s favorite wines. With nearly four hundred selections at its flagship location on East Cesar Chavez, there are ample styles of wine to discover, and when you’re only spending twelve bucks for a pizza, you can afford to be a little more adventurous!
Dilley’s Insider Tips: “Take advantage of our happy hour, where bottles under $100 are offered half price. The best steals tend to be for those bottles that are listed between $90 and $99.” His pick? The 2017 Lightsome Mourvèdre, High Plains, Texas. “This Texas wine drinks more like a Beaujolais. It offers amazing red fruit and floral aromatics and is insanely drinkable with pizza.”
With a boldly flavored small-plates menu that changes seasonally, complemented by dim-sum service, Emmer & Rye serves ten or more dishes in one sitting. The aggressive food menu created a particular challenge for beverage director Alicia Schmidt. “I’ve had to search for wines that can work with this large range of dishes—balanced wines with elevated acidity and moderate alcohol,” says Schmidt. “I’ve also sourced wines that uphold the values of our chefs, so I seek out wines that were produced in an environmentally sensitive manner that speak of the place they come from.” Ultimately, the list is a mix of classic wines from hallmark producers and quirky wines from up-and-coming regions. “I want to push the boundaries and introduce people to new flavors and corners of the world but also make sure that the list is inclusive and we can find something for everyone.”
Schmidt’s Top Pick: 2012 Graci ‘Arcuria,’ Mt. Etna, Sicily, Italy. “This wine is sourced from a single Cru vineyard on Mt. Etna and is made of the Carricante grape. It is working stunningly with our menu. It has an intense core of ripe peach coupled with a smoky volcanic minerality that is heightened from a little bit of age.”
This South Congress neighborhood cafe offers a chic spin on French brasserie classics and beyond, with signature dishes ranging from a fried chicken sandwich to bone-marrow bolognese. On average, the wine list includes 23 wines by the glass, 150 bottle offerings, and an additional 20 or so different wines from specific iconic wine regions to give guests a deeper look into places around the world. “Whether you’re looking for Premier Cru Burgundy or bizzaro natural wines, we’ve got you covered, “ says beverage director Sean Woosley. “But we make sure guests can find established producers and hallowed appellations alongside young winemakers and up-and-coming regions.”
Woosley’s Insider Tips: “It’s no secret, really, but the best deal on our list is the half-off sparkling wine prices for happy hour. We love Champagne at June’s, so we keep a deep, thoughtfully curated selection of bubbles. I’m also very excited about the 2016 Maximin Grünhaus ‘Alte Reben’ Riesling that we’re offering by the glass. This wine packs a tone of depth and complexity and is an absolute pleasure to drink.”
Located in the up-and-coming East Downtown side of Houston, Nancy’s Hustle is a bustling little bistro abuzz with a creative menu and a wine list devoted almost exclusively to natural wines, meaning little has been done to intervene in the winemaking process, including adding sulphur for preservatives or filtering and refining the wines for clarity. “We wanted to create a list with wines that are sustainably made but also highlight the flavors of our food,” says beverage director Sean Jensen. “We’re not offering weird wines for the sake of being weird. The list is very approachable, offering selections that are varietally correct with freshness and flavor.” Most people may not be familiar with the more than eighty wines on offer, but it hasn’t kept them from coming. “We like orange wines, pet nats, and funky ciders. These wines may be a little out of the ordinary, but if you didn’t know about them before, you will now.”
Jensen’s Top Pick: 2017 Luyt/Tellez Bichi “Rosa” Master Grapes, Tecate, Mexico. “The Tellez family, in collaboration with Louis Antoine Luyt, is at the forefront of natural wine production in Mexico. They farm organically in their family-owned old vine vineyards near Tecate, Baja Norte, and their wines truly speak of place and terroir.”
Located in the heart of downtown in the historic Houston Cotton Exchange building, Public Services is a must if you’re looking to walk a little bit on the wild side of wine and spirits. This is a space where beverage director Justin Vann has taken quite a few liberties with his twelve-page bar list to offer guests something exciting and new. By and large, the bar has garnered a reputation for its extensive selection of whiskies along with one of Vann’s absolute loves, sherry. Here you can taste from a selection of sherries alongside whiskies that have been aged in casks originally used for the style of sherry in your glass. It’s a true tasting adventure but one that is not limited to the two categories. Wine also plays an essential part. “The wine list at Public Services rapidly changes based on what we are personally excited about. It’s essentially my own laboratory for exploration,” says Vann. “It’s almost always fifty percent French and heavily Old World, but we’ve also sprinkled in Southern hemisphere finds from South Africa and Australia.”
Vann’s Top Pick: 2017 Southern Right Pinotage, Walker Bay, South Africa. “Pinotage has unfairly gotten a bad rap. If you’re the wine buyer who has internalized the belief that Pinotage is gross, I urge you to reconsider. I stumbled across this one, and it’s stunning. It has lots of ripe black and red fruit, fresh ground espresso, and a meaty note reminiscent of Syrah.”
Category: Texas Only
The ability to find a handful of Texas wine offerings throughout the state has become more common. Not only has the quality of Texas wine improved over the past decade, but so has the general support among restaurants for the burgeoning wine industry. To date, there are only two restaurants that have committed to an exclusively Texas wine list. With great effort, these lists truly represent some of the better wines available in Texas today.
Since opening in 2002, the Cabernet Grill has often been deemed the “Restaurant Authority on Texas Wine,” and rightfully so. Just this year it was recognized by Wine Enthusiast magazine as one of America’s Top 100 Wine Restaurants for its long-established commitment to serving only Texas wine. But wine director Elizabeth Rodriguez has been exceptionally conscious that selections for the list represent the best Texas wines on offer. “We make a sincere effort to find winemakers who take a personally unique approach to each of the varieties on our list. We have 125 wines from more than forty producers. We enjoy highlighting the diversity of quality wines from a broad range of varieties frown in Texas.”
Rodriguez’s Top Pick: 2015 McPherson Cellars Reserve Roussanne, High Plains, Texas. “Winemaker Kim McPherson does not make reserve wines unless the grapes are simply outstanding, and this limited production wine is a particularly special find on our list. This is what Roussanne should be!”
Considering that the menu at Dai Due is strictly committed to using seasonal, locally grown ingredients, a philosophy for which Austin chef Jesse Griffiths has garnered a well-respected reputation, it was only fitting that the wine (and beer) list be exclusively devoted to Texas wines. “I honestly didn’t think we would be able to do it when we first began,” confesses beverage director Caroline Forbes. “But when you recognize grapes as an agricultural product just like everything else we bring into the restaurant, I realized it wouldn’t be Dai Due if we didn’t serve wines that were made from grapes grown in Texas. We had a little pushback at first. Many people had a bad experience with Texas wine a decade or so ago and have written them off completely. But we love the chance to introduce them to just how far Texas wines have come, and we haven’t failed at giving our guests something they really like once they’ve tried it.”
Forbes’s Top Pick: 2017 Lewis Wines Botrytized Chenin Blanc, High Plains, Texas. “This is just a lovely dessert wine on all levels. It has this beautiful honey character on the palate, but it’s balanced by the crisp vibrancy you expect from Chenin Blanc.”
Category: Off the Beaten Path
It makes sense that the state’s largest cities would claim the lion’s share of the clout for a story like this, but we couldn’t discount the efforts of restaurants located in more rural outposts. It’s always a happy surprise when you find diamonds in the rough throughout the state that are dedicated to offering guests a truly exceptional wine experience.
This new Dripping Springs outpost offers guests a truly unique experience with its playful menu of Asian, Latin American, and decidedly Texan fare. But it’s the wine list that serves as a particularly happy find for this small town west of Austin. Offering a broad range of Old World and New World finds in just a few short pages, this list balances the rich concentration of flavor from the dining menu with a vibrant, versatile wine selection both by the glass and by the bottle. “Our wine list reflects our goal to create an experience and tell a story in everything that we do. Each of our wines are selected not only for their unique flavor profiles but for the story behind each of their labels,” says general manager Adam Cormany.
Tillie’s Top Pick: 2017 Domaine de Pallus Chinon, Messanges Rouge, Loire Valley, France. This beautifully structured Cabernet Franc is fragrant with tart cranberry, brambly fruit, and smoky grilled herbs. Its palate is light and playful, with a weighty mid-palate and a spicy finish.
Since it opened in 2014, this little bistro tucked away just off of Main Street has become its own destination within the Hill Country destination town of Fredericksburg, serving up contemporary takes on traditional German cuisine as a nod to the town’s original settlers. Likewise, its wine menu is chock-full of wine selections not only from Germany but from surrounding Germanic regions such as Austria’s Wachau and Niederöstereich, Italy’s Alto Adige, and the Alsace region of France. “We want people to have greater access to wines from these regions that they may not be familiar with,” says beverage director John Washburne.
Washburne’s Insider Tips: “We’ve taken a lot of time to build our reserve list with verticals of past vintages from producers like Weingut Nikolaihof from Wachau and a 2003 Hexamer Riesling Spätlese that’s a steal. It’s really a great way to experience how these wines age.”
With an eye toward luxury and relaxation, this Brenham-area resort has long attracted clientele from all over the world. With an extensive list featuring a diversity of wine regions, beverage director Rebecca Beaman has balanced her menu with a deep selection of Burgundy and Bordeaux, along with iconic regions throughout Europe, as well as some of the very best from the New World.
Dos Brisas’s Insider Tips: Don’t overlook special finds from South Africa such as a 2014 Klein Constantia Estate Red, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, and Malbec, or the bold richness of Southern Italy found in the 1995 Taurino “Patriglione” Salento Rosso, a blend of Negroamaro and Malvasia Nero. And be sure to take advantage of the seasonal wine features at the beginning of the menu. Here you’ll find a special selection offered for seasonal pairing with the dining menu at a great price.
These charming sibling locales have come a long way since they first opened nearly twenty years ago. Back then, white zinfandel was the most common order, but today, with the help of co-owner and wine enthusiast Mike McCathern, the wine list (which is the same at both locations) has evolved with the ever-maturing palates of his regular customers. “People have become much more sophisticated with their wine choices, so we’ve really tried to push the limits in this small town,” says McCathern.
McCathern’s Insider Tips: “I’ve been thrilled to see that the rosé trend has finally taken off here. People aren’t afraid to drink pink anymore! I can’t seem to keep the Frescobaldi Ali, Ammiraglia Alie, a Tuscan rosato, in stock,” says McCathern. “But I’ve also loved sharing the WillaKenzie Estate Pinot Gris from Willamette Valley to those who love pinot grigio. And the M. Chapoutier La Bernadine Châteauneuf du Pape has such a great story behind it. I love that it’s named for Chapoutier’s daughter, who is blind. As a tribute to her, the label is also in braille.”
A shorter version of this article originally appeared in the December 2018 issue of Texas Monthly with the headline “The Best Lists.” Subscribe today.