Editor's note: Long before Chris Shepherd became a James Beard Award-winning chef, he developed enough of a passion for wine to work at Brennan's of Houston as a sommelier. He maintains that interest to this day. When Chris expressed interest in writing about wine-related topics for CultureMap, we said yes.
In this week's column, he shares a few of his favorite places to drink wine in Austin. Take it away, Chris.
I spent this past weekend cooking at Aaron Franklin’s Hot Luck festival, which benefits my foundation Southern Smoke. This weekend, I tried a few new spots with great wine programs and visited a few old favorites.
I know a lot of you visit Austin frequently, so here’s my list.
Let’s start with the OG, June’s All Day. We visit June’s almost every time we’re in Austin for a bottle of wine, some shaved ham, fried chicken sandwich, and happy smiles. Word on the street (also known as their website and wine list) is that all sparkling wines are 50-percent off on Monday nights after 5 pm. Who says Mondays aren’t a good day to start drinking?
Underdog is a new spot in town that's only been open for a few weeks. It’s a bottle shop and wine bar with an eclectic list focused on small producers — some classic and some new winemakers. I’m a big fan of their selection of Veyder Malberg, which is a really amazing Austrian producer of Riesling and Gruner. They also have a fantastic selection of red Burdgundys and Rhone. Their food is Korean-inspired and delicious. The bites we had were outstanding. I look forward to going back to Underdog over and over again.
For a tried-and-true wine spot, go get in line at Birdie’s(Editor’s note: It just won Restaurant of the Year in the 2023 CultureMap Austin Tastemaker Awards). Don’t worry, it moves fast. Husband/wife team Tracy Malechek and Arjav Ezekiel run one of my favorite restaurants in Austin. Both the menu and the wine list are always. I asked Arjav to share a little insight into his wine program:
“The list changes all the time, and we’re really thoughtful about the wines we serve. We put the same effort into sourcing our wines as Tracy does with her ingredients in the kitchen, and we take a lot of cues from the weather. In the summer, we have more rosé, white, sparkling, and orange wines. In the winter, the whites become more full-bodied with more reds on the list,” he says.
“It’s a thoughtful blend of classic producers and new, fun, young guard. Too many wine lists pick a side, and it was important to us to build a list of things we’re excited about — whether it’s a cool new natty producer or a Burgundy that’s farmed correctly and been around for 100 years. We want our program to be a bridge for drinkers, introducing something new no matter what styles they typically drink.”
If you’re looking for a place you can hang out and drink wine all day or if a magnum is your speed at 12:30 pm, Lolo is your spot. It’s a killer wine shop and bar on the East side of Austin with all natural wines. The staff is very knowledgeable and can recommend anything from Pet Nats to orange wines to your large formats of happiness. Pro tip: if you have afternoon meetings, schedule them here! If you’re trying to avoid meetings, this is also the place to be.
Enough about wine! Here are two other spots that you should definitely check out.
Uptown Sports Clubis Aaron Franklin and James Moody’s new restaurant, and it’s essentially always open. Walk-ins only, 8am-2am. Here you’ll find great po-boys and gumbo, a strong cold seafood selection, and the cocktails are fantastic. Don’t come here to watch sports. The only TV in the building is an 8-inch tube TV showing black and white baseball reruns from the ‘70s.
Este is the new Mexican seafood spot from the Suerte team. Chef Fermin Nuñez has this place humming. The menu has delightful treats like seafood towers and tostadas, grilled seafood (whole turbo is a must!), and don’t sleep on the Camarones “El Ricas.” It’s the messiest dish on the menu, and it’s Chef Fermin’s favorite. It’s mine as well. The wine list rocks, too!
Enjoy Austin! Keep it weird.
Contact our Wine Guy via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Chris Shepherd won a James Beard Award for Best Chef: Southwest in 2014. Last year, he parted ways with Underbelly Hospitality, a restaurant group that currently operates four Houston restaurants: Wild Oats, GJ Tavern, Underbelly Burger, and Georgia James. The Southern Smoke Foundation, a non-profit he co-founded with his wife Lindsey Brown, has distributed more than $10 million to hospitality workers in crisis through its Emergency Relief Fund.
Photo courtesy of June's All Day