In the run-up to the Tastemaker Awards, CultureMap’s annual celebration of the best of Houston’s bar and restaurant scene, we’ve already looked at the nominees for this year’s best bars and bartenders. Now the time has come to celebrate another aspect of the beverage world: the best wine programs.
Sure, just about every restaurant serves wine, but which places do it a little better than the rest? For answers, we turned to our panel of industry experts, who chose this year's nominees based on a variety of factors. Quantity is important, of course, but a good program pairs well with the restaurant’s cuisine and offers choices at a number of price points. The staff needs to be well-trained to guide customers towards choices that they might not be familiar with.
Which program stands out from the rest? Find out April 18 at the Tastemaker Awards party. We’ll gather at Asia Society Texas to celebrate the nominees and reveal the winners. Get your tickets now before they sell out.
13 Celsius and Camerata at Paulie's
Seeing as we’ve already discussed Houston’s two best wine bars in the Bar of the Year article, this entry will be brief. Both offer an appealing selection that ranges from mainstream choices to deeper cuts designed to appeal to hard core oenophiles (and industry insiders).
First time visitors shouldn’t be afraid to put their staffs to the test. Tell them what kind of wine you usually drink, and challenge them to find something new. The results should prove both educational and enjoyable.
On their nomination ballots, some of our panelists wrote “Caracol” and others simply wrote “Sean Beck,” the longtime beverage director for the H-Town Restaurant Group that owns Caracol (as well as Hugo’s, Backstreet Cafe, Xochi, and others). Either way, our panelists recognize that Beck is a man who knows a lot about wine, spirits, and beer. At Carcol, the wine list focuses on seafood friendly vintages, including sparkling wines, riesling, and lighter reds like Pinot Noir. After all, when a menu leans towards bright, acidic flavors, covering them up with big, tannic Cabernet Sauvignon just won’t do.
It’s no surprise that our panelists opted to highlight Coltivare’s wine program. The Italian-inspired restaurant in the Heights is also up for Restaurant of the Year and Chef of the Year honors. Just as with the food features carefully selected local ingredients, Coltivare’s wine selection features small production vintages from independent wineries that are as delicious as they are affordable. General manager Jeb Stuart and his cordial staff can be counted on to offer advice on what to pair with the restaurant’s housemade charcuterie, innovative salads, or creative pizzas.
Oporto Fooding House & Wine
As its name implies, wine is just as important as food at this Midtown gem. Beverage director Samantha Porter’s list focuses on the wines of Spain and Portugal to offer a diverse array of selections that pair with chef-owner Rick Di Virgilio’s diverse menu. Diners are certain to find a number of appealing choices whether they’re sitting on the patio enjoying baked oysters or gathering with friends for a full meal in the stylish dining room.
Pappas Bros. Steakhouse
When someone is looking to splurge on a bottle of wine, both locations of this luxurious steakhouse offers lots of intriguing options from both Europe and America. Creating a good experience is more than just a matter of acquiring expensive bottles, Pappas Bros backs up its selection with some of the city’s more knowledgeable professionals: starting with Master Sommelier Jack Mason (one of only three in Houston) and Advanced Sommeliers Steven McDonald, Bill Elsey, Brandon Kerne, Chris Walter, and Lindsay Thomas.
Finding the right wine to pair with Pax Americana’s eclectic menu could be a challenge, but proprietor Shepard Ross’s deep knowledge of American varietals makes it easy. Whether a diner is searching for a couple of glasses to pair with a course or a blowout splurge for a special occasion, Ross’ wide-ranging list features lots of appealing choices. In keeping with the restaurant’s historic name, last year Ross added a section called “The Marshall Plan,” which features unusual European and South American selections.
State of Grace
That this River Oaks restaurant has been nominated for both Restaurant of the Year and Neighborhood Restaurant demonstrates that our panelists use it for both casual meals and fancy occasions. Thankfully, general manager Matt Crawford’s diverse list offers a range of options: everything from sparkling wine to pair with the restaurant’s well-regarded oyster offerings to big red for the steaks that come off the wood-fired hearth. Crawford recently became Houston’s newest Advanced Sommelier, which ensures the list will be in good hands for a long time.
Beverage director Matthew Pridgen describes Underbelly’s wine list as consisting of “wines that are produced by real families from real places.” Pridgen takes a light-hearted approach by including tasting notes from chef-owner Chris Shepherd and Houston hip hop superstar Bun B as well as his own thoughts on topics ranging from Texas wine to those ubiquitous numerical scores. Best of all, the restaurant’s wines are available for retail purchase, just in case someone can’t resist taking a bottle or two home.