Presenting the Wine Guy Awards
Chris Shepherd toasts his favorite Houston spots in first-ever CultureMap Wine Guy Awards
Alright here it is! Every October (well, starting this year), I will release The Biggest Article Of The Year!
I would call this my own CultureMap Wine Guy Awards — if I had an award to give, but I don’t — so I’m just going to give you my favorite places that I drank wine in Houston over the past year.
Lists are also meant to cause controversy and clickbait, but you know what? It’s just my opinion. This city has a lot of restaurants, and I haven’t been to all of them or even close to a lot of them so there is that. Also, I’m just one human, and nobody has bestowed upon me the right to even claim this as an award, but I’m literally the only person writing about wine regularly for a news outlet in this city — so, I guess that makes it official.
These are in no particular order, because folks are all trying to run restaurants and make people have delightful experiences and memories so I want to take nothing away from any of them. Everyone running a restaurant in this city is doing hard work, and I just love them all for choosing to do that. I appreciate all of them. Let’s get going.
Pappas Bros Steakhouse (both locations are different and amazing)
When friends come in from out of town, this restaurant is awesome. The depth of bottles on the list is, well, amazing. The wine list is a novel that I love to read. Whether you want to start with a bottle of 2015 Domaine Roulot Auxey-Duresses 1er Cru and a shrimp cocktail or 1992 Diamond Creek Lake Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon with that beautiful bone-in ribeye, don’t forget to add jalapeños to your au gratin potatoes.
This restaurant elegantly graces the list this year because it should be recognized for not only being awesome but helping me conform to my lifestyle of day drinking! Let’s not ever forget that all bottles are half off at lunch and Sunday dinner. Thank you to June Rodil and team!
That list is chock full of delicious items, and they make it super accessible — wines that I have always wanted to try but now I can enjoy at a great price! Felipe Riccio is a member of the “Band of Four,” one of only a few chefs in this city that have focused not only on food but have studied and truly love wine. Felipe and his team have put together delicious bites like Focaccia di Recco and the charred bean salad that absolutely sing with a bottle of 2021 Dauvissat chablis or 2014 Yves Gangloff Barbarine Cote-Rotie. Don’t sleep on the gelato either, just sayin’.
ElRo Pizza & Crudo
Next on the list is a newcomer to the scene, one I’ve been waiting for quite some time. Terrence Gallivan is also part of the “Band of Four.” He buys the delicious wines on the list, so he understands what goes with the food on the menu that he creates. Smart is an understatement. Making decisions is the hardest part whether it is the tuna on toast and the saltimboca sausage with the 2021 Domaine de la Bastide, Bandol or the mushroom pizza and a hoagie with the 2017 Giacomo Fenocchio Barolo or just crush it on the patio with some friends and do it all. Can’t go wrong with any of it.
Giacamo’s Cibo and Vino
Next up is a standard for Lindsey and me. Nothing says a good Wednesday night like sitting down to Gamberi Al Diavola and pasta carbonara like a bottle of literally anything on this amazing list, priced like a champ! It’s so affordable and delicious — get there asap and fulfill your destiny! Lynette [Giacomo’s chef and owner] has a great palate, and her taste is impeccable. The restaurant looks like a retail shop when you walk in. There is wine everywhere, and I love it!
Since we are talking Italian, let’s head up to the Heights for an amazing dinner. Ryan Pera and Leonora Varvoutis have this place just humming along and have done that for quite some time. Sit down and get into a bottle of 2021 Caruso & Minini Grillo and some of the best chicken wings around, the always amazing cacio e pepe, or that delicious chicken that is charred in that Josper oven with a bottle of whatever Leonora says. She is one of the great wine and service minds in the city and should be acknowledged for that. Bravo!
I can’t leave this place off my list. I feel like I am making money when I go and open a bottle at this beautiful place, because they have some of the best prices anywhere in Houston. The food is great, the vibe is great and, well, the service is better than great. Get in and grab some shrimp egg rolls and a smoked brisket katsu sandwich to eat and a bottle of Ruinart Grand Cru Blanc de Blanc. When it’s time to head to the house, grab some Kosta Browne and a Magnum of 2013 Marchesi do Barolo, because they also sell all their wine retail!
While we are in Rice Village let’s head over to this restaurant for some of the best hummus, salatim, pita and kebabs in the city. They have put together a wine list that really is great for the menu. Grab yourself a bottle of Vilmart & Co Grand Cellier 1er cru Brut or try something different like 2020 Zorah Karasi Areni from Armenia.
Little’s Oyster Bar
One of the newest places that is taking the scene by storm is this seafood restaurant and rightfully so. Chef Jason Ryczek is doing delicious food, and Robert Smith has put together a wine list that I consider a perfect pairing for the menu. Lots of sparkling wines, clean and racy white wines like Riesling, and some delicious well-rounded white wines like White Burgundy. That’s the focus, seafood is the focus, and it all makes sense to me and I appreciate it.
I love it when you find something unexpected in an unexpected place. Sometimes I want to go out and get delicious chicken wings, smoked turkey, brisket, killer sides and a bottle of Stolpman La Cuadrilla. That is when I go visit another member of the “Band of Four,” Erin Smith, co owner of Feges BBQ. Wine just cuts through the smoke and richness of barbecue and makes it just shine. She’s put together a small but thoughtful list of wines that really sing! I also need to remind folks that Erin and I worked together a few years back where she put together a chicken wing program for Hay Merchant that I considered one of the best I’ve ever seen and that lives on at Feges. Did someone say PB&J wings? Hell yes I did, IYKYK!
If you are looking for an off the beaten path, In a neighborhood, fun time restaurant then Nobie’s is what you are looking for, because they do it right. Here is the order: the BBQ cauliflower, the Charlie and the Pasta Factory, and the Winner Winner Chicken Dinner. Grab a fantastic Negroni to start and a bottle of 2020 Domaine Jamet Côtes du Rhône. Please don’t forget to order the olive oil cake and a delicious Amaro to end the night.
Bludorn and Navy Blue
Last but not least is what I think of as a twofer, two places that have kick ass wine lists — Bludorn and Navy Blue. These restaurants are run by Aaron Bludorn, Victoria Bludorn, and Cherif Mbodji, and they do it well.
Wine director Molly Austad has a fantastic palate and understanding of the menus at both places. The wine lists that she has put together are thoughtful and show great range, not just in style but pricing. Whichever restaurant you choose features fantastic by-the-glass selections as well and have sommeliers running around to help you make your dreams come true.
You might just find Lindsey and me posted up at the bar on a random Monday night at Bludorn, because that’s what we do on a Monday. Grab a drink from bar guy Fabio Pontes followed by some oysters and that chicken! The team already knows what we are going to order for food, but we always let Molly lead us in the right direction for the wine.
I’m gonna throw in some honorable mentions of other places I like but haven’t been to yet this year because of, you know, life: Brennan’s of Houston, Tiny Champions, State of Grace, Tony’s, Stella’s Wine Bar, Camerata, and BCN Taste & Tradition.
Again, this is my awards show, because I have always wanted an awards show. Let me know what places are on your list! Email me at Chris@Chrisshepherd.is.
By the way, the “Band of Four” is Felipe Riccio, Erin Smith, Terrence Gallivan and me [Editor’s note: four professional chefs who have also studied wine extensively and/or worked at wine bars]. ‘Til next time — drink something good. We are only on this world for a short time, enjoy it!
Contact our Wine Guy via email at email@example.com.
Chris Shepherd won a James Beard Award for Best Chef: Southwest in 2014. The Southern Smoke Foundation, a nonprofit he co-founded with his wife Lindsey Brown, has distributed more than $11 million to hospitality workers in crisis through its Emergency Relief Fund. Catch his new TV show, Eat Like a Local, every Saturday at 10 am on KPRC Channel 2.