Top 10 Wine Lists in Houston

Categories: Top 10, Wine Time

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Photo by Troy Fields
Philippe.
3. Philippe

Philippe's sommelier Vanessa Trevino Boyd has been hard at work recently, making sure that the wine program she curates remains one of the best in town. She's been hosting a collaborative guest sommelier series that's a steal at only $40 a person, and she's also transformed the ground floor of Philippe into Phil's Wine Lounge, which offers 80 choices by the glass from her fine, French list.

In keeping with her work in the Big Apple, "Trevino Boyd keeps that classic, more reserved New York-style somm service that's not as chummy as Houstonians are used to, but I love it," says Turner. "It's dedicated to what it's doing in the kitchen and pairs very well with the food -- not just wines that are really weird or got 90 points somewhere, regardless of what they're cooking."

"A lot of wine programs go 'Woo, I've got a lot of money, I can do anything!'" says Turner. Not at Philippe, where the wine list is classically structured, thoughtfully curated and captained ably by one of the few female somms in the city.

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Photo by Jeremy Parzen
A Kir-Yianni Ramnista at The Pass & Provisions.
2. The Pass & Provisions

Plenty of raves are reserved for the intelligent wine list that sommelier Fred Jones has constructed at the whimsical Pass & Provisions. "Fred has such a geeky list, but approachable," says Borel. "Maybe it's because I'm such a geek, but I always find something I love on that list."

Vann gushes that the list is "uncompromising, daring, adventurous, aggressive, esoteric," noting that he loves Jones' list "because in a town where too many wine lists play it safe, [they] are doing something few people are brave enough to do: push people out of their comfort zones. Yes, they have the most sherry by the glass in the city. Yes, they have weird grapes that you haven't heard of and can't pronounce. Yes, they ironically put Miller Hi Life in the champagne cart of the pass. But their wines aren't just cool, they're good. Sometimes those two can be at odds with one another."

Turner specifically cites Jones' approach, which is friendly and encouraging. "I once listened to Fred have a conversation with three women about wine and convinced them to buy a Cabernet Franc from the Loire Valley," Turner recalled with a chuckle. "If I had $5 for every time I've seen that happen in Houston, I'd have $5."

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Photo by Katharine Shilcutt
13 Celsius.
1. 13 Celsius

It's a nearly unanimous decision that 13 Celsius is still the gold standard for wine lists in Houston nearly 10 years after its owners renovated a 1920s-era Mediterranean-style building which once housed Jenning's Cleaners and Dyeing Shoppe.

Vann calls 13 Celsius "the best wine bar in town" for its "aggressively low markups on an extensive by the glass program that also allows tasting-sized pours." Turner agrees, adding: "Everyone else is playing for second place. Their list is amazing, it's big, it's interesting, it's curated with such love and care. You go in there and speak to anyone who works there and it's like they made that list."

"Mike [Sammons] and Adele [Corrigan] gravitate towards French and Italian selections -- both classic and the freaky stuff," says Vann. "Plus they also have a killer beer list, and it is the best place in town to go knock back a few bottles of Basque Sidra out of the authentic Porron decanter." Adds Turner with an approving laugh: "And they only carry one American Chardonnay on that list."



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Location Info

Underbelly

1100 Westheimer Road, Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Brennan's of Houston

3300 Smith, Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Vic & Anthony's Steakhouse

1510 Texas St., Houston, TX

Category: Music

Divino

1830 W. Alabama, Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Cafe Rabelais

2442 Times Blvd., Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Hugo's

1600 Westheimer Rd., Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Uchi

904 Westheimer Rd., Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Kata Robata Sushi & Grill

3600 Kirby, Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Pappas Bros. Steakhouse

5839 Westheimer Rd., Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Oxheart

1302 Nance St., Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Backstreet Cafe

1103 S. Shepherd Dr., Houston, TX

Category: Music

Philippe - CLOSED

1800 Post Oak Blvd., Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

The Pass

807 Taft St., Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

13 Celsius Wine Bar

3000 Caroline, Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant


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18 comments
csoakley
csoakley

Wine, shmine. Who's the girl in the pic? She's cute.

ChristopherM
ChristopherM

Wine and food aren't about 'objectivity', blackjackdavid and Hungriterri. Love isn't objective, and neither is food, nor vacations, nor art. Your call for some sense of 'objectivity' strips the romantic mystery and personality from life like a bow-tied George Will waiting to weigh in about the exact amount of marrow in a delicious appetizer of bones.

Make a case, but pls not a clubfooted one, not one that lacks the very thing that we celebrate in great nuanced wines. Read Kermit Lynch before Robert Parker, and don't take Parker's numbers so seriously.

adriennebyard
adriennebyard

13 Celsius not only has one of the best wine lists in the city, I'd defend it to say it has one of the best wine lists in the country. I'd rather sit at 13 Celsius than 95% of the wine bars in New York City.

And to those saying this isn't "objective" enough because Oxheart and Backstreet are on the list, you're clearly not versed enough to realize that those choices are obvious - with or without sommelier input.

mern721
mern721

I can't believe The Glass Wall wasn't even an honorable mention! Shepard Ross has introduced us to many fine wines through the years and was one of the first to make a wine pairing suggestion under each offering on the menu!

pirandello
pirandello

I think Olivier at L'Olivier has assembled a thoughtful list with the help of James Watkins. They have a wide range, from stuff on tap to the famous big name impress-an-oil-guy-lawyer type of wines (for about 35% less than Tony's!!).

Also harbor a warm place for Feast's tiny, but well-chosen list, with it's nod toward Spain. 

jimbo1126
jimbo1126

This was a fascinating read. I've never really studied wine or given thought to how well it pairs with food (Stag's Leap is my gold standard), but now I want to!

Hungryterri
Hungryterri

Sorry this smacks of wine bro's patting each other on the back. Needs a soupçon of objectivity and a healthy dose of end-user input.

blackjackdavid
blackjackdavid

Nice list, but your panel needs work. You've got two out of the four "experts" who work at some of the restaurants that were rated. Need more objectivity than that.

mfsmit
mfsmit

So many "best wine list" lists only take the left-hand column into account when judging a great list, so it's refreshing that this top-10 considers the right-hand column as well.

That said, I'd give places like Reef, Brasserie 19 and Underbelly high marks for pursuing a low-markup strategy that allows diners to enjoy excellent wines at near-retail pricing, instead of paying $50 for a bottle that can be had for $15 at the supermarket.

Wade Woodard
Wade Woodard

Your list is fine if dining on an expense account.  For the rest of us, I'm surprised that Ibiza, or Coppa, or Brasserie 19 failed to make the list.  They are all owned by same group, have great wine selections  and by far have much more reasonable markups on their wine prices.

blackjackdavid
blackjackdavid

@adriennebyard Chill – don't let NYC turn you so defensive. I agree that Oxheart and Backstreet would be on anyone's rankings of top wine lists in town. In the original article, however, there was no indication that those sommeliers were objective. It read as if this was the panel's rankings. Katharine clarified in her comment below that this is merely her own personal ranking, with comments from the panel added as color commentary. That's more than fair. Only wish it would have stated that at the top.

kshilcutt
kshilcutt moderator editor

@mern721 Good call. I also like the list he's put together at Brooklyn Athletic Club, too.

Daphne26
Daphne26

@Hungryterri  

What does objectivity have to do with wine? I'd say very little, beyond the basics. Otherwise, everyone would just stock their cellar with "the Best", corresponding to Parker or Wine Spectator scores. Which is what some dull somms actually do. 

End-user input? Like a soupcon of impressions contained on Yelp or B4UEat....like Brio Tuscan Grille! Or Carrabba's! Or Rudi Lechner's. No thanks to soupcons and end-users.


kshilcutt
kshilcutt moderator editor

@Hungryterri The end-user input was me. I assembled the list and I chose the positions of the restaurants on the list. The input from the sommeliers was color commentary. I apologize if it comes across as "bro's patting each other on the back," but in my opinion it was simply industry professionals giving credit where it's due to other professionals.

kshilcutt
kshilcutt moderator editor

@blackjackdavid I apologize. I should have specified very clearly above that NONE of the sommeliers I polled mentioned their own places of employment. Not a single one.

pirandello
pirandello

@Wade Woodard

Yikes! I'm not crazy about any of those "value" choices, especially since they're all owned by the same duo. For value,  I'd go with L'Olivier, Haven, Poscol, hell, even Sorrel.

adriennebyard
adriennebyard

@blackjackdavid I don't know who you are, but I'm perfectly calm, thanks.

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