Houston's 10 Best Destinations for Wine

Categories: Top 10, Wine Time

best_wine_list_houston_texas.jpg
Photo by Jeremy Parzen
While Houston has rapidly become one of the nation's top locales for creative and innovative dining in the U.S., the rest of the country still thumbs its nose at the city's wine programs. That's about to change.
For decades, the Houston wine scene has been dominated by the California powerhouse: "California Chardonnay," "Napa Cab" and "Merlot" (in quotes because it denotes Merlot from California) have long been been Houston's go-to wines. And in many circles, they still are the most frequently ordered wines within the city's ever growing mosaic of restaurants.

But in the late 1990s, as wine awareness began to evolve in the U.S. and more and more wines from Europe and other parts of the world became available here, the Houston wine scene started to grow and expand with the rest of the country. By the late 2000s, the city's wine culture had firmly established itself as a leading destination for fine wine, however unknown that development may have been outside of Texas. Today, no wine industry observer can deny that we are in the thick of a genuine wine awakening in south Texas.

Many wine drinkers first experience new bottles when they dine in restaurants or sample a few glasses at a wine bar, either through a sommelier's recommendation or because a label intrigues them. They taste, they drink and they then buy a case of what they like. They become demanding wine drinkers, and the local wine world becomes all the better for it. So one great way to discover new and interesting wines is to look for restaurants and wine bars with diverse and competent wine lists.

Here's our list of the "Best Houston Destinations for Wine," in no particular order, chosen because they won't disappoint when it comes to a glass or bottle to pair with your food. And a visit to any of them will definitely be a learning experience.

(One note: "Special occasion" and "power dining" restaurants have been purposely omitted. Places like Tony's, Brennan's, Pappas Bros. Steakhouse, RDG/Bar Annie and the more recently arrived Phillipe have and will always have some of our country's best wine programs. We will visit them at a later date.)

The criteria for this list (which will be updated periodically) are as follows:

Affordability

Does the wine program offer selections for "everyday" wine pairing?

Splurgeability

Does the list include "special occasion" bottles for a Saturday-night anniversary celebration?

Food Friendliness

Does the wine selection work well with the menu? Does it offer an ample selection of "ready to drink now" wines?

Education

Does the wine list teach the guest something new about wine?

Style

Does the wine list express a theme or an aesthetic?

Service

Is the overall wine experience enhanced by the skill of the sommelier and the servers?

Je ne sais quoi

Does the list make the guest feel sexy?

Location Info

Tony's Restaurant

3755 Richmond Ave., Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Brennan's of Houston

3300 Smith, Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Pappas Bros. Steakhouse

5839 Westheimer Rd., Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

RDG + Bar Annie

1800 Post Oak Blvd., Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Philippe - CLOSED

1800 Post Oak Blvd., Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

13 Celsius Wine Bar

3000 Caroline, Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Brasserie 19

1962 W. Gray St., Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Americas Restaurant

2040 W. Gray St., Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Amazon Grill

5114 Kirby Drive, Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Artista

800 Bagby, Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Catalan Food & Wine Bar - CLOSED

5555 Washington St., Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Osteria Mazzantini

2200 Post Oak Blvd., Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Underbelly

1100 Westheimer Road, Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

The Pass

807 Taft St., Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Provisions

807 Taft, Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Camerata at Paulie's

1834 Westheimer Road, Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Cafe Rabelais

2442 Times Blvd., Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Hugo's

1600 Westheimer Rd., Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Backstreet Cafe

1103 S. Shepherd Dr., Houston, TX

Category: Music


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31 comments
Chuck
Chuck

Pappas Bros. Steakhouse is the only Wine Spectator Grand Award winner in Houston.

Jgravnr
Jgravnr

Jeremy, if you've been to Poscol and 'like it a lot' why have you never written about it? And why now the sudden excitement to show an abrupt interest and even meet random commenters there?

And ditto with Da Marco, L'Olivier, Dolce Vita. When I google your name in combination with all these places, I come up with zip. Is it really coincidence that you've just happened to overlook them?


uncsig
uncsig

No love for Reef? Broader, deeper and every bit as reasonable (if not more so) than Brasserie 19.

viviana28
viviana28

Hey! I like the idea of meeting at some of these places for a glass of wine on you, and learning bunches, of course. Is this an open invitation??? yes, yes, or just a select few who are favored with your generosity?

Peggy
Peggy

Also - I'm going to make a personal plea - I would LOVE to see a "best 10 BTG lists" article (no exclusions on type of location).  It's rare for places that have strength in their bottle lists to impress *and* deliver value BTG. Variety and quality are making strides - more places are starting to succeed on these measures - but value often lags. Houston BTG wine markup is, in general,  outrageous.

Peggy
Peggy

I think it's a unfair to say Italian wines lacked a champion in Houston prior to Osteria Mazzanteni. While DaMarco might fall into your "special occasion" dining category (and their BTG prices are outrageous), the lists at Dolce Vita and Vinoteca Poscol easily deserve a mention by your measures of affordability, food friendliness, and theme.  I'd love to hear what you felt made Osteria a stronger choice.
Also - while maybe not in the top 10, both Giacomo's and Divino's are great for down to earth, affordable italian with a decent variety.

e_sandler
e_sandler

There's no disputing Jeremy's knowledge of and passion for wine, but I wouldn't consider Camerata or 13C to be "restaurants." 

Chet_Bellman
Chet_Bellman

If my short-term memory weren't so faulty, I'd swear this piece was headlined: 'Houston's 10 Best Restaurants for Wine'.

In which case I'd suggest L'Olivier in Montrose. A great Euro/Tex/French list, and he sells at a third of the price the same power bottles that Tony's features.

Mai Pham
Mai Pham topcommenter

I'm so with you on this criteria. It's more than what's on paper. 

"Je ne sais quoi

Does the list make the guest feel sexy?"

mern721
mern721

No mention of Shepard Ross of either Glass Wall or Brooklyn Athletic Club? GW has recommendations for each item on the menu as well! We've always found something new and different.....

Flaggler
Flaggler

I'm astonished that you would omit all three of Marco Wiles' restaurants, while including 13C and Camerata which aren't restaurants at all, but more wine bars with snacks. Do you have a problem with Dolce Vita, Poscol or Da Marco...one that you can talk about?

booksey
booksey

@Chuck  

Shows great creativity to feature wines that Wine Spectator likes, and win the Grand Award. Let's hope that Houston wine drinkers and somms aim higher than sheep or lemmings when composing a list.

budcai
budcai

@Jgravnr  

Let's just be appreciative of good wine writing and not ask to many questions, or weave too many conspiracies, ok?

DoBianchi
DoBianchi

@viviana28 it's an open invitation. Here's my email: jparzen@gmail.com. I love tasting and talking about wine! 

DoBianchi
DoBianchi

@Peggy that's a great idea. I'll talk to the HP managing editor about it.

DoBianchi
DoBianchi

@Peggy Yes, Da Marco fell in the "institution" category. I've been to Poscol and I like the place a lot. And it's exciting to see an all-Italian list like there. I wanted there to be one all-Italian entry on this list and Mazzantini got the slot because it has greater depth in terms of classic vs. funky. Poscol tends to go all classic. I'll meet you there any time for a glass if you like. Thanks for reading.

fritz
fritz

@Peggy 

It's exceedingly rare that Jeremy will mention ANY restaurateurs who were once associated with Tony Vallone. I'm thinking of Marco Wiles or Olivier Ciesielski in particular, as the other posters have alluded to. I'm not sure if he has an adverse opinion about their food and wine, or what's up exactly. Insight anyone?

....and Peggy I agree about Giacomo's; she's always had a great reasonably priced list.

DoBianchi
DoBianchi

@Chet_Bellman Olivier is another one I looked at really carefully (I've been there as well and the list is available online). Even though the menu is well priced and Olivier's cooking can be amazing, the list tends to be more geared to the big spender. It wins for splurgeability but fell short in the affordability. That's not to say that it's not a great list. It just didn't have the right balance for this list. I'll meet you there anytime you like for a glass on me. 

DoBianchi
DoBianchi

@Mai Pham I am in a French rock band, after all. ;) Thanks for being here, Mai! 

DoBianchi
DoBianchi

@Flaggler honestly, I've had dinner at 13 Celsius and Camerata. So in my view of the world, they are restaurants. Re. the Wiles group, see my note above for Peggy's comment. Thanks for reading. 

DoBianchi
DoBianchi

@booksey I like the list at Pappas even though it can be overpriced at times. But that's why I excluded "trophy lists" from this list. It's going to be really cool to follow Steven MacDonald and what he'll do with it now that he's wine director. 

Peggy
Peggy

@DoBianchi I would have seen that as education rather than theme but appreciate the insight anyway.  As for a glass at Poscol - you're on!  Maybe we can get Chris Reid to join us and we can wax poetic on italian wine all night long. :) 
BTW - wrt to your comment to Vivianna, you might consider doing a series of open sessions / HH  (not on you, of course!) at various places - maybe highlighting values or specialities of their list, or maybe choosing a place that excels in a certain area to highlight that type of wine.  (I wish I could join in on HSA wednesdays at Camerata to fulfill this need, but the day job doesn't allow).

Peggy
Peggy

Fritz - I don't know his background and really don't give a hoot. I never agree 100% with top 10 lists and take any list or article with a big fat grain of YMMV.  I understood why he didn't highlight Tony's or DaMarco here (being in the special category). He was straightforward about why he chose Mazzantini instead, and if/when I get down there to try it I'll judge for myself. 
I agree James Watkins did a great job at L'Olivier - intriguigingly, often what he had around off the list for HH was even better than the usual offers. His work at Cordua got a nod here which seems fitting - the Somm responsible for that great wine list is still doing great work.

booksey
booksey

@DoBianchi @e_sandler  

Why are words from Eric that disagree with you "kind words", whereas the other words that disagree with you the words of "ridiculous haters"?

 

DoBianchi
DoBianchi

@genevieve @DoBianchi @viviana28 Yes, the first bottle is on me. That's roughly 12 tasting pours (and/or 6 glasses). I'll be there and am looking forward to it. :)

WRT all the ridiculous haters here, my question is _why don't any of you post with your real name_? My name is Jeremy Parzen and I love wine and I love talking about wine and I love sharing wine. 

I simply didn't think that Poscol is one of the top 10 destinations for wine in Houston. That's all. End of story. 

If any single one of you wants to come out of your anonymity and meet me for a glass of wine at Poscol on Saturday, I'll be there. Otherwise, enough with the Hatorade. 

And yes, I'll handicap the wine list at Poscol for post here. 

genevieve
genevieve

@DoBianchi @viviana28  

I'll be there at 6pm at Poscol if you're buying! And educatin'. Is that you in the picture? I can recognize you that way?

DoBianchi
DoBianchi

@Peggy let's meet at Poscol on Saturday at 6 p.m. Does that work? An open invitation... jparzen@gmail.com is the best way to be in contact... 

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