10 Best Wine Bars for Drinking AND Eating in Houston

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Photo from VoicePlaces
The Italian hoagie at Camerata is far more filling than artisan cheese and just as delicious.
I'm what one might call a wine bar aficionado. I hit up spots for vino around town a lot. I usually go out around dinner time, though, and I find myself in an unfortunate predicament. I'm buzzed and starving, and the only food on the menu is a dainty $25 artisan meat and cheese platter.

I get that certain meats and cheeses pair well with wine. I get that many people eat before they go out and might just want a snack later in the evening. I understand all this. But sometimes I just want a damn pizza or burger with my glass of Tempranillo.

Fortunately, there are a number of wine bars in town that emphasize not only good grapes but also good, hearty food, for those of us who realize halfway through the evening that all we really want is some freaking pasta.

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Navigating Chianti With the Houston Press Tasting Panel

Categories: Wine Time

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Photo by Jeremy Parzen
Chianti is arguably one of the world's most recognizable wines. But what goes into a Chianti?
Just say the word Chianti and you evoke winding roads lined with cypress trees and old limestone farmhouses in what is perhaps Italy's most photographed and photogenic region, Tuscany.

Whether it's mentions in pop culture (who can forget Hannibal Lecter's infamous pairing?) or the straw-flasked bottles that once hung from the mom-and-pop Italian joints that we all loved as kids, Chianti is arguably one of the world's most recognizable wines. No matter the level of wine appreciation, enthusiasm or connoisseurship, nearly everyone has tasted a Chianti at some point in his or her adult life.

Chianti is produced in a number of Tuscan appellations or DOCs (which stands for denominazione d'origine controllata or designation of controlled origin, a classification system created in the 1960s and based on the French AOC or appellation d'origine contrôlée). These include Chianti dei Colli Fiorentini (in Florence province), Chianti dei Colli Senesi (Siena province) and Chianti Rufina, named after the village, one of the highest-elevation townships in Chianti, where it is made.

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Soter Winery and Akaushi: A Tasty Pairing

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Photo by Mai Pham
Got beef? Pepper-crusted akaushi ribeye steak is melt-in-your mouth tender at 60 Degrees Mastercrafted

Eclipsed by the street construction taking place on the stretch of Westheimer Road directly in front of it, 60 Degrees Mastercrafted, the restaurant by master chef Fritz Gitschner, opened this past November to little fanfare. Since then, however, the roads have cleared, and a new patio has been finished just in time to usher in the lovely spring weather. Suddenly, like the parting of clouds to let the sunshine through, it's as if the spotlight has finally been turned onto this River Oaks restaurant.

Certainly, that's the feeling I got when I arrived to a full house recently for an inaugural wine dinner featuring Soter Vineyards. Organized by Vanessa Treviño-Boyd, the beverage director at the restaurant, the evening promised to be filled with Pinot Noir and Gitscher's brand of "ranch-to-table" dining featuring steaks made of heart-healthy akaushi beef.

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Texas Wineries Bring Home Gold in Dallas Competition

Categories: Wine Time

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Photo by Courtney Perry
Masters of Wine Charles Curtis (center) and Liz Thach (right) were among the impressive list of high-profile judges at this year's Dallas Morning News-TexSom Wine Competition, held in Dallas.
The organizers of the Dallas Morning News-TexSom Wine Competition announced this week the winners of the highly regarded annual event, now in its 30th year.

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How to 'Send Back' a Bottle of Wine at a Restaurant

Categories: Wine Time

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Photo by Jeremy Parzen
Outrageous behavior in a restaurant won't aid you in sending back a corked or otherwise defective bottle of wine.
Looking for more wine knowledge? Check out more of our "how-to wine" series.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about how I am often treated disparagingly by sommeliers in fine-dining restaurants. It's sad, but it's true.

A week before last, while in Atlanta to deliver a talk at a conference, I was a guest at the organizer's dinner table in one of the city's top dining destinations. He handed me the wine list and said, "Order whatever you like."

I kid you not: The waiter refused to bring me not just one, but two of the bottles that I ordered.

"You won't like that wine," he said of the first, an oxidative white from Puffeney, a top producer in Jura, France. The second, he told me, wasn't ready to drink. It was the current vintage of Barbaresco Rabajà by Produttori del Barbaresco, the label best represented in my own personal wine cellar.

After much cajoling, I finally convinced him that I knew both of the wines well, and he acquiesced.

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10 Years After its Inception, Rodeo Uncorked! Brings in More People Than Ever

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Photo courtesy Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo
Think the rodeo is all about livestock? Think again.
When you think of the rodeo, what do you picture?

Cowboys? Longhorns? Children lassoing mutton? Giant turkey legs?

How 'bout wine? Cabernet Sauvignon from Chile? Sparkling Rosé from New Zealand? What about Marchesi Antinori Tenuta Guado al Tasso "Tenuta Belvedere" Bolgheri Superiore from Tuscany?

If the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo doesn't make you think about wine, maybe it should. This year marks the tenth anniversary of the Rodeo Uncorked! Wine Show, and this year, it was bigger and better than ever.

"It appears that adding a wine show to our event couldn't have been timed any better," says Joel Cowley, president and CEO of the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. "A 2013 Gallup poll indicates that consumers are nearly equally divided between beer and wine as their beverage of choice, and the number of Texas wineries has grown from 46 in 2001 to over 270 today."

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Osteria Mazzantini's Samantha Porter Tells Stories With Wine

Categories: Wine Time

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Photo by Jeremy Parzen
Don't let her youth fool you--this young lady is a wine wiz!
This week's cafe review takes a look at Osteria Mazzantini, a new-ish Italian restaurant from Mockingbird Bistro's John Sheely. I first went there on opening night, and though I enjoyed the food, I found myself most impressed by the creative and interesting wine list and the young sommelier who had written it for her first real job as wine guru of an upscale restaurant.

When I visited to review the restaurant, I found the food at Osteria Mazzantini had improved and that the wine list was as wonderful as ever. Sommelier Samantha Porter, still in her early 20s, has crafted a wine list that reads like a book. The descriptions of the wine-by-the-glass options and different varietals are so interesting that I always keep reading, even after I already know what I want.

"I just wanted to make something approachable," Porter says. "I wanted it to be thought out, not like I just put a bunch of wines on a piece of paper. If John was going to give me the opportunity to create my own wine list, I wanted to own it. I want people to fall in love with it like I did."

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How Do You Know a Wine Is Corked (& How Do You Send It Back)?

Categories: Wine Time

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Photo by Tracie Parzen
Conservative studies estimate that 5 to 6 percent of wine is affected by some sort of defect. That's roughly one in 20 bottles.
Click here for previous entries in our "how-to wine" series.

The following is a true story.

A few years ago, my wife, Tracie P -- then a wine sales rep -- and I were running late for a dinner with the upper-echelon management team of the company for whom she worked, one of the major players in the Texas wine scene.

We were stressed. We weren't just having dinner with her boss; we were having dinner with the boss of her boss's boss.

Thanks to a navigation mishap, we arrived 45 minutes late to the swank Dallas restaurant where the dinner was held. The table of ten leading Texas wine professionals had already finished a first bottle of white wine and the group was enjoying a bottle of red, for the record, a vineyard-designated Montepulciano d'Abruzzo.


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How to Order a Bottle of Wine in a Restaurant (Without Feeling Like an Idiot)

Categories: Wine Time

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Photo by Jeremy Parzen
A good restaurant with a solid wine program should never let you drink a bad bottle of wine.
Please click here for previous entries in our "how-to wine" series.

How can I put this delicately?

I get treated like shit by sommeliers more often than I'd like to admit.

I guess I just have a face that screams wine idiot. It's hard to believe, but sadly, it's true.

As much as I hate to write this (and thankfully, there are many wonderful exceptions to this generalization), we are living in a nascent era of heightened wine awareness in this country when wine connoisseurship often trumps a spirit of hospitality.


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No Ren Fest? No Problem! Gratifi Brings More Mead to Houston

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Photos by Kaitlin Steinberg
These are just a few of the many meads on the market today.
When I hear "mead," I think of the Renaissance Festival.

So I was surprised earlier this week to be contacted by Kevin Strickland, the owner of a newly revamped Gratifi, saying he had just gotten in some mead, which is essentially honey wine.

"Do people actually drink that?" I wondered. I mean, when they aren't dressed like bar wenches and knights in shining armor? Didn't mead go out of style, oh, I don't know, back when we discovered the world isn't flat?

After doing a little research, I learned that mead is still very much a thing. I have friends who are home brewers who dabble in mead. Spec's carries a wide variety of meads--if you consider five different brands a wide variety, which, by mead standards, I do. Flying Saucer currently has a mead for sale by the bottle, and Blue Nile Ethiopian Restaurant stocks tej, a traditional Ethiopian honey wine.


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