Best Bang-For-the-Buck Wines in Houston Restaurants & Bars
Everyone loves a good value, but when it comes to wine it’s not always a great idea to aim for the cheapest glass or bottle on the list. However, sometimes it’s fine! Sommeliers at Houston’s finest restaurants and wine bars all have favorite under-appreciated and under-valued regions they enjoy putting onto their lists. We talked to several Houston wine professionals and they revealed wines that offer both great taste and true value for the dollar.
13 Celsius, 3000 Caroline: General manager Adele Corrigan offers a Chenin Blanc from Touraine in France’s Loire Valley: the 2016 Domaine des Hauts-Baigneux “Les Chênes.” “This white has acid for days,” she says. “It has a complex mouthfeel with nice juicy lemon, apple and pear fruit flavors but is still dry. It’s both serious for the dinner table and easy for the patio.” Corrigan says it’s the perfect partner for seafood and vegetables, although she notes that it’s great all on its own. 13 Celsius sells it for $42 for a bottle. Looking for a red? Corrigan calls the 2018 La Miraja Ruche Castagnole Monferrato from Italy’s Piedmont region “the gateway wine to northern Italian reds.” Those familiar with Nebbiolo will find it comparable, with less abrasive tannin and more fruit. “It’s perfect for the summer time and with notes of bright cherries and roses,” says Corrigan. “There is also a polished elegance to the finish. I think this is for Pinot Noir lovers who want to try something different and a little more earthy. I can drink this all day.” It’s $45 a bottle.
Backstreet Cafe, 1103 South Shepherd: Sommelier Sean Beck loves introducing guests to great values. “We even put together a section on the wine list called ‘Hostel Wines’ where I put these off-the-wall wines that, because they are lesser-known regions or grapes, are far undervalued for the experience they deliver,” he said. One of those is the Kloof Street Old Vine Chenin Blanc from Swartland, South Africa, available for $34 a bottle. “This has the elegance of texture and length of finish you would associate with a much more expensive Chardonnay,” he says. “There are touches of oak that add to the richness and enhance the stone fruit, and fragrant pear qualities. It glides on the palate and finishes with beautiful tart citrus flavors and herbs. I love this with our Red Corn Chicken Enchiladas. The fruit and flavor play with the smoke and the spice of the dish and brightens the corn we use in the souffle.” Beck’s also a fan of the Morgan Cotes Du Crow Red Blend from Monterey, California. It’s also $34 a bottle and Beck calls it “a playful and juicy American take on the Cotes du Rhones.” It has mouthwatering purple and red fruit, and Beck recommends pairing it with Backstreet’s Bacon-wrapped Quail over Andouille Dressing.
Diana, 800 Bagby: General Manager Marcello Liberona calls the Luigi Bosca Malbec from Argentina’s Mondoza region the perfect wine for lovers of big, California reds who are looking for a value. It’s available for $50 a bottle at the Hobby Center restaurant and it’s a perfect partner with the prime rib. “It’s just unbelievable,” says Liberona. “It has these dark berry notes with hints of chocolate and Cuban cigars, and it’s dry with just a little vanilla spice.” The wine offers an excellent alternative to its big red cousins like California Cabernets and French Bordeaux, which sell for nearly double the price.
Decatur Bar and Pop-Up Factory, 2310 Decatur: Sommelier and wine consultant Shepard Ross calls the Southold Farm + Cellar 2016 Suitably Stunning sparking rose “peachy and refreshing.” It’s from the North Fork of Long Island and made with 75-percent Syrah and 25-percent Goldmuskateller. “It’s so good!” Ross raves. “And the winery only made a little bit of it.” (Translation: grab it before it’s gone.) Ross says it’s “killer” with Decatur’s Malaysian Fried Chicken. The cost is $45 a bottle.
Étoile Cuisine et Bar, 1101 Uptown Park: Bar manager Michael Danner says that he loves the Liberation de Paris, a supple little Côtes du Rhone. “It’s a real crowd pleaser,” he says of the wine, which the restaurant sells for $36 a bottle. “There’s a touch of wood in it, and deep, dark fruit.” He calls it a terrific alternative to Bordeaux reds, which can easily sell for three or four times the price. Anyone looking for a sparkler for the summer, he says, should consider the Kraemer Blanc de Blanc, which he calls “crisp and bone dry.” He uses it for all of Etoile’s cocktails that call for a sparkling wine. It’s $32 a bottle and $8 a glass.
Nobie’s, 2048 Colquitt: Sommelier and general manager Sara Stayer digs the Brunn Gruner Veltliner from Austria, which sells for $9 a glass and $45 a bottle, a complete deal since it’s a full liter, not the traditional 375 mL bottles. (Pro tip: it’s on the Happy Hour menu for $5 a glass). A flinty stunner with a lot of stone fruit running around in it, pair it with the Dilly Bread or Bouq’s and Toast.
Ouzo Bay, 4444 Westheimer: Beverage director Evan Turner says the 2016 Antonopoulos Moschofilero, with its hints of baking spices and jasmine, is an iconic representation of the grape. The wine is from Greece’s Peloponnese, and it’s bone dry with a lot of tropical fruit. “It smells like a Gewurztraminer, but on the palate it becomes like a Loire Valley Sauvignon Blanc,” he says. “This a glorious summertime wine.” It sells for $40 a bottle, and Turner recommends it with everything from the restaurant’s spanakopita to all of the seafood and lighter Greek dishes on Ouzo Bay’s menu.
Public Services Wine & Whiskey, 2020 Travis: Owner and sommelier Justin Vann knows his pick for a great value might be an odd choice, but he’s sticking to it, anyway. “I’m a huge fan of all the ciders from Eric Bordelet in Normandy France,” he says. “I’d argue these are pretty much the best ciders made in the world.” His recommendation is the Cidre Brut, which goes for $10 a glass. Slightly dry, with crisp, juicy apple notes, Vann says “for the quality of the fruit going into it an the craftsmanship, this is truly one of the great values in the wine world.”
Roma, 2347 University: Shanon Scott recommends the Bellaria Irpinia Coda di Volpe, selling for $42 a bottle. He calls “one of my favorite white wines.” Coda di Volpe is an ancient vine variety grown on the rocky slopes of Mount Vesuvius. Scott first sampled it on a trip to Campania a few years back and couldn’t stop thinking about it. Bright straw in color, it begins with a nose of hazelnut laced with velvety florals. It’s soft on the palate, with rippling notes of citrus and the tiniest hints of baked apples. The wine’s easy acidity makes it a terrific food partner. “Italians match the food they’re eating with the wine they’re drinking,” he explained. “And this is the perfect marriage with most of our dishes.” He recommends having it with the Squid Ink Pasta with Seafood or the Smoked Gnocchi with Shrimp.