First Sip: New Houston Wine Bar & European Café Opens in Memorial Green
Earlier this month, European wine bar and café VinSanto quietly opened in Memorial Green at 12525 Memorial. Co-owner Riccardo Guerreri envisions it as a neighborhood hub that focuses on off-the-beaten path wines and European food. Guests can enjoy wine and other beverages by the glass, share a bottle or purchase bottles to-go.
Guerreri, a certified sommelier, moved to Houston around 10 years ago with his wife Lynn, whom he met in Italy. Upon arriving in Texas, he opened a wine import company before joining the team at Vinology where he worked as the buyer and general manager for several years. He is in charge of the day-to-day operations at VinSanto and oversees many of the wine, food and administrative decisions. He is joined by six other partners, including his friend, mentor, lawyer, and fellow sommelier, Giorgio Calflisch — who serves as V.P. and oversees big picture decisions. On the floor you may also be greeted by co-founder and beverage professional Stephanie Kukutschka, whose bright, energetic personality and in-depth wine knowledge makes her an invaluable member of the team.
The team spent months researching areas around Houston that they thought would be receptive to the brand and did not yet have a local wine bar. When they came across the space in Memorial Green, they knew it would be a good fit. Vin Santo, which means “holy wine”, is a style of Italian wine made from grapes dried outdoors over straw mats (or on indoor racks) for many months. The wine is most often sweet, but can also be made nearly dry, and is representative of some of the “ultra-niche” wines VinSanto offers as conversation-starters.
Planning a visit? Try a couple of recommendations from the team! For a red, Guerreri would like to see more people drinking Cabernet Franc from the Loire Valley in France, such as Chateau du Petit Thouars ‘Les Gorges’ Chinon 2020. It’s affordable, quaffable and has racy acidity. If it’s a white you’re looking for, then Kukutschka suggests Pflüger Pfalz Biodynamite Riesling which she describes as bright and fruit-forward with plenty of minerality and the right balance of acidity to residual sugar. In addition to wine, VinSanto also features ciders, vermouths, fortified wines, beer and wine-based “cocktails”.
The idea in the kitchen is to highlight fresh and flavorful ingredients with wine pairing in mind. The owners are on a first-name basis with several local vendors and have worked with them to put together a light menu resembling one you might find in a small café or osteria somewhere in Italy, France, or Spain. Local Houston bakery Cake & Bacon delivers fresh-baked focaccia for Italian sandwiches, Houston Dairymaids curates a selection of cheeses and TerraMar Imports provides savory salumi, all of which can be enjoyed at the bar, at a table in the main dining area or on the veranda.
In the future, Guerreri hopes to offer weekend brunch specials, cellar-planning services, private party options, and special “bar takeover” events featuring guest sommeliers, winemakers and brand reps. VinSanto will soon launch a monthly wine club that will include a selection of either two or four wines from a specific winemaker or winery, and host in-person events where guests can learn more about their unique offerings. VinSanto is currently open Tuesday through Sunday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. or later.
Mario Sebastian-Berry is a wine and spirits vendor who has been in the hospitality industry since 2002. Currently, he represents Blanco, Texas-based Andalusia Whiskey Co. and multiple wine labels. Somehow, he also finds time to be Houston Food Finder’s social media manager.