The summer of 2016 could go on record as Houston's greatest wine season to date. Here are all the reasons why.
The biggest news is that Loire Fest is returning in July. Now in its second year, the monthlong event includes tastings and seminars, mostly at Camerata, where Houston's newly minted Master Sommelier David Keck authors the wine program. Information is not currently available on the wine bar's website but you can find the calendar of events in the web version of its newsletter. A number of fine-wine cognoscenti and Loire experts from across the country are coming to the city to lead tastings. The July 26 Natural Wine event, for example, will feature some of the country's leading importers of organically farmed wines that have been vinified with native (as opposed to cultured) yeast.
Some of Houston's most popular wine-focused venues will also be participating, including Public Services Wine and Whisky, Pappas Bros. Steakhouse, 13 Celsius Wine Bar, Underbelly, Uchi and many others. They will be featuring Loire wines by-the-glass, in some cases at discounted prices thanks to special deals that Keck has negotiated with Texas-based wine distributors.
The expansive Loire Valley of France is widely considered to be one of the world's greatest resources for aggressively priced high-quality wines. It's also the region where the natural wine movement first began to take shape. Sadly, the Loire has been on wine nerds' minds this year because late-spring frost and extreme weather there have caused widespread damage to vineyards.
Loire Fest really puts Houston in a world-class league in terms of fine-wine awareness, but it's just the tip of the iceberg. This summer, myriad wine programs are upping the ante with exciting lists and features that reach far beyond the corporate wine culture that sadly continues to grip most of Texas (thanks to "big" wine in this state and its ironclad grip on the Texas legislature).
Half-Priced Happy Hour Rosé at Backstreet Cafe
One of Houston's pioneers in sourcing wines from outside of big wine's box, Sean Beck is running a fantastic rosé program at Backstreet Cafe this summer. Currently, there are 11 rosé wines on his list and each is half-priced during the restaurant's happy hour. Look out for the Eyrie Vineyards 2015 Willamette Pinot Noir Rosé at $27 a bottle (normally $54) among many other gems.
Eight Dollar by-the-Glass Rosé at Prego
Some might be surprised to find such an ambitious wine program at a Rice Village institution like Prego. But general manager David Cook (above) has just launched a solid flight of rosé wines, including organic grower and wine maverick Randall Grahm's Bonny Doon 2015 Vin Gris de Cigar at $8 by-the-glass. The compact but sturdy list focuses on small growers from California working mostly with Rhône Valley grape varieties.
Vertical Italian Wine Tasting At Divino
At Divino, Thomas Moësse (above) has quietly earned himself the unofficial title of Houston's top Italian wine geek, and his list is replete with organic and biodynamic Italian wines that he obtains from independent distributors and importers. Currently, he's featuring a mini-vertical (i.e., a small flight of different vintages of the same wine) of Balgera Valtellina from three harvests. In most corners of the fine wine world, that's some pretty sexy stuff. Divino's wine retail pop-ups continue through July and August: Guests taste for free with Thomas and can purchase wines to take home. Divino has also signed a lease for a space on Bissonnet and Greenbriar that the owners plan to transform into a wine bar and retail concept. It's expected to open in September.
This shortlist of wine happenings for Houston's summer 2016 is by no means exhaustive or comprehensive. But it gives you a taste of the vibrant wine culture that continues to thrive here.
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Other Upcoming And Ongoing Wine Events
Other events to look out for: 13 Celsius will be hosting a tasting benefitting the National Multiple Sclerosis Society featuring a who's who of Houston sommeliers (tentatively scheduled for the last week of August); Pappas Bros. Steakhouse will be hosting an extraordinary White Burgundy tasting on July 8 (at $110 per person, the price may seem steep, but it's an incredible value for the caliber of wines that will be poured); and don't miss the year-round happy hour at Public Services Wine & Whisky, where all wines from its superb list are half-priced (bottles and by-the-glass) from 4 to 6:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday.
There's never been a better time to be a wine lover in Houston.
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