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Houston's Top 10 Wine Bars (2013 Edition)

The perfect wine bar should have good wine, good food and good friends.
The perfect wine bar should have good wine, good food and good friends.
Photo by Umbria Lovers

Partially because it's National Wine Week and partially because my body is composed of more wine than water, I've been thinking a lot about wine bars lately. I spend far too much time sitting alone in my apartment drinking wine with my cat. Yes, I'm that person.

In an effort to not die alone and get eaten by my cat make new friends and explore more of what this fine city has to offer, I've been venturing out to wine bars across town.

The last time we ranked wine bars was in 2011. Since then, some on that list have closed and newer ones have blossomed. So here's the list, updated for a new year and a new crop of wine aficionados. Cheers!

Honorable Mention: French Country Wines isn't a wine bar per se, but it does host great tastings on Saturdays and imports some of the best wine in Houston.

10. Memorial Wine Cellar Memorial doesn't have a kitchen that prepares fanciful dishes to pair with wine, but it does have a great selection of wines from all over the world. There's absolutely nothing wrong with not having a full restaurant at a wine bar, of course, and food trucks like GastroPunk do a great job of providing grub to the hungry masses. The wine prices are very reasonable, and owners Dwayne and Mary Harrison are always on the hunt for more exciting products to stock. This is a small family business, and they aim to please. If there's something you want them to try to get, just ask. They'll be happy to oblige.

 

Most wine bars also offer a glass of fine champagne.
Most wine bars also offer a glass of fine champagne.
Photo by Houston Press

9. Sonoma Wine Bar There's a distinct California theme to the wine lists here, but what else would you expect from a place named after one of the best wine-producing regions in the U.S.? Sonoma in the Heights is a comfortable place to sit and sip surrounded by plush Persian rugs, modern woodwork and warm track lighting. The food menu is extensive and diverse, with great hand-rolled pizzas and a variety of French- and Italian-inspired dishes. The wine is very California-centric, but there are also some great European wines to be ordered by the glass and an even larger selection of bottles.

8. Vintropolis Its tagline is "Over 200 wines for $20 or less!" and as budget-conscious journalists, we love that! The wine list features bottles from all over the world with an emphasis on California, but the food platters are all Texas. Choose from the Texan, the Houston, the Austin or the Lone Star, none of which are fancy, but all of which provide great sustenance to go along with a glass or three of wine.The laid-back but chic atmosphere makes it a great place to meet friends or even host a fancy event in the Founder's Room.

7. CRÚ Wine bar chain CRÚ prides itself on being unfussy and seeks to demystify wine for everyone from experts to newbies. The by-the-bottle list is 21 pages long and offers wines from all over the world at a variety of price points. CRÚ tends to have a great selection of European wines available by the glass, and even though it's a chain, the food menu changes seasonally to reflect availability. It's a trendy joint, so you'll find plenty of young professionals stopping by for a drink after work. A note for gentlemen: Many say it's a great place to pick up chicks. While I can neither confirm nor deny this, I can say it's a great spot to get happy hour drinks and appetizers.

 

Sit and drink while admiring the art  on Absolve's walls.
Sit and drink while admiring the art on Absolve's walls.
Photo by Houston Press

6. Absolve Wine Lounge This small wine bar is super-quirky, with large reproductions of famous Baroque and Pre-Raphaelite paintings in gilded frames adorning the dark purple walls and ornate wall sconces providing moody light. The by-the-glass list features only 21 different wines (the bottle list has many more), but it's a diverse one with something that would appeal to everyone. On Monday nights, you can get half-price wine by the glass, and the food menu is lengthy without being overwhelming. I mainly love Absolve for the decor, though, which is just so wonderfully funky.

5. Vine Wine Room The wine selection at Vine is hand-picked by the owner, Joe Rippey, who likes to focus on small-production, boutique wineries. The food menu is simple, featuring tasting plates, sandwiches and a few pizzas, which are paired with a glass of wine every Thursday for only $10. The ambience is Old Word antique-y with a little country charm. Next door is Two Saints restaurant, co-owned by Rippey, so head on over to Vine and then wander into Two Saints to make an evening out of it.

4. Vinoteca Poscol We all know Marco Wiles's Italian food is simply fantastic, but pair that with some Old World wines, and you've got a killer hangout. The wine list changes often, but the small tapas-style dinner offerings are consistently excellent, and the prices are very reasonable. It's a laid-back (albeit cramped) space that encourages you to relax and get to know your neighbors. The waiters are very knowledgeable about the wine list, so ask them for help to find the perfect pairing.

 

The comfortable Tasting Room is a spot where one could...taste...all day long.
The comfortable Tasting Room is a spot where one could...taste...all day long.
Photo by Houston Press

3. The Tasting Room The Tasting Room now has four locations across Houston in an ever-expanding effort to keep local wine drinkers satisfied. Its tagline is "A comfortable place to get serious about wine," and though the wine may be the real deal, there's nothing stuffy or overly "serious" about the place. It's a casual but sophisticated spot to indulge in wine by the glass served at decent prices and comfort food with a gourmet twist.

2. 13 Celsius For the past several years, we've named 13 Celsius the Best Wine Bar in Houston, and for good reason. The bartenders here are some of the best in town, and they're able to figure out exactly what customers who may not be well-versed in wine are seeking. As the name suggests, wine is stored at the ideal drinking temperature, and wine-based cocktails add some whimsy to the average glass of vino. On Sundays, all open bottles are discounted to make room for new stock, so you know you won't be drinking something that's beginning to oxidize. The small bites offered up to complement the wine aren't too shabby, either, and the rustic look of the revamped 1920 building in Midtown almost makes you feel as if you could be drinking in an old-school European dive.

1. Camerata The new kid on the block is quickly becoming an old favorite. It's the only example of a hip, New York-style wine bar in Houston, but it's devoid of pretension, as evidenced by the lack of complicated menu items and by a wine list headed "I just want a damn wine list." The list is divided by flavor profile rather than by type or country of origin, which makes it easy to find something "medium, spicy, earthy and potentially funny" if that's what you're looking for. The simple but high-quality food is part of what sets Camerata apart from other wine bars in town that seek to pack too many concepts into one space. The elegant but streamlined decor in shades of gray makes the colors of the wine and food truly pop.


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