Today's Houston Press Deal of the Day (oh, you don't know what those are? sign up; they're seriously fantastic) is for 50 percent off at Boheme, a little wine bar in Montrose that also serves up cappuccinos and beer in a bar that's part zen garden, part Spanish cafe. When I lived down the street, it was one of my nightly hangouts -- especially because it has comfortable couches and free wi-fi.
But the deal got me thinking about wine bars I'd recommend to people who are truly connoisseurs of wine, not just those who are looking for a good bar to meet up at with friends or grab a beer and some solace.
No longer just a juke-joint city, Houston is home to a wide spread of wine bars to suit nearly every personality -- most of them run by serious aficionados -- and, even better, they're spread throughout the city. No Inner Loop bias here.
We named CHA as Houston's best wine bar last year, in part because it's the only wine bar in town to offer a greater emphasis on champagne and other sparkling wines -- wines that are becoming increasingly popular not just for special occasions, but for everyday drinking. And if bubbly isn't your bag, CHA also offers plenty of other wines and events, such as tonight's Bandol wine tasting from 6 to 8 p.m.
This wine bar has a smart business model, selling its wines at retail "next door" and allowing buyers to drink them on the premises with their meal. The bloom is off the rose a bit now that it's been open for a while and people have discovered how excessively noisy it can be with a full dining room, however. My advice: Enjoy your wine on the small patio outside.
What this wine bar lacks in detailed, in-depth wine knowledge, it more than makes up for in ambiance. Drinking here is like being invited into someone's elegantly appointed private library and art collection, something you'd never expect from its simple strip mall exterior.
Since 2005, Joe Rippey has transformed a little corner space off Benignus and Memorial into one of the area's most popular hangouts thanks to his vivacious personality and his equally expressive wines. The unique selection is always hand-chosen and fits well within the quirky yet old-world vibe of the small space. Rippey is also a co-owner of neighboring Two Saints, so you can make a damn fine evening out of this little corner of Memorial.
Plonk's strongest trait is the massive, temperature-controlled wine cellar that's showcased behind plate glass along one entire wall of the dining room. Although there are some boring selections, wine geeks will swoon over choices like $16 Weingut Bründlmayer Riesling Kamptaler Terrassen from Austria and a $20 Grilli del Testamatta from owner Scott Miller, who was once the wine director at Pappas Bros. Steakhouse.
As the name would imply, this wine bar offers very specially chosen selections at its two locations -- one on Kirby, the other next to Catalan on Washington -- that reminds me of being at a friend's house and being invited to sample an assortment from their carefully cultivated cellar. The food is top-notch, too.
If anything could have replaced the beloved Cafe Montrose, it's this gem from Marco Wiles, who also owns Da Marco across the street and Dolce Vita just up the road. This stretch of Westheimer has unwittingly become home to some of the city's best Italian wine and food, and Poscol is no exception. When the Press named it the best new restaurant in 2009, we praised the wine-and-tapas joint for its "intriguing small plates and the stellar Italian wine list."
With a third location just opened in west Houston's CityCentre development, no other Houston wine bar has shown such dedication to getting this city hooked on Huxelrebe (or whatever wines happen to be on offer each day). And owners Laura and Jerry Lasco just keep stepping up their game: snagging ultra-talented chef Michael Kramer to revamp their dining menu and installing a high-end Enoteca wine system at the CityCentre location, where 16 different wines will be on tap for the oenophiles that will undoubtedly pack the 13,000-plus-square-foot wine bar.
I am constantly surprised at how this killer place and its silky slick business model continue to fly under the radar. Perhaps it's because it's not a wine bar in the traditional sense -- tastings are only held on Saturdays -- but the wines that owner Tim Smith imports directly from France are among the best available in Houston. Even better, because of the fact that French Country Wines is technically a winery, he is able to distribute the wines directly from French vineyards that he personally works with for an incredibly low price.
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Editor's Note: The owner of French Country Wine wrote to elaborate on the fact that it's not technically a wine bar. He writes, "That title would indicate that we have wine for sale by the glass on our premises, which is not the case." Duly noted.
1. 13 Celsius
There's a reason 13 Celsius was named the Press's best wine bar three years in a row. This is a true wine bar in every sense: bottles stored at their ideal temperature, inventive wine-based cocktails, small bites that compliment the wines and -- most importantly -- a crew of bartenders who truly know and love their craft, headed up by the passionate Mike Sammons. It's impossible to walk away from 13 Celsius without having learned something or experienced something new. On Sundays, all open bottles are 50 percent off to make room for new stock, and there's no better time to introduce yourself to 13 Celsius's cool marble counters and elegant, European atmosphere than Sunday Funday.