So, you have a subscription to Wine Enthusiast, own a wine encyclopedia and special corkscrews, and conduct blind tastings at home with vintages from your cellar. Still feel like that's not enough? If you really want to impress your friends and be the ultimate wine geek, fork out $1,500 and take the Wine Fundamentals course offered by the International Sommelier Guild at UH's Hilton School. You'll soon find out there's more to life than just sniffing and swigging. Once and for all, you'll be able to decipher wine labels and know the correct way to store and serve it. And all the tastings are sure to heighten your sense of aroma and flavor, helping make you an expert at food and wine pairings. Now, if you can just fake that French accent.
We counted 20 varieties of wine bags alone at this chic boutique located in the Upper Kirby District. To say the least, it's an oenophile's wet dream. Wait, make that a person-buying-an-oenophile-a-gift's wet dream. Wine charms, wine stoppers and books about wine abound. Need a bottle opener? But of course. They even sell cheese accessories and tasty varieties of wine vinaigrette. The best part, though, is the extras. There are weekly wine classes, and the bar (conveniently located next door) is available for private tastings.
Ever paid someone to wash your car by hand, only to spend another hour at home erasing pesky droplet spots? Sometimes a task isn't worth doing unless you do it yourself. We found a place that allows you, the driver, to dry and polish your car. It's the best of both worlds: a top-notch automated car wash that gives you the satisfaction of erasing every last speck of bird poop and grime yourself. Turn on the stereo, and you've just invented the latest workout craze. Just make sure to bring an extra towel for yourself. In the immortal words of Mr. Miyagi: Wax on.
Bedrock City Comic Company - Westheimer
Whether you're in the market for a collectible silver-age comic, an old Kurtzman Mad or the most recent "Vertigo noir" titles, Bedrock never disappoints. Not only is Bedrock City itself full to bursting with every imaginable example of the sequentialist's art, but its Web site has a searchable database and allows you to place special orders without leaving the comfort of your personal Batcave.
Readers' choice: Nan's Games & Comics Too
The back room of greeting cards in Events is like an art gallery. You won't find any run-of-the-mill images with sappy cliched limericks here. Most of the cards seem hand-made, using miniature cutouts and appliques. You might even pass them off as being homemade...we won't tell. There are also plenty of clever mass-produced cards, most with laugh-out-loud photographs and messages. You might pay a bit more for these little works of art, but we guarantee they won't be thrown away or tossed in a shoebox. At least not until next year.
We'll begin by defining the term "stemware" as wine-and-cheese-by-the-pool casual, not Thanksgiving-dinner-with-the-in-laws crystal goblets. This said, you just can't beat Pier 1 for whimsical design at an astoundingly affordable price. Obnoxious drunk guy drops his glass? No problem. The same design is probably now available for half-price, or even cheaper at the clearance store. And you can't go wrong there with gifting. Just make sure the recipient hasn't already stocked up on your selection. The best part? We've collected many eclectic lines over the years, and they all seem to go together.
The ecosystem as we know it is in crisis. Invasive species like popcorn trees are decimating our East Texas forests, and water hyacinths are clogging our streams. Bravely battling this trend one backyard at a time are the native-plant guardians at Buchanan's Native Plants, gardeners fighting to ensure Texas will always be Texas, no matter what Chinese or South American shipping companies release at the Port of Houston. To join the biotic resistance, head to Buchanan's Native Plants in the Heights, grab some "soil soup," some green cloud sage, some weeping yaupon holly and start planting. While you're there, you might as well pick up those stylish rubber garden shoes and some Kid's Herbal Armor. After all, it's a native jungle out there.
Readers' choice: Teas Nursey
Texas Art Supply
They win again. Texas Art Supply won last year, and there's simply no reason they shouldn't kick butt in 2005 as well. Established in 1948, this company offers it all: paint, clay, pencils, acrylics, markers, easels, desks -- and we even heard they have paper. Of course, most art supply stores are going to have that stuff -- but visit one of the brick-and-mortars or the Web site to see all the extras, like specialty gift items, kid stuff, books and videos (including a three-hour Bob Ross tutorial -- yes!) and art classes. Whether you're da Vinci or Da Beginner, this is your store.
Houston Camera Exchange
Houston Camera Exchange boasts a 7,000-square-foot showroom of new and used cameras and equipment, including lenses, flashes, cases, tripods and more. As for cameras, you got your Canon, Contax, Fuji, Leica, Nikon, Olympus -- you name it. They also offer digital and film processing, and their Web site has a forum where you can swap tricks of the trade and talk to photo enthusiasts about camera-specific topics such as digital vs. film.
Sound Exchange
You just witnessed an awesome set by one of Houston's many local bands, and now you're freaking out because there was no merchandise available. No fear, local music lover, Sound Exchange is here. This music hotspot lets local bands hawk their latest material. Beat freaks can find DJ Sun, Freedom Sold and Geto Boys. Stoners will get more than a bowl's worth out of the Linus Pauling Quartet, Charalambides and Cosmik Power Trio. Noise purists can get an earful from Rotten Piece and MassMurderMedia. Plus, indie and punk rockers can get an ample sampling of their kind on the local I Hate It Here, I Never Want to Leave compilation. Sound Exchange is the place to shop for Houston music.

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