Aggressive Pricing Makes Wine Go Down Easier in Houston

As a Texan transplant (by way of southern California and New York City), I have always been impressed by Houston's across-the-board aggressive wine pricing in restaurants.

A few weeks ago, when I visited Osteria Mozza, the swank Los Angeles outpost of the Bastianich empire, one of the wine buyers told me that "$14 a glass is a sweet spot" for his city.

Compare that with a tide of Houston by-the-glass programs that start at $7 per glass and rarely exceed $12, including some of the most glamorous dining spots in town, and you realize that we have some of the most consumer-friendly pricing in the country.

There are also a number of wine directors who are finding creative ways to get their patrons to step outside the dreaded "Napa Cab" comfort zone where so many of our high-rolling residents sadly reside.

At L'Olivier on Westheimer, wine director James Watkins will pour any wine on his list by the glass if a table will commit to two glasses. And once a bottle has been opened and poured by the glass, other guests can order it by the glass as well, like the superb Marqués de Murrieta 2006 Rioja Blanco Cappellanía he suggested last night at $12.

This oxidative white, made from 100 percent Viura grapes, may not be an easy sell for James, especially when the majority of his crowd tends to go for the infamous "oaky, buttery 'Chard.'" (Man, I just cringe every time I write Chard. Feh!) But his innovative pricing allows him the luxury of serving a tasting pour here and there and saving a glass for a wayward wine writer who happens to stop by for an aperitif. I loved the wine.

At Underbelly, Houston restaurant scene veteran Matthew Pridgen pours any and all of his by-the-glass selections in half pours, like the superb Domaine du Salvard 2010 Cheverny for which I paid $5 ($10 by the glass).

This fresh, bright, acidity-driven, Loire Valley expression of Sauvignon Blanc was the ideal pairing for my Gulf snapper crudo (above). And a half pour was just the right amount of wine to accompany me as I slurped down the dish.

For the record, the by-the-glass programs at both venues start at $7.

Like many wine professionals in Houston, both James and Matthew have told me that aggressive pricing is the key to getting a relatively close-minded restaurant crowd to move beyond their comfort zone.

In the nearly four years that I've lived in Texas, I've found that sommeliers and wine directors generally have to face a disconnect between their personal interests and their guests' middle-of-the-road tastes.

One man's "Napa Cab" may be another man's poison, but Houston wine professionals' creative approach to this gap makes the city one of the most wine-friendly towns in the U.S.

Ain't that America? Just a little Viura for you and me...

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