As the city of Houston continues to grow at breakneck speed, so does its fine wine scene. Our wine writer recently visited five different wine bars and wine-centric restaurants in the Missouri City and Sugar Land area. And he was impressed by how many options there are for wine lovers — and not just for the predictable "Napa Cab" crowd.
Veritas Steak and Seafood, 1550 Lake Pointe Parkway, Sugar Land
Veritas Steak and Seafood owner and wine director Kevin Rios (above) became a pioneer of the fine wine scene in Houston's southwest outer loop when he launched the restaurant (formerly a Post Oak Grill) in 2013. His wine list focuses on high-end northern Californian Cabernet Sauvignon and blends but his interest is turning toward Spanish and Italian wines, he said in a recent interview, and he plans to expand his list to feature the value-driven collectible wines like Brunello di Montalcino and Rioja. This cozy but spacious restaurant is located on the banks of Lake Pointe, making it a great romantic destination (and a favorite of cigar smokers who enjoy the outdoor seating). The menu sticks mostly to the classic steakhouse model but the ample selection of top California labels and the wine-focused service give this Sugar Land standby the upper hand when it comes to impressing the fine wine connoisseur. Rios revealed that he is planning to explore his love of Italian wine with a new restaurant he hopes to open by year's end, Coreleone's Cucina e Ristorante, with a wine program that will be 90 percent Italian. Don't miss the classic crab and shrimp cocktail paired with by-the-glass Domaine Carneros Brut Cuvée (méthode traditionnelle), a made-in-heaven taste of Texas and California combined.
Off the Vine Bistro, 2865 Dulles Avenue, Missouri City
Perhaps the most surprising find was Off the Vine Bistro, owned and managed by wife and husband team Namita and Asthana (above). They opened this popular Missouri City spot a few years ago to develop Ms. Asthana's burgeoning artisanal sauce business. But her farm-to-table approach to cooking and her husband's extensive knowledge of European wine (thanks to decades of high level work in oil and gas) quickly made this small and welcoming wine bar and restaurant a leading destination for the food and wine lovers in Lake Colony and beyond. A self-trained sommelier, Manish offers an ample selection of "big and bold" California wine. But unlike most of the wine-themed restaurants in suburban Houston, his wine program also features a number of "old world" selections by-the-bottle and by-the-glass. Be sure to visit on the nights that he is at the restaurant (Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays) for off-the-list bottles that he keeps for adventurous wine lovers, like a "natural" white wine from Piedmont, Italy that he recently added to his collection. While red wine drinkers — whether old or new world lovers — will not be disappointed when they visit, the white wine drinker will be rewarded by this confidently white-friendly selection.
Brandani's, 3340 FM 1092, Missouri City
Ron and Claire Brandani were both veterans of the Houston restaurant scene before they opened their own spot in 2015. And luckily for the rest of us, they have never looked back. Even at the height of summer, with soaring Houston heat, this place seems always to be packed with Missouri City residents who crave the pastas, chops, and classic American bistro fare. Other than the impressive collection of Venetian glass and the Venetian chandelier that adorn the smaller of the two dining rooms, there's not much the average American wine lover wouldn't expect from this heavy-on-the-California-red list, which focuses on high-scoring Napa and Sonoma wines. But the attentive service and friendly atmosphere, including a kid-friendly environment and mouthwatering fried chicken, make Brandani's a wonderful and welcoming restaurant for people of all walks of life. On a recent visit, manager John Rodriguez seamlessly juggled an overflowing dining room and bar with the élan of a Manhattan maître d'hotel. Even a first-time party of one was greeted with the grace you would expect from a popular neighborhood eatery where "everyone knows your name."
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Vino and Vinyl, 15977 City Walk, Sugar Land and 3340 FM 1092, Missouri City
Vino and Vinyl (two locations) is exactly what it purports to be: a wine bar featuring a turn table. At first glance, it may seem like a tired, old gimmick. But once you settle into your seat at either location (one in Sugar Land Town Square and the other in Missouri City Township Square), you quickly realize that the soulfulness of the DJs' selections and the homey comfort food make up for the formulaic, predictable selection of northern California red wine and robotic wine service. Even a self-described wine snob was able to find a few palatable by-the-glass selections on a recent sweltering summer evening. And skepticism swiftly gave way to sheer enjoyment once the fried chicken slider arrived and the young DJ found her groove with a Jack Johnson-centric playlist that included a couple of golden oldies for the more reserved among the guests (including said wine snob). The thing that is so great about these wine bars is that they really have a neighborhood lounge feel that makes you feel like you would be equally welcomed whether sitting quietly in a corner and reading a book or loudly celebrating a birthday with your crew center stage.