The Rodeo Uncorked! International Wine Competition enters its 15th year with the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo and has expanded the Champion Wine Garden, nestled at the base of the Astrodome, to fit thousands.
The Garden provides a shady respite from the sensory overload that is the rodeo, beckoning guests to rest and water their horses a while with a selection of award-winning wines at their fingertips. Illuminated trees and topiary decorate the curvy garden space and plenty of inviting tables make it easy to come and go. Live music is played nightly on two different stages, one a little more boisterous than the other.
Whether you're rolling with your crew or your company it's easy enough to reserve tables and tents on Eventbrite. Underage people are welcome inside, though they cannot consume alcohol. Once you've purchased wine you are not limited to the space. You can easily cruise to the carnival or parking lot, anywhere but NRG Stadium and NRG Center.
The menu is comprised of double gold, gold and silver winners from the Rodeo Uncorked! International Wine Competition held in November. At this competition more than 100 judges sift through give-or-take 3,000 wine entries rating them from no medal (wines that are flawed) to double gold in different categories that are separated by price. A double gold is the best mark and only given when all five judges unanimously rate gold.
The majority of the list is evenly balanced between reds and whites ranging in price from mid-twenties to fifty dollars a bottle. The bubble selection is sufficient and ice buckets are available. (The most expensive bottle is Mumm Grand Cordon at $60.) Wines by the glass, which are offered for the whole list except the Chairman's Reserve section run from $6 to $16. The most expensive bottle found is the 2014 J. Lohr Vineyards Signature Cabernet Sauvignon from Paso Robles at $140. Seven of the wines are from Texas, two are double golds, five are golds.
Proceeds from The Champion Wine Garden, as well as all of the Rodeo Uncorked! events; the International Wine Competition, Roundup and Best Bites, and the Champion Wine Auction are donated to various charities. Last year they raised more than $3 million and this year they expect to raise more than four. The most expensive bottle auctioned off was the aforementioned J. Lohr at $145,000. The winner received a magnum, a case, and a whole lot of good juju.
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To put it plainly, the more you drink wine in The Champion Wine Garden, the more you help people. Not a bad way to spend the afternoon at all.
The Champion Wine Garden is open Monday through Thursday: 4-11 p.m. Friday: 4 p.m. to midnight. Saturday: 11 a.m. to midnight. Sunday: noon to 10 p.m.