Hopping around the city last week as I did my Thanksgiving wine shopping, I couldn't help but be reminded what a great time it is to be a wine lover in Houston. These days, as the city continues to become one of the top destinations in the U.S. for fine wine -- driving value and broadening the spectrum of wines that are available -- the choices and bargains are seemingly endless.
It wasn't always like this. In fact, when I moved to Texas five years ago, Houston had one of the most dismal wine scenes in the nation.
But thanks to an ever increasing number of independent importers and distributors and a sense of competition that has sparked new life in the old guard among Texas wine purveyors, we are experiencing -- yes, I know I've said it before but it's worth saying again -- a true wine revolution (and this comes from someone who travels and works regularly in markets across the U.S., including New York and San Francisco, the leading destinations in the country).
This year, I did all of my Thanksgiving wine shopping at the Houston Wine Merchant -- my favorite retailer in the city, also experiencing a revival of sorts thanks to buyer Antonio Gianola -- and Spec's, where I found some of my greatest values.
I'm really loving the current selection at the behemoth Spec's family (which includes Richard's). And the prices are the lowest in town (especially if you pay cash). But you have to pay close attention to vintages: In many instances at the mothership Spec's on Smith Street, I was thrilled to find some of my top picks, only to be disappointed when I discovered that the vintage was not a current release (this happened in the case of the Bonny Doon Vin Gris de Cigare, one of my all-time favorite Thanksgiving wines; Spec's still had the 2010 on the shelves, a wine that should have been drunk two years ago).
Note: The wines below are listed in no particular order.
Pewsey Vale 2001 Dry Riesling Eden Valley (dry white, Houston Wine Merchant, under $20)
I was blown away by the depth of this Australian wine and its extreme value when I tasted it a month ago. Classic dry Riesling with the acidity you need for the crazy panorama of flavors that happen at the Thanksgiving feast.
Robert Sinskey Vineyards 2012 Vin Gris of Pinot Noir Los Carneros (dry rosé, Spec's, under $30)
Wonderful balance and lovely elegance in this California rosé from Pinot Noir by one of the pioneers of chemical-free farming there. Thanks to its versatility, dry rosé like this is always going to be my top pick for Thanksgiving.
Campogiovanni 2010 Rosso di Montalcino (dry red, Spec's, under $25)
Sangiovese, with its zinging acidity and classic plum and red-fruit flavors, is another perennial favorite for Thanksgiving. Leading quality-price-ratio producer Campogiovanni reliably delivers a fresh, clean expression of this food-friendly Italian red grape.
Domaine de la Cabasse 2011 Côtes du Rhône Village Les Primevères (dry white, Spec's, under $15)
This blend of Grenache Blanc, Roussanne, Viognier and Clairette Grenache had me at hello: The aroma of the wine was so fresh and rich that I couldn't wait to put it into my mouth. And it's definitely the best value on my list (around $14 if you pay cash/debit).
ARPEPE 2010 Rosso di Valtellina (dry red, Spec's, under $40)
Both of my reds this year are from Italy. In my view of the world, there's no other country that offers such great value for the food-friendliness and approachability of the wine. This one has just made it to Texas for the first time, and it's one of the most-talked about wineries in the country right now. Impressive elegance and lovely berry fruit and spice (cinnamon) flavors.
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Ca' dei Zago N[on] V[intage] Prosecco Col Fondo (dry gently sparkling white, Houston Wine Merchant, under $25)
This is another new arrival from Italy, a Prosecco aged on its lees (sediment) and undisgorged before bottling. Slightly cloudy, this wine has a wonderful saltiness that makes it go well with nearly all the Thanksgiving classics (definitely the sexiest wine on my list).
Taittinger N[on] V[intage] Champagne Brut La Française (dry sparkling white, Spec's, around $40)
At our house, Champagne is welcomed anytime. But we love it most of all at mealtime because of its extreme food-friendliness (due to its vibrant acidity, minerality, and freshness). Taittinger is a classic standby (and more than respectable by all standards), and the Spec's price is the best in town.