Wine Time

Top 5 Must-Haves in a Killer Wine Bar

Call it my wine bar intuition. Sometimes, a place just doesn't sit right with me. Lately I've been thinking about why that is.

Generating a successful wine bar means much more than meeting the general requirements of wine service, such as knowledgeable staff and proper storage. Qualifications for an excellent wine bar are a delicate balancing act that relies on both our conscious and unconscious preferences.

That said, after thinking long and hard about why people might love, or loathe, the ones they do, I've found that there are multiple components that make up an excellent wine bar.

It can have a stellar selection, but a strange ambiance can kill an experience. Or the bar can have a lively atmosphere, but a lack of interesting events will disappoint those wanting more.

My top five wine-bar must-haves, after the jump.

5. Wine selection. This is obviously highly subjective, as well as highly important. As far as wine styles, I tend to favor old-world, boutique wineries and would rather see unheard-of producers from uncommon places like Israel or Hungary than a big box label from Napa or Barossa. I'm not saying those large-scale producers don't have their place on a list -- they certainly do -- but they should not serve as the majority. A good wine list is versatile and flexible enough to accommodate a wide range of clients.

4. Good ambiance. By all means, these are vague words that mean many things to many people. Some people seek a more austere and industrial vibe, while others like the cozy and comfy feel. Either way, it helps to have an ambiance that is consistent throughout, exemplified by the choice in glassware, furniture, lighting, music and staff. This is key because when people drink something as nuanced and esoteric as wine, they want to feel as comfortable as possible.

3. Evolution. What I mean by evolution is keeping the wine fresh and clients intrigued by having a list that changes on a regular basis. In addition, an equally important facet of evolution is that good wine bars make an effort to create repeat customers. Events such as wine tastings, themed nights, pairing dinners, and wine classes are all proof that the management takes its wine and its business seriously and is making a conscious attempt to attract people in.

2. Price point. Thanks to an explosion in accessibility, consumers are increasingly savvy about their wine and how much they should pay for it. This is essential for any wine establishment's longevity. If they're trying to sell a glass of mediocre, supermarket wine at a premium price, they should expect to make some adjustments. Great wine lists provide not only a unique selection, but also competitive prices.

1. Company. No matter where you are or what you're drinking, who you're with makes all the difference. What's a great bottle of vintage Bordeaux if there's nobody to share it with? Wine makes everything an occasion, all the better while it's drunk in good company.

KEEP THE HOUSTON PRESS FREE... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Nancy Kerschen