The best wine bars, like the best restaurants, are always a reflection of the owner's vision and personality. 13 Celsius Win Bar in midtown Houston is no exception.
On the bar side, proprietor Ian Rosenberg, an architect by profession and training, has transformed a circa-1927 Mediterannean-style building into one of the most elegant and sexy spaces for a wine bar in Houston. The building's redevelopment recently won an Honorable Mention in the Urban Land Institute's 2009 Development of Distinction Award.
One the wine side, proprietor and wine evangelist Mike Sammons is well known for his fanatical pursuit of unusual and daring wines that would never see the light of day in a typical cookie-cutter wine bar. Mr. Sammons and his staff, the antitheses of wine snobs, are known for engaging their customers with a personal touch when helping them choose a wine: "What mood are you in? How adventurous are you? Do you want to be challenged or do you want to relax? OK, I've got just the wine for you..."
Recently I asked Mr. Sammons to provide a sampling that represented trends in wine for the coming year. Six bottles were chosen and presented, each representing a trend such as bio-friendly/organic wines, the return of Merlot wines, etc. (full list below).
But there was one overall theme/trend for the tasting: quality and value. All of these wines retail for less than $20 a bottle, most for around $15.
There are any number of clichés I could use to describe Mr. Sammons' talent for choosing and presenting wines -- he's like a painter at his canvas or a composer conducting an orchestra -- but I'll just stick with the basics: he's really, really good at what he does.
And you don't have to be a wine expert to realize that there's a method to the wine-selection madness. Each wine presented was unique and different from the one before it, evoking a kaleidoscope of flavors and aromas.
As the wines began arriving, the sense of anticipation about what might possibly come next was heightened by the elaborate double decanting procedure (almost a ceremony) used to aerate and soften the harsher aspects of more tannic wines like a Rhone or Cabernet Sauvignon.
A full list of the wines and trends are listed below. With this tasting 13 Celsius proved that high quality wines can be enjoyed on a regular basis without emptying your wallet.
Wine Trends for 2009 with comments by Mike Sammons of 13 Celsius
High quality budget wines from Spain, Chile or Argentina
Wine: Falset Marcà Old Vines Grenache (red) Vineyard: Agrìcola Falset-Marcà Varietal: Grenache/Cabernet Sauvignon Region: Montsant Spain Year: 2004
Bio-friendly and organic wine
Wine: Beckmen Estate Grenache (red) Vineyard: Beckmen Varietal: Grenache Region: Santa Ynez Valley California USA Year: 2006
Obscure wine from an unexpected country
Wine: Inama "Il Più" (red) Vineyard: Inama Varietal: Carménère Region: Colli Berici, Veneto, Italy Year: 2005
And a traditional version of this varietal, for comparison:
Wine: Viu Manent Carménère Reserva (red) Vineyard: Viu Manent Varietal: Carménère Region: Colchagua Valley, Chile Year: 2007
Light, aromatic wines
Wine: Finca La Linda Torrontés (white) Vineyard: Luigi Bosca Varietal: Torrontés Region: Cafayate-Salta, Argentina Year: 2007
The return of Merlot
Wine: Milbrandt "Legacy" (red) Vineyard: Milbrandt Varietal: Merlot Region: Washington State USA Year: 2005