Yeah, yeah, we’ve heard it before. Austin is a boots and denim town that doesn’t much buy into all that fancy talk about grapes. Then why is every Austin patio filled with cosmic cowboys knocking back glasses of rosé?
While we may not be as into status as those other Texas towns, we are still very into wine. The nominees for the 2018 CultureMap Tastemaker Award for Best Wine Program know that its pleasures comes more from what’s inside the bottle than the label wrapped around it.
Meet the pros who are popping our corks below, then toast the winner at our annual tasting and awards ceremony held on April 12 at Fair Market.
Wine and Italian food may be a natural match, but few Austin pasta slingers take their programs as seriously as Italic. That’s evident as soon as you peer past the bar to a massive, glass-walled wine cellar, promising good times ahead. It’s even more clear when you start the impossible task of choosing a bottle. Beverage director and master sommelier Craig Collins and his team have curated a list that traverses through Italy’s vast wine regions (with a few bubbly detours into France), with varietals that span through the tried-and-true to the frankly funky.
There may be no better ambassador for wine in Austin than McGuire Moorman Hospitality's V.P. of operations (and resident master sommelier) June Rodil. Her resumé includes stints at some of the best restaurants in Austin, from the Driskill Grill to Uchi to Congress Austin. The encyclopedic wine list at this Clarksville classic is a clap back to the notion that the Capital City only cares about beer, and includes a wine menu that requires a table of contents and some very indulgent (think $1,500-plus) bottles.
Named after a historic grape that somehow flourishes in the rugged terrain of the Texas Hill Country, this cozy Austin restaurant has a wine program that is just as unexpected. You can certainly find velvety Pinot Noirs or crisp Chardonnays, but the wine list focuses on less well known varietals like Palomino, Nielluccio, and Sumoll — each selected to stand up to the bold flavors of the cuisine. Enjoy a whole other list, perfectly tailored to Austin’s often scorching weather, in the charming wine garden.
If you think the only wine that pairs well with Italian food comes in a wicker bottle, let this Mueller charmer fill you in on the rest of the story. At L'oca d'Oro, chef Fiore Tedesco’s food is paired with a sprightly list that includes lesser known grapes from Italy, surprising bottles from Greece, and the occasional nod to the classics of France. General manager and co-owner Adam Orman may be a veteran of the New York City and San Francisco culinary scenes, but he knows exactly what works in Austin: making your own rules.
Restaurant and hotel group La Corsha (and Austin) scored a coup when it brought sommelier Paula Rester back as wine director after a stint at Danny Meyer’s Italian concept Maialino in Manhattan. A former captain and sommelier at Congress, Rester not only has a superb palate, but also an understanding of how the clinking of glasses sets the tone for any great meal. At Mattie’s, her list ranges from rare French Champagnes to accessible Grüner Veltliners, but in the end, it’s all about Southern hospitality.
Texas French Bread
Wine is a big reason why Texas French Bread wound up on the short list for the Tastemaker Award for Best Neighborhood Restaurant. Oenophiles from across the city flock here for the selection of natural wines, made with limited chemicals and technological intervention. The restaurant's commitment to the style isn’t a mere gimmick. Natural wines just happen to be some of the tastiest selections available, showcasing a real sense of terroir — perfect for a restaurant that could exist nowhere else but Austin.
This Hyde Park haunt has only been around for a decade or so, but it feels like it has always been there. Truth is, we don’t want to remember a time when we couldn’t perch at the bar and slowly sip (okay, quickly gulp) a Cab after work. That’s not to say that there’s no surprises left for the neighborhood stalwart. In November 2017, former Parkside Projects beverage director Paul Ozbirn joined the crew, reworking a wine program that is just as happy to serve you a crowd-pleasing bottle as it is excited to get you to try something new.
With nothing over $100, this tapas bar looks to up-and-coming wine regions like Paso Robles, California, the Languedoc in France, and their own backyard in Texas to find affordable bottles that are as complex and drinkable as anything in the world. But with an intimate dining room, populated mostly with South Austin neighbors, it still feels like one of Austin’s best kept secrets.
Sometimes a wine program is about more than just the wine. The list at this fine dining mainstay isn’t particularly flashy, focusing on producers that have long since showed their mettle. The varietals are also dependable, paying little mind to the flavors of the week. But if you want to experience the magic that only a perfect pairing can produce, just ask any of the servers. Is it sorcery? We don’t know, but not one of them has ever steered us wrong.