Meet the Tastemakers
Pop a cork at these 8 Austin restaurants with superb wine lists
It’s impossible to think about a good meal without next thinking about wine. The connection is so intertwined that it’s the focus of some of the nation's biggest foodie festivals. Heck, one of the world's most-read culinary magazines has the combo enshrined in its name.
With such a deeply ingrained passion for the pairing, it’s no wonder Austin has some of the finest wine programs in the country. The eight nominees for the 2019 CultureMap Tastemaker Award for Best Wine Program may have different philosophies, but they all represent innovation and impeccable taste.
There’s still plenty of time to visit each and every one before we pop open the bubbly and toast the winner during our annual shindig held at the Bullock Texas History Museum on April 10.
Whether one throws back a bottle of rosé with friends on a patio or swishes multiple pairings with a four-course meal, the experience of drinking wine is intrinsically social. Still, sometimes all those corks popping can drown out other charms. Not so at this diminutive east side spot, where the ever-changing assortment of surprising — sometimes even odd — bottles spark conversations about process and terroir, even if one comes in alone.
Aviary Wine + Kitchen
Whether through menu sections named after pop culture icons like Twiggy and Frank Zappa, or the far-ranging topics of its wine schools, this jazzy South Austin cafe takes the stuffing out of the often rarified world of wine. Sure, the servers can pontificate on emerging wine regions and recommend a stunner based on a few key words, but ultimately Aviary lives in the moment.
The two locations of this pizza palace have some very grand bottles, such as a few dazzling whites from lauded Burgundy producer Domaine Roulot. With around 400 selections on the menu, however, there is a world of wine to explore. The list lends equal weight to Baja California’s Bichi, whose minimally fussed with Pet Mex comes from a still-unidentified grape variety. Every last label is a testament to owner Steven Dilley’s broad-minded palate, surely one of the reasons he was named one of Food & Wine’s 2017 sommeliers of the year.
The Philipponnat Royale Reserve brut on Italic’s sprawling wine list must be lonely. After all, only it speaks a bubbly French while more than 100 other selections converse in gregarious Italian. Starting with a brief jaunt through bubbles and rosé, the menu then treks through each of Italy’s famous wine growing regions, stopping to smell the perfumes of Nebbiolo and pluck the fruits from the north. Far from being a commercial tour, it makes room for a few detours through some decidedly funky selections like highly acidic Verdicchios.
June’s All Day
Master sommelier and namesake June Rodil shocked Austin in early March when she announced she was leaving McGuire Moorman Hospitality to join Houston’s Goodnight Hospitality. Though the Capital City will lose one of its most talented wine ambassadors, she leaves a dynamic and learned team. What’s June’s without June? We have a feeling that this kid will be alright.
In a city of inviting outdoor spaces, the wine garden at this South Austin restaurant still manages to shine. The wine list is far from encyclopedic — there’s less than 20 wines by the glass — but each and every one is worthy of its spot. Some deliver crispness in keeping with Austin’s blessing of sunny days. Some, like a favorite Domain Bordes grenache, deliver balance in keeping with the flavorful wanderlust of chef Todd Duplechan’s food.
This Hyde Park stalwart is always finding new ways to keep the idea of a neighborhood wine bar fresh. In June 2018, it completed a stunning redesign, adding a chic outdoor area out back. Now, there are few better places to sip on a Riesling. Luckily, Vino Vino has a spectacular three on its menu.
There’s a reason people flock to dives. The lack of pretension, the history on the walls, and the easygoing repartee of Austin’s less fancy joints are a welcome respite in a city that sometimes feels too bougie for its own good. This South Austin hangout isn’t quite a dive, but it still has that vibe. Here, the team looks at developing regions to keep the prices low, the flavors interesting, and the fun flowing all night.