We’re eating better than ever in Austin these days. We’re also drinking pretty well, too, and it’s no doubt because of the impressive world-class beverage programs at some of Austin’s finest restaurants. In anticipation of our fourth annual CultureMap Tastemaker Awards, we’re introducing you to the top 10 wine and beverage programs in town. One of the nominees will be named the Wine and Beverage Program of the Year — to see the winner announced live, head here for tickets.
Craig Collins, the ELM Restaurant Group beverage director, passed the esteemed Master Sommelier exam in 2011, making him part of a very small and elite group of sommeliers at the very top of their game. At Arro, Collins uses his extensive knowledge to craft an all-French wine list designed to beautifully complement Chef Andrew Curren’s French food. In addition to a “wine of the moment” feature on Arro’s menu, the restaurant also hosts wine-focused dinners and events — like First Mondays, a monthly paired supper curated by Curren and Collins.
The best way to enjoy Congress’ wine list (one of the longest and most distinguished in town) might be through the seven-course wine-paired tasting menu. It gives you a chance to not only taste exceptional wine that pairs perfectly with Chef David Bull’s dishes, but a chance to discover something you have never had before. Pro tip: Any of Congress’s bottles are available next door at the more causal Second Bar + Kitchen, too — just ask to see the full list.
Fork & Vine
At Fork & Vine, Sommelier Chris Howell has a big job: The Anderson Lane restaurant features a wine tasting room with more than 250 different wines. Order a bottle from the extensive list or have a snack and try a flight. Either way, you’re sure to be pleasantly surprised. Howell is known best for his unexpected, adventurous pairings with Fork & Vine’s Austin-inspired shareable plates. The other great thing about Fork & Vine’s beverage program is that retail sales are allowed, meaning if you find a wine you like, you can buy a few bottles to bring home.
Austin’s wine goddess June Rodil is behind the wine list at this Austin institution. Luxurious menu items like caviar dry-aged, bone-in ribeyes are complemented wonderfully by the thoughtful and lovely wine list. Everything about Jeffrey’s feels special, and the beverages are no exception. Did we mention there’s a martini cart?
Another spectacular world-class list can be found at lovely French spot laV, where sommelier Vilma Mazaite was recently recognized by Food & Wine magazine as a 2015 Sommelier of the Year. The magazine chose Mazaite because "she’s a master of Burgundy, sourcing wines from all the best crus.” Her skills are obvious when dining at laV, where the list of more than 1,200 labels features an option for every plate, palate and price point.
Chef Shawn Cirkiel’s projects — Parkside, The Backspace and Olive & June — offer distinct dining experiences as well as distinct and impressive wine lists. At Olive & June, sommelier Paul Ozbirn has put together an impressive menu that encourages guests to explore wine from new regions in Italy. Meanwhile at Parkside, the wine list is not only impressive, it’s approachable, divided up into categories like “elegant and earthy red” and “fun and lively orange and rose.”
You can definitely find plenty of wonderful bottles to indulge in at Qui, but we’re a big fan of letting them choose for you. Ordering the seven-course tasting menu with beverage pairing ($115 per person) means you’ll be treated to some innovative and wonderful combination like washing down fried chicken (smoked oyster aioli, sal de gusano, egg yolk custard) with a wasatch “ghost rider” white IPA.
Red Room Lounge
The Red Room lounge is a heavenly spot for both wine novices and experts. The cozy downtown gem doubles as a retail shop and a spot for relaxing over a few glasses of really great wine. There’s a constantly changing by-the-glass list, some lovely bottle picks lined along the wall and a cellar stocked with more than 700 different wines. If the red light is on, the lounge is open!
Dining and drinking at Trio is an experience, and one of the best parts about Trio’s extensive wine list is the variety it offers. More than 30 wines by the glass are available, as well as signature flights. The on-point service means you’ll have no trouble navigating the menu and finding the perfect drink to complement the steak and seafood off the Texas grill menu.
A longstanding neighborhood favorite, Vino Vino is an easy bar to spend some time at, snacking and making your way through the carefully chosen wines. From natural wines to classics to ones worthy of the most special occasions, Vino Vino is a go-to spot for drinking well, any night of the week.