Second Helpings: Wine Lists

Food writer Wes Marshall surveys the wine lists in 10 Austin restaurants.

Tasty, bite-sized restaurant listings compiled from new and previous reviews, guides, and poll results. This week's entries were compiled b Wes Marshall, who used four criteria in deciding which wine lists to include: First, the wine must be appropriate to the food. Second, the cost must be reasonable. Third, the list should have many choices. Lastly, there's the "wow" factor -- a list with wines that are hard or impossible to otherwise obtain. When you need quick, reliable information about Austin eateries, check here.

Basil's

900 West 10th, 477-5576

Daily, 6-10:30pm

Three hundred and fifteen wines, 25 by the glass. Moderate markup. Marshall Slacter loves to pair big robust red wines with Basil's Italian-influenced food. The Italian selection is marvelous, especially the helpful descriptions. Their California range is even better and includes some wonderful Zinfandels. The only weakness in the list is the relatively small number of white wines. Slacter is the man to talk to for a recommendation.

Gilligan's

Fourth & Colorado, 474-7474

Mon-Fri, 11:15am-2pm; Mon-Thu, 5-10pm; Fri-Sat, 5-11pm; Sun, 5-9:30pm

Two hundred and five wines, 24 by the glass. Moderate markup. The wine list covers most of the major wine growing areas of the world. As befits a restaurant with lots of seafood on the menu, the selection is heavily weighted toward white wines, including one of the better Chardonnay selections in town. The list of red wines is also very good and includes some excellent Pinot Noirs. Rina de Guzman, manager and wine buyer, is quite helpful on pairing wine and food.

Jeffrey's

1204 West Lynn, 477-5584

Mon-Thu, 6-10pm; Fri-Sat, 5:30-10:30pm; Sun, 6-9:30pm

Three hundred and fifteen wines, 25 by the glass. A little more than moderate markup. Am I the only person who assumed Jeffrey's would have one of the most pricey wine lists in town? I was wrong. While most of their choices are top-tier wines that are expensive, their markup is not bad. Every page features several wines that will mate superbly with the innovative cuisine. Their French wine selection is especially strong. Gilbert Avila and Carlos Rivero are the folks to seek out for some serious recommendations.

Louie's 106

106 East Sixth, 476-1997

Mon-Thu, 11:15am-10:30pm; Fri, 11:15am-11pm; Sat, 5:30-11pm; Sun, 5:30-10pm

Five hundred and twenty-five wines, 56 by the glass. A little more than moderate markup. The 800-pound gorilla of Austin wine lists. Artfully chosen and deep as the Atlantic Ocean with multiple vintages of the big names. Extremely high "wow" factor. The eclectic wine selection complements the diverse food. Like most lists, Louie's is heavily weighted toward Cabernet Sauvignon-Chardonnay-Merlot. Cost-wise, whether you want a 1953 Chateau LaTour ($500) or a 1997 Columbia Crest Chardonnay ($21), they've got most bases covered. Though everyone receives extensive wine training, try to talk to Frannie Rabin. She knows these wines inside and out.

Malaga

208 West Fourth, 236-8020

Mon-Tue, 5-10pm; Wed, 5-11pm; Thu-Sat, 5pm-midnight

Two hundred and sixteen wines, 27 by the glass. Moderate markup. Manager Mike Hammer is quick to point out that Malaga is not a Spanish tapas bar. More Mediterranean. Either way, their wine list is a near-perfect supporter of the food. It abounds with interesting, offbeat choices with a heavy emphasis on European wines. And talk about "wow" factor! Even the most jaded wine afficionado is sure to find something at Malaga they've never had before. Hammer, who seems to live at the restaurant, is the person to ask about wine and food pairings.

Mezzaluna

310 Colorado, 472-6770

Mon-Thu, 11:30am-10:30pm; Fri, 11:30am-11pm; Sat, 5-11pm; Sun, 6-10pm

Three hundred and ninety-seven wines, 31 by the glass. Moderate markup. The most extensive Italian selection in town. No matter which dish you order, a perfect wine will be available to accompany it. Wine prices vary from $20 to $750 per bottle, with all points in between. The list is well-written, with useful descriptions and lots of wonderful, unexpected finds. What a pleasure to find a list that isn't overrun with Cabernet-Chardonnay-Merlot. For the best recommendation, ask for Bryan Beckert, the new GM and wine buyer.

Mezzaluna Gateway

9901 North Capital of Texas Highway, 372-8030

Mon-Fri, 11am-4pm; Sun-Mon, 5-10pm; Tue-Thu, 5-10:30pm; Fri-Sat, 5-11pm

Two hundred and eighty-two wines, 25 by the glass. Moderate markup. Mezzaluna Gateway shares a sibling's resemblance to the original, but they also have many different wines. The layout of the list itself is quite confusing, alternating between categorizing the wine by varietal and by region with no apparent rhyme or reason. Nevertheless, what's there is interesting and available in all price ranges. The most knowledgeable wine/food guides are Holly Saltzman and Bonnie Monro.

Mirabelle

8127 Mesa Drive, 346-7900

Mon-Fri, 11am-2pm; Mon-Thu, 5:30-9:30pm; Fri-Sat, 5:30-10pm; Sun, 10:30am-2pm

One hundred and sixty wines, 35 by the glass. Lowest markup of the survey. Michael Villim is the owner and one of the most savvy wine people in town. This is one place where they develop the food to enhance the wine, not vice-versa. He takes the time to write a description of each wine that is generally spot-on. Besides having a very low mark-up, Michael searches out wine bargains, giving the customer a double bang for their buck. I've been agonizing over whether to tell all of you about the reserve wine list, where some unbelievable bargains are to be found (especially the Albert Mann Steingrubler Gewurztraminer for $26). Rare, unavailable, and not much more than it originally cost in the store. Save some for me!

Tocai

601 West Sixth, 457-8880

Mon-Sat, 11am-2pm; Mon-Thu, 6-10pm; Fri-Sat, 6-11pm

One hundred and fifteen wines, 28 by the glass. Low markup. In jazz it was bebop. In rock, it was punk. In Austin wine lists, it's Tocai: young guys thumbing their nose at the establishment, going for the emotion and the impact instead of the tried and true. Just try to find a California Chardonnay. It's not on the list. Anywhere. Want a white Zinfandel? They call it "Pink Stuff." Just like the beboppers and punks, Anthony Garcia can get a little outspoken, but be assured, he knows his stuff. Chef Betsy Johnson and Garcia perform a perfect Pogo in their food and wine parings.

Zoot

509 Hearn Street, 477-6535

Sun-Thu, 5:30-10:30pm; Fri-Sat, 5:30-11pm

Two hundred and six wines, 31 by the glass. Moderate markup. Zoot has a little bit of everything on their list. Given their menu -- always exotic and clever -- thank goodness the wine list has so many interesting possibilities. Prices go all over the place from a pleasant little Muscadet for $19 to $1,000 for a three-liter Caymus Cabernet Sauvignon. Ask for Steve Barrett. He buys all the wines and knows them well.

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