Liquid Assets

The Best Restaurant Wine Lists in Austin

Two years and one recession ago, we covered Austin's best restaurant wine lists. Several places in town carried bottles in the multi-thousand dollar range for the customers flush with dot-com wealth. What a difference a couple of years make. Of the 14 restaurants we covered, two are out of business and one has done away with much of what was great about their wine program. Discussions with owners and suppliers reveal restaurant wine sales are down locally about 35%. People are still buying; they're just opting for lower-cost wines. Savvy owners have already adjusted their lists to reflect the new reality. We're here to celebrate the best of the best. Our criteria are simple: Give us great wine, well cared for, intelligently chosen and fairly priced. Make sure it goes with your food, both in cost and taste. Search out the little wineries that we've never heard of. And while you're at it, train your staff to know exactly what they're selling.

Well, maybe it's not so simple.

Happily, since our last survey, the state of the art is both better and cheaper. Restaurants are working harder and smarter to get our dollars. After checking the wine programs at 40 Austin restaurants, we discovered a few generalizations. First, it costs more to store wine well and keep a large inventory. If you want to buy a rare, older bottle, expect to pay the piper. Second, you can buy great wines that are obscure and (relatively) cheap, and all of the places on our list take the time to search out these little gems. Finally, for no discernable reason, you can almost always expect to pay more for wine in a steakhouse than anywhere else.

We've divided the winners into three categories. Each restaurant is presented in alphabetical order within their group. To help you out, we've listed a much-loved red and white as well as a small gem you might miss otherwise.


Small But Perfectly Formed

Asti Trattoria 60 wines, 16 by the glass. A truly intelligent list, perfectly matched to the delicious cuisine. Owners Emmett and Lisa Fox sweat the details, and the wine list shows it.Bargain at its price red: San Leonino Chianti Classico ($35).

Crisp white: Polencic Tocai Friulano ($34).

Gem: Argiolas Selegas Nuragus di Cagliari ($22).

Eastside Cafe 35 wines, 23 by the glass. This menu has the look of love, and I mean love of wine. Carefully picked by owner Dorsey Barger, and every bottle a gem.Great mouthful of red: Siduri Hirsch Vineyard Pinot Noir ($55).

Huge white: Domaine Bois de Boursan Chateauneuf du Pape Blanc ($40).

Gem for a Texas summer day: Guigal Cotes du Rhone Rose ($22).

Mars 61 wines, 22 by the glass. Low-ish prices. Their eclectic menu deserves this inventive list.Intense red: David Bruce Petit Syrah ($37).

White for spicy foods: Trimbach Pinot Gris Reserve ($31).

Gem of a Chard: Domaine des Makandes Petit Chablis ($35).

Vespaio 54 wines, 35 by the glass. Ninety percent from Italy and France. Give a well-trained waitstaff an inventive list and you get magic.A don't-miss red: Domaine des Girasols Rasteau ($36).

Powerful white: Domaine Mireille & Vincent Côtes du Rhone ($25).

Interesting gem: Roero Arnais ($33).

Wink 81 wines, 59 by the glass. A totally eclectic list; we like to go and just let waitperson Debra Hagen guide us through the wines.Delicious Texas red: Alamosa "El Guapo" ($38).

A Chardonnay that goes well with food: Domaine Laroche "Saint Martin" Chablis ($49).

Gem (and proof that you can get a drinkable wine in a restaurant for $15 a bottle): Quinta das Arcas Vinho Verde ($15).


Everything Most People Could Ever Want

Basil's 231 wines, 28 by the glass. Owner Marshall Slacter is a wine zany who searches for wines like Stanley searched for Livingston. Pricing is arbitrary, kind of like Marshall.Red to happily spend the money on: Uccelliera Rapace ($56).

Nice, crispy white: Marchesi di Barolo "La Luna" Gavi ($34).

Gem, but please save some for me: St. Francis Zinfandel 1994 Pagani Vineyard ($50, about half of what it would cost in a store, if you could find it).

Malaga 302 wines, 37 by the glass. Low-ish prices. Manager Alex Duran has stocked Malaga with some of the best Spanish wines available as well as excellent wines from the rest of Europe and the Americas.Spanish red: Conde de Valdemar Rioja Reserva ($28).

Delicious French white for Spanish Tapas: Coudoulet de Beaucastel Blanc ($39).

Gem: Ask Alex to put together a flight of three 2-ounce tastes for you (price varies by wines).

Mezzaluna 368 wines, 40 by the glass. A great tradition of wonderful wine, and their latest list is as strong as ever.Great Italian red: Friggiali Rosso di Montalcino ($36).

Refreshing Spanish summer white: Either of the Albariños ($36).

Gem from the New Italy: Cancelli Badia Coltibuono ($24).

Mirabelle 181 wines, 38 by the glass. Low prices. Mirabelle gives a double payoff. First, it has the lowest mark-ups in town; second, you get owner Mike Vilim's masterful advice. Tell him what you're having for dinner, settle on a price range, and let him do the picking.Plummy Meritage red: Hedges "Three Vineyards" ($29).

Nice white: Martine's Viognier ($23).

Gem of a comparison: Try the Martine's, a California Viognier, and then the Guigal Condrieu ($36), a French Viognier for which "gem" is an understatement.

Sienna 280 wines, 22 by the glass. Owner Stan Adams is a wine fanatic. Sienna's list is broad and features a few things you will know and lots you won't. Ask for guidance from Jay or Ryan.Bargain-at-the-price red: Talenti Rosso di Montalcino ($50).

Surprising white: Mastroberardino "Lachryma Christi" ($47).

Easy drinking gem: Terre del Cedro Sangiovese di Romagna Superiore "Aulente" ($36 and ask about the story behind it).

Zoot 207 wines, 33 by the glass. Zoot has been so good for so long, it's easy to take them from granted. Don't.Perfect for Zoot food red: Domaine du Pesquier Gigondas ($41).

White we wish were ubiquitous and cheap: Chalone Pinot Blanc ($50).

Gem with a mouthful of roses: Trimbach Gewurztraminer ($32).


Wine Cathedrals

Emilia's 865 wines, 34 by the glass. Ridiculously priced during the dot-com boom, new manager Anthony Garcia is trying to bring the price structure within reason, similar to what he had at his last restaurant, Tocai. Emilia's now has 123 wines under $50 and over 300 under $100.Red for fusion food: Comte Cathare Corbieres ($34).

Strictly with food white: M. Chapoutier Crozes-Hermitage, "Les Meysonniers" ($42).

Gem for drinking at their outdoor bar: Pradeaux Bandol Rosé ($42).

Girasole 967 wines, 69 by the glass, 28 by the half-bottle. The 900-pound gorilla of Austin wine lists. Incredible depth and breadth, perfect storage, and prices that belie the investment.Great big red: Morgante "Don Antonio Nero D'Avola" I.G.T. ($50).

White we wish they'd make more of: Alamosa Wine Cellars Viognier ($39).

Are you in for a treat gem: Bruno Giacosa Casa Vinicola Arenis D.O.C. ($45).


Honorable Mention

Alpenhof, Bitter End, Castle Hill, Collin B's, Fleming's, The Cafe at the Four Seasons Hotel, Gilligan's, Granite Cafe, Hill Country Pasta House, Jean-Luc's Bistro, Jeffrey's, Louie's 106, Truluck's, Z'Tejas

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Austin wine lists, Asti Trattoria, Eastside Café, Mars, Vespaio, Wink, Basil's, Malaga, Mezzaluna, Mirabelle, Sienna, Zoot, Emilia's, Girasole, Emmett and Lisa Fox, Marshall Slacter, Stan Adams, Anthony Garcia, Debra Hagen

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