Aquarelle (606 Rio Grande, 479-8117, www.aquarellerestaurant.com, happy hour 5-7pm) is one of Austin's finest restaurants, and the wine bar is always a great bargain. During happy hour in the wine bar, it offers half-price appetizers (including a great croque monsieur), plus both a stellar selection of French wines and a fine collection of robust New World wines.
Cork & Co. (308 Congress, 474-2675, www.corkandco.com, happy hour 3-7pm) offers wines with big, expansive flavors by the glass. But it's also a retail outlet, so the choices go up dramatically when you decide to buy a whole bottle.
Crú – A Wine Bar (238 W. Second, 472-9463, www.cruawinebar.com) has more than 50 wines by the glass, and they are brilliantly chosen. The food is simple bistro fare, leaning heavily on classic French dishes. The menu is small, but the dishes are well chosen and the scope of wines is wonderful.
House Wine (408 Josephine, 322-5210, www.housewineaustin.com) has a homey feel, and the wines reflect the owners' desire to show customers something new. The deal of the week is on Sundays, when House Wine sells anything that was opened the night before for half price. Food is simple but prepared with care. Happy hour is all day long and features two reds and two whites at $5 a glass.
Malaga Tapas & Bar (440 W. Second, 236-8020, www.malagatapasbar.com) is the place to go for Spanish cuisine and Old World wines. Though the wine list has several assertive New World wines, Spanish wines reign. The cuisine is just like you'd find in a Spanish tapas place. Malaga's only knock is that it has been so successful that waiting for a table might make you feel like Vladimir and Estragon.
Max's Wine Dive (207 San Jacinto, 904-0111, www.maxswinedive.com/austin, happy hour Monday-Thursday, 4-7pm, and Friday, 1-7pm) is not a dive at all but a nice, if a little loud, place with a good, comfort-food kitchen and a masterful wine program. Look for the 6-foot-plus, shaved-head sommelier named Ike, and ask him to point out his best bargains. He loves to find the real steals and passes the savings on to the customer.
Mulberry (360 Nueces, 320-0297, happy hour weekdays 5-7pm, www.mulberryaustin.com) feels like a place in Manhattan, right down to its tiny size and shoulder-to-shoulder conviviality. Chef Zack Northcutt offers tasty dishes, and the wine list is adventurous.
TRIO at the Four Seasons (98 San Jacinto, 685-8300, www.fourseasons.com/austin/dining, happy hour Monday-Saturday, 5-7pm) is my choice for the best happy hour in town. The concept is simple. Everything, wine included, is half price. Sommelier Mark Sayre is one of Austin's finest, and, oddly enough for the luxury Four Seasons brand, he's a ferocious bargain hunter.
Uncorked Tasting Room & Wine Bar (900 E. Seventh, 524-2809, www.uncorkedtastingroom.com, happy hour 3-7pm) The kitchen at Uncorked is its secret weapon. Imaginative presentations, righteous prices, and, if you get a window seat, the prettiest view of any of the places on this list. The inspired wine list is an Old World-lover's dream.
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