Guide to Getting Your Wine on in the Bayou City

As food cities go, Houston is a sprawling, vibrant, and sometimes confounding metropolis. Though it’s not often covered on a national scale, the burgeoning wine scene offers plenty of low-key establishments for serious wine drinkers. Passionate, knowledgeable purveyors in the city put a premium on educating guests and aren’t flashy about their wine chops—a refreshing scene that contrasts with certain wine bars on the coasts.

Whether it’s a solo business trip, planned vacation, or calling the Space City home, these wine bars won’t steer you wrong.

Beckrew Wine House
From over 100 global wines to Mediterranean-inspired small plates and artisanal honeys—yes, plural—paired with bread, Beckrew implicitly understands the importance of terroir. But for the decidedly relaxed and unhurried vibe, the expertly designed modern space wouldn’t feel out of place in downtown Manhattan. One big difference for those that prefer sustenance with their glasses: most serious wine bars aren’t in the habit of offering free pizza with a bottle of wine during Monday and Tuesday happy hours, but Beckrew is a happy exception. (2409 W Alabama St)
Try: The Summer Whites flight: $16 for 2.5-ounce pours of Bodegas Aizpurua Getariako Txakolina ‘BIMAI’ 2014, Pais Vasco, Spain; Gentilini Robola 2014, Kefalonia, Greece; and Sultana Grillo Terre Siciliane Bianco 2014, Sicilia, Italy

Max’s Wine Dive
When you want fried chicken with champagne pairings and a rock-heavy jukebox, you head for Max’s. This Houston original “dive” bar was created to serve upscale comfort food alongside well-priced, quality wines. Low-brow meets high-brow at both Houston locations, where the all-day happy hour—from open until 6 PM—bucks the notion that wine is for weekends and evenings. The large, open space at the Uptown location makes it a comfortable place to work quietly or schedule an offsite work meeting in the afternoons.
Try: The Amici Pinot Noir on tap for $5 a glass until 6 PM.

Camerata
This wine bar attached to Italian favorite Paulie’s is all about the “right wine for right now.” In the modern and cozy space, expect to find knowledgeable staff, eclectic selections from lesser known wine regions (British bubbles? Yes, please), and an extensive by-the-glass menu updated daily. The beverage program was designed with customer education and small winemakers in mind, so you’re just as likely to find yourself seated next to an adventurous novice as a full-fledged sommelier. Bottom line: this is a solid choice for experimentation, night caps, and reliably delicious pours. (1834 Westheimer Rd)
Try: Cacique Maravilla ‘Pipeño’ País 2015 from Chile’s Valle del Bio-Bio. One liter for $44.

13 Celsius
When the proper temperature for storing wine is in the establishment’s name, it’s safe to assume the wine program is serious. This sommelier darling is a wine lover’s wine bar, offering unique options that span the globe in grape varietals and style. Though wine is the star of this favorite haunt, the architecture and design of the space makes visiting a uniquely Houston experience; pressed tin dots the ceiling of the 1920s-era building, while guests sit at an antique white marble bar or in furniture salvaged from the city’s historic Warwick Hotel. Equally lovely is the open-air courtyard, a perfect place to take in the sunshine with a grower champagne. (3000 Caroline St)
Try: A bottle of the Vignai da Duline Friulano ’14 from Friuli-Venezia Giulia for $64, or treat yourself with Frank Cornelissen ‘Magma #9’ Nerello Mascalese from the slopes of Mt. Etna for $225.

Vinology
This recently opened spot in the Rice Village area operates as both a wine bar and a retail shop, modeled in the style of European enotecas. As much an educational venue as a place to gather and enjoy wine, customers can build their repertoire whether they’re trying sommelier-directed sips at the bar or taking home a bottle after chatting with an Old World producer. With over 300 wines from around the world to choose from, most bottles represent limited production wines from small, family-owned wineries. Reasonably priced, but thoughtfully curated wine flights are a great option for those that want to expand their palates and find new favorites. (2314 Bissonnet St)
Try: A producer-focused wine flight to get a feel for true winemaker style. A recent example is the Three Whitcraft Winery Pinot Noir (2.5-ounce) pours for $36, including Santa Barbara County 4 Soils, 2014; Santa Ynez Valley Pence Ranch, 2015; and Santa Rita Hills Zotovich Vineyard, 2015.

Images: Pixabay, Gin Designs (Beckrew), Max’s Wine Dive, & Deborah Smail (13 Celsius)