Discover the Right Bottle at Austin Wine Merchant

Trying to select a bottle of wine to accompany dinner can be daunting for even experienced wine drinkers. Walk into the wine section of an average grocery store and you’re confronted with hundreds of labels from producers all over the world. Now walk into a wine shop and the selection explodes. It’s impossible to know all of the producers you like even within one region. Can you imagine if you had to have that kind of comprehensive knowledge for a test in school. No way. How can an average mortal be expected to find the right bottle for dinner? Let’s not even talk about finding the right wine for a special occasion dinner with someone you are trying to impress.

Here’s an idea – go to a wine shop with incredibly knowledgeable, unpretentious and attentive staff who are eager to match your preferences with a great bottle of wine. There are shops like this in every town. In Austin, one that you can count on for fantastic advice is the Austin Wine Merchant. This shop on W. 6th street has been demystifying wine buying for schleps like me since 1991.

This isn’t a wine mega-store, but they have a fantastic selection. Co-owner, John Roenigk, and his staff choose wines with an eye for what customers will enjoy at prices that make sense. How do they know what customers want? They keep track. You can let the Austin Wine Merchant keep your purchases in a database. The next time you visit, they can make recommendations based on what you like the last time. It takes the guessing out of it.

I overheard John counseling one customer, “Do you really want to buy a $15 Burgundy? I’ll tell ya, the best $15 Burgundy is a Côtes du Rhône.” That’s the kind of help that makes the difference between having some wine and having wine you like.

I talked to a couple of customers in the store about what they like about the shop. They drive out of their way because they learn something new about wine every time they visit. They like the large selection of small producers and old world wines that are priced competitively. They admitted that they were initially intimidated by the higher-end appearance and assumed it must be an expensive shop full of trophy and first growth wines for oenephiles. They were pleased to see that despite a serious approach to wine and some higher-end selections, this is a store that caters to casual and expert wine drinkers alike. Oh, and they love the wine tastings held every Saturday from noon to 3:00 p.m.

What do I mean by “serious about wine”? The first thing is that keep the entire shop chilled to 65 degrees F and at a constant humidity. Take a coat if you plan to shop for a long time. This is one big wine cellar. They also arrange wines geographically by appellation within regions. That might not be unique, but it sure is helpful.

After watching John dish out advice to several customers. It was my turn to let him find a nice bottle for me. I bought two right away. I intended to review those wines, but, uh, Beautiful Wife and I liked them so much we drank them in one sitting with a fantastic dinner. I didn’t take the time to write a single note. I guess I’ll have to go back and buy more.

Drinking for a Cause: Moonlight Margarita Run

At 8:00 on Thursday evening, August 5, approximately 1,000 people will get together in the gathering dusk to run 3.2 miles along Lady Bird Lake in downtown Austin. With the sticky air searing their lungs and scorching asphalt blistering their feet, they’ll line up for this 5k dash with one goal in mind: an ice cold margarita greeting them at the finish line.

That seems like a lot of work for a margarita. Of course there is more to it. This 5k raises money for The Trail Foundation, the venerable organization whose mission is to protect and enhance the Trail at Lady Bird Lake. In particular, the Moonlight Margarita Run will raise money to improve the popular gathering spot known as The Rock, under the MoPac bridge adjacent to Austin High School. Now that’s worth a run on a hot summer night.

The slogan: “There are plenty of chances to run on the Trail, but only one chance to run for it.”

Following the run, there will be a swanky gala under the stars on the great lawn of the American Legion Hall. Maudie’s Tex Mex will provide the food and requisite margaritas. Luke Olson will entertain the runners with his Texas-styled songs. Amy’s Ice Cream will debut a new flavor to commemorate the opening of Maudie’s sixth restaurant in the Hill Country. Now its starting to sound like its worth the silly run in the heat for all of this.

This is the sixth year for the event and organizers hope to raise $60,000 through event fees and sponsorship. Trail Foundation Executive Director, Susan Rankin, tells me that event sponsors make the Moonlight Margarita Run a success. Long-term sponsors like Freescale, Roger Beasley Mazda, LRCA, HEB, Run Tex and Whole Foods get behind it because they see the value of the Trail at Lady Bird Lake to Austin and to their employees. While many of us see the trail as the city’s living room and its athletic training center, some sponsors see it as a lure to recruit top talent to Austin.

Maudie’s Tex Mex has been the title sponsor for five years now. Maudie’s owner, Joe Draker, thinks of his time on the trail as a way to connect with the city and to keep values in check. A walk along the lake reinforces a conscious lifestyle, a connectedness with the environment and the passion to preserve it. He sees the Moonlight Margarita Run as an excellent way to help maintain this jewel of Austin. Joe was a long-time family friend of Roberta Crenshaw, the Austin philanthropist responsible for donating much of the land surrounding Lady Bird Lake. Lady Bird Johnson helped raise awareness and funds to beautify the like, but it was Crenshaw that established the trail and spearheaded the construction of the pedestrian bridge at The Rock. That relationship and Joe’s experiences on the trail running and walking his dogs over the years have cemented a deep passion for it.

Susan Rankin and Race Director, Katie Moran, graciously took a little time away from a registration happy hour to talk with me. Here is what they had to say.

There are a lot of experiences in life that go well with a cold drink. I can’t think of a better way to spend my Thursday night than running with 1,000 friends to support The Trail Foundation. And, yeah, having a margarita or two. Come out and join me.