laV and Vilma Mazaite to launch “Celebrate Burgundy” festival in Austin

Vilma Mazaite
Vilma Mazaite to launch new wine festival in Austin

Celebrated sommelier and director of wine at laV Restaurant and Wine Bar, Vilma Mazaite, is launching a new wine and food festival in Austin called “Celebrate Burgundy” in early 2017. A press release issued by laV’s PR agency, says, “The festival, designed to be a leading wine and food event focused on Burgundy wines and regional French food will be led by Vilma Mazaite.”

Mazaite has tons of wine cred having been named a “Best Sommelier of 2015” by Food and Wine Magazine earlier this year. Her expertise in French wine is well recognized and is on display in the massive wine list at the restaurant. She traveled to Burgundy in September to plan the festival with some of the region’s most notable wine producers.

To allow her time to plan and host the festival, Mazaite, will leave her role as director of wine and will serve laV as Executive Consultant.

In the press release laV’s General Manager, Jamie Wagner says, “We believe Austin is ready for a world class wine and food event and there is no one better to lead it than Vilma. We’re excited to start Celebrate Burgundy and look forward to working with others in the Austin food and wine community to make it a reality.”

The release added a comment from Mazaite saying, “I am very proud of what we’ve done at laV and am excited to be starting our next venture. I believe we can create a unique wine and food experience in Austin. We’ve  already begun securing participants from Burgundy and have been met with great enthusiasm from several producers.”

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2014 Wine Ride “The Oregon Trail” Visits 3 Texas Cities in October, 2014

Wine Ride

Diane Dixon, the brains behind Keeper Collection, is always scheming fun ways to present amazing food and wine pairings. She has created a portfolio of spectacular annual events including  CITYWIDE 86’D, which recently won a “Best of Austin Award” from the Austin Chronicle,  Chef’s Under Fire, Somms Under Fire and of course The Wine Ride. Each one has a unique way of involving guests in an amazing experience with culinary and beverage talent.

This year, the Wine Ride – The Oregon Trail, wine and food pairing event, will be held in Houston at Kipper Club Test Kitchen with food from Chef Graham LaBorde on Saturday, October 18, 2014, in Dallas/Fort Worth at Clay Pigeon Food and Drink with food by Chef Marcus Paslay on Sunday, October 19, and in Austin at W Austin with food from Chef Thomas Riordan on Monday, October 20, 2014. At each of the three events  guests will learn about the terroir and wines of Chapter 24 Vineyards,  the Oregon wines of Raptor Ridge, which will be paired with a three-course meal.

I’m a sucker for Oregon wine. The only thing better is having Oregon wine expertly paired by extremely knowledgeable sommeliers and chefs. Advanced Sommeliers will present a wine education program before the dinner in each city. In Houston, the brilliant David Keck will show his magic, Dallas guests will be awed by Jason Hisaw, and Austin will be treated to a spectacular session with the brilliant June Rodil.

There are only fifty seats available in each city. It will be an amazing experience to eat and drink with these pros in such an intimate setting. Tickets are a bargain for $95.

Diane Dixon and Devon Broglie
Diane Dixon and Devon Broglie

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Austin City Guide: Your Guide to Great Wine Bars

Austin City GuideThere are tons of places in Austin to get a great glass of wine. The city is bursting with excellent wine lists at restaurants and bars, and we are fortunate to have many bars focused primarily on wine. Here are some of the top wine bars in Austin.

Downtown

Coal Vines, 314 West 2nd Street

After a hard day of shopping in the Second Street District, Coal Vines is an excellent place to cool your heels. What could be better than people watching on the chill outdoor patio with a glass of vino or three? Coal Vines offers 20 wines by the glass and an unpretentious selection of bottles from big Californian and Australian producers.  It is open for brunch and has delightful pizzas to recharge your engines for more shopping.

Cork & Company , 308 Congress Ave

This long, narrow wine bar has a classic, cozy warm feel with a broad selection of wine. Cork & Company carries the usual suspects like California and France, but also a good mix of wines from South America, Italy, Spain and New Zealand. The menu offers 40 different wines that we serve by the glass: 13 red, 17 white, six sparkling and four dessert wines. If you can’t find your perfect wine by the glass, they offer more than 300 wines by the bottle.

In addition to wine Cork & Company has a solid list of Texas craft beers and an assortment of delightful snacks. They offer cheese, charcuterie and antipasto plates, paninis and carry Austin Cakeballs.

“Our focus at Cork is to be a neighborhood wine bar with a friendly atmosphere where we know our patrons and where anybody can come in and find a wine they love, whether they are drinking wine for the first time or have the best cellar in Austin,” says Carlo Bligh.

Crú,  238 W. 2nd St.

Cru Wine Bar has a couple locations in Austin; one downtown and one in the Domain shopping center. It offers 300 wines from around the world with a focus on American, Italian, Spanish and France. Cru servces 13 flights of three wines grouped by varietal, style or region, including five white wine flights, one sparkling/Champagne flight and seven red wine flights. It also has 39 wines by the glass and an additional 10 to 15 dessert wines also available as well as a small selection beers.

Cru offers a menu of what they call on “Wine Country” fare with an emphasis on appetizers and small plates, but also seafood, cheese plates, larger entrees and desserts.

Max’s Wine Dive,  207 San Jacinto

$$$ American, Wine Bar

Max’s is the kind of place where the wait staff wears t-shirts that read, “Fried Chicken and Champagne? Why the Hell not?” Max’s is the kind of place that serves down-home food like Gator Beignets and Shrimp & Grits.  Max’s is the kind of place that doesn’t serve flights of wine, because who really just wants a small taste of wine when you can have a whole glass?

This Houston-based chain has a respectable selection of wine with three sparkling wines, two rosé, about a dozen reds and a dozen whites available by the glass. They carry anywhere from 140 to 170 wines by the bottle at prices ranging from $12 to $500. All wines are available to take home at retail prices. If you’re not a wine drinker, they also carry about a dozen kinds of beer.

The service is prompt and attentive. I like Max’s willingness to open any bottle to pour a glass as long as the table is willing to order at least two glasses from the bottle.  Good wine, good service, casual attitude.

 

Mulberry,  360 Nueces St

The sidewalk café in front of Mulberry is always packed with smiles and laughs. The sleek bar seems to burst at the seams spilling people into the fresh air. Mulberry has a nice mix of new world and old world selections with more than 20 red, white, rose and sparkling wines by the glass. They also carry more than 100 wines by the bottle. What keeps my grin beaming is the lineup of desert wines including a Port, Sherry and Sauternes. Yum!

The bistro menu is kick-ass with meat and cheese plates, sandwiches and hearty entrees. Mulberry is a delightful urban oasis.

 

Bill Elsey The Red Room LoungeRed Room Wine Lounge, 301 E. 3rd St Suite A

If you don’t know what you are looking for, you might miss it. The Red Room Lounge is unobtrusively tucked to a quiet spot below street level, just down the block from the Convention Center and two doors west of the Vince Young Steakhouse. It doesn’t have a sign out front, so you better know the address.

Despite its anonymity, the Red Room is typically packed on any given night and the city’s best sommeliers treat it like their personal living room. One reason the wine crowd is drawn to The Red Room Lounge is because its owner, Alex Andrawes, has created a chill, speakeasy-like atmosphere for people to enjoy a few glasses of great wine. The red velvet draped entrance gives it an elegant, hushed feel. There are nicely arranged conversation areas and dark nooks for lovers to steal a kiss or two.

Another reason is this is a place where both wine experts and novices can learn something new. Not only is Andrawes  a wine expert, but Texas’ Best Sommelier 2011 and Advanced Sommelier, Bill Elsey, is behind the bar bringing incredible wine knowledge and a deft touch for sharing that insight without making people feel stupid.

The Red Room Lounge has some pretty amazing wine in the cellar with a stock of 2,000-2,500 bottles spread over 400-450 private labels and boutique wines. Rare and collectable wine like Screaming Eagle, 1982 Chateau Haut Brion, 1955 Taylor’s Vintage Port and 1989 magnums of Petrus share the spotlight with lesser known and hard to find wines from Bordeaux and California. “I am always happy to discuss the higher end cellar wines with our clientele and help them find that rare gem to enjoy for the night,” says Elsey.

There is something to meet every wine lover’s desire with bottle prices ranging from $35-$5000. The Red Room offers 10-12 wines by the glass and selection changes every 3-5 weeks, so people can try new and exciting wines regularly.

While the wine selection is large, that’s all you can expect. They don’t serve beer, cocktails or anything else. They don’t prepare food on premise, but have service agreements with restaurants within a two block radius that will bring you cheese plates, hors d’oeuvres and light eats. The Red Room hosts private parties and arranges for catering.

Uncorked Wine Bar,  900 E 7th St

Just off the beaten path perched on a hill overlooking I35, Uncorked feels like a world away from downtown Austin. The renovated old house has comfy rooms in which to lounge about and a gracious back deck to enjoy the breeze and live music. Uncorked has a seasonally rotating menu of wines from around the world. The list is dominated by French, Italian and Spanish wines, but also has wines from lesser-known wine countries like Lebanon and Uruguay.

The knowledgeable staff, lead by owner and Certified Wine Professional, Ron Wright, is quick with astute recommendations and pairing suggestions for just the right wine to go with your delicious dinner. Whether you choose a flight of wine, wine by the glass or by the bottle, the well selected list has a broad enough range to satisfy almost any palate.

Wink, 1014 North Lamar, Ste. E

Hidden behind the venerable restaurant and accessible through a separate entrance, Wink has a lovely little wine bar. The extensive wine list features more than 45 wines by the glass and even more by the bottle. The sommeliers put together a stellar line up of predominantly old world wines with great choices from France, Italy, Spain and Germany and many wines from the U.S. as well.

Wink Wine Bar has its own delightful bar menu with mac & cheese with black truffles and steamed mussels to curb your appetite. You can also order from the full restaurant menu and nosh on it in the casual wine den. Love it.

North Austin

Apothecary Cafe & Wine Bar,  4800 Burnet Rd Ste 450

This Allandale  café is a lovely place for a cup of coffee and desert or for a glass of wine. It features a long list of European and U.S. wines by the glass or by the bottle.

Vino Vino,  4119 Guadalupe St

This Hyde Park mainstay draws wine lovers and foodies with its fantastic and ever changing menu. Owner, Jeff Courington, stacks the wine list with gems from Oregon, Argentina and the left-field old world wines from places like Greece and Lebanon. The meat of the wine program is made up of exquisite French, Italian and Spanish wines. Vino Vino pours around 20 to 25 wines by the glass on any given day, a handful of sparklers and an even few sweet wines. The bottle selection is always changing with 100 to 150 labels elegantly displayed on the walls. The staff knows their stuff. Not only do they have two Certified Sommeliers on the team, but the whole crew is dedicated to helping customers pick the perfect wine for the evening.

Vino Vino also has an excellent cocktail menu with a full bar and seasonal specialty cocktails. If you are adventurous, ask the bartender for something unique and they will take you on a whole journey to find your perfect cocktail. Let them treat your senses by rubbing various bitters in their palms to smell all the intricacies, tasting each ingredient of a cocktail individually before they come up with the perfect blend. Vino Vino also has four local craft beers on tap.

It offers full dinner menu and late-night snacks with tasty dishes like steak and frites made with wagyu beef from Strube Ranch and slider and fries.  Vino Vino also has salads, several cheese plates and desserts. If you don’t want to mess around with so-so wines and passable food, head to Vino Vino where everything is top notch.

South Austin

Henri's Wine and CheeseAviary, 2110 South Lamar

This is one hell of a unique place. It’s a home furnishings shop with  a lovely little wine lounge tucked in for good measure. Aviary has a small lineup of carefully chosen Italian red and white wines, sparkling wines and beer. It also has charcuterie plates to nosh on.

Henri’s Cheese and Wine , 2026 S Lamar Blvd

What is a cheese shop doing masquerading as a wine bar? How can you go wrong with opening a bottle of delicious French wine with an expertly chosen artisanal cheese? Henri’s is open for lunch and dinner and sells wine by the bottle and glass. It also sells wine and cheese at retail all day. It’s a fantastic south Austin spot.

House WineHouse Wine , 408 Josephine St

House Wine is in a little house tucked away just south of Lady Bird Lake a block west of S. Lamar on Josephine St. They are definitely going for the South Austin vibe – casual, cozy and a little sloppy. The space is intimate (small) and eclectic (mismatched décor).  It has a lovely front porch and outdoor lounge. Love.

Table service isn’t a priority here, so belly up to the bar to look through the menu of about 25 whites and 30 reds by the glass and by the bottle. The prices are pretty damn reasonable ranging from $7 to $11 and bottles in the $20s and $30s. They also offer flights for three half-glasses for $15. A bargain.  If you go at happy hour, you’ll be rewarded with a discount of two bucks a glass.

House Wine offers a decent selection of nibbles like cheese plates and Mediterranean plates with smoked salmon served in a gorgeous wooden bowl.  You can also satisfy your sweet tooth with a selection of deserts.

If you are looking for a very relaxed, inexpensive wine bar with a decent selection, try House Wine. If you want knowledgeable wine guidance and service in an elegant setting, you may be disappointed here.

Opa Wine BarOpa! Coffee & Wine Bar  

This south Austin Greek restaurant and wine bar has ample seating outdoors under the spread of ancient oak trees and casual couches and chairs inside the rooms of the renovated house. Live music sets the mood for easy conversations. Opa has a full bar, several beers and dozens of wines by the glass in the $7 to $10 range. The wine list has a wide variety of unassuming old and new world wines

Water2Wine, 4036 South Lamar Boulevard

Water 2 Wine is an actual operating winery that offers wine by the glass, by the bottle, or by the batch (approximately 28-30 bottles per batch).  All of its wines are fermented on premises from the grape juice of about 90 different wines from 13 different countries. Water 2 wine has red, white and dessert wines, but no sparkling wines. There are three different locations for Water 2 Wine with the other two at 3300 W. Anderson Lane and 2000 S. I-H 35 in Round Rock.

West Austin

360 Uno Trattoria & Wine Bar,  3801 N Capital Of Texas Hwy

This West Lake Hills eatery has award winning wine list of 375 different wines from around the world with a focus on Italian and us wines. 360 Uno serves 50 wines by the glass to go with a full Italian menu.

Eleven Plates & Wine,  Bar 3801 N Capital Of Texas Hwy Ste C200

Also in West Lake Hills, Eleven Plates has an outstanding wine list. Owner Mike Swartz and partner Randy Laboy, both Certified Sommeliers, have selected 50 diverse wines – including some from Texas – to serve by the glass. It also has an extensive list of wines by the bottle with both affordable and high end options. Eleven Plates has a full menu for lunch and dinner.

The Grove,  6317 Bee Caves Rd

Some of my sommelier study buddies frequent The Grove for its solid list of excellent wines and knowledgeable staff. It serves wines three sparkling, 16 whites, 25 reds, and five dessert wines by the glass an additional 150 by the bottle from all over the world. The Grove has an extensive menu of pizzas, pastas and entrees.

Riviera Bistro , 12801 Shops Parkway, Suite 200 (in The Shops at the Galleria)

The wine bar in Riviera Bistro offers 17 wines by the glass in a continually evolving menu. It is primarily focused on Italian wines, but has a nice selection of French wines as well.

No matter what part of Austin you are in, you are never too far from a wine bar.

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Celebrating two years of What Are You Drinking?

I love any excuse to throw a party and the second anniversary of this blog was a good enough one to gather a group of friends at the Red Room Lounge. Dear friends, winemakers, distillers, wine shop owners, beverage PR people, sommeliers and wine drinkers shared a few laughs and many bottles of wine to celebrate the friendships fostered over a drink. Many of the people in the room I have met only because of this blog. Its fitting, because that’s one of the things I’ve enjoyed most about this blog – making new friends.

In the past two years I have written 153 articles about wine, beer, spirits and cocktails. The blog has changed a bit over time, and I keep trying to improve it based on your suggestions. The blog has led to other writing opportunities as a contributor to CultureMap, The Digital Texan, 12Most and now Austin Man magazine. Each article is another chance to talk to fascinating people in the beverage industry and another opportunity to taste something new. I love that.

Thanks to everyone that shares their time to tell their stories. Thanks to the PR people who help make the connections. And most importantly, thanks to you for staying with me, reading my stories, commenting and making suggestions. Cheers!

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Shhh, Austin’s newest wine bar, The Red Room Lounge, quietly opens downtown

“No, no, no! Do not write about this place! We don’t want people to know about it. This is the place where you bring a date and really impress her because you are ‘in the know.’ Don’t tell anyone about this f@%&ing place!” Customer, Zack Fuentes emphatically discouraged me from spreading the word about the newly opened The Red Room Lounge. He wants it to stay unknown and exclusive.

He’s right that the wine lounge is so far only frequented by wine aficionados who are in the know. There’s no sign out front, there was no media blitz or even a press release announcing its opening and it isn’t even listed on Citysearch yet.

Here’s your insider tip: the Red Room Lounge is located at 306 E 3rd St. in downtown, Austin, just down the street from the Convention Center and two doors east of the Vince Young Steakhouse.  You don’t have to have a password to get in. Yet.

One reason the wine crowd is drawn to The Red Room Lounge is because its owner, Alex Andrawes, has created a chill, speakeasy-like atmosphere for people to enjoy a few glasses of great wine. The red velvet draped entrance gives it an elegant, hushed feel. There are nicely arranged conversation areas and dark nooks for lovers to steal a kiss or two. Another reason is this is a place where both wine experts and novices can learn something new. Not only is Andrawes  a wine expert, but he hired Texas’ Best Sommelier 2011, Bill Elsey, who brings incredible wine knowledge and a deft touch for sharing that insight without making people feel stupid.

The lounge grew out of Andrawes’ other wine businesses, Personal Wine, started in 2000, and Wines.com, started in 2008. He explained the origins of the lounge, “I was tasting wine with Bill Elsey and a group of sommeliers and wine drinkers in the lounge. Everyone thought it was a great space and suggested we should open it up to provide by-the-bottle or glass service. It’s cozy, a great place to be private and feel special. It’s almost like your personal cellar away from home… That’s why we call it a lounge rather than a bar. Our focus is wine, great conversation and great company.”

Judging by the feedback from guests, they hit the mark. Amelia Castilla said, “It’s secretive. It’s private. It’s like you have to have a secret handshake to get in.” Baubak Askari likes the individual attention saying, “The service is very personal. It’s so cozy it feels like I’m drinking wine at home, but I’m out.”

The Red Room Lounge stocks a wide selection of wines by the bottle including some private label and boutique wines that Andrawes sourced on trips to the wine country. Guests can choose to buy a bottle with a selection of more than 500 labels and more than 3,000 bottles, and take home anything they don’t drink in the lounge. They also offer eight to 10 wines by the glass with a menu that changes regularly. Currently they have interesting pours like Spätburgunder, Oxidized Rioja Blanc, and 1989 Chateau Lynch-Bages.

There are a bucket of wine bars downtown to choose from, so it’s damn important to have an interesting selection of wines that appeal to a broad audience.Andrawes said, “That’s the greatest thing about getting Texas’ Best Sommelier Bill Elsey in as the leader of the pack. I let Bill manage the wine selection in the front room. I’m responsible for maintaining the vintage cellar so I select rarities with wines we believe in. Wines must deliver quality first, price second.”

Elsey described his approach to wine buying, “I taste often and make it a priority to build relationships with the wine rep’s who work with me. I take tasting with my distributors very seriously. Those whom I buy the most wine from understand my palate and what I am looking for, which are wines that over-deliver for their price point and taste of the place they are from. In the Lounge, if you are spending $90 on a Châteauneuf-du-Pape you know it is an awesome bottle for what you paid. The same can be said for the $29 bottle of dry Riesling. I also like to have a diverse selection of wines from traditional, as well as esoteric grapes and regions.”

They have some pretty amazing wine in the cellar. Andrawes gave me a tour and pulled out bottle after bottle of rare and collectable wine like Screaming Eagle, 1982 Chateau Haut Brion, 1955 Taylor’s Vintage Port and the mack-daddy 1989 magnum of Petrus. He grabbed a bottle of 2005 Gargiulo Vineyards Money Road Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon for me to try. I needed a moment.

While the wine selection is large, that’s all you can expect. They do not serve beer, cocktails or anything else. They don’t prepare food on premise, but have service agreements with restaurants within a two block radius that will bring you cheese plates, hors d’oeuvres and light eats. The Red Room will host private parties and arrange for catering.

The lounge was starting to fill up with guests by the time we came out of the cellar. Elsey poured a selection of wines by the glass at the bar unobtrusively tucked in a back corner, while Andrawes circulated around the lounge tempting guests with prime selections from the cellar. Edward Morgan liked that touch saying, “They have a great portfolio of wine. Things you won’t get anywhere else.”

Nash Garrison was visiting for the first time and was happy to discover a new place near his home. “I love it. Being in the neighborhood, I want to go somewhere to chill out and have a drink. Going to a lounge underground is cool.” It is literally cool in there — around 65 degrees — which will be especially nice when its 100 degrees outside.

Return visitor Adi Pavlovic likes the unhurried pace. “The last time we were here we bought two bottles, sat on the couch and didn’t get up for hours. You can’t do that any other place in town.”

I got caught up in the easy pace too. It was one of those nights where I knew I was tempting a hangover to carve a jagged gash in my morning skull, but I didn’t care and ordered one more glass of Champagne. The crowd was relaxed, conversations were flowing as easily as the wine and the couch sucked me in.

Nagging thoughts about an early morning at work eventually pulled me off the couch. As I was finally leaving Elsey got a call from a group planning to drop in and kick off their late night revelry at the Red Room.  He had a gleam in his eye anticipating a flock of wine aficionados encamping in his den until the wee hours. There is nothing better than long conversations with friends over wine. What a dream job.

Visiting The Red Room Lounge

  • Website
  • Hours: Tuesday-Friday 2PM to 12AM and Saturday 3PM to 1AM
  • Prices: Wines by the glass range from $6 to $25
  • Payment options: Cash, American Express, Discover, MasterCard, Visa

A version of this story first ran on The Digital Texan.

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Bill Elsey’s Fast Track to Wine Success

What happens when you are a rising star in the wine world and recently crowned Texas’ Best Sommelier 2011 at TexSomm? You get asked to host videos, host a VIP reception at Chef’s Under Fire, host #SommChat, host elegant wine dinners and you get job offers. That’s right, Wines.com and the soon to be opened Red Room Wine Lounge lured Bill Elsey way from Duchman Family Winery to be their new Sales Manager and Sommelier.

Bill at Chefs Under Fire

This is a big win for Alexander Andrawes and the folks at Wines.com and a big loss for Duchman. Not only is Bill exquisitely knowledgeable about wine and the beverage industry, but he’s also a delightful conversationalist who puts people at ease. His customer service skills seem innate and he says, “My philosophy is to make people feel comfortable and welcome first and foremost.”

Here is a young guy that has been on a fast track to success. He started from ground zero and has worked hard to be one of the top wine experts in the state – he won the Best Sommelier title five years to the day after starting in the wine industry.

Bill got started in the wine industry by joining Duchman Family Winery right out of college. He grew up in nearby Wimberly, Texas in a foodie home that prized cooking and gardening and cooking, but wasn’t wine-centric. Once he joined the winery as a part-time tasting room grunt, he fell in love with the industry right away. He soon started working full time and began studying wine, and in particular Italian He soon became the bar manager Trattoria Lisina, the Italian restaurant on the Duchman property, and  learned more about wine and food pairings.

His experience at the restaurant stirred a desire to become a certified sommelier through the Court of Master Sommeliers. He took the introductory course and realized he was woefully under prepared. While he passed, he vowed to never be that under-prepared again. He hit the books and took the certified exam a year later and passed it as well. He also joined the Society of Wine Educators, to continue learning and tasting because being a normal somm isn’t enough for this guy. Through the second program he also became a Certified Specialist in Spirits as well as a Champagne and Cork Specialist. Up next, in November he will take the final exam to become a Certified Sommelier. He is self admittedly obsessed with learning. His roommate recently commented that Bill hadn’t left the table for 10 hours on a Saturday because he studying. Come on Bill. . .

All of this hard work has led to the next step in his career. He shared a little bit with me about the job change. “Deciding to change jobs didn’t come easily. I had really grown into my role with the Duchman Winery and felt a strong sense of connection to the owners, winemaker, and the wines. Working there for the past 5 years has been the single greatest influence on my wine career thus far. That being said, I think I reached a point where I wanted to challenge myself in a new environment and allow my knowledge of wine to grow. Working for Alex not only allows me to be in a role as a wine buyer and sommelier for Wines.com, but I will also be working in a wine ‘lounge’ setting when we open the Red Room. Having the ability to be around some of the best wines in world on a regular basis was a big reason I decided to take the position.”

Bill is looking forward to expanding the reach of Wines.com. He is excited about The Red Room Lounge concept and bringing the wine bar-come- lounge to life. Oh, and he’s also hosting a Wines.com Iberian wine cruise next May that sails from Barcelona, Spain to Southampton, England. Sounds like a tough assignment.

How do I get that job? Bill has some advice for aspiring sommeliers. Spend $100 to get a membership to the Guild of Master Sommeliers website. It has a massive database of study guides and review quizzes to help you study. Also join a study group of similarly determined wine enthusiasts.

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Fine Wine without Pretense Makes Sense at Max’s Wine Dive

There are days when I feel like wearing jeans and flip-flops. On those days that I’m feeling ultra-casual, I don’t have lowered expectations for how I’m served or for the types of food and drink I buy. I just don’t feel like getting all gussied up. On days like that, Max’s Wine Dive on San Jacinto and Third in downtown Austin is a perfect choice.

Max’s is the kind of place where the wait staff wears t-shirts that read, “Fried Chicken and Champagne? Why the Hell not?” Max’s is the kind of place that serves down-home food like Gator Beignets and Shrimp & Grits.  Max’s is the kind of place that doesn’t serve flights of wine, because who really just wants a small taste of wine when you can have a whole glass?

I ambled in to Max’s after work with my friends Cotton Candy and Jolly Rancher to enjoy a glass of wine or two during happy hour, which happens Monday through Friday from 4pm to 7pm. During happy hour wines by the glass are $2 off. It was a 90 degree evening in March, so I was hankering for a glass of Rosé wine. They had two on the menu, so I asked our server, Joe Fahlmann, for a recommendation. What happened next set the tone for the rest of the evening.

Joe asked me if I like my Rosé dry and advised me that if I do, I shouldn’t order either of the wines on the list. He then suggested I order a sparkling wine that wasn’t on the wines by the glass menu. I love bubbles, so I was game to go for a glass of Schramsberg Brut Rosé. Cotton Candy is a bubble fiend from way back, so she was down with it too.

Jolly Rancher had a hankerin’ for a light-bodied red. Joe nailed what she wanted with a glass of Lemelson Vineyards 2008 Thea’s Selection Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley for $14 a glass. This wine was also not on the wine by the glass list. Recommending an Oregon Pinot Noir scored points with me, and then he said they also carry Argyle Winery Nuthouse Pinot Noir which won even more points.

Jolly Rancher also wanted a little nibble with her wine, but the cheese selection wasn’t exactly what she wanted. “I like it hard. I want it hard. Hard. Can you do that?” Yep, Joe changed up the selection of cheeses to get rid of the goat’s milk and replaced it with Manchego.

Three special orders accommodated and food and drink were brought to our table quickly. Happy hour indeed. This is what I thought of my wine.

Schramsberg Brut Rosé

Look This blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir is fermented in part in contact with the Pinot skins giving it a warm salmon belly hue. It has fine, active streams of bubbles that ascend to join their friends in a tiny mousse. 
Smell It has a scent like a summery desert with delicate strawberry and biscuit.  
Taste This was just what I was looking for, a delightfully chilled, subtle sparkler dancing with strawberry, nectarine, citrus and a hint of toasty pecan flavors. It has a quick finish of  buttered toast.  
Price $13.75/glass  (this typically sells for $39 a bottle at retail)

 

Max’s has a respectable selection of wine with 3 sparkling wines 2 Rose and about a dozen reds and a dozen whites available by the glass. They carry anywhere from 140 to 170 wines by the bottle at prices ranging from $12 to $500. All wines are available to take home at retail prices. If you’re not a wine drinker, they also carry about a dozen kinds of beer.

I’ve heard a lot of bitching about the expensive food, but I didn’t go to eat. I have no complaints about the prices of wine. They are pretty reasonable for a wine bar. I was impressed prompt, attentive service with an eye on getting us what we want. Note: the service was good even before I disclosed that I am a blogger. I appreciate knowledgeable servers that give good recommendations for wines. I like Max’s willingness to open any bottle to pour a glass as long as the table is willing to order at least two glasses from the bottle.  Good wine, good service, casual attitude.  

If you are looking for a place to get a good glass of wine while wearing jeans and flip-flops try Max’s Wine Dive.  

What are you drinking?

In flight at House Wine

Do you remember ten years ago when wine bars started popping up here and there? Not tasting rooms, or wine shops that served by the glass, but honest to goodness establishments fully dedicated to the enjoyment of wine by the taste, the glass or by the bottle. Outside of New York and San Francisco wine bars were few and far between. Much has changed. In Austin there are at least a dozen different wine bars.

My beautiful wife and I decided to try House Wine before going to dinner. This place is in a little house just south of Lady Bird Lake a block west of S. Lamar on Josephine St. They are definitely going for the South Austin vibe – casual, cozy and a little sloppy. The space is intimate (small) and eclectic (mismatched shit). We felt pretty comfortable right from the start.

There wasn’t table service, so we bellied up to the bar and looked through the menu. House Wine has about 25 whites and 30 reds by the glass and by the bottle. The prices are pretty damn reasonable ranging from $7 to $11 and bottles in the $20s and $30s. We were there at happy hour – hey hey 2 bucks off each glass.

On this particular night, we were indecisive, so we decided to order two flights. Three half glasses for $15. A bargain. I ordered a Spanish Tempranillo, a Côtes du Rhône and Spanish Verdejo (white). My beautiful wife asked the bar tender to select a flight for her. She had a sparkling rosé, an Argentine Malbec and a California Pinot Noir. We also ordered a selection of cheese and smoked salmon. The cheese and salmon were nice, served in a gorgeous wooden bowl and gave us something to clear our palettes between wines. Worth the order.

Here’s what I had.

I started off with Paso a Paso Verdejo 2008.  Lovely pale yellow in the stemless glass. Nice scents of pear. The Verdejo grape makes a nice medium bodied, citrusy, honied wine that is right at home on the shabby back porch of House Wine and at your summer party.   

Next I had a Volver Tempranillo 2005.  Bright ruby with a fruity nose. This guy started off with round cherry, cassis and vanilla and finished with cocoa and a bite of tannins. The smoked salmon tasted great with this.

My third glass was REDblanc Côtes du Rhône. This organic Grenache, Syrah blend had a warm plum color and a nose to match. It was a mouthful of raspberries, violets and licorice with a touch of cedar on the finish.

Decent wines for the price.  If you are looking for a very relaxed, inexpensive wine bar with a decent selection, try House Wine. If you want knowledgeable wine guideance and service in an elegant setting, you’ll be disappointed here. Good news is there are several other wine bars in town.