As the nation’s second-largest state, Texas is home to a great many facets of drinking culture, with its unofficial Ranch Water cocktail, a West Texas staple, and the historic, beer-centric ice houses concentrated in and around Houston.
Wine, unsurprisingly, is no exception. Journey around the state and it’s easy to find not only a great bottle, but also an incredible amount of diversity by way of sommeliers who are quick to think outside the box (and beyond the classic, encyclopedia-sized steakhouse lists).
To get a better sense of Texas drinking culture—and for some helpful advice on where to drink—we turned to two of the state’s top sommeliers, Justin Vann of Public Services Wine & Whisky and Lindsay Thomas, general manager at Houston’s formidable Camerata wine bar. Here, their takes on the best wines to bring to a rodeo, the worst thing they ever drank and which wines to pair with Whataburger.
Name two bargain bottles, one red and one white, that’ll improve after ten years and can be purchased for $50 or less, total.
Justin Vann: My red would be the Envinate Táganan Vinos Atlánticos Tinto 2014 [from the Canary Islands]. All of Envinate’s wines are made with a Burgundian sensibility, but they’re uncompromisingly natural and a little edgy flavor-wise at times. This wine is truly a bargain, and it is an extraordinary pairing with a Whataburger cheeseburger. For white, I would go with the 2015 Robert Weil Tradition riesling out of the Rheingau. It’s not weird or rare, it’s just a doomsday device of ultra-pure peach, apricot, nectarine-y, slate-y goodness. Come to think of it, this is good with Whataburger too.
Lindsay Thomas: For white wines, I think that riesling is the tops at standing the test of time. I am currently loving the wines from Max Ferd. Richter out of the Mosel. As for reds, syrah is a wine that, for me, only gets better with time. I think that Domaine Faury is producing some of the best value northern Rhône syrah that I have seen, and while they tend to be a bit more fruit-driven, the structure and savory characteristics inherent in those wines can carry it through 10 years. The Vieilles Vignes St.-Joseph is the way to go.
If you had to stock one red and one white for the rest of your life—assuming you’d drink nothing else—what would you pick? One rule: Both bottles have to be under $20.
JV: For the rest of my life I would be cool with drinking Olivier Cousin Pur Breton cabernet franc from Anjou. It over delivers so much for being 20 bucks. I also couldn’t live without sparkling chenin blanc like the Pinon Brut Non Dosé Sparkling Vouvray.
LT: I really love Muscadet for this job, especially because if I had to pick one type of food to eat forever, it’s going to be some type of seafood situation. The Domaine de L’Ecu Classic Muscadet Sevre et Maine is one that I could drink buckets of, and would be happy to have in my fridge at all times. With the red, I cannot stop drinking (and never want to) the Albahra cuvee from Envinate. It’s garnacha tintorera from Almansa and it has everything that I want: juicy red fruit tempered by beautiful floral, spice and mineral notes. Super food-friendly cause a girl’s gotta eat.
Name your favorite wine list in the world.
JV: The best list I ever ordered wine off of was at Rekondo in San Sebastián. Pretty straightforward food, but with staggering selections of old classic spanish reds like Rioja, Ribera del Duero and Priorat for cheaper than I’ve ever seen them. Also there was a very friendly, very large white dog there named Sebastian. He tied the place together.
LT: My favorite wine list experience that I have had in the world was at Le 6 Paul Bert in Paris. I was on a trip with a group of somms, and we all know we are terrifying when we travel in packs. The wine program itself is fantastic; a veritable wine playground, full of wines that many of us had only studied and nicely balanced between natural and weird (somm candy) and classic and delicious.
Name your favorite wine list in Texas.
JV: Can I be greedy and pick two? Pappas Steakhouse on Westheimer in Houston is a mind-blowing selection and my first choice. The entire sommelier team across all three locations are like SEAL Team 6; they move quietly, with grace and terrifying precision. My other favorite list in the state is more low key: Bufalina in Austin. The wine list is the plainest looking document—several pieces of unbound white paper, just stapled in the corner, [but] it reads with the gravity of an ancient, dangerous spell book. Bufalina strips away everything but the most exciting and allocated wine-geek bottles.
LT: If I know I want a bangin’ bottle of wine at a ridiculous value with delicious food in a casual atmosphere I will always put Bufalina at the top of my list. If I want my wine-mind blown, coupled with perfectionist hospitality, it’s gotta be Pappas Steakhouse. Both have given me some of the best wine experiences in my life.
We’re not assuming that everyone in Texas goes to rodeos, but, hypothetically, if you were to go to a rodeo, what wine would you bring?
JV: The Rodeo isn’t a place where I’m looking for a pensive glass of something complex. The Rodeo is the place I go to unironically enjoy Bud Light once a year. So I’d probably take some glou glou like Ameztoi Txakoli or La Boutanche rosé.
LT: I can’t take full credit for my answer on this one, as I have never actually been to the rodeo and therefore posed this question to a friend. What we came up with is any of the Dirty & Rowdy wines because, #obviously.
What’s your favorite thing about Texas drinking culture?
JV: I’ve lived here my whole life and I’ve gotten to watch the market evolve into a place where you can sell just about anything. It feels like a special place where glorious old ice houses like West Alabama Ice House and drive-ups still thrive, while over in downtown we can blast through 15 cases of the deeply weird Sebastien Riffault “Skeveldra” Sancerre over at Oxheart. And no matter how hard everybody pushes, at the end of the day most of us still enjoy a Lone Star and a taco at West Alabama. In fact that’s my one sentence answer: My favorite thing about Texan drinking culture is West Alabama Ice House.
LT: My favorite thing about Texas drinking culture is that fact that the weather here takes rosé and bubbly season and extends it year-round, and folks here have fully embraced that.
What’s your most esoteric wine obsession?
JV: This is a really hard one for me to answer because I sell and drink a lot of esoteric wines (or hipster wines, if you don’t like them). Vernaccia di Oristano? Domaine de La Grande Colline Le Canon Syrah? Costadilá Col Fondo Prosecco? I can’t pick one.
LT: I am actually obsessed with the Schilcher Frizzante from Franz Strohmeier. It is a natural sparkling rosé made from blauer wildbacher out of Styria in Austria. I feel absurd writing all of those words down, but I don’t care because that wine is ruin-your-life delicious.
Name the worst thing you ever drank.
JV: I cannot stand Varnelli Amaro Dell’Erborista. I adore all other Varnelli amari and liqueurs, but that Erborista tastes like chemical warfare.
LT: ChocoVine. No ma’am. Get outta town.