Austin’s Friendliest Wine Bars

SXSW is here! As all of Austin’s guests arrive, downtown is transformed into a crazy web of people, events, and pop up eateries and bars. It is going to be a hell of a ride this year since I work for a company that participates in SXSW. If you are looking for a fun, friendly, and Austintacious wine experience  check out my favorite places to grab a glass!

My guide for the coolest and friendliest wine bars is based on different criteria than you typically find in other guides. These are places that I hang out at regularly (ok, A LOT) and love the energy, people, and the overall experience. I judge these places based on friendliness of staff, inviting/fun/quirky spaces, and a decent wine/food selection. Some do not have the most high end wine selection, but I don’t want them too. I enjoy the vibe and people so I pick places that represent all that makes Austin the best place to live in Texas. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do!

1. Max’s Wine Dive
Max’s Wine Dive located downtown is one of the best places to grab a glass of wine. Don’t sit at a table. Grab a chair at the bar before the dinner rush hits and the bartenders are more than happy to chat you through their wine list in addition to any speciality wines that may be open. I always ask about the ‘day old’ wines that have been opened they are selling at a reduced price. If you go on a Wednesday or Thursday evening prior to their weekly shipment there are usually really interesting wines open they will let you try as well. Who doesn’t like awesome wine for a great price?! Everyone that works there has always been super friendly and very knowledgable. Added bonus: Max’s Fried Chicken. 

Max's Wine

2. House Wine
House Wine is a fun, quirky wine bar located on Lamar and Josephine not too far from downtown. I’ve spent many a night in coffee houses so House Wine brought back the nostalgic feeling of the “early days” of Austin where you could sit on the patio for hours and read. It is a great place to hang out with your friends, significant other, or on your own if you need some quiet time. Cool and comfortable, HouseWine offers small plates of cheeses, olives, and desserts.  The last time I was there they had a cheese plate/bottle of wine special for $50. Great deal! Added bonus: Make-your-own-s’mores plate.

3. East End Wines
East End Wines is actually a wine store located in a historic home on Rosewood Ave in East Austin. With a vast array of wine to choose from you can find economical wines along with high end and rare wines. The great part about East End Wines is they go out of their way to help you pick the right bottle as well as introduce you to new wine. Very friendly and knowledgable (see a theme?) Because you are buying the bottle retail, you can afford to spend a little more and try something different. They also host free wine tastings on Friday afternoons  from 4pm-8pm. If you would like to enjoy the bottle on the patio (and try Raymond’s food truck), they will uncork the bottle (for a small fee) and provide the glasses. Added bonus: Three Little Pigs food truck. Best meatloaf and collard greens EVER!

Wine and Food

4. Red Room Lounge
Red Room Lounge has been around for about a year and a half now and used to be the best kept secret downtown. However, I think the secret is out because the last time I was there it was packed! Red Room Lounge is a cool, laid back, basement lounge with a diverse wine selection at all price points. I like that I can enjoy a less expensive, but still high quality, bottle of wine or I can splurge and order something luxurious. With a somewhat obscure entrance and a basement descent, you may think you stepped into Prohibition era bar. That is why it is one of my favorite places in town. I can sit for an hour, have a wonderful glass of wine, and breath. Added bonus: Bill Elsey, one of Austin’s hottest, award winning sommeliers, is usually around to walk you through the wine list.

Red Room Wine

5. Uncorked
Uncorked was one of the first wine bars I started visiting when Austin’s food and wine scene was still young. Located on East 7th Street just off I-35 in a historic house, Uncorked offers great food, wine, and a view that is one of the best in town. I have consumed many a glass of wine on that patio while I waited out Austin’s crazy evening traffic!  You can order wine flights, glasses, or bottles from a country specific wine list. Tentative wine orderers are put at ease using the winedex tasting guide. Each wine has a series of symbols that describe the type, body, and style. If you have any questions or hesitations they go out of their way to explain the wines and let you try a sample before you order.  The local cheese and charcuterie boards as well as the truffled mushroom risotto are also wonderful. Added bonus: The amazing patio!

UnCorked Wine

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Beaches and Wine Food Styling

Wine and cheese photoA seaside retreat is a beautiful backdrop for food styling practice. I am surprised that I like playing with food as much as I do. I am still learning and trying to get the right angles down. If anyone has advice let me know! And parents, don’t discourage your children from playing with their food. It might come in handy one day!

I went with the classic wine plate for this shoot: goat cheese, Irish cheese, fruit, candied walnuts, and bread. I had to set up inside as the weather outside prevented any attempt at a picnic in the sand. I’m still holding out today will be nice to try another shoot.Cheese and fruit

The 2012 Bila-Haut Rose was a nice addition to the table and a great value. I picked it up before I left Texas for about $10. Bila-Haut exhibited a strong berry flavor with hints of orange and watermelon. Because it has so much bright acidity up front, I would describe it as that first moment you walk out on a sunny day. You have to cover your eyes for a moment, but then it feels good to lift your face and soak up the sun. It was light, crisp, and the dryness offset the sweetness of the cheese. I would buy this wine again for a day at the beach or a warm afternoon on the porch. The 2012 Bila-Haut would also pair well with grilled lobster or soft-shell crabs. Bila-Haut wine

I wish I had more time to play around at the beach, but today is my last day. Boo! Tomorrow I head back to Austin to see the hubs and fat cats. Gulf Shores restaurant recommendations are next!

Wine Wednesday Challenge: Chateau Ste. Michelle vs. Kendall-Jackson

Kendall-Jackson and Chateau Ste. Michelle

In honor of Wine Wednesday, I decided to try my very FIRST wine video. I have never been particularly comfortable with seeing myself on screen so the video is pretty rough, but cheers to trying something new! I know it is World Malbec Day, but I didn’t have any at the house. SO. Today’s Wine Wednesday challenge was between Chateau Ste. Michelle and Kendall-Jackson Chardonnays.

Lessons Learned:

1. RELAX…Easier said than done. I’ll have to turn the screen off next time so I can’t see myself stumble!

2. Invest in a video camera. It was difficult to show the wine because I was recording from my laptop. Videos at home would be easier with a dedicated space with decent lighting. I’ll see what I can do.

3. Recording after work with hair in a bun and glasses may not be the best “look”. At least it was the real me 🙂

4. Have a rough script. Apparently, I like the words  “very”, “really”, “ummm”, “a lot”, and “apricot”. I even meant to say pineapple for Kendall Jackson and I still said apricot. Ummmmm….

5. Let viewers know the price. I drink wines from all price points so that would have been helpful (Btw, Chateau Ste. Michelle is roughly $10 and Kendall-Jackson $12 retail).

6. Interject a personal story or a picture in the video. I think it would be more interesting.

7. Try again next week!

Chicken Run Organic Chardonnay

Lazy Saturdays are good for trips to the local farmers market and porchin’. For those of you that are not native Texans, porchin’ is a favorite past time when the weather is mild. I often spend entire weekends porchin’ with wine and a good book. It is very relaxing to hang out on the patio, listen to the birds, and disconnect.

This particular Saturday left me with a dozen farm fresh eggs, a bottle of Chicken Run, and lovely weather. I made up a salad nicoise for lunch and proceeded to enjoy a few glasses of the 2011 Chicken Run Chardonnay.

What prompted me to buy a wine called Chicken Run? Well, (1) it is a Chilean wine and due to my recent trip to Chile I was intrigued; (2) I thought the name was amusing; (3) It was on sale. What the hell, right?

Chicken Run was a light and refreshing patio wine. Not too heavy on the tongue and lovely with a salad! It was tart and crisp with notes of green apple and lemon. You can find Chicken Run at the HEB Volente location. It was perfect for a weekend of porchin’.

Austin transplants—get out there and enjoy some porchin’ before it gets too hot!