I am pleased as punch to be taking part in the the Austin Food Blogger Alliance’s 2013 City Guide. It was right around this time last year that we were moving back to Austin, and the 2012 City Guide really helped me get my bearings, since Austin had grown by leaps and bounds since I last lived here. I’ve spent the past year exploring, and now I’m happy to share my insider knowledge!
Hi, have we met? I like wine. A lot. Back when I lived in Northern California, I really appreciated being close to California wine country. I did most of my wine-buying either at the wineries themselves (usually fueled by drunken tasting binges), through wine clubs (which I signed up for after drunken tasting binges) or at my favorite local wine merchant (perhaps after a drunken tasting). Naturally, I was anxious about moving back to Texas, where I was unsure what the wine-buying scene would be like. Fortunately, it has evolved quite a bit since I lived here as a college student… or I have evolved, or both. Either way, there are some great choices out there if you know where to look.
Sure, Spec’s or Twin Liquors will serve you just fine as long as you know what you’re looking for in a wine and don’t have anything too obscure or specific in mind. The same goes for Whole Foods and Central Market, each of which have remarkably good wine selections for grocery stores (especially true for the flagship downtown location of Whole Foods). But, I was in search of a great place to buy wine — somewhere with knowledgeable staff, a wide selection and an approachable Texas manner, of course. Here are a few gems that fit the bill.
East End Wines, 1209 Rosewood Ave.
In addition to a great, eclectic wine selection and staff who knows their stuff, this East Austin shop offers weekly wine tastings and classes, too. Housed in a quaint remodeled Victorian on the same block as Hillside Farmacy and Soma Vida, the shop also features a breezy back patio where you can enjoy your wine on a nice afternoon. The inventory is largely European, but they have a small but well-chosen selection of California and other West Coast wines, as well as offerings from New Zealand, Australia and other “New World” regions. The staff is friendly and free with their wine knowledge, in a non-pretentious, approachable way. They can also get down with their obscure California wine knowledge, so the wine geek in me is just a little bit in love. They convinced me to take home a couple of French wines based on my preferences, so we’ll see what happens. Definitely my personal favorite!
The Austin Wine Merchant, 512 W. 6th St. (between San Antonio and Nueces)
This downtown Austin shop has been around for over two decades, and it’s clear why. The selection is vast, and the staff is helpful and friendly. Their clear focus is on European wine, which doesn’t exactly match my California-honed palate, but they also have a respectable selection of West Coast and other “New World” wines, including a carefully chosen suite of Texas wines. The store itself is rather warehouse-ish, but they also keep an urban garden and offer regular wine tastings — what’s not to love?
Urban Wine + Liquor, 200 Congress Ave.
A newcomer this year, Urban Wine + Liquor is a breezy, spacious shop (at least by downtown standards) located at Congress and 2nd Street, right in front of the Austonian. It’s convenient to downtown condos and hotels, which would make it a good business bet no matter what, but it also happens to have a helpful staff and a good selection of Texas and international wines. Again with the lack of West Coast selection, though! I shall have to learn to love European wines.
South Lamar Wine & Spirits, 2418 S. Lamar Blvd.
With super-friendly staff and a good selection of bang-for-buck kind of wines (and I am not talking about Yellow Tail, here), I have to include this store in my list, even though I get down to this part of town infrequently. If you’re looking for a specific wine that they don’t stock, just ask, and they’ll do their best to order it for you.