When we lived in Philadelphia, we would go out to dinner fairly often. There were several excellent restaurants within walking distance, and we visited them frequently. The proximity was an important factor, but the fact that they were also BYOB was extremely attractive (Philly has a rich BYOB restaurant culture, due in part to the exorbitant cost of acquiring a liquor license–I heard it was in excess of $300,000).
Here in Houston, there are few BYOB restaurants, so initially, it was difficult justifying paying restaurant wine prices when we have a ton of it at home (we also love our new kitchen, so cooking at home has become the norm).
After three years in our house, however, we have started to venture out a bit more and we have found that wine prices in Houston restaurants are not nearly as shocking as they were in Philly (restaurants in Philly are required by law to buy their wines from the state-run liquor stores at retail prices, which they then mark up 3-400%).
Over the last few years, we have found a few solid restaurants, with reasonably priced wine lists, and here are a few of the wines we have tried recently:
A couple of months ago, we went out to dinner for my birthday. I opted for a restaurant that is attached to one of the best butcher shops in Houston, where I often go for incredible dry-aged ribeye and strip steaks.
NV Philipponnat Royal Réserve Brut Champagne: Restaurant price: $80. 65% Pinot Noir, 30% Chardonnay, 5% Pinot Meunier. A couple months prior, I had a bottle of Philipponnat Royale Réserve Non-Dosé–a wine to which no additional sugar is added and a style that I prefer, which is much drier, therefore more of a focus on the fruit. It was OK. When I saw this on the wine list, not “Non-Dosé” but Brut (i.e., there was a bit of sugar added), it was a bit of a no-brainer as Philipponnat has a sparkling reputation (pun intended). Green apple and citrus with just a hint of yeast on the nose. A fine sparkle and dry, with that green apple and oodles of baked goods on the palate. While of course I did not try the two side-by-side this wine with the added sugar seemed considerably better than the non-dosé wine. Odd, at least to me, but perfect for the pre-dinner bottle. Excellent, 91-93 Points.
2016 Tres Sabores Estate Zinfandel Rutherford, Napa Valley: Restaurant price:$84. Rule #1 when you go to a Houston steakhouse: order steak. While that might seem obvious, it always amazed me when I see people with a slab of salmon or a bouillabaisse in front of them. Rule #2, it seems, is that you need to order a big California Cabernet to pair with that steak. While I rarely break the first rule, I almost invariably violate the second. There was a ton of Cab on the list, which was tempting, but I saw this Zin from Tres Sabores (owner/winemaker Julie Johnson and I share an alma mater) and it instantly became a contender. This past January I finally met her at Zinfest (the premier celebration of the most American of wine grapes). She was fantastic as were her wines. So when I saw this I jumped. Dark in the glass with dark berry fruit and distinct aromas of cassis and mocha. The palate is fruity and fun with depth and gravitas. Bravo Julie. Bravo. Excellent. 90-92 Points.
As I said, we do not go out to dinner as often in Houston as we did in Philadelphia, but we are slowly building up a few favorite spots here in the Bayou City. Near the top of the list is a’Bouzy. As I have mentioned here several times, Bouzy is a Grand Cru village in champagne, famous for its Pinot Noir and it produces some of my favorite champagnes.
I was confused about the punctuation. An apostrophe (not to be confused with a hyphen)? I was a French major, taught the language for ten years, and still think I know my way around it fairly well. An apostrophe? There?
I figured it must be some sort of throwback, a reference to Old French, perhaps?
I had to ask.
So I did.
Was it an Old French reference? Nope. Some sort of regional dialectical peculiarity? Non.
The server explained it as meaning “in or at Bouzy.”
In otherwords, they mean “à Bouzy.” A little thing, but as a former French teacher, it makes me cringe and want to go around to every menu with a red marker and correct it. But I refrain. Holy cow am I mature.
Regardless, a’ Bouzy has an incredible champagne list. Incredible. Here were two that we could afford:
2007 Pierre Morlet Champagne, France: Restaurant $79. 74% Pinot Noir, 26% Chardonnay. I first heard of this house, located in the Premier Cru village of Avenay-Val-d’Or, in Napa Valley where Pierre’s son, Luc, has a winery producing impressive Cabernets, among other wines. Rich, yeasty, a bit of citrus with some signs of age—with cherried, almost oaky characteristics. Even despite this, it has a ways to go despite being a dozen years out. It will hold for at least another decade, maybe more. Whoa. Outstanding. 92-94 Points.
NV Paul Bara, Bouzy Brut Rosé Grand Cru Champagne, France: Restaurant $96. 80% Pinot Noir (12% Bouzy Rouge), 20% Chardonnay. It was my wife’s birthday and we were done eating, but we needed more bubbles. Since the restaurant is named after my favorite town in Champagne, I leafed through the many wines the restaurant has from the town. I have ridden my bike by Paul Bara countless times, but have never wandered in. When I saw this on the list, though, I needed to try it: Rosé from Bouzy? Any day of the week. Fruity: strawberry and cherry, with just a hint of yeastiness. The palate is fruity as well with the aforementioned fruits, an intense acidity, and a vibrant sparkle. Outstanding. 90-92 Points.