Wine geeks vs. wine snobs
There are two kinds of wine fans: (1) the wine snob, and (2) the wine geek.
The wine snob prefers wines from the world's top grape five or six varietals and regions. The wine snob follows Robert Parker's wine ratings. The wine snob fondly remembers the night he tasted eight $1,000+ bottles. The wine snob loves the wine lists -- or rather, "wine libraries" -- at Pappas Brothers, Lynn's Steakhouse, and Cafe Annie.
The wine geek is a very different animal. The wine geek loves under-appreciated varietals and exotic regions. The wine geek doesn't care about fashion or Robert Parker. And the wine geek does not worship at the altar of the 5 or 6 "great" varietals. The wine geek loves to find unusual flavors and great values.
There are some sub-groups of wine geeks:
Varietal nuts - They get excited about drinking strange and exotic grape varietals. They keep lists of the varietals they have tried. You can't even join the club if you have had less than 100.
Pairing freaks - They talk about "synergy" and how a wine "brings out" the flavors of the food. They organize an entire meal around the perfect pairing. They stop you from ordering asparagus because it "won't work with the wine." They tend to like Riesling and Gruner Veltliner. (Disclaimer: I am a pairing freak.)
Zin-heads and other varietal or region freaks - They believe that Zinfandel is the great American wine. They dismiss Robert Parker for never rating a Zin over 96. They can immediately tell whether a Zin is from Dry Creek, Lodi, or Paso Robles. Some geeks specialize in other varietals or regions, such as the Oregon Pinot freaks.
So am I a wine snob or a wine geek? Last night at Mary'z, I got excited about drinking a Cinsault-based Lebanese red for under $30. Take a guess.
A New Blog for Wine Geeks
Wine geeks rejoice! A ambitious website site discusses wines available in Houston. Blue State Carpetbagger's Red Wine Blog gives detailed notes about each wine's look, nose, flavor and mouth feel. He likes a variety of wines, including a lot of cheap wines. I don't know how I did not run across this site sooner.
Carpetbagger is a wine geek. He has only reviewed 15 cabernets, but has reviewed 50 Zinfandels. He likes a lot of wines under $20.
The problem with national wine reviews is that the wines reviewed are not always available in Houston. Because Carpetbagger is local, you can find most of the wines he discusses at Spec's. This is a great source for local wine information.
Some Great Wine Lists for Wine Geeks
Many Houston wine lists are geared to wine snobs. But the trend seems to be toward wine geek lists. If you are a wine geek, I highly recommend these lists:
1. Value Lists
Houston is the home of a new trend toward value wines. Instead of the standard 2 or 3 times retail markup, some Houston restaurants are serving great wines at a price near the retail price. Each of these lists includes both popular wines, as well as a large selection of unusual varietals and regions.
Ibiza - The original value list in Houston keeps getting bigger and better. Great selection of west coast Pinots. But given the restaurant's name, there are surprisingly few Spanish wines.
Catalan - Ibiza's sister. I like this list even better because it is more informative and more diverse. There are great selections for Zin-heads and Italian lovers.
Reef - Reef's seafood-based menu has a diverse range of spices and flavors. This list includes a lot of whites that work with the food. Cruelly, it also has some mind-blowing values on some intense, concentrated reds that don't work with the seafood.
Voice - Although it is a new restaurant with a new list, it is already extensive and diverse. Their wine guy is a master at pairing wines with difficult flavors.
2. Obsessively Regional Lists
These lists are great for the wine geek who obsesses about particular wine regions:
Dolce Vita Pizzeria Enotecca - best selection of Italian wines for under $100
Da Marco - best selection of Italian wines for over $100
El Meson - best Spanish list in town
Le Mistral - great French list, including a lot of Rhones
Cafe Rabelais - best French list in town, including a lot of Rhones
3. Food Friendly lists
These are lists for pairing freaks. The wines are carefully selected for how well they work with food. And when a restaurant has particularly challenging food to pair, a successful pairing is a thing of beauty.
Hugo's - Mexican food is very hard to pair with wine. Most people just give up and drink margaritas and beer. But Hugo's has a large, diverse list of red and whites that actually work with the spicy food.
Indika - Indian food is just as hard to pair as Mexican food. Indika pulls it off with a diverse small list. The suggestions are not always what you might suspect. For instance, I am surprised at how well the Italian whites on this list work so well with Indian spices.
Benjy's / Mockingbird Bistro / Shade - American bistro food is not as hard to pair as Mexican or Indian food. But these restaurants have well-rounded, diverse lists with many wines to excite the wine geek.
Backstreet Cafe - Sean Beck (who also does Hugo's list) wins special kudos for highlighting 10 or 12 wines each month and describing them in depth. I usually stick to his highlighted wines because they are so interesting and food friendly. Yet the rest of his large list is diverse, food friendly, and very wine-geek friendly.