Houston Wine Idealist – First Week on the Job

Well, you certainly didn’t expect me to don the cap of Houston Wine ADVOCATE now did you?

In response to the numerous e*mails received after the announcement of my plans to begin assisting the good folks of Houston with their wine buying needs, I took to the streets as a consumer over these past few days.  It has been more than a decade since I traversed the aisles and perused the racks of this city’s liquor stores and (cough) recently born wine bars in search of bottles of the vinous sort.  Sure, I’ve shopped Richard’s weekly for my required Margarita preparing staples and other desired liquors and liqueurs, but wine?  Not since before opening my first shop in town have I looked to my now former competitors for a bottle of vino.

In case you’re just joining us, my new found necessity for seeking out bottles of wine stems from the fact that my old wine shop is now closed.  And if you’re one of the hundreds of thousands, dare I say millions, in Houston who missed – or avoided – the venomous word festival that ensued, let’s sum things up by saying that the folks in the papers had a field day over my demise.  Considering me overtly idealistic, to put it very kindly, the local food writers and their readers pretty much bit me adieu.

But there were still a few thousand folks in my loving e*base, a few thousand folks who DID “get” what I was up to, a few thousand folks who responded to the unavoidable shuttering of the doors with a chorus of: “Well, what do we do now?” And I decided to offer these folks, and anyone else who cares to listen – including the foodies, their readers, and anyone else – a service I once searched for.  I decided to offer a service, a FREE SERVICE MIND YOU, aimed at helping folks locate the types of wines that my little flock and I have come to love over these past many years together.  A service designed to locate great wines, at the best prices, that we may all enjoy together or in the privacy of our own homes with great friends or family, knowing that what we’re drinking are the wines we’ve all come to cherish for purity, uniqueness and an ideality based on the concepts of terroir and nature.

No longer owning a wine shop meant that to locate these wines, however, I would need to find a store – any store – that stocked such goodies.  The first source I turned to for a list of merchants to visit, having been out of the game for so long, was an article written in one local paper.  This article covered the closing of my wine shop and the readers and folks responding to same seemed to consider the author, at least on some levels, somewhat well versed in the subject of local wine and liquor merchants.  That this author had never interviewed MOI in ten years as a merchant (nor to my knowledge ever stepped foot in one of my stores) is not a point here.  I was turning to the author’s article as a reference for wine shops and (cough) wine bars to visit.  I needed to bone up on my knowledge of the local scene’s players so as to better serve my e*base, after all.  With that author’s list of players in hand, I spent a few afternoons and early evenings visiting these shops and bars. 

This is part I of what promises to be a VERY long series. 

The introduction herein has been lengthy enough, and I’ve been informed that many of my writings tend to the wordy side, so I’ll only brush the surface of my findings.  First, let’s discuss, as consumers, for that’s what I am now, a consumer, the APPALLING prices at retail here in Houston!  Did someone forget to inform the other “wine shops” in town of the existence of a well known FREE service called winesearcher.com?  Seriously folks, do you have any idea how much you’re being ripped off?  In my next installment, and in every other installment that follows, I will directly compare prices, naming names and calling people out – AS A CONSUMER.

Next, let’s talk about these (hack) wine bars.  Eight years ago, there was a place in the Village on Times Blvd, recall the place?  Never mind, it’s gone now, but the joint had a 5 piece live jazz band, hired a caterer called The French Fig who turned out these fabulous hand made appetizers to-order and the place had 4 dozen wines by the glass – and they did this every Friday and Saturday night.  The place was packed!  They sold these wines by the glass, organic, hand made wines by folks like Rosenthal, Wasserman and such: for RETAIL!  Check that out: they would take the retail price of the wines, divide by 4 (the number of glasses in a bottle) and that’s what you paid for the glass!  I remember a glass of Loire Valley Cabernet Franc would cost $4!  And if you wanted to buy a case?  You got the $16 bottle of wine for 10% on your case of 12!  Unbelievable, ingenious, right?  Too bad the place went under.  Guess they should have followed the practices of these (hack) wine bars of today.

I visited no less than 6 of the wine bars – I’ll visit the so called better ones over the coming weeks – from the author-mentioned-above’s list.  The prices?  OBNOXIOUS!  The selections?  Don’t even get me started.  Folks, if that’s what has been shoved down the throats of this town, passed off as good wine, for the past few years, someone needs to be called out!  What’s happening here, and I’m going to return, take down specific names of wines and report again, is dangerously close to the antics that went down a few years back at a place up in Big D that had that individual very nearly run out of town.  The wines I saw, at the prices being charged and the methods employed to sell same were so dastardly that I – as a consumer, as an idealist and a purist – very nearly wept.  Call me what you will, but what I witnessed would make the people I converse with on the web absolutely scream!

As I said last week when I launched this free service: until the completion of my winery license (and perhaps I’m rethinking that with what I’ve encountered), I will answer your e*mails for wine related assistance every Thursday.

Tell me: How may I assist?

All the best in wine and life,

Christopher Massie
Diplome D’Honneur de Sommelier