Wine culture takes Middle America by storm…

Above: the mélange of Venetian glass at Brandani’s in Missouri City was as brackish as it was playful and delightful. I loved it and I loved the restaurant.

I have to be totally and brutally honest.

When my editor at the Houston Press asked me to see if I could find any undiscovered wine country in Houston’s suburbs, I headed out to Middle America with the same preconceived notions that any average self-respecting American wine pro would harbor: there is no wine culture or true fine wine life outside our country’s major urban commercial centers.

But what I found was a vibrant, however unnoticed, community of people who love good wine and food, who appreciate good wine service, and who are looking to expand their wine knowledge and experience by adventuring beyond the stereotypes and common places of American wine enthusiasms.

Above: owner and wine director Kevin Rios of Veritas Steak and Seafood told me that his interest is turning from “big, bold” California to Italian and Spanish. Music to my ears!

On my last visit, at a small unassuming wine bar, Off the Vine Bistro, in a strip mall in Missouri City, Texas last night, I was blown away by wine director Manish Asthana’s selection of white wines, including a super groovy natural Arneis.

That’s Manish (below, right) with his wife Namita, who runs the “farm-to-table” menu. He’s an oil-and-gas dude and they’ve lived and raised their children in this southwest suburb of Houston for 22 years.

He told me that of all the places they’ve lived over their lifetime (mostly in Europe but also in Asia and their native India), they decided to make their home in the Houston area because they really loved it here.

There may be hope for (wine) America yet!

Click here for my post today for the Houston Press.

Wine trade in particular might be surprised by how ambitious some of these places are despite their location far beyond Houston’s inner urban loop.

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