Every year, the publication Wine Spectator gives its Best of Award of Excellence to restaurants with wine lists offering more than 350 selections and an especially diverse number of offerings. Less than 1,000 restaurants nationwide receive this honor, and only three were in West Texas. One is in El Paso. Another is in Lubbock. The third is Amarillo’s own Macaroni Joe’s. In recent years, it has become the place for Amarillo wine lovers to enjoy their favorite vintages.
Chris Hazel, Macaroni Joe’s wine director, says the award is an acknowledgment of one of the deepest wine lists in the state. “If you want to come in here and get a $600 bottle of cabernet, we have it. If you want a $200 Bordeaux, we have it,” he says. “But if you want a $20 bottle of Riesling, we have that as well. We pride ourselves on having a wine for every palate and every budget.”
The wine list also includes older vintages dating back to the 1990s and even the ’80s, says Hazel. “We definitely have a well-rounded wine list.”
With more than 500 selections, the sheer size of the restaurant’s list is often enough to make an impression on travelers, Hazel says. “We get a lot of reviews on Trip Advisor,” he says. “About every third one says ‘What an amazing wine list.’ People traveling through don’t think about Amarillo being a place for wine drinkers. Every day I get somebody who says ‘Wow, we didn’t expect to see this much depth.’ It’s nice to hear from those people.”
Despite the available variety, both Hazel and Brian Singleton, owner of Crush Wine Bar & Deli, agree that cabernet is the most popular wine choice in Amarillo. “Our retail sales are more cabernet-driven,” Singleton says of Crush, which has an impressive wine cellar of its own and allows patrons to purchase bottles for home. “Everyone likes to eat steak, and a cabernet is the perfect companion to a nice steak.”
575 Pizzeria Craft beer pairs well with fresh, gourmet pizza, but so does wine. Brian Kelleher’s establishment is well-regarded for its beer selection, but he and his team have also put together a pretty spectacular wine list – including several on tap. “When you open a bottle, the quality starts to diminish,” Kelleher explains. Wine on-tap doesn’t just taste better, but comes at a better price point because it saves on bottling and packaging costs. We suggest having a sip at 575’s fun “Wine Down Wednesdays,” when all glasses are $5 and bottles are $20.
BL Bistro Owned and operated by Brian Mason since 2000, BL Bistro has established a loyal clientele at its Austin Street location in a former bank drive-thru building. The eclectic location is perfect for its eclectic atmosphere. The bistro offers a very reasonably priced wine list that hovers around 75 labels, and bar manager Bobby Costello says he’s regularly introducing new vintages for trial runs. “Some are higher-dollar wines, and some are specialty bottles that may be a little harder for us to get,” he says. If you’ve never been, mark your calendar for “Wine Wednesdays” and get 15 percent off every bottle.
Crush Wine Bar & Deli If “wine bar” is right there in the name, the selection had better be good. Thankfully, that is definitely the case at Crush, which opened on Polk Street in 2008. Owner Brian Singleton offers more than 400 labels from his cellar, and sells at least 50 wines by the full glass (6 ounce), half-glass (3 ounce) and even one-ounce “tasters.” Though Crush’s outdoor porch area isn’t quite as busy in the cooler months, it brings patrons indoors for occasional wine dinners. Each focuses on offerings from a particular winery, paired with a specially crafted multi-course meal. Watch Crush’s Facebook page for details and pricing.
Embers Steak House For a cattle town, it may surprise some that a majority of Amarillo’s most visible steakhouses are national chains. Embers, tucked away west of Georgia Street near the Wolflin Area, is anything but. Its exterior is a blend of luxurious colors and fabrics with Western touches – you won’t miss the cowhide and cowboy photography. Owner Chad Lardie is as meticulous about his wine list as his specialty Bloody Mary menu (see Cocktail section). Try your favorite during weekday Happy Hour, when all glasses of wine are $2 off.
Macaroni Joe’s Chris Hazel says the occasional wine dinners at Mac Joe’s have become a hit. “We typically have one about every other month,” he says, noting that he’s in the process of planning one for Nov. 19. This one will feature selections from California’s Opus One winery, with each wine paired with a certain dish – plus a representative of the winery will be present to share about the vintages. “It’s always a great time and great experience for our customers,” Hazel says. Join the restaurant’s email list to get details and pricing in advance of these exquisite dinners.
Public House When Josh Fuller of OHMS Café and Bar teamed up with Brian Singleton of Crush Wine Bar & Deli to launch Public House, they knew wine would play a big role in this comfortable, classy establishment. Public House offers a wine list of more than 70 different bottles, plus another 20 available by the glass. If you’re not interested in a full bottle, we recommend sampling one of the wines on tap. This technology is as close as it gets to tasting a wine on-premises at a vineyard, helping the wine better maintain its flavor and integrity.
Buy the Bottle
Prefer to drink at home? A number of local restaurants, including 575 and Crush, are licensed for take-home wine sales, and will even special-order for customers. On the retail side, United Market Street on Georgia has an extensive wine inventory overseen by the always enthusiastic Hobby Kuehnast, a Certified Wine Specialist and Certified Wine Educator. The five Party Stop Fine Wine & Spirits locations carry a diverse wine selection, as does frequent Best of Amarillo winner M&R Package Store. And for a local wine experience, head out to visit Monty Dixon at Bar Z Winery. Located at the edge of Palo Duro Canyon, Bar Z makes its old world-style wines using Texas grapes. Have a taste or buy a case of its award-winning L'efforescence Pinot Noir.
What to Buy?
We asked our wine experts to suggest some of their favorite wines priced less than $20: • Valdo Prosecco Brut ($15) • Pewsley Vale Eden Valley Riesling ($17) • Eye Chart Chardonnay ($17) • Rosatello Moscato ($12) • Cycles Gladiator Boneshaker Zinfandel ($14) • MAAL Biutiful Malbec ($20)
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by Jason Boyett
Jason is a journalist, copywriter, ghostwriter, and the author of more than a dozen books. His most recent is “12 World Religions: The Beliefs, Rituals, and Traditions of Humanity's Most Influential Faiths”, published by Zephyros Press. Learn more at jasonboyett.com.