If the average Dallas diner listed ways to get drunk at mealtime, wine might come in third. Any restaurant with any ambition at all has a list of house specialty cocktails, and the Texas craft beer revolution is still going strong — the region is opening at least 13 new breweries this year.
Creative wine programs don’t get as much love. Dallasites still like a Cabernet at a steakhouse and a few adventurous drinkers are searching for more, but the wine scene at Dallas restaurants is lagging behind the cocktail boom. It’s a similar story in the media: We talk beer and cocktails all the time but last updated our wine program rankings in 2015. A lot has changed since then, and it’s high time to uncork a few bottles and draw up a new list.
As before, big points go to creativity, resourcefulness and approachability — both in service quality and in the availability of bottles that are affordable to just about everyone. It helps if a restaurant features bottles that just can’t be found anywhere else in town, and if the staff shows a passion for them. Our enthusiasm for originality, adventure and outside-the-Napa-box thinking is why we’re still getting hate mail from steakhouse employees for ignoring their very large but often monotonous cellars of California and Bordeaux status symbols.
Creativity and resourcefulness aside, all 10 of these places serve a whole lot of incredibly delicious wine.
Six of the restaurants on this top 10 list have opened since our 2015 ranking, a sign that suggests wine lovers should be optimistic about Dallas’ future. The other big difference this year is that instead of counting down from 10 to one strictly in order, we’re grouping restaurants into unranked categories. There is an honorable mention and a clear No. 1, but everyone in between stands equally tall for their service to oenophiles, and their damage to our livers.
Honorable Mention for When Somebody Else is Buying: The French Room
The remodeled French Room’s wine program is an old-school celebration of the glory of France. Its wine list hits the table with a thud, a nearly book-length volume padded out by printing the text on only the right-hand pages. There are good wines from all over France here, but if somebody else is picking up the tab, why not direct them to the veritable library of well-aged Burgundian pinot noir or the pages of vintage grower Champagne?
Old World Glamour: Bullion, Flora Street Cafe and Gemma
Bullion, as the new home of chef Bruno Davaillon, is naturally a celebration of all things French, with an especially good stock in wines from his homeland, the Loire River valley. Don’t turn your nose up at the bottles under $50 — they’ve been selected carefully — and do show up on Mondays for the opening of a magnum from the cellar, available by the glass until it’s empty.
The wine list at Flora Street Cafe has lost its best feature — the one-page introduction featuring sommelier Madeleine Thompson’s personal favorites. It also lost Thompson herself, to SingleThread in California. But Flora Street still has a wide array of treats on hand, from a generous selection of half bottles to a $650 Madeira dating to 1920.
Gemma, one of just two restaurants to survive from our original 2015 list, remains one of Dallas’ class acts for wine, with impeccable service and a cellar that can cover just about any taste. There’s a fascinating discovery to pair with everything on the menu — and it’s probably pretty affordable. Although the specialty is wines from across Europe (including Austria, Portugal and the occasional German red), you’ll always find a Texas vintage available on tap.
National Pride: Rapscallion, Sassetta, Si Tapas
Rapscallion, the southern restaurant from the team behind Veritas Wine Room, restricts itself to wines made within the United States but finds a greater diversity in the USA than snooty Francophiles might think possible. Have you tried California Nebbiolo from Clendenen Family Vineyards? It’s pretty great. Need something to pair with a grilled steak? Grab a bottle of Bedrock’s superb old vine zinfandel. There’s nothing like Southern food and Idaho (yes, Idaho) wine to celebrate America.
Sassetta gives Italy the same treatment, with an all-Italian list that’s especially good at finding relative bargains for customers who want something nice but don’t want to spend $75. Italy doesn’t have the same marketing cachet as France or Napa, but the quality is often extraordinary, which is why Italian wines are on the rise across town. Look for wine director Siobhan Sindoni’s well-chosen Alto Adige or Marché whites and Sicilian reds. The same philosophy is practiced at four other superb Italian restaurants in town — Carbone’s, Lucia, Macellaio and Nonna — which also offer all-Italian wines at reasonable prices, along with the expert guidance needed to choose.
And the patriotic theme continues at Si Tapas, a paradise for lovers of Spanish drinks. Yes, there’s sangria, but the restaurant’s true boozy strength is a library of wine that covers the entirety of Spain, from the Basque Country’s white Txakolina to an after-dinner selection of Spanish brandies. It’s especially easy to explore the bounty because many of the bottles, especially the food-friendly whites, are $45 or below.
Best Wine-By-the-Glass Programs: Billy Can Can and Sixty Vines
Billy Can Can has wine bottles, but with over 25 selections by the glass, who needs them? The choices are often inspired, like one of Texas’ most delicious wines, the ultra-gluggable and amusingly on-brand Dead Flowers rosé. Look out for excellent Sancerre and a fabulous Oregon pinot noir from Cristom. And if you’re wondering what kind of venison-slinging western saloon has a top-notch wine list, the answer is: a saloon that employs a sommelier-certified chef, Matt Ford, alongside former Dallas Morning News food critic Leslie Brenner.
Sixty Vines, now with locations in Plano and Dallas, deserves praise for bringing more attention to wines on tap from steel kegs, a smart, environmentally-friendly way to serve glasses. Wine on tap is well-known in other states, but Gemma was one of the few Dallas-area restaurants to dabble in it before Sixty Vines opened up over 40 taps in each location — including several from the restaurant’s own vineyards in California.
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For True Adventurers: Sachet and City Hall Bistro
These two Mediterranean restaurants, both recent openings, offer diners quite simply the most interesting wine experiences in Dallas. It’s not just that they, almost uniquely in the city, are offering tastes of rarities like orange wine. (Sassetta and Lucia have a few, too.) These wine lists appear omnivorous — Italy, Greece, Spain, France, Slovenia, Lebanon, oh my — but they are in fact concise, each bottle chosen because the restaurant cares about serving them, and because the wines pair so well with the kitchens’ veggie-heavy, seafood-forward plates and pastas. The markups are fairly judged, too.
If you’re ready to dive in and taste wines like you’ve never tasted before, Sachet and City Hall Bistro are two of the best places in Dallas to do it. If you’re a little puzzled that your usual favorites aren’t here, helpful staff can point you toward something similar, especially at Sachet.
Indeed, Sachet’s wine program is a model for the rest of Dallas to follow, and although this list was supposed to be unranked, it’s the clear leader of the pack. Over 30 wines by the glass (in two different glass sizes), a selection of sherries, a stack of vermouths and a bottle list that specially denotes natural, biodynamic and organic wines: This is a wine lover’s dream. It helps, too, that seemingly every employee is prepared to rave about their particular favorites. Even in a restaurant landscape where wine is finally getting its due — six of the restaurants on this list have opened in the past two years — Sachet stands out as the ideal place to pop a cork.