“Intimidating” may be the most used term to describe wine. The restaurant wine list can be so long, often in foreign languages, and requires so much prior knowledge of the meaning of terms. You may like wine but feel you would have to study it for a year to know how to order.
The guiding principle behind High Street Wine Company, situated in San Antonio’s energetic Pearl development, is to expunge the complexity of wine. In the words of general manager Scott Ota, “We try to take the douche out of wine.” His point of reference is the universal conviviality of the beer garden.
Ota, a refugee from Austin and the Driskell Hotel, has years of hospitality experience. Although he loved Austin, he worried the restaurant scene has got very “frothy” with lots of new openings propelled by a crowd of people moving from one new place to another. He sees San Antonio as a market that has been “asking for fine wine for quite some time but hasn’t had the opportunity to have a really approachable, fun program where you can get something special ... in a feeling of casual.”
Strip the wine question down to: What taste do you like? To this end, check out the flights of three wines each. Rosé All Day ($17) showcases rosé wines from Catalonia, California, and Côtes de Provence, showcasing the three regions, several grapes, and three different philosophies of winemaking. A server describing the process of aging might introduce lees aging with Lil’ Leesy ($19), a flight that shows its effects through three apparently different wines. A Spanish sparkling wine (a Cava Gran Reserva), a wine made from the arneis grape from northern Italy, and a chardonnay from the Chablis area of Burgundy in France. A more mainstream flight, Classic Italian Reds ($17) features an example of nebbiolo from Barbaresco, a sangiovese from Chianti Classico, and a corvina from Valpolicella.
By-the-glass selections run a full page, and while they are arranged for ease of use by the wine beginner, they are also, from the experienced wine drinker’s point of view, a notable selection in their own right. Beginners are in good hands here, rather than being seen as fodder to be pushed slosh.
The bottle selection runs 13 pages and, at a rough guess, amounts to more than 200 selections including beers and ciders. The wines are organized by country. Everything has an on-premise and a takeaway price. (Hall Street Wine Company is a wine store as well.) If I had a suggestion, it would be to create an app version of the list with the emphasis on a “wine selector form” as the landing page. The user could use their smartphone/pad to select their criteria (e.g., price, style, grape, area of origin, etc.) and up would pop the matching set of wine names.
Courses are also offered, although the lack of a separate room means that they have to be scheduled at less busy times.
The food selections are snacky. Examples would be olives, mixed nuts, a charcuterie plate, cockles, and really good baguette bread, all priced at a few dollars each.
The location, at the edge of the square in the center of Pearl, is perfect for a quick stop after visiting the weekend market or before dinner. High Street Wine Company has already established itself as a go-to place for wine and a good time. Other wine bars should take note.