Swanky Houston Happy Hour

I recently visited Benjy’s Lounge for an after work happy hour with a few of my lady friends and while I felt the happy hour pricing to be pretty weak the experience was still a pleasant one. I had dined in the restaurant for dinner before but never ventured to the Lounge upstairs. It was a great atmosphere with deep, comfy couches and low lighting. There is an outdoor patio that will be great once this Houston weather cools off… maybe around Christmas. If you are a wine drinker, though, you aren’t going to get any sort of happy hour deal on drinks. The only discounts are on the signature cocktails which are mostly martini-style. Happy hour in the Lounge is from 4-7pm. Appetizers are also discounted, though, at $6 each. We shared a few of these and they were all pretty tasty. As for drinks, I started off with a glass of still wine and then decided that I had better kick it up a notch with some bubbles. The situation just called for it… it usually does, though, right?

First let me tell you quickly about the food and then I’ll finish with the most important part… the wine. Like I said before, we shared several of the specially priced appetizers: chicken pizza with manchego cheese, spinach, lemon zest, pine nuts and a garlic confit; beef arepas with griddled corn and jack cheese cakes and something called voodoo cream; smoked salmon tacos with truffled potatoes and grapefruit crème fraiche. My favorite was the chicken pizza which was cheesy and yummy. The lemon zest added a special something that took it from alright to really good. The tacos were a gift from the kitchen on the house which of course made them taste better. The beef arepas wasn’t really anything to write home about. They were OK. The corn cake underneath was the best part. It tasted like polenta which I always enjoy.

Now let us get down to business. I began the night with a glass of the 2006 J Vineyards Pinot Gris from Sonoma County. This Russian River Valley wine was juicy and clean tasting with flavors of apples, pears and tangerine. My favorite part was the smell of honeysuckle when I lifted the glass to my lips. While this wine was lovely, it wasn’t quite what the doctor ordered so I switched it up a little. Next, I had a glass (or two…) of the Domaine Ste. Michelle Brut which is always a classic, and economical, choice in my opinion. This Washington wine is crisp and clean with just a touch of sweetness. It goes down easy but a single sip packs a lot of punch. The Pinot Gris was $10 a glass and the DSM was $8 a glass.

You can see all of the wines Benjy’s offers on their website. While their wine list overall is not exactly extensive, it is creative. I always like seeing a wine list that coaxes customers out of their comfort zones by offering wines that aren’t totally generic. Hopefully it will get some diners to try something new.

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Smooth & Sultry From Sonoma

What a sexy little bottle this was. It was complex and alluring and definitely got my attention. This was a wine that actually made me sit down and evaluate what was going on with it. This Sonoma County Cabernet has something to say. “Drink me.” Sebastiani used grapes from three different sub-appelations to create this California beauty: Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma Valley and Alexander Valley. While it is 84% Cabernet Sauvignon, it also features small amounts of Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Petite Sirah and Petit Verdot. This blend adds to the astounding complexity that this wine offers.Sebastiani Cabernet Sauvignon 2005

What first struck me was the depth of the garnet color as I poured it into my glass. I’d forgotten how dark a Cab can be. Before I even lifted the glass I was getting whiffs of rich black cherry and cedar (cigar box as the winery notes called it). I could tell that this was a wine I would need to let breathe for a bit. It was worth the wait. Firm in tannins and structure, it was a teensy bit tart on the tongue giving off flavors of black cherry and even a little bit of hazlenut from the oak but had a smooth and creamy finish. It also had flavors of smoke and black tea. So many wines I’m just indifferent about… this was not one of them. This was a wine that really made me think. My boyfriend and I enjoyed it so much and would definitely buy it again. I bought this one at Spec’s in Houston (Old Farm location) for around $16. This would be a perfect wine for a night when you felt like grilling steaks. It could definitely hold its own against hearty food but I think it would be just as enjoyable with a salad dressed with balsamic vinegar. Great… now I want a steak.