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Best of SA 2012

Best Wine Bar/Best place to nurse a hangover

Photo: Michael Barajas, License: N/A, Created: 2012:04:20 16:55:25

Michael Barajas

1. Max's Wine Dive
340 E Basse, Ste 101, (210) 444-9547,

Max's is all about cutesy slogans ("Haute Dogs and Shiraz? I'll Take Two!" "Fried Chicken and Champagne? Why the Hell Not!?") emblazoned across the equally cute waitstaff's T-shirts. And the "Pulled Pork, Peppers and Prosecco? Priceless" proposal actually delivers: piquillo peppers stuffed with pork and cotija cheese accessorized with a cilantro chimichurri and chipotle aioli are a perfect, small-plate starter, packed full of flavor that's eager to be tested against… And here's where the Wine Dive part kicks in. Especially if you're sitting at the bar where direct and frequent communication with the server is easier, said server might now suggest you taste a range of sparklers — or even a couple of still wines, for that matter. Out of four samples I picked not the prosecco but Secco Rosé, another Italian sparkler with little pretense but lots of pretty, strawberry ebullience. The act of choosing seemed almost co-conspiratorial. And you don't have to be eating anything to participate. There are several wines listed by the glass (all are $2 off during regular and reverse happy hour), and small tastes are always available — a good thing, as Max's wine selection tends, with exceptions such as Murphy-Goode, towards the obscure.

Your server might also suggest that he or she has a few open bottles that aren't on the by-the-glass list. Wham, hook set! On one occasion I was looking for something to go with a happy-hour skinny cheese plate for which I had selected a Spanish cabrales blue. One of those open but unlisted bottles turned out to be a beautiful 2004 Gonzalo de Berceo Rioja, full of licorice, leather, and juicy black fruit. Like every other bottle on the list, I could have purchased one to take home. Not that I'm pimping for an already-overexposed appetizer, but sipping wine sometimes does lead to inspiration. Here's my candidate for the next T-shirt: "Cava & Killer Calamari? Carajo!" Or "Caramba!" in more polite form. Feel free to use it. Judging by this San Antonio newcomer's multiple placings this year (Best Hangover Nursing, Best Wine Bar, and appearances under Late-Night Restaurant, Brunch, Wine Shop, and Jukebox) plenty of you likely have your own T-shirt ideas, too.

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