Once an eclectic home furnishings store with a small wine bar, now a warm, full-scale restaurant with an extensive wine list — Aviary Wine & Kitchen reopened this week with a completely different (if still eclectic) space, but one big thing about it, the wine, remains at the heart of it.
Co-owner Marco Fiorilo gained a fleet of regulars at the original shop seeking his versatile, constantly rotating wine selections, and he and the rest of the Aviary team have cultivated a hefty starting list of wines for the new restaurant now. This time, however, he’s hoping to keep the wine list intact for at least a few months as customers become reacquainted with Aviary.
And boy, is it a fun program.
Restaurants with wine lists several pages long, as Aviary’s is, can be hit or miss for people who aren’t oenophiles and don’t recognize grape varietals beyond chardonnay and pinot noir. The eye-catching back bar at Aviary can hold more than 800 bottles — with only about 300 stocked there now and a ladder to reach the ones at the top — so Fiorilo knew he had to do something original to connect all that wine with customers.
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He used to feature colorful one-liner descriptions of wine at the old Aviary. The current solution might be even more accessible, especially for people who have never visited.
“We don’t want people to come in and see very off-putting French names, prices and dates, and see nothing else. That's not a way to order wine,” he said. “We came up with an emotion, a feeling, a person that can embody a style of wine. Maybe you are feeling Jayne Mansfield and you want a nice pink wine. Feel some sexiness with Etta James. It's sultry, it's smooth. You can create that iconic character with the wine, and it's easier for them to pick.”
As a result, the wine list is divided by categories with about eight or nine wines in each one. The categories, as Fiorilo said, aren’t by region or varietal or price. Rather, he has separated the wines into famous faces we can all recognize.
Bubbly wines, like cava, prosecco and champagne, are in the David Bowie section. Big, bold, tannic wines, like an Australian cabernet sauvignon or a barbaresco from the Piedmont region of Italy, are classic Steve McQueen. And Texas’ own beloved Willie Nelson stands in for vintage wines that have stood the test of time.
Fiorilo’s favorite section might be the Frank Zappa options. The composer, according to Aviary’s description in the wine list, was a total oddball who “changed the way the world perceived American musical composition. The wines he embodies are the same.” These include the Craven Pinot Gris from South Africa and the Fog Monster Red from Sonoma County in California.
“It’s one of our only offerings from Sonoma,” he said. “We’re letting people push the envelope with what we offer. We have wines from northern and southern Italy, Slovenia, Germany, Spain, Australia. I’m a Francophile as well, so there are quite a few French wines.”
The wines in these character categories are by the bottle, so they aren’t cheap but also aren’t totally breaking the bank for a date night. If you’re just stopping in for a charcuterie plate during happy hour, choose among the 20 or so wines by the glass or from a nicely global beer list (no, really: the beers span from Austin’s St. Elmo Brewing Carl Kolsch all the way to Harviestoun Old Engine Oil Porter from Scotland).
Aviary, also owned by culinary director John Coronado, makes sure every last dish on the food menu pairs with the wine. The food, predominantly Mediterranean in style, is divided into three sections — peck, graze and feast — depending on how hungry you are, with options like a daily oyster selection, ceviche, chicken liver mousse and red mussels.
As he was at the old Aviary, Fiorilo will try to be a familiar face, getting to know his customers when he can and helping them pick a wine based off their mood or what they’re about to eat.
“I'll be hands on with the wine list, with people at their tables,” he said. “The food and wine pairings are very important. We're trying to promote those and show people how much better their dining experience can be with the right wine.”
Aviary Wine & Kitchen is located at 2110 S. Lamar Blvd, Ste. C and open 4 p.m. to 12 a.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays, with happy hour from 4 to 6 p.m. Tuesdays-Fridays. (Lunch and Sunday brunch are both coming at a later time.) For more information, visit aviarywinekitchen.com.