Steve Buechner sips the 2015 Andreas Tscheppe Salamander Chardonnay, rolls his eyes backward, and dances from behind the bar at Light Years, the new Montrose spot he co-owns with partner John Glanzman. Why the giddiness? This just might be his favorite wine.
The pale-gold elixir is lightly carbonated. The nose offers a burst of grassy and herbal freshness, plus oak, while the taste is smooth, with subtle minerality. Gentle acidity surfaces toward the end, finishing a wholly satisfying experience. This is a wine that can pair with just about anything—and can be enjoyed anywhere.
“It expresses what Chardonnays should be,” says Buechner happily, “while offering a new expression of Chardonnay.”
Produced in the southern Austrian mountains, Salamander is a natural wine. Wines defined this way have no formal set of characteristics but, generally, are produced organically, using a natural fermentation process, with no sulfur. Recently Houston has seen an influx of these bottles in our hippest restaurants and bars, from Nancy’s Hustle to Camerata.
But Buechner and Glanzman, lifelong friends from Long Island, are the first in the city to bet on them entirely, moving to Houston from New York—Buechner was employed in fine dining there, while Glanzman had a previous stint here, in oil and gas—to open their naturals-only wine bar, which they did in October. The two fell in love with these wines, which they say taste cleaner and truer to the grape, about a decade ago, while traveling in France.
Inside their breezy and bright bungalow on Alabama Street, the two hope to show customers that their offerings, many of which originate from non-traditional winemaking locations such as Germany, Vermont, and—yes—Texas, deserve to share cellar space with French Bordeaux and Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon.
A good place to start is that Salamander, but don’t expect to see it on the wine list; there isn’t one. Buechner and Glanzman would rather you walk in ready to talk, whether you post up to the clean white bar or the cozy patio adorned with twinkling lights. “We have a conversation,” explains Buechner. “We pour a bunch of samples to get to what the person wants in their glass.”
That’s one way of doing it. You can also just ask for the Salamander. You won’t regret it.