"Reverse happy hour." This concept always gets me excited. How creative! I think. How fun; there's actually something to do at 10 pm!

This is not how reverse happy hour actually plays out, though. Usually, by 10, I'm tired and ready to go home, and the last thing I want to do is keep drinking for drinking's sake. On the other hand, if I have successfully rallied, it's not for a happy hour—that quintessential blow-off-steam-after-work adult bonding regimen, generally followed by going home, eating dinner and crashing early—but rather for '80s prom at Rouge Cat or lowbrow PBR-swilling at the Matador.

So, reverse happy hour: not the best idea, unless you live in a city that never sleeps (which we assuredly don't).

Here's where TerraCotta Wine Bistro (304 Johnson St., 989-1166) comes in. Under the adept leadership of Peas 'n' Pod Catering team Catherine O'Brien and Glenda Griswold, the new restaurant—which opened last month in the space that was once Trattoria Nostrani and, very briefly, the French restaurant Vivre—offers its own take on happy hour: $6 wines until 6 pm.

This is genius, particularly in Santa Fe. It all but singlehandedly revives the "ladies' lunch" (read: wine-soaked lunch), all while allowing even cheap bastards to indulge in an afternoon or after-work sip.

And you don't even have to feel like a cheap bastard while you're doing it. O'Brien and Griswold have revamped the über-fancy, borderline stuffy ambiance of their predecessors with bright colors and a comprehensive menu—printed on earthy brown paper and, in the case of the wine list, attached clipboard-style to a cork board. Even better, the wine list is divided by price, from "the 20s" to "the 40s." (This is perfect for those of us who love a good wine, but also hate overpaying, and therefore always end up ordering the second-cheapest thing on the menu, regardless of what it is.)

During a recent visit, SFR A&C Editor Enrique Limón and I sat on the patio and opted for a $21 bottle of Chilean Torrontes. Cold, crisp and delicious—and $21!—it highlights the fact that a well-chosen wine list doesn't have to be snobbily priced.

But enough about wine. TerraCotta's menu is diverse and imaginative, ranging from lunchtime usual-suspects like steak salad ($14) to an entire list of $10 panini.

To sample as much as possible, we started with an order of bruschetta. Here, $15 gets you two generous bites of each of four varieties. We went for the creative and delicious BLT; a goat cheese/roasted tomato/garlic classic; the generously mounded smoked salmon topped with capers and preserved lemon; and the simple but incomparably yummy brie with fig and port jam.

That would have been enough for lunch, but we kept going. A salad called "Simply the Best"—planked salmon filet crusted with whole grain mustard and brown sugar on a bed of greens ($14)—was good, but oversold and unevenly dressed: The greens on top were dry, while those underneath were soaked (I wasn't sure if it was the pomegranate vinaigrette or just the salmon's accoutrements that did it) and a bit too saccharine. In addition, Enrique's sweet potato fries, served alongside one fat, scrumptious crab cake ($15; $20 for the larger portion), were merely lukewarm.

Such minor errors are forgivable, particularly in a new place that's still working out the kinks.

What TerraCotta lacks in finesse, it makes up for in taste—our slice of flourless chocolate cake ($6) was sublime—and warm, unpretentious service. And then, of course, there's that killer wine menu. Anyone longing for a real wine bistro in Santa Fe should delight in TerraCotta's debut.