Our new series, Reasons to Travel Now, highlights the news, events, and openings that have us scoping out plane tickets each day. Today, a look at how the latest wine bars in the States are taking their cues from Europe.
Until recently, the best places to find Europe’s great wines — and the unstuffy European approach to food and drink — were neighborhood bars in the gastronomic capitals of the Continent. “In Paris, half the time you’re drinking a fantastic natural wine and don’t even know it,” says noted sommelier Sebastian Zutant. Now chefs and somms in the U.S. are embracing the Euro-focused wine bar, making it easy to grab a glass of Gamay (and a killer Mediterranean meal) without a passport. Primrose, a D.C. spot by Zutant and his wife, Lauren Winter, is among an upswing of newcomers focusing their bottle lists on the Old World.
Primrose — Washington, D.C.
Zutant rounds out an impressive list of small-production bottles from Burgundy, Bordeaux, and the Loire with selections from the U.S., including his own Virginia-made label, Lightwell Survey Wines. In the kitchen, Chef Nathan Beauchamp turns out bistro classics — terrines, steak frites — and a cavalcade of fresh baguettes. But it’s not all old school Euro: ask about the off-menu burgers.
Petit Marlowe — San Francisco
Restaurateur Anna Weinberg describes the wine bar experience as “like a coffee shop — but better.” That mentality reigns at her latest project, a Parisian bar-brasserie steps from big sister restaurant Marlowe. Sommelier Lindsey DeSmidt curates a light and bright wine list to complement Chef Jennifer Puccio’s raw bar bites and French classics — plus a few irreverent touches, like the FG & J: a foie gras and blood-orange-jelly sandwich.
Enoteca Nostrana — Portland, OR
The latest chapter in chef Cathy Whims’ love story with Italy is built on the oenophile reputation of her next-door restaurant Nostrana. For the Europe-focused wine list, Beverage Director Austin Bridges helped gather bottle recommendations from European producers like Sicily’s Arianna Occhipinti. For food, expect San Daniele ham sliced barside, sublime spaghetti pomodoro, and snacks like focaccia di recco: paper-thin sandwiches of fresh cheese, baked in copper pans sourced from Liguria.
Fairfax — New York
NYC dining fixture Gabe Stulman reflected on his favorite European haunts, including London’s Noble Rot and Septime La Cave in Paris, for this West Village hangout that blurs genre lines between home, wine bar and neighborhood café. An eclectic yet approachable wine list from Nick Grenier offers eye-openers like by-the-glass orange wine and Andalusian Romé. Stop in during daylight hours to order the affordable afternoon-only Plate + Glass of Wine special.
Aviary Wine & Kitchen — Austin
Co-owner Marco Fiorilo lovingly describes the Mediterranean as “the epicenter of wine” — and almost every aspect of Aviary, which began life a decade earlier as a furniture store, is inspired by travels in Southern Europe (including Fiorilo’s years working at a family vineyard in Veneto). Beverage Director Alex Bell curates a wine program featuring the city’s largest collection of skin contact wines, while Chef Thomas Calhoun’s seasonal dishes incorporate the flavors of France, Spain, Italy, Greece, and Turkey.
More places to sidle up to the bar...
Sip Cava, vermuto, and sherry at Urdaneta, a PDX wine bar inspired by owner Javier Canteras’ family txoko (Basque supper club). At Haley.Henry in Boston's busy Downtown Crossing shopping district, small-production biodynamic wines meet Mediterranean crudos and tinned seafood — and a bumpin' old school soundtrack. Angela Rutherford and Ping Ho put the focus on community at their Detroit wine shop and bar, The Royce, highlighting “wines made with integrity” and bringing pairings to the people with free tastings and workshops. And Atlanta chef Nick Leahy’s Provençal roots inspire Tin Tin, opening later this year with a menu of southern French bar bites like pissaladière flatbread with anchovies.