America's Best Wine Bars
Paris was on Amalie Roberts’s mind when she designed the cozy wine bar Kir in Portland, OR. “My intention was to create a space where the ambience, food, and wine can transport you to another place altogether,” she says.
As their numbers have swelled across America, the best wine bars distinguish themselves by offering this kind of special atmosphere—alluring, but not too snobby—along with wine lists notable for their breadth or an intriguing regional specialty, such as Spain’s Basque region. They share an emphasis on artisanal, pair-able foods and have sommeliers who know their stuff. Visiting a wine bar like Kir is a way to travel vicariously, while others encourage you to sample the local bounty.
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San Francisco’s Hidden Vine, for instance, takes advantage of its location near one of the world’s most celebrated wine-producing regions, highlighting homegrown Cabernets as well as produce from the city’s Ferry Plaza Farmers Market. That kind of loyalty appeals to Jon Blechman, the manager of New York’s Lelabar.
“We’re not trying to be a slice of Italy, Spain, or France,” says Blechman. “We want to be rooted in the neighborhood, which allows us to be ourselves.” A sleek wraparound counter with bar stools dominates the interior, encouraging casual conversation among West Village residents and others lured here. The small-plates selection is sourced from Murray’s, New York’s most iconic cheese shop.
But a top wine bar doesn’t require such a locavore creed or a proximity to vineyards; it can flourish even in the desert. Take Kazbar in Scottsdale, AZ, which puts a worldly spin on vino, with pages and pages listing nearly 2,000 varieties from more than 35 countries, including Croatia and Lebanon.
L.A.’s Bar Covell, on the other hand, takes a minimalist approach: it doesn’t even have a menu. “You know when you’re told an item is sold out? That doesn’t happen here,” quips Covell’s wine director, Matthew Kaner. He makes a policy of changing the by-the-glass wines daily and the bottle selection three to five times a week, so instead of flipping through a menu, you rely on the servers to share what’s available that given evening—eliminating that chance of disappointment.
Such satisfaction comes at a price, but these wines are made to be savored and are served in an atmosphere where you’ll want to linger. Besides, you’re on vacation—cheers to that!
D.O.C. Wine Bar, Chicago
Candlelit corners and fireside couches will make you feel instantly comfortable at this Lincoln Park bar. The extensive menu encourages sampling by offering flights and half bottles from around the globe; there are plenty of choices for novices and connoisseurs alike. The grub is equally worldly, ranging from chorizo-stuffed dates to rigatoni sautéed with fennel sausage. If you’re just grazing, opt for the cured meats or a selection of hard-to-find dessert cheeses like Cocoa Cardona and Raspberry BellaVitano.
Great Match: The roasted-beet salad and a glass of 2009 Andrian Pinot Bianco (Italy), $20 total.
The Butcher Shop, Boston
A homage to traditional European boucheries, this rustic neighborhood hangout is centered around a huge butcher block that’s replenished with freshly baked loaves and bottles of olive oil. The menu goes whole hog—hot dog à la maison, homemade sausages, pâtés, and terrines—while its wine selection, helmed by renowned sommelier Cat Silirie, relies on bottles from Italy, France, and Spain.
Great Match: The mortadella antipasti plate and a glass of NV Medici Ermete Concerto Lambrusco (Italy), $26 total.
Bar Covell, Los Angeles
Improvised wallpaper (pages from old encyclopedias) and no official wine menu reflect the laid-back vibe of this Hollywood Boulevard joint. Wines by the glass change daily; recent crowd-pleasers included a zesty, sparkling Malbec from the highlands of Mendoza, Argentina. Despite its minuscule kitchen, the bar churns out a respectable range of dishes including a croque monsieur topped with a nutmeg-flavored béchamel.
Great Match: Jalapeño mac-and-cheese and a glass of 2010 Christian Venier “Les Carteries” Cheverny Blanc (France), $21 total.
Lelabar, New York City
An oval wraparound bar dominates the candlelit interior of this tin-ceilinged wine bar, encouraging casual conversation among West Village locals and others lured here. The wine list features about 150 carefully curated bottles, and the small plates can hold their own (you might catch an intoxicating whiff of white truffle oil). Consider, for starters, the Cheese Trio Panini, a deadly combination of Manchego, Muenster, and fontina, sourced from New York City’s iconic Murray’s Cheese Shop, or goose liver pâté, spread generously on slabs of hot toast.
Great Match: Spicy lamb sausage and a glass of 2009 Comelli Soffumbergo (Italy), $30 total.
Wines from northern Spain and southern France take center stage at Chef Jose Garces’s tribute to Basque Country. While perched atop the orange lumber bar, you’ll gaze at a lattice-like display of wood that houses a staggering number of bottles—nearly 1,000. For a cozier ambience, head downstairs to the lounge, scattered with brown and mustard sofas. Garces, who is known for his unconventional spin on Spanish cuisine, serves up avant-garde pintxos (the Basque word for “finger foods”) like Kobe beef canapés and figs blanketed in Serrano ham.
Great Match: Duck montadito and a glass of 2009 Descendientes de J. Palacios “Petalos” Mencia-Bierzo (Spain), $24 total.
Kir, Portland, OR
Great things do come in small packages, as confirmed by this low-key hole-in-the-wall bar. A chalkboard displays a wine selection that changes daily, though the gregarious owner, Amalie Roberts, professes a passion for rosés—10 are regularly available by the glass. While Paris was one source of inspiration, Kir also tips a hat to nearby Willamette Valley, stocking local crowd-pleasers like the crisp and citrusy Love and Squalor Riesling. Take your pick among seasonal plates and miniature offerings such as paprika-dusted pistachios and olives with pepper and anchovies.
Great Match: Red wine–braised pork shoulder and a glass of 2008 Bodegas Monje Tradicional (Canary Islands), $22 total.
The Hidden Vine, San Francisco
Previously inside an alcove at the Fitzgerald Hotel, the bar recently relocated to the city’s Financial District, becoming a two-roomed space with a zinc countertop, fireplaces, and a bocce ball court in the adjacent alley. The menu also expanded to include items like a trio of crab, pork, and steak sliders and puffed pastry, crammed with soppressata and Manchego. The wine selection naturally has a soft spot for the homegrown, namely Californian Cabernets, while also choosing a regional focus further afield that rotates monthly (March 2012 put the spotlight on Australia).
Great Match: Honeycrisp apple and Asian pear salad and a glass of 2010 Quinta do Ameal Louerio, Vinho Verde (Portugal), $21 total.
Flight Wine Bar, Rochester, NY
Trios of hand-selected pours are the highlight at this appropriately named spot overlooking the Genesee River. Ice wines and Rieslings from New York’s Finger Lakes region make regular appearances in the bar’s extensive flights, which aren’t just limited to wines—there’s also a chocolate tasting, comprising dipped orange peels, sesame leaves, and dark chocolate truffles, perfect for sharing. If you’re in more of a savory mood, go for the cheese and charcuterie plates and tuck into succulent slices of salami and beechwood-smoked Bruder Basil. Low lighting and warm, earth-toned furniture complete the elegant atmosphere.
Great Match: Flight of chocolate and a glass of NV Shooting Star Sparkling Syrah (USA), $16 total.
This wine bar goes for a contemporary look—wood-plank walls, airy kitchen—with a wraparound patio that’s loosely inspired by La Rambla, the famous tree-lined main street of Barcelona. Sip, appropriately, on Spanish varietals while feasting on tapas that include cumin-scented chicken empanadas and roasted pumpkin with whipped honey goat cheese.
Great Match: Grilled hanger steak with black truffle sauce and a glass of 2009 Prima Bodegas y Vinedos Maurodos Tempranillo (Spain), $21 total.
Poco Wine Room, Seattle
A trip to the seaside village of Manzanita on the north Oregon coast made such an impact on the owners that they decided to bring some of that spirit to Seattle. The result is a heartfelt Capitol Hill tribute to the wines of the Pacific Northwest, placing a special focus on artisanal producers, with the occasional shout-out to France, Spain, and Argentina. Scores flock here for the large, swirl-friendly wine glasses and eclectic happy-hour spread with the likes of oysters, fried garbanzo bean pods, and tomato and garlic salad. Fresh from a facelift, Poco even has a new five-tap beer station.
Great Match: Butternut squash risotto and a glass of 2008 Yakima Valley Exhibition Red (USA), $24 total.
Kazimierz World Wine Bar, Scottsdale, AZ
There’s a speakeasy aura to this cavernous spot, known to fans simply as Kazbar. But its plush sofas and stone walls adorned with antique barrels—a funky tribute to the global wine village—will make you feel welcome. Bottles from more than 35 countries, including unusual locales like Croatia and Lebanon, result in a jaw-dropping 1,900 listings. For the overwhelmed, there’s the “Nifty Fifty,” a truncated version of the mammoth wine menu. Thankfully, the finger-food selection is briefer, with options such as the Cuban Pretzel Crisis sandwich (pretzel bread, chicken breast, prosciutto, and house pickles) and a decadent caramel fondue.
Great Match: The pancetta, potato, and smoked-Gouda flatbread and a glass of 2007 Goriška Brda Movia Ribolla (Slovenia), $26 total.
Veritas, Washington, D.C.
Exposed brick and burgundy interiors give a decidedly grown-up feel to this intimate space, inspired by the Roman adage “In vino veritas” (In wine there is truth). A temperature-controlled tap system allows for more than 70 by-the-glass choices, while perks like half-priced bottles on Mondays and Sundays keep the regulars returning. Look for roasted red pepper and feta dip among the array of pressed sandwiches, cheeses, and savory spreads. And be sure to leave room for dessert: Veritas is famous for its artisanal chocolates, crafted from quirky ingredients like cloves, ground tea leaves, and chipotle peppers.
Great Match: Pistachio dark chocolate ganache and a glass of 2008 Tofanelli Charbono (USA), $16 total.
Domacin, Stillwater, MN
Domacin abides by big-city standards in the smaller-town setting of historic Stillwater, a half-hour’s drive from the Twin Cities. Explore the extensive list of some 400 bottles (drawn largely from West Coast and Italian vineyards) while enjoying American food that speaks loudly with a Mediterranean accent (crostini, mussels, mushroom flatbread).
Great Match: The menu changes often, but if available, try the mussels with chorizo, wine, and herbs, paired with Cristom Estate Viognier from Oregon.
Bacchanal, New Orleans
So, did you really expect a typical wine bar in New Orleans? This retail wine shop in a funky Creole home has an accomplished kitchen and relaxed courtyard, all set at the far edge of the little-visited Bywater neighborhood (a 10-minute cab from the French Quarter). Select a bottle (at retail pricing) or buy by the glass in the pleasingly disheveled main shop, then head for the wire spool tables outside and order some bites to go with it.
Great Match: A trio of braised mushrooms with polenta, sherry, and Ossau-Iraty cheese, paired with a glass of Houchart Côtes de Provence rosé, $13 total.
Caveau Wine Bar, Denver
Caveau brings wine country to the foothills of the Rockies—the place has the feel of a vineyard tasting room. With its friendly neighborhood vibe, a fireplace, and knowledgeable staff, you can bet you’re in for a leisurely and gratifying sipping session. Time your visit to happy hour, when it’s half off wines of $12 a glass or more (under $12 are all $6), and nosh on the house meatball pizza or Basque-style pintxos.
Great Match: Prince Edward Island mussels steamed with white wine and garlic, and a glass of crisp Adami Prosecco Garbèl, $19 total.
Vino Italia Tapas, Honolulu
Hawaii isn’t just for mai tais. Vino Italia is an intimate, seductive bar with wine-country murals and a terrific selection of wines by the glass. Two-ounce pours are priced to encourage a wide-ranging ramble through the vineyards. Expect “comfort Italian” cibo with your vino: tapas-size offerings like truffled mac and cheese, agnolotti with langoustine, and an array of tasty ravioli.
Great Match: House-made agnolotti with baby langoustines and brown sage butter and local goat cheese, served with a glass of the 2010 Punta Crena Mataossu from Liguria, Italy, $30 total.
Zin Wine Bar, Healdsburg, CA
Local wines and produce, naturally, are the anchor of this respected restaurant and wine bar in Sonoma wine country. Sample widely among the terroir outside the door; the list of 100 bottles ranges from obscure to common, among them, wonderful Russian River Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs. Fans of Zinfandel will be particularly pleased by the ample selection of bottles and flights, some sourced from producers in nearby Dry Creek Valley.
Great Match: Try the brined, applewood-smoked pork chop with a glass of 2008 Acorn Zinfandel from nearby Alegría Vineyards, $36 total.
West End Wine Bar, Chapel Hill, NC
Although it’s in a college town, West End Wine Bar is hardly a college bar. Most nights, expect a raft of thirtysomethings checking out the representative (but not too expensive) selections of wines from around the globe. Most can be had by the sample (two ounce), by the glass (five ounce), and/or by the bottle. Nibble on cheese and charcuterie, or split a pizza or two around the table.
Sonoma Wine Bar, Houston
Welcome to Texas—the home of the seven-and-a-half-ounce pour! No customer leaves feeling slighted by quantity, and the quality of wine is superb as well. Sonoma offers some 80 wines by the glass, and the staff is happy to help you hone in on the one that suits you best. Small plates sop up the largesse; try the thin-crust pizza with smoked duck and porcini mushrooms.
Great Match: Slow-roasted pulled-pork tacos made with an avocado-pineapple salsa and Cotija cheese, paired with a bottle of 2009 Smokey Ridge Vineyard Zinfandel from Arista Winery, $60 total (one bottle and one taco).
20 Brix, Cincinnati
The first serious wine bar in Cincinnati remains its most inviting. 20 Brix pulls off a three-in-one feat: bar, wine store, and restaurant, where you’ll find up to 100 wines on any given day, many available in two- or five-ounce pours. Pair your selection with comfort food gone upscale, whether short ribs, shrimp and grits, or crab cakes—you’re certain to find something to go with that special bottle.
Great Match: Scallops in a white-wine cream sauce and baby bok choy and oyster mushrooms, with a 2009 Merry Edwards Russian River Sauvignon Blanc, $38 total.
Veritas Wine Room, Dallas
Veritas calls itself a vino pub, and that’s spot-on. It feels like that pub where you and your friends gathered when younger—except that it happens to stock 350 wines (including 20 or more by the glass). The owners are brothers who studied wine in Europe, but don’t expect exams; the mood here is utterly relaxed and convivial. You can also work your way through a list of more than 30 cheeses (many emerging from the surprisingly yeasty Texas cheese scene).
Grotto Wine Bar, Cleveland
Step through the door at Grotto, and there’s no question you’re in a wine bar—it has that mottled, faux-rustic sensibility, a hulking brick and stone wine cellar, and, hey!, is that part of an aqueduct? Located at Cleveland’s historic Shaker Square, this romantic hideaway serves up a range of great wines and Italian dishes, from small plates like calamari in a spicy tomato broth to gnocchi with lobster and sweet corn..
Great Match: Duck breast with a blackberry Frangelico demi-glace finished with Gorgonzola and walnuts, with a glass of Montoya Vineyards Zinfandel, $24 total.
Max’s Wine Dive, Austin
Max’s slogan is “Fried chicken and champagne? Why the hell not?” Not only is that attitude refreshing, but this “wine dive” specializes in great wines that impress without busting your budget. Bottles are sold at retail rather than restaurant prices, and every day nine wines are available for under $9 per glass. Most customers purchase bottles, but wines can be had by the glass if you buy at least two. Look for other locations in Houston and San Antonio.
Great Match: Seared tuna “noodle casserole” and a glass of McDaniel Pinot Noir, $30 total.
The Ten Bells, New York City
This Lower East Side wine bar leans organic, sustainable, and local, although wines show up from all over. A neighborhood-bar vibe (stamped tin ceiling; brick wall; chalkboards galore) is a fine setting for nibbling artisan cheeses (mostly from raw milk), trying the local charcuterie, or working your way through succulent, salty oysters (half price during happy hour). Choose from more than 30 wines by the glass, or 140 by the bottle.
Great Match: A half-dozen oysters with a glass of Jo Landron muscadet from the Loire Valley, $24 total.
Bin 18, Miami
Sleek, minimalist, and slightly dusky, this understated wine bar (and retail wine shop) near Miami’s ascendant arts district rewards those who seek it out. Choose from nicely varied wines (about 20 by the glass), and expect the accompanying food to strive toward a self-described “Riviera urban” style, with rare cheeses, charcuterie, and handmade pastas. Patrons balance this bounty on wine barrels that double as tables.
Great Match: Seared scallops with polenta and roasted tomato, with a glass of Le Paradou Viognier, $24 total.