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.
America’s best wine bars distinguish themselves by offering a special atmosphere—alluring, but not 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 of course they 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.
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. Cheers!
D.O.C. Wine Bar: Chicago, IL
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, MA
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, CA
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, NY
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.
Tinto: Philadelphia, PA
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 ambiance, 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, CA
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.
Barcelona: Atlanta, GA
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.
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.
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