The Best Wine Bars In America

wine bar

Alen Lin

This post originally appeared at Travel + Leisure.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.

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 neighbourhood, 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 savoured and are served in an atmosphere where you’ll want to linger. Besides, you’re on vacation—cheers to that!

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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.

Source: Travel + Leisure

The Butcher Shop, Boston

A homage to traditional Europeanboucheries, this rustic neighbourhood 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.

Source: Travel + Leisure

Bar Covell, Los Angeles

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.

Source: Travel + Leisure

Tinto, Philadelphia

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.

Source: Travel + Leisure

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.

Source: Travel + Leisure

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.

Source: Travel + Leisure

Barcelona, Atlanta

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.

Source: Travel + Leisure

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.

Source: Travel + Leisure

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