New York Wine Bar Guide

Wine Spectator editors review some of the city's top options
Oct 22, 2007

For the past several years, wine bars have been springing up all over New York, giving enophiles a chance to enjoy wines by the glass, flight or bottle without the formality of the fine dining restaurant experience. New Yorkers have heartily embraced the trend, and have watched with appreciation as their favorite venues have refined their lists, their menus and, perhaps most critically, the ways in which they guarantee by-the-glass freshness, using vacuum-pump, nitrogen, or argon gas systems. Wine bars have also gained a foothold in rather unlikely places—witness the Vino Volo chain, whose latest outpost has just landed in Terminal 8 at John F. Kennedy airport, on the outer edge of Queens. Now, even some of the biggest names in New York fine dining are readying their own wine bars.

Just before the end of 2007, chef Daniel Boulud, whose restaurant, Daniel, holds a Wine Spectator Grand Award, will unveil Bar Boulud, a casual wine bar on Manhattan's west side. Sommelier Daniel Johnnes will be his partner in this venture. At the same time, Alain Ducasse, another Grand Award recipient (for his eponymous restaurants in Paris and Monaco), will open Adour Alain Ducasse at the St. Regis New York, an intensely wine-focused restaurant whose centerpiece will be a four-seat interactive wine bar that combines the best of high design, straightforward wine education and cutting-edge optical technology. Both venues promise temperature-controlled wine storage for a few lucky (and well-heeled) patrons, and lists that focus on the best of Europe and, in the case of Adour, California. Farther downtown, Marco Canora and Paul Grieco, both longtime alums of Gramercy Tavern who currently collaborate at Hearth and Insieme, will soon open Terroir, a wine bar whose 200 bottles and 25 by-the-glass selections will be chosen "for the sense of place that they impart," according to Greico.

Fortunately for New Yorkers and visitors to the city, there's no need to wait even a few weeks to have a great wine bar experience. Wine Spectator's editors have visited and reviewed some of the city's top wine bars, and while the list is by no means exhaustive, it's a great sampling of what this ever-more wine-minded city has to offer.

Location: 125 E. 17th St., between Irving Place and Third Avenue
Telephone: (212) 253-2773
Wine: 30 by the glass ($9—$50); more than 500 by the bottle ($25—$2,500)
Food: Spanish-style tapas with some inventive twists ($3—$12)
Ambience: Loud and tightly packed; if you don't know the person next to you at the beginning of the night, you will before it's over

The bar, and hand-written menu, at Bar Jamón.
By 9 p.m. on most nights, Bar Jamón, nestled among the wrought-iron gates of the stately Gramercy Park neighborhood, is packed like a rush-hour subway car, and everyone is drinking wine. This dark-wooded tapas bar, barely lit with candles, is a side-door extension of the Spanish restaurant Casa Mono. The two venues represent a partnership between Babbo owners Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich, and Babbo alums Andy Nusser and Nancy Selzer. Unlike Casa Mono, Bar Jamón is impromptu, with the menu hand-written on the mirrored wall behind the bar, stools and standing room only, and no reservations taken.

The all-Spanish wine list offers nearly 30 well-chosen wines and Sherries by the glass. Try the adventurous Descendientes de J. Palacios Bierzo Pétalos 2006 ($45) for plush red and black fruit, with mineral and floral notes. The wine list also has more than 500 selections by the bottle. It features top offerings and verticals from nearly every major appellation, including nine vintages of Bodegas Vega Sicilia Ribera del Duero Unico Gran Reserva back to 1970 (starting at $525, for the 1989).

The tapas are appropriately simple. Chorizo and pickled red peppers ($9) should be in front of every guest. Marinated olives ($3), jamón Serrano ($12) and a selection of three manchego cheeses ($7) are also staples. Nusser offers small plates for those looking for something more composed. The creamy duck liver pâté with preserved apricots ($11) pairs well with both red and white wine.

--Nathan Wesley

Location: 2020 Broadway, at West 69th Street
Telephone: (212) 595-2850
Wine: 50 by the glass ($8—$20); 120 by the bottle ($30—$400)
Food: Classic Italian, updated with some adventurous combinations of ingredients ($6 —$27)
Ambience: A young but wine-savvy crowd on most nights fills this two-level bar. The upper level features high communal tables and a slightly more formal feel

Patrons take advantage of the all-Italian list at Barcibo Enoteca.
Lawrence Bondulich opened Barcibo Enoteca in January 2007, providing a larger all-Italian counterpart to Bin 71, his Upper West Side wine bar that features wine selections from around the world and a tapas-style menu. After 10 months, Barcibo is running smoothly, with friendly and highly knowledgeable staff and an excellent menu highlighted by salumi and cheeses and an unconventional but very successful selection of crostini. Outfitted in softly toned wood and marble-topped long tables, the cozy bar and restaurant is conveniently located just three blocks from Lincoln Center.

By-the-glass selections include some consistently very good value wines, such as Planeta Sicilia La Segreta White 2006 ($10) and Casanova Della Spinetta Toscana Il Nero di Casanova 2005 ($15). By-the-bottle selections range from La Cappuccina Soave Classico 2005 ($32) to high-end treasures like Bruno Giacosa Barolo Le Roche de Falleto 1999 (96 points, $300), Tenuta San Guido Sassicaia 2003 (92, $300) and Gaja Langhe Sperss 2001 (93, $400).

Perhaps even more exciting than the wines, however, are the crostini. As you walk into the upper dining room at Barcibo, the toasty aroma of grilled bread is unmistakable. Each order will get you four slices of toasted and topped bread. It's hard to go wrong with the classic baked veal meatball with tomato and fontina ($18) but the most rewarding dishes are toasts topped with shrimp and artichokes in a white wine and lemon sauce ($14) and the odd-sounding but delicious salami, gorgonzola and honey crostini ($13), a sweet, savory and pungent combination that may be tough to match with wine, but shouldn't be missed. Various risottos ($15–$19) and paninis ($12–$14) are also available.

--Robert Taylor

Location: 34 Downing St., near Bedford Street
Telephone: (212) 691-0404
Wine: 20 by the taste and glass ($3—$17); 217 by the bottle ($15—$1,155), including 42 half-bottles
Food: Eclectic, with gastropub and Mediterranean overtones ($3 —$51, for caviar)
Ambience: Small and inviting, with comfortable bar-style seating throughout; fills up quickly on busy nights

Blue Ribbon Downing Street Bar's staff is friendly and knowledgeable.
The cozy interior of this West Village wine bar, all light-toned wood and subdued lighting, welcomes passersby, as does the friendly and knowledgeable staff working the bar. The relaxed setting makes it easy to get the most out of this small bar's attributes, whether it's one of the well-chosen wine-by-the-glass selections or the daily "toast" special (we particularly enjoyed this collection of a variety of toppings served on lightly toasted pieces of the house Pullman bread).

Blue Ribbon's diverse wine list offers both breadth and depth, and consistently highlights one or more top producers from a given appellation. Value-seekers can try the clean and focused Bodegas Godeval Valdeorras Viña Godeval 2006 (90 points, $42) from northwestern Spain, or a half-bottle of the racy Domaine des Espiers Gigondas Cuvée Tradition 2005 (90, $29). Those looking to splurge might enjoy Chateau Montelena's Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley The Montelena Estate 1999 (94, $250).

Despite the bar's minuscule kitchen, the menu acquits itself admirably. A snack of roasted almonds ($4) and olives ($7) will suffice for some, while others will want to tuck into one of several seafood- and meat-based plates, including a smoked duck breast, served cold ($11). Not to be missed is the excellent selection of cheeses ($15 for a plate of three) or a sweet finish with the rich and delicious chocolate-chip bread pudding ($10). Although diners can pick from a surprisingly extensive menu, the focus here is definitely on wine, and all around, the servers do an excellent job steering you in the right direction, whether you knew you were going that way or not.

--Alison Napjus

Location: 28 W. 8th St. between 5th and 6th Avenue
Telephone: (212) 260-9463
Wine: 20 by the glass ($9–$17); 60 by the bottle ($29–$175)
Food: Mediterranean-accented small plates ($3–$15)
Ambience: Not overly crowded yet lively, with a young-professional clientele; rock music and simple seating keep it casual

8th Street Winecellar inhabits a low-key space on a high-voltage block.
The newly opened 8th Street Winecellar may seem a bit out of its element, being located in a simple, elegant, substreet-level space on a block near New York University that's lined with pizza joints and retailers of novelty wigs and glittery nightclub wear. Then again, the seemingly less-is-more philosophy of owners Jonathan Cohen and Michael Lagnese keeps the place inviting, fun and worth more than one visit. Lagnese is a former staffer at Union Square Café, so the great hospitality on offer should come as no surprise. Cohen, who's contributed cartoons to the New Yorker is also a USC vet.

8th Street's short, eclectic list offers reputable brands from solid vintages and regions (from Loire, Alsace and Rhône to Tuscany, Marlborough and Napa). If you want to splurge, try an Otin Fiorin Barolo Cappellano 2001 ($175) or a Williams Selyem Pinot Noir 2005 (87 points, $126). You'll do just as well, however, with more moderately priced selections, like the 2004 Syrah from Mas des Chimeres (89, $38) or Allan Scott's 2006 Sauvignon Blanc (90, $29).

The kitchen delivers mostly small, wine-friendly options, like chicken liver pâté ($8), shrimp and chorizo skewers ($11), and an excellent charcuterie plate ($15) that's substantial enough for a small crowd. The bar's vibe is always laid-back, with dim candlelight and modern rock playing at a reasonable volume. The tables, chairs and barstools are simple and the decor is limited, but all that helps keep the focus on the wine, the food and your company, right where it should be.

--Eric Arnold

Location: 122 E. 27th St.
Telephone: (212) 481-7372
Wine: 22 by the glass ($10–$21), 350 by the bottle ($24–$900)
Food: Italian antipasti ($10–$16), plus pasta and entrées ($20–$35)
Ambience: Calm enough for conversation, with a professional crowd in their early 30s to late 50s, and a playlist ranging from Sinatra to world music

Enoteca I Trulli is a sophisticated offshoot of I Trulli restaurant.
This inviting annex to I Trulli restaurant, which holds a Wine Spectator Best of Award of Excellence, sits a few blocks from Madison Square Park, convenient to both the Flatiron District and Gramercy Park neighborhoods and the trendy Park Avenue South dining scene. When Nicola Marzovilla and his family opened I Trulli in 1994, its focus on Apulian cuisine and off-the-beaten-path Italian wines made it one of the first of its kind in the city. With only about eight small tables and 10 seats at the marble-topped bar, the enoteca, added in 1998, feels both spacious and intimate.

The wine list is exclusively Italian, with an emphasis on the south, but the selections also hop through the northern regions and Sardinia. (Most bottles can be purchased at Vino wine shop across the street, also owned by the Marzovilla family.) The friendly, knowledgeable staff will guide you through the more esoteric wines, but the four flights of three 2-ounce pours provide reasonably priced ($11-$15) samples before committing to a glass. Recent flights covered native whites, with a crisp, lemony Dolianova Vermentino di Sardegna Prendas 2006; rosés, like the Lini Lambrusco Rosé 2006 from Emilia-Romagna; and traditional Italian reds, such as Castello di Verduno Barbaresco Faset 1999 and D'Angelo Aglianico del Vulture Valle del Noce 2003.

Start with a bowl of house-cured olives ($5) and a sampler of meats and cheeses ($18 for a choice of three, $24 for five), such as porchetta d'Ariccia (fennel-studded roast pork) and Ubriaca del Piave, cow's-milk cheese brined in red-wine must. You can easily fill up on antipasti, such as panelle (chickpea fritters with goat cheese and caponata) ($12) or duck "prosciutto" served with figs over mâche ($15). But more substantial dishes come off the restaurant's regular menu, including pastas handmade by Dora Marzovilla (Nicola's mother) and homey entrées like rack of lamb ($36), grilled tuna ($32), roasted veal chop ($38) or loin of rabbit ($30).

--Dana Nigro

Locations: 205 W. 54th St. at Broadway, and 40 E. 20th St. at Broadway
Telephone: (212) 265-5169 (midtown), (212) 529-7870 (Gramercy)
Wine: 20 by the glass ($5—$30); 150 by the bottle ($20—$2,000)
Food: Classic Champagne accompaniments, from French chocolates ($7) to foie gras ($25) to Osetra caviar ($275)
Ambience: A candle-lit lounge with a quiet but hip play list and a speakeasy atmosphere

Flûte Bar was once a Prohibition-era speakeasy, run by a showgirl.
Now celebrating its 10th anniversary, Flûte is one of the older wine bars in New York (the Gramercy location has been open three years, and a third location is in the works). The original midtown location sets the tone for this franchise, inspired by the speakeasy that once operated there—infamous showgirl Texas Guinan ran Club Intime, a cabaret and speakeasy out of the same room Flûte now occupies, and the intimate bar reflects its history well.

You'll find at Flûte seemingly inexhaustible list of Champagnes, many available by the half-glass and glass. Flights range from $15 for three variations of a Kir Royal cocktail to $25 for a selection of rosé Champagnes. Perrier-Jouët Brut Champagne NV (91 points) is available by the half-flute for $10, while more extravagant choices include numerous selections from Krug, like a bottle of 1996 Krug Clos du Mesnil (96, $1,495) and Krug Collection 1979 in magnum (95, $2,000). There's even a non-vintage Krug Grande Cuvée (94, $30) available by the half-flute. There are some moderate values available for those not on an expense account as well, such as a half-bottle of Nicolas Feuillatte Brut Rosé NV (92, $35).

To accompany your Champagne, Flûte offers a surprisingly large menu that includes everything from spring rolls ($8) to foie gras with caviar ($25) as well as boutique imported chocolates ($7 each). And for those ordering Krug by the bottle, 30-gram tins of osetra caviar are available for $275. Whatever your budget, however, Flûte offers an intimate place to relax just a short walk from the throngs of Times Square.

--Robert Taylor

Location: 98 Rivington St., corner of Ludlow
Telephone: (212) 614-0473
Wine: 30 by the glass ($7—$22); 650 by the bottle ($25—$1,999)
Food: Rustic Italian small plates, cured meats and cheeses ($3—$17)
Ambience: Casual, with a mixed clientele; low lighting, bare wooden tables and a downtown prime location attract a scene on weekends

'inoteca is lively all day and night.
In 2003, the folks behind 'ino, the cozy Greenwich Village wine bar and panini shop that launched a thousand copycats, brought their low-key Italian aesthetic to Lower East Side. With nearly floor-to-ceiling glass windows and more than triple the seats, 'inoteca's corner space is both sleeker and more spacious than the diminutive 25-seat 'ino, but much else remains the same, like the format of simple snacks (cured meats from $7, bruschette from $3) and the range of Italian wines available by glass, carafe or bottle. 'Inoteca's extra space allows the kitchen some liberties above and beyond the panini press, however, and hot plates like verdure misti ($8) and a pork chop with a mashed white bean pancake ($17) round out the menu.

The all-Italian wine list offers affordable choices, such as a 2006 St. Magdalena Müller-Thurgau ($37), and off-beat ones, like 2003 Cantine del Notaio Aglianico del Vulture La Firma, (90 points, $68). Although most of the bottles clock in under $50, there are also verticals of Giacomo Conterno Barolo Monfortino Riserva and La Spinetta Barbaresco Vigneto Starderi to be had.

The service is casual, and, reminiscent of 'ino, the room can get packed at 'inoteca, especially on weekends. For those willing to sacrifice the scene for a seat, groups of six and up can reserve tables in the subterranean "cantina," which also houses the wine cellar. If you're looking to avoid the mobs altogether, know that 'inoteca opens at noon, making this a pleasant spot to grab a newspaper or a friend and while away the afternoon with a carafe and a plate of pecorino.

--Jennifer Fiedler

Location:210 Elizabeth St., between Prince and Spring Streets
Telephone: (212) 343-7011
Wine: 60 wines by the half-glass ($5–$17), glass ($9–$32), flights of three ($19–$40), half-bottle ($17–$61) or bottle ($34–$122)
Food: Composed small plates ($5–$19), prix-fixe menu paired with wine, $85
Ambience: A wine bar without a bar, outfitted in dark woods and leathers; a crowd that tends to be rather serious about food and wine while still enjoying a night out

A bust of former New York mayor John Hyland presides over the Monday Room.
The Monday Room, a wine bar without a bar, is a 25-seat sanctuary for wine-and-food appreciation located in the chic downtown NoLita neighborhood. A collaboration between chef-owner Brad Farmerie and wine steward Rubén Sanz Ramiro, the space is outfitted in high gentleman's club style, with couches, overstuffed chairs and dark leather banquettes, and with only 25 seats, the space never loses its quietly civilized appeal—and neither will your server, often Ribera del Duero native Sanz Ramiro himself.

Sanz Ramiro presides over a list of 60 or so carefully chosen wines, and while there is a slight emphasis on hard-to-find selections from Australia and New Zealand, Europe's big players, and the occasional South American or South African gems also get their due. Guests looking to celebrate with a sparkler can go for a 1998 Gaston Chiquet Brut Champagne (92 points, $110), while white Burgundy fans will enjoy the Jean-Marc Pillot Chassagne-Montrachet 1er Cru Les Chenevottes 2001 (91, $122). New World Pinot fans will appreciate the New Zealand flight, which recently included the 2003 from Peregrine (89, $29/flight).

The small plates boast unusual ingredients (ostrich neck tortelloni, for example, or grilled Kobe beef tongue, $9 each), but Farmerie can deftly balance wine compatability and shock value. While guests are welcome to create their own pairings, each small plate is available with one or more suggested pairings from the list. An all-American selection of cheeses ($13 for four selections, with bread) and a short list of desserts $5 each), including house-made chocolates, round out the menu. While it's certainly convenient to walk through a small shared lobby to Farmerie's other venue, Public restaurant, for a proper dinner, you'd do just as well to spend the entire evening eating, drinking and enjoying the Monday Room's unique take on the wine bar concept.

--Laurie Woolever

Location: 7 Spring St., between Elizabeth Street and Bowery
Telephone: (212) 777-0877
Wine: About 20 by the glass ($9–$80); about 75 by the bottle ($29–$300 and up)
Food: Modern American cuisine; raw bar, appetizers and an short list of entrées ($3–$27)
Ambience: A well-appointed dining room in the back is sufficiently isolated from the bar in front; Walking back toward the dining room, customers can peer in at the chefs as they work in the kitchen

Noble keeps its wines fresh using an argon gas system.
Noble Food and Wine is located on the eastern border of the retail-intensive SoHo neighborhood, not far from Lombardi's, a neighborhood pizza institution also worth checking out. Noble has had its ups and downs since opening, including a kitchen fire in mid-September that had the restaurant closed for two weeks. The wines whose freshness was meant to be maintained by a $15,000 argon-gas dispensing unit were not available to the public on one recent night due to a servicing problem, but the bar and restaurant are currently up and running smoothly again, and for those of the high-risk, high-reward mentality, Noble is certainly worth a gamble.

The current by-the-glass selections range from $9 for the Allan Scott Pinot Noir 2006 (NR) to $80 for the 2000 E. Guigal Côte-Rôtie La Landonne (96 points). Other notable by-the-glass selections included Léoville Las Cases 1998 (NR, $50) and 2002 Penfolds Grange (95, $50). These excellent by-the-glass selections offer a rare opportunity to sample highly sought-after trophy wines for a fraction of the price of a bottle at retail. It's important to note, however, that while the wines are kept under argon, ensuring that their freshness, many would benefit from decanting. The La Landonne in particular really needed much more time than would be appropriate to sit at a wine bar waiting for the oak and alcohol to blow off the glass.

As for the food, executive chef Daniel Dorado offers a short but well-prepared menu of modern American cuisine, including a large and succulent portion of short ribs atop hominy pudding with fried onions ($19), and roasted quail with greens and citrus vinaigrette ($14) The restaurant's sleek furnishings come from designer Philippe Starck. For the wine lover with the gambler's mentality, Noble Food and Wine is a sure bet.

--Robert Taylor

Location: 211 W. Broadway, corner of Franklin St.
Telephone: (212) 925-8510
Wine: 30 by the glass ($9—$20); 24 by the bottle ($33—$78); 300 selections available at the retail store ($7—$300 plus a $15 service fee to consume a purchased bottle in the bar)
Food: Cheese, salads, cured meats and olives ($6—$16)
Ambience: Mellow and low-key; easy to forget you're one of many guests even when full

VinoVino is both wine bar and retail shop.
VinoVino is separated by a long glass wall that runs between a brightly lit retail store and an enoteca. The hallway leading to the bar in the back of the 2,200-foot space is lined with low, lounge-type chaises and tables, offering plenty of comfortable seating. If you fail to find something of interest from the diverse selection of 30 wines by the glass, you can purchase a bottle from the retail store, and have it opened in the enoteca for a $15 corkage fee.

Husband-and-wife team Jay and Ashley Donayre have put together a concise list for the enoteca that hints at the breadth of offerings at the retail store next door, and truly presents something for everyone. The light-weight and vibrant C. von Schubert Riesling QbA Mosel-Saar-Ruwer Maximin Grünhäuser (89 points, $11/glass, $42/bottle) from Germany's excellent 2004 vintage contrasts nicely with a rich 2005 Chardonnay from California's Philippe-Lorraine ($12/glass, $44/bottle), while Susana Balbo's bright and juicy 2005 Syrah-Bonarda Mendoza Crios (89, $10/glass, $36/bottle) is a great foil to the full-bodied and velvety 2003 Barbaresco from Produttori del Barbaresco (88, $18/glass, $68/bottle).

VinoVino is clearly more a wine than food destination, and the menu includes only a small collection of basic, wine-friendly fare. For most, it will be better to start the evening here and then head elsewhere for a full dinner. Grazers, however, will enjoy the plate of six cheeses ($15), including an intensely flavored Beemster Classic and a lightly earthy Époisses, all explained in detail by the knowledgeable server. Meat-eaters can decide between the pâté plate (three for $10) or a plate of Italian cured meats ($15). Whatever's on the menu, VinoVino offers the right combination for small groups in search of a laid-back evening: a good glass of wine, a relaxed setting and the opportunity for some quiet conversation.

--Alison Napjus

Location: 913 Broadway between E. 21st and E. 22nd Sts
Telephone: (212) 673-6333
Wine: 30 by the glass ($7–$14), over 200 by the bottle ($16–$460)
Food: A broad selection of tapas-style plates, pizzas, fondues and cheeses ($3–$15)
Ambience: A civilized respite from the surrounding retail bustle

It's easy to wind down at Wined Up.
Tucked in to a large loftlike space midway between the greenery of Madison Square Park and the nonstop action of Union Square is Wined Up. Just a year old this month, Wined Up has quickly become a favorite with both the after-work crowd of the Flatiron district and shoppers needing an oasis amid the many design and home furnishing emporiums of the neighborhood. Wined Up takes its name from its location above the well-priced Punch restaurant. Stephanie Guest and Will Tracy, co-owners of both venues, have designed a modern and airy setting, which features a long marble-topped bar, a 100-foot wall filled with 3,000 wine bottles in various angles of repose, and large picture windows. The mood here is more cool jazz than frenetic Manhattan, and noise factor is kept to a minimum by a high ceiling that's covered with acoustic tiles.

Sommelier Mina Belhaj-Rouas has put together an extensive and well-priced list of more than 250 selections, with about 30 wines by the glass. Wines are grouped by color and character. Under the "Complex & Full-Bodied" red listing, you can find the Coudoulet de Beaucastel Côtes du Rhône 2003 (87 points, $61) while "Light, Crisp and and Refreshing" whites include Greco di Tufo Feudi San Gregorio 2005 (90, $40). The educational theme extends to a monthly tip sheet by Belhaj-Rouas on her favorite wines of the moment.

There's more on Wined Up's food menu than you'll find at most wine bars, including three varieties of fondue ($15 each, served with bread, potatoes and fruit), a handful of small pizza ($8—$10) tapas-style dishes with varying Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, Asian and Southern accents ($3—$12), and a well-chosen selection of cheeses, complete with provenance and tasting notes ($15 for a selection of five). Despite its name's implication, Wined Up is definitely a place to wind down after a hard day's work, sightseeing or shopping.

--Kim Marcus

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