Hey you. You there drinking the $14 Old Fashioned while complaining about how expensive wine bars are. DC has really stepped up its wine game, and here’s why you should be paying attention: first of all, there are usually women there. Second, even the priciest spots offer sweet deals. And third, since we’re number one at drinking wine in the nation, you should probably do it somewhere cooler than your English basement apartment. Do it at DC’s 13 best wine bars.
Use your next meal in the enchanting Iron Gate garden and carriageway to explore Greek wine, especially if you spot wine director Brent Kroll walking the floor. The guy talks about wines from Greece with the passion of a veteran sports announcer calling Game 7 of the World Series. Brent’s wine list helped Iron Gate land a spot on Wine Enthusiast’s list of “America’s 100 Best Wine Restaurants” for good reason. It also took the best wine program title at the 2015 RAMMYs. Wines from nine regions of Greece are featured, as well as highlights from other parts of the world. As an added bonus, there are about 80 bottles available for $50 or less.
Sherry is more than that stuff mom cooks with or that stuff on grandma’s breath before noon. It’s wine. Fortified wine, which means more buzz for your buck. Let the Mockingbird Hill staff help you figure out if you like a dry fino, nutty amontillado, or rich oloroso. Or, just try them all until you find your sherry match made in Shaw. But be careful, there are 90+ sherries to choose from in 16 distinct styles. Sherry flights, playful sherry cocktails, and even sherry Tiki drinks are also available. Food-wise, you’re ordering the ham sampler and toasted bread with tomatoes and garlic.
Running your eyes over every offering on Proof’s online wine list requires as many scrolls of the page as a search for K-Cups on Amazon.com. It’s that impressive. Additionally, the Chinatown anchor restaurant has all the bells and whistles of a top wine bar. An Enomatic wine system allows Proof to keep its 40 wines by the glass super fresh, while the use of the Coravin device means wine director Joe Quinn can offer rare wines like 2007 Château Rayas Châteauneuf-du-Pape by the glass. No worries if the words "Châteauneuf-du-Pape" make your wallet start to quiver -- pop by Proof for happy hour when a rotating selection of red and white wines are available for just $5 a glass.
Adventurous wine drinkers will find a home in The Red Hen’s quirky wine list curated by sommelier Sebastian Zutant. Think orange wines and selections from up-and-coming regions like Georgia and Slovenia. If you haven’t tried orange wine, this is the place to experience the punch of flavor for the first time. Sebastian has a passion for wines that are as natural as possible, meaning they’re wildly fermented, unfined, and unfiltered. We’d like to think they come with less of a hangover too.
Bring that friend of yours who’s obsessed with all things local (hint: she’s probably smudged with soil and wearing TOMS) because ENO Wine Bar is a locavore’s dream with 27 wines from DC, Maryland, and Virginia including 2014 Early Mountain pinot gris on tap. But local wines are only a fraction of the bar’s thick wine list of 44 wines by the glass and 233 wines by the bottle. ENO also stands out because it serves education along with wine through frequent “Enoversity” classes and it also throws some killer events (check the website regularly). While there’s really no bad seat in the house, peek into the brand-new 16-seat lounge called The Cellar on your next visit.
Cork’s biggest strength is consistency -- it hasn’t gone off message since the doors opened and it began serving Old World wines with food that begs to be savored alongside a glass of vino (looking at you, avocado toast). Just don’t act snobby if you don't see a lot of name-dropped labels, part of Cork’s charm is its mantra of serving wines from small, off-the-beaten-path producers who dig sustainable and organic farming. This also helps keep the price-point down so you can try several different styles, perhaps in one of the bar’s four flights. Co-owner Diane Gross says the bar just updated its wine list with fresh selections from Spain and Italy.
There are no geographic allegiances at Flight Wine Bar. Rather, the wine list reads like an atlas with offerings from Hungary, Serbia, Macedonia, Lebanon, and beyond. It should be a dead giveaway that flights are a big part of the wine program here, and they’re anything but boring. We dig “Not Your Grandma’s Chardonnay,” and “Hipster Schmipster.” The latter is a customized flight based on your preferences, so go ahead and let your server be your personal wine concierge. Visit on Mondays for all-day happy hour or on Wednesdays when Kabir Amir and Swati Bose pick a hidden gem and offer the bottle at 35% off. The goal is to encourage people to be adventurous without committing to the full bottle price.
Maybe you’ve been hitting Ripple up for its legendary grilled cheese bar, but don’t overlook the restaurant’s standout wine program created by wine director Danny Fisher. The dude is a savant. Sure his list sees some heavy dollar signs -- like a collection of grower Champagnes worthy of major celebrations and three digits -- but there is also an emphasis on what Danny calls “real wine made by real people for less than $50 a bottle.” Also explore a little during happy hour, when nearly every by-the-glass offering is half price, including two orange wines if that’s your thing.
H Street NE
This charmer continues to innovate and find new ways to get affordable wine into your hands. Build your own “Standby Flight” by selecting three wines to try for $15, for example, or start your week with “Heavy Pour Mondays” when standard servings are supersized. The wine list may not read like a novel, but it has a nice mix of Old World and New World styles (including Virginia!) with a few varietals you may have never pronounced before like Cannonau, Albariño, or Vouvray. Also visit on “Decanter Wednesdays” when the staff decants a real beauty and offers various-sized pours throughout the night. Finally, you don’t want to miss the "50 Shades of Rosé" program before the cold kicks in. Dominatrix jokes not encouraged.
Wine and music go together like little blue pills and empty nesters -- both set the scene for amorous encounters. Fortunately, newcomer Jug & Table focuses on the first winning combo instead of the weird one by incorporating music into its wine program. Vinyl is typically spinning, and the wine list is divided up into categories like "Guns and Rosés." Sommelier Theo Rutherford’s playlist, errr, wine list, leans heavy on California, Spain, France, and Italy and you can opt to sip your wine in four sizes: a standard glass, half-liter pour, bottle, or jug. Jug prices range from $50-$90, except during happy hour when one is offered for $25. Snack on pressed sandwiches like the “Greek” with halloumi, chevre, roast lamb, red pepper, and mint.
At most restaurants you can review the wines by the glass in the time it takes to hiccup. Vinoteca is different. Eighty percent of the wine list is available by the glass, so those fearing commitment will feel at ease. Vinoteca also stands out because it offers seasonal wine classes most Tuesdays covering different varietals and regions, which include food pairings and a $5 gift card. Earning Vinoteca even more cool points is DAILY happy hour from 5-7pm when 15 wines are priced at $5 a glass. Outdoor bocce doesn’t hurt either.
Married co-owners Conan and Genevieve O'Sullivan hail from the Pacific Northwest, that’s why you’ll see a bevvy of Washington State and Oregon wines on the list. We also tell you this so you can go easy on the Super Bowl jokes. One big Sona perk is a generously long happy hour than runs from 3-8pm seven days a week. Genevieve says they do this to “fit the Hill lifestyle,” which probably means people need wine to survive politics. Don’t leave without trying the mac & cheese-stuffed grilled cheese paired with an Oregon pinot noir.
Barcelona Wine Bar has a reputation for having a buzzy bar scene and solid tapas, but the party atmosphere is backed by a very serious Spanish wine program. In fact, Spanish wine aficionados could visit Barcelona every day for 234 straight days and try a different wine on each visit. Though, we’d avoid the one that costs $680 because that’s nearly a ticket to Madrid. Consider starting or ending a meal with sherry (there are six styles available) and definitely visit Monday-Friday during 4-6pm “social hour” for $4 tapas, $5 glasses of wine, and $20 pitchers of sangria.
Sign up here for our daily DC email and be the first to get all the food/drink/fun in town.
Laura Hayes is a DC dining writer and photographer covering all things edible. Follow her: @BTMenu.
1. Iron Gate1734 N St NW, Washington
2. Mockingbird Hill1843 7th Street NW, Washington
3. Proof775 G St, NW , Washington, DC
4. The Red Hen1822 1st St NW , Washington
5. ENO Wine Bar2810 Pennsylvania Ave, NW, Washington
6. Cork Wine Bar1720 14th St NW, Washington
7. Flight Wine Bar777 6th St NW, Ste 130, Washington, DC
8. Ripple3417 Connecticut Ave NW, Washington
9. The Pursuit Wine Bar1421 H St NE, Washington
10. Jug & Table2446 18th St NW, Washington
11. Vinoteca1940 11th St NW, Washington
12. Sona Creamery & Wine Bar660 Pennsylvania Ave SE, Washington
13. Barcelona Wine Bar - 14th Street1622 14th St NW, Washington
This is easily one of the most beautiful restaurants in DC. From the lamp-lit stone entryway to the back courtyard complete with a gazebo, Iron Gate in Dupont Circle was made for dining al fresco. Chef Anthony Chittum has been in DC for a long time, winning multiple awards along the way, and his understated Mediterranean dishes are made just right. Wine Director Brent Kroll’s tightly curated wine list pairs perfectly with the food, focusing on Greek and Italian varietals. Ask for a table out back in the courtyard, go all-in with Chef Chittum’s tasting menu, then just point to the wine list and order a bottle.
Sherry and ham are what you'll find at the stained-oak Spanish bar, Mockingbird Hill. In addition to the 90 sherries on the menu, Mockingbird Hill offers cuts of American and Spanish hams, small bites like deviled eggs, and toasted bread, with toppings like garlic, tomatoes, and Manchego. If you’re new to sherry, Mockingbird Hill’s staff will give you all the insight you need to find the perfect pairing with your snacks.
Proof is an award-winning restaurant located in DC's Penn Quarter. Go for Mediterranean and Asian-influenced American cuisine, and try their famous crispy Peking duck breast. While you're at it, order a fine port from its thousand-plus wine list.
The open kitchen, bare brick walls, and simple, maple furnishing make you feel like you're in your own home when you eat at The Red Hen, as does the comfort of their classic Italian and American dishes. Just upscale of what you'd find in a chain, roasted chicken with black truffle polenta, house made cavatelli with spicy lamb, and grilled swordfish show impressive culinary chops but don't break the bank. They stick to simplicity here, even with its global wine list, and it works.
This bi-level wine bar specializes in flights of wines and also features over 40 selections by the glass and 233 by the bottle. Wine classes and events are aplenty, but if you just want to stop in and enjoy a glass be sure to pair it with cheese, charcuterie or chocolate.
Imagine you're at a swanky bar, where there is wine by the hundreds and above you a woman is explaining its origin and content, get this, unpretentiously. And then you decide you want to indulge your sweet tooth with a warm apple crostada topped with bourbon vanilla ice cream, you would be, my friend, at Cork Wine Bar.
Out of all the places to take a date in Washington DC, we think that Flight Wine Bar is the best. Not only is it one of the best wine bars in the city, but they have an innovative wine menu and fantastic happy hour deals.
Boasting a linen-lined, curtained rear dining room and a 40ft tiled bar backed by huge mirrors and flower-patterned lightboxes up front, Ripple's a casually airy, beige-walled winer n' diner.
The Pursuit Wine Bar has 45 wines by the glass, a handful of cocktails and beers for those who aren't into wine, and build-your-own grilled cheese for everyone. If you stop by this weekend, you'll agree with us when we say that The Pursuit Wine Bar is one of the best wine bars in Washington DC.
Sharing a space with sister American-German gastropub Rooftop Union, Jug & Table provides a wine-focused alternative to its upstairs neighbor's beer fetish, with 40 bottles to choose from. The signature offering strikes the chords of a wino's heart: jugs of wine served here are equivalent to 2.5 bottles. For lightweights (read: normal drinkers), 20 wines can also be ordered by-the-glass. A menu of pickled snacks and panini make up the food menu, while vinyls are spun on turntables to provide a sipping soundtrack.
Among U Street's most popular wine hideaways, Vinoteca is the ideal locale for wine connoisseurs and bocce athletes, alike. Complete with a back "plaza" featuring an old-world, brick-enclosed bocce court, an ethereal fountain, and an outdoor bar, there is rarely reason to set foot inside (the heat lamps make it fairly easy to stay put all winter). The enclosed bar and dining room are equally charming, with exposed brick, floor-to-ceiling windows, and vintage film posters tacked between towering displays of stacked bottles of wine. The food menu boasts an in-house whole-animal butchery program, but the stand-out offering is inarguably the wine and spirits list, featuring an impressive number of inventive house-cocktails, a selection of craft beers on tap, and a seemingly-infinite catalog of available wines.
This bistro that prides itself on its cheese selection and the decadent mac and cheese that you can either enjoy as a side or stuffed into the Bruno's Big Kid sandwich. If you go the side route, opt for the Sona burger as your main and thank us after you've bitten into a creation with caramelized onions, Scharfe Maxx, aioli, and bibb lettuce. We'll wait.
Barcelona Wine Bar is the place to go for Spanish wines in Washington DC. They have great happy hour specials and a reputation for having a buzzing social atmosphere. We think that they are one of the best wine bars in the city, but you'll just have to stop by and see for yourself.