Wine bars are trendy now, so beware: Lots of dowdy bar-and-grills, frat-boy beer joints and third-rate bistros are adding a few commercial wines by the glass and rebranding themselves as the real deal.
To qualify as a bona fide wine bar, the primary focus has to be on the grape: If the predominant bottles are vodka, it’s not a wine bar.
The purveyors should also have a spot of erudition, insight, maybe even passion. For Morrell’s wine director, Jean Reilly, the bartenders are all-important: “They should be able to engage and speak knowledgeably about wine in a way that puts the customer at ease.”
Every wine bar serves a cheese and charcuterie plate, but some go to the trouble of seeking out more flavorful, artisanal varieties, and that’s always a good portent for the quality of the wine.
Here are some of my New York City favorites, serving great — and interesting — wine with flair and expertise.
• Anfora: Dim lights and horseshoe-shaped banquettes impart the feel of a hip cocktail lounge. Though the drinks are impressive, the main business here is wine. And good food, too — don’t pass on the fine selection of cheeses. And I especially liked the hand-cranked prosciutto slicer.
Recommended: Riesling, Gunther Steinmetz 2010, Mosel, Germany.
Details: 34 Eighth Ave. and Jane Street; 212-518-2722; www.anforanyc.com.
• Bar Veloce: A recent expansion transformed Bar Veloce from a claustrophobic tunnel into a large and ultra-modern space. Have a plate of tramezzini, three-layered finger sandwiches made with Sicilian tuna or eggplant with olive paste. In case you miss the Italian connection, three vintage Vespas are on display.
Recommended: Barolo Parusso 2007, Piemonte, Italy.
Details: 175 Second Ave., between 11th and 12th streets; 212-260-3200; www.barveloce.com.
• Bin 71: There is a television, but when I was there, the sound was off, and the ambient music was turned low enough for non- screaming chat. The three-sided, marble-topped bar and two rectangular communal tables were occupied by good-looking 20-and 30-year-old professionals, perusing the well-thought-out, international wine list. Feast on Serrano ham, Malpeque oysters, pink-snapper sashimi and polenta baked with Vermont’s pungent Bayley Hazen blue.
Recommended: Arneis Roero, Bruno Giacosa 2007, Piemonte, Italy.
Details: 237 Columbus Ave. and 71st Street; 212-362-5446; bin71.com.
• Buceo 95: The winning tapas just kept coming at this charming bar: pungent olives, super-fresh grilled calamari, tomato toast, spicy meatballs and Spanish garlic shrimp. All were washed down with a succession of extremely well- chosen wines, mainly from Spain and South America.
Recommended: Tempranillo Blend, Bodegas Olabarri 2001, Rioja Gran Reserva, Spain.
Details: 201 W. 95th St., near Amsterdam Avenue; 212-662-7010; www.buceo95.com.
• Enoteca I Trulli: With its simple but elegant marble bar and scrubbed-pine tables, this is one of the most unostentatiously attractive wine bars in the city. Plus the garden is open during the summer. A wide selection of unusual Italian wines, above-average panini and panzerotti and the relaxed professionalism of its staff create the sense that you’re in an upscale Roman enoteca.
Recommended: Arialdo Sangiovese 2009, Dalle Nostre Mani, Toscana, Italy. The thoughtfully constructed flights are also worth attention.