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.
Details: 122 E. 27th St. near Lexington Avenue; 212-481-7372; www.itrulli.com.
• Epistrophy Cafe: There’s a relaxed Bohemian vibe here, imparted by the scuffed wooden bar, exposed brick walls and eclectic, junk-shop collection of sofas, chairs and tables. The food and wine are predominantly Sardinian: the sformato di zucchini was a revelation and the Tagliere di Terra, a plate of cheese and cold cuts, a meal in itself.
Recommended: Cannonau di Sardegna, Terreforru, Meloni Vini 2007, Italy.
Details: 200 Mott St.; 212-966-0904; www.epistrophycafe.com.
• Kaia Wine Bar: Friendly service, an imaginative list of South African wines — kaia means “hut” in South Africa — and splendid food make up for the concrete floor, unadorned gray walls and metallic bar. Ever tried Buffel Frikadelle, or bison meatballs with gravy and celery root puree? Inside tip: avoid the Pinotage.
Recommended: Chardonnay Pinot Noir, Haute Cabriere 2010, Franschhoek, South Africa. And, no, that’s not a typo — it really is a Chard/PN blend, and it’s white.
Details: 1614 Third Ave. between 90th and 91st streets; 212-722-0490; kaiawinebar.com.
• Kashkaval: Peer through the storefront window and you might assume Kashkaval was just a boutique-sized Mediterranean deli. Squeeze past the display of cheese and olives, and you find yourself in a packed, tiny wine bar infused with the happy buzz of people consuming good food and wine. A variety of cheeses from 14 different countries and an enormous bowl of the best hummus I have ever tasted are the stars here.
Recommended: Chenin Blanc/Viognier, Pine Ridge 2010, Napa, California.
Details: 856 Ninth Ave., near 56th Street; 212-581-8282; www.kashkavalfoods.com.
• Morrell’s Wine Bar & Cafe: As befits its tony location overlooking Rockefeller Center, Morrell’s is the ultimate in wine bar sophistication. If you appreciate the difference between Burgundy and Brunello, you’ll fare well at this chic boite. If you don’t, the friendly, well-informed staff will be happy to guide you through their pricy offerings. The menu alone is worth a visit as it’s hard to do better in the neighborhood. Try the deviled eggs with black truffle.
Recommended: Cotes du Rhone, Delas Freres, St. Esprit 2009, Rhone, France.
Details: 1 Rockefeller Center, 49th Street between Fifth and Sixth avenues; 212-262-7700; morrellwinebar.com.
• The Tangled Vine: What’s not to love about the Tangled Vine? It has a commendable selection of hidden gems, unusual bin-end lots and small-production European wines to tempt the enthusiast and curious amateur alike. Combine this with an easygoing, knowledgeable staff and fantastic food and you get pretty close to my ideal wine bar. Especially alluring are the broccoli rabe, quail egg and Parmesan crostini.
Recommended: Rosso di Montalcino, La Rasina 2008, Toscana, Italy.
Details: 434 Amsterdam Ave. and 81st Street; 646-863-3896; tangledvinebar.com.