San Diego Wine Bars: Some are sparkling, while others are dryRestaurant Review Monday, May 2nd, 2011
Mastering the art of wine drinking is not as easy as it sounds. The path that goes along with the study can be a lot of fun, but the study itself is where the challenge lies. Tasting wine and drinking wine are two very different things and there is a science to both. I have chosen to study that field, so it was important for me to rate our city’s wine bars.
Trendy as they may be, wine bars continue to pop up and offer a wide range of knowledge, atmosphere and selection. Some have full dining with restaurants attached while others have wine bar in their name and offer nothing of the sort.
There definitely is a formula that works for a wine bar. Although not in San Diego, I like to use Suzanne Goin’s Los Angeles gem A.O.C. as the gleaming example. The space was designed with the wine lover in mind. There have been many places that have tried, several that have failed and a few who have succeeded.
Wine Steals lives up to its name and is probably the leader in the market for budget wine drinkers. With four locations, they have stocked cases of affordable everyday wines, which are decent. Great happy hour specials, rotating varietals by the glass and a simple menu of cheese, meats and pizza make all their locations successful. The staff are always entertaining and passionate about what they serve.
In downtown, we have two places that could not be more opposite. Vin De Syrah is self-described as a Spirit and Wine Parlor; neither is true. The only thing about this place that falls into the genre of a wine bar is its name. Having selections of grocery store wine by the glass, and not even good ones, this place falls short on all levels. It is a Gaslamp nightclub like all the others. Here it’s not about wine, but rather slinging vodka redbulls to the very young crowd.
On the flip side of that coin, there is a little spot on G Street between Sixth and Seventh. Bacchus Wine Mart and Tasting Room is a quaint European style place to purchase a unique bottle or to attend one of their many weekly tasting events. Run by two great individuals, Karin and Jeff share friendly knowledge, education and a wide range of well-selected wines for you to choose from.
Wine educated wine professionals are something we do lack in San Diego. Very few restaurants have sommelier driven wine programs. With myself included, we have only a handful of Advanced Master Sommelier’s in town. I’m not saying that everyone needs to have a degree in wine to work at a wine bar, but it certainly helps and proven by the educated staff hailing from Wendy Segal’s Red Velvet Wine Bar in Little Italy.
Hidden in the corner of her husband Jonathan’s latest building known as the Q, the small, yet sophisticated spot chooses to not serve Chardonnay’s and Merlot’s. Rather, the wine list consists of obscure varietals, such as Macabeo and Monastrell. Servers consistently pour the unique wines and bartenders that can talk about where they come from and what flavor profiles you should expect from them.
With more than 3,000 different varietals in the world it may be daunting to some and often times intimidating. This fact has led some establishments to cut out the “middle wine man” altogether. A few Wine Lounges opened with self serve wine machines. Splash in North Park provides 70 wines in machines that dispense a taste priced by ounces. Some are great value while I found others to be a waste of my $2.40.
The once swanky Ivy Hotel, now tragically operated by Hyatt, installed one of the best systems I have seen in years. With 88 wines for you to sample, you have the opportunity to taste wine you most likely would never get the chance too. Vintages from the ’90s are poured from some of the best cabernets in the world while others are hard to find cult wines. Although very beautiful and loungy, the atmosphere lacks one thing, people. This clearly was an afterthought to breathe new life into the dying nightclub below.
Whatever your wine drinking knowledge and education is, there are plenty of spots to hone your skills, gather with friends for a few glasses or simply pick up a bottle to enjoy at home. We still have a ways to go to get to the level of sophistication that many other cities experience, but with each new harvest, we get a year closer.
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