The Allure of the Pour: Wine Bars Win the Day

By Tom Sietsema
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, October 12, 2008

What explains the stream of wine bars into the Washington area in the past few years? Mark Kuller, owner of the wine-themed restaurant Proof (see review) in Penn Quarter, thinks the intellectual and social aspects of the drink appeal to many of us. Wine gives people the chance to think about geography and vintages, he says. Its air of sophistication also encourages leisurely consumption. "You don't get that with a sports bar," he says.

Proof and the neighborly Cork Wine Bar in Logan Circle (see review) are the most accomplished of the area's wine bars, but there are others worth trying: At Enology (3238 Wisconsin Ave. NW; 202-362-0362), the spare, glass-wrapped younger sibling of Veritas (2031 Florida Ave. NW; 202-265-6270), patrons are put in a California state of mind. Wines from the Golden State dominate the list and are best enjoyed with cheese or charcuterie rather than anything requiring an actual cook.

Dark wood, stained concrete floors and a great soundtrack lend an air of sophistication to Evo Bistro (1313 Old Chain Bridge Rd., McLean; 703-288-4422), which serves a worldly selection of wines with its generous small plates. Thanks to a handsome wine dispenser to the side of the bar, patrons can try fine wines by the single-ounce taste. See what goes best with the saffron-rich paella, one of the kitchen's best efforts.

Like a lot of the competition, the sleek Grapeseed (4865 Cordell Ave., Bethesda; 301-986-9592) offers a lot of its grape juice by the taste, the glass, the flight and the bottle. But it also passes out tasting notes with those flights and introduces customers to up to five high-end wines on the third Thursday night of every month. The restaurant's "Taste & Mingle" costs $30 and includes substantial snacks.

The Iron Bridge Wine Company (29 Main St., Warrenton; 540-349-9339), the horse country cousin of the popular Iron Bridge Wine Company in Columbia (10435 Route 108; 410-997-3456), ranks as the handsomest watering hole I know. It's also among the most entertaining, thanks to a rooftop deck and a new wine-dispensing system on the balcony level that allows sippers to try a changing selection of 16 whites and 16 reds in three portion sizes at the push of a button.

Some of the happiest hours in town fall between 5 and 7 p.m. Sunday through Friday at Vinoteca (1940 11th St. NW; 202-332-9463), home to 20 $5 glasses of wine and deals on meals to match. The juicy, feta-topped lamb sliders come with a choice of shoestring fries or greens and set a snacker back a mere $7. The bargain rates extend only to customers sitting at the bar, but the space counts 40 seats.

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