by Sara Graham
A good wine bar provides the perfect blend of excellent wine, inspired food pairings and sophisticated ambiance. Here at Gut Check, we often like to pair a glass of wine with our day and have created this guide to quality sips in St. Louis.
Olio (1634 Tower Grove Avenue; 314-932-1088)
Olio is a wine bar located in a bright, art deco-style renovated Standard Oil gas station. Every drink is served with taste, presentation and history in mind. The monthly rotating wine list includes selections of interest from all over the world, chosen by the sommelier staff. A small plate menu offers bread and spreads, charcuterie and cheeses, vegetables, cured fish and a daily Argentine grill special.
Robust Wine Bar (635 Washington Avenue; 314-287-6300)
Robust Wine Bar's three locations (Webster Groves, Washington Avenue and Edwardsville, Illinois) offer an extensive wine list delineated by eight taste preferences -- from "crisp" to "mellow" to "sweet and stickies" -- by the bottle, by the glass, in creative flight tastings and "winetails" (as opposed to cocktails). A tasting menu offers charcuterie, cheese, flatbreads, and other "shareables" along with a few entrée-sized plates.
Bocci Wine and Tapas Bar (16 North Central Avenue, Clayton; 314-932-1040)
Bocci Wine and Tapas Bar is earning distinction for its dedication to offering wines at optimal tasting temperatures -- for most whites, this means 40 degrees and for most reds, 54 degrees. Also noteworthy is the "wine flow" stainless steel keg dispensing system that uses nitrogen and argon to keep wines as fresh as if the bottle was just opened. Monthly wine flights feature a new regional wine for sampling. Chef Neil Al-Kobri offers an accompanying small plate menu from the "farm, land and sea."
33 Wine Shop and Bar (1913 Park Avenue; 314-231-9463)
James Smallwood, certified sommelier and owner of 33 Wine Shop & Bar, left a career in corporate finance to chase his dreams. The small, cozy bar in historic Lafayette Square offers an extremely comprehensive menu with more than 600 wines at every price point, designed to appeal to every customer. Bottles are also available for purchase to take home. A small tasting menu features cheese, cured meats and crackers.
Bridge Tap House and Wine Bar (1004 Locust Street; 314-241-8141)
Bridge Tap House and Wine Bar offers a solid and affordable wine list with more than 100 varieties of wine by the bottle, more than twenty by the glass and flights that feature a single vineyard to or a single grape from wineries around the world. Named in homage to owner David Bailey's late brother and violinist, its design evokes the beauty in sound and craft of the violin.
Sasha's Wine Bar (706 DeMun Avenue, Clayton; 314-863-7274)
The original focus for the flagship Sasha's Wine Bar was, and still is, to offer an extensive selection of high-quality wine by the glass, priced like entry-level wines in order to allow everyone the opportunity to enjoy them. Wines by the bottle are more prestigious and rare, but still familiar. A menu of small hot and cold plates, flatbreads, crepes and cheese plates are perfect for pairing and sharing.
Sasha's on Shaw (4069 Shaw Avenue; 314-771-7274)
The second location, Sasha's on Shaw, was born out of a realization that a substantial portion of loyal patrons hailed from the Tower Grove/Shaw neighborhood. Though the food and wine menus are similar, both are ever-evolving and change to cater to its unique setting and appeal to everyone from the novice wine drinker to the sommelier. More than 60 wines available by the bottle or the glass.
Copia (1122 Washington Avenue; 314-241-9463)
Copia Restaurant and Wine Garden is an elegant restaurant with several rooms and large, heated wine garden in the back with a retractable roof for sunny days. The 17-page wine list includes more than 600 selections from all over the world, including several rare finds, by the glass, bottle and flight. The food menu features traditional American cuisine, including pasta, pizza, seafood and steak. A market offers convenience items and wine to go.
Ernesto's Wine Bar (2730 McNair Avenue; 314-664-4511)
Ernesto's is located in the historic Benton Park neighborhood and borrows its theme from the Paris cafe culture of the 1920s. Its approachable wine list is composed of selections of new and old world wines. Each is chosen to pair with the experimental menu from chef Jimmy Hippchen with dishes like chicken-fried Cornish game hen served on a bed of German-style potato salad with fresh green beans and housemade pickles.
Balaban's (1772 Clarkson Road, Chesterfield; 636-449-6700)
Balaban's, relocated from the Central West End to Chesterfield, offers a wine bar, small restaurant and retail wine store of more than 650 bottles. Most wines are priced at $20 or less. This year, Balaban's won its third consecutive "Best of Award of Excellence" from Wine Spectator. Wine dinners, classes and tastings are offered monthly. Pictured is the "Library Wine Collection" room, which houses bottles from the original Balaban's award-winning cellar.