There are a lot of reasons you might want to learn about wine. Maybe you’re tired of letting your brother-in-law tell everyone what they’re drinking when when you’re the one who bought the bottle, or you need a new hobby after a little disagreement with a ref in your dodgeball league.
It’s a good time to get into wine, as more people than ever seem to care whether they’re drinking sulfites, and restaurants are focusing more than ever on what they’re pouring. But this isn’t just a guide to spots with great wine - these restaurants and bars are all excellent places to learn about it, too. They have knowledgable servers who explain things without making you feel like a child being patted on the head, they either serve a huge variety of wines at a range of price points or a selection focused on a particular region or style, and they’re all places where you’ll feel comfortable hanging out and drinking for hours. You know, for learning’s sake.
Even if the only thing you know about wine is that it makes you far more tolerant of being asked “so what do you do” at parties, you’ll enjoy hanging out at Ruffian, a 20-seat bar in the East Village that blasts old-school hip-hop and serves excellent Mediterranean food. It also happens to be one of the best places to learn about wine in the city. They have more than 250 natural wines, mostly from small producers in Southern and Eastern Europe, and the menu is broken into categories like Beach Sipping and Stoop Sipping. It’s the kind of place where the super knowledgeable staff describes wines as “funky as f*ck” while pouring tastes for anyone who’s interested.
There are a lot of reasons why we don’t want California to secede from the Union, and wine is at the top of the list. The state, which would be the fourth biggest wine producer in the world if it were its own country, makes a lot more than just the cabernet sauvignons and chardonnays it’s best known for. If you want to do a deep dive, head to Coast And Valley, a restaurant and wine bar in Greenpoint that has about 100 bottles on its all-California wine list. Everything on the menu is available in 2 and 5-ounce pours, so you can try a lot without spending too much money or getting too drunk. Sit at the bar and ask the friendly servers to recommend a few different glasses of roussanne or pinot noir, or sit at a table and have the sweet potato with parmesan fondue (the best thing here).
If you want to impress someone with your wine knowledge (even if you don’t actually have much, yet), bring them to Terroir in Tribeca. The huge wine list is full of detailed notes, which you can try to repeat out loud as casually as possible. You could also suggest doing a flight tasting of five ($50), six ($62), or eight wines ($68), curated by a member of the staff who will walk you through each wine, explaining the varietal, tasting notes, and producer. All of which you can say you definitely already knew.
Your friends want to go out somewhere they can meet people - but that doesn’t mean you have to settle for drinking white wine that seems to have been put in the microwave before arriving at your table. Bring them to The Ten Bells, a bar on the LES that’s been serving mostly-natural wines for over a decade. You can try unfiltered wine from Utah or traditional-tasting Chablis, while your friends take advantage of the $1 oysters (every day until 7pm) and the people-meeting potential in the constantly crowded space.
Blind tastings are a way to try wines without biases, test your knowledge, and become the center of attention at dinner parties. But unless you have friends with lots of money and patience, they’re hard to set up on your own. So go to Black Mountain Wine House, a cabin-like spot in Gowanus that offers three-wine blind tastings for $10 until 6pm on weekdays. Even if you don’t make it for Happy Hour, you can try a bunch of small-production wines from around the world by the glass and half-bottle, and some very good small plates as well.
We can’t tell you what kinds of wines you’ll be drinking at Niche Niche, because the selection changes daily. Every night, this Soho spot brings in different sommeliers to pour four different wines of their choosing, and educate you about them as you’re drinking. Considering they keep your glass full of high-quality wines for two hours, you’ll definitely feel like you get your money’s worth. The wine tasting is $40, and for an additional $40, you can add a dinner pairing (also with a menu that changes nightly). If you want to keep the party going after dinner, head downstairs to the brick wine cellar, where you can decant and drink any bottle off the rack.
As you’re flipping through the wine list at Terre, which looks like a picture book you’d find if Natural Wine Production were an elementary school class, the staff might ask if you want to taste any wines or charcuterie. Your answer to both should be yes. This casual Italian spot in Park Slope serves more than 100 mostly-Italian wines by the glass, including a big selection of orange wines. The narrow, brick-walled space is great for dates, when you should sit at the bar and let the servers organize tastings of charcuterie, cheese, and olive oils.
Places that offer over 100 wines by the glass are pretty rare. Terre is an example, and so is Have & Meyer, which makes sense considering they’re run by the same people. All of the wines at this Williamsburg spot are natural, and most are from Italy. You’ll rarely have to wait long for a seat, so you can kill time here waiting for a table at Four Horsemen or St. Anselm.
Unless all you want to remember about that fourth pinot is that you probably shouldn’t have drunk it, you should eat some food. Specifically, you should eat at The Four Horsemen. Everything on the menu - ranging from crudo and charcuterie to ribs and pasta - is excellent, and the servers can recommend glasses or bottles from the mostly-natural wine list that’ll pair with each dish. Make it a point to get here for weekend lunch, when they serve an incredible $32 prix fixe.
Shared wine knowledge is kind of like relationship insurance. You’ll always have an excuse to hang out and drink together, and you’ll also have plenty of topics for conversation when you’re done venting about loud-chewing friends and your coworker who whisper-narrates every single email that comes through her inbox. Blue Ribbon’s bar in the West Village is a 15-seat space ideal for dates, and the long wine list has a bunch of half-bottles, as well as tasting flights with groupings like chilled reds and white Burgundy.
This is the best wine bar in Midtown. The sleek space looks like the living room in a billionaire’s fallout shelter, the clientele mostly looks like they came straight from a boardroom nearby, and about half of the glasses are over $20. With that said, there are no misses on the wine list here, and the staff can always tell you about their 200 constantly changing options with a ton of detail. They also offer tasting flights and classes on weekends.
Ordering wines by the glass can be nice if you’re trying to figure out your tolerance for oak or sweetness or small pours, but sometimes you might just want to order a bottle that you’ve never had before. A good place to do that is June Wine Bar in Cobble Hill. They don’t have a long by-the-glass menu, but they make up for it with a really well-curated bottle list, which is all-natural and mostly consists of small, lesser-known producers. The markups aren’t high, and the majority of bottles are ones you can’t find at any wine shop in the city.
If you try learning about wine at home, after a couple glasses you’ll probably decide educational Youtube videos are a lot less appealing than Netflix. So if you live near the Lower East Side, go to Jadis, a wine bar that feels like an apartment. Sit at the bar and taste your way around the 30 wines by the glass, including natural ones from Eastern Europe and plenty of options that cost less than $10.
The price you pay for wine isn’t just based on the wine itself. The cost of bottling and printing a fancy label gets passed on to you, as does the fact that bars need to make up for pouring wines down the drain once they’ve been open for a couple days. When a spot serves wine on tap, they eliminate those costs, and can charge you less for what you’re drinking. Take advantage of this setup at Lois, a small wine bar in Alphabet City that serves all 16 of its wines on tap. Try a dry sherry or a couple different California pinot noirs, and if you want some food, move to one of the candlelit tables and get the avocado arepa.
As you’d imagine from the name, this Soho wine bar is French, and you can find plenty of vintage Champagne and first-growth Bordeaux here. But the bartenders will also happily recommend more value-focused options from places like Portugal or Eastern Europe. The long bar is constantly packed during Happy Hour, when they offer discounted glasses, and the small tables in the attractive space are great for dates. If you’re a social learner, take advantage of the tastings, events, and classes they regularly host here as well.
Keuka Kafe is a wine bar right on Queens Boulevard in Forest Hills, and along with a food menu ranging from escargots to chicken tikka masala to pizza, they have nearly 50 wines available by the glass. A lot of the wine list is focused on options from the Finger Lakes, like a few different rieslings and cabernet francs, as well as varietals that are native to the area, such as Catawba and Niagara. Whether you want to focus on those or the ones in the “unusual grapes” section of the menu - really unusual sh*t that your phone will definitely autocorrect - you should build your own flight and try any three wines on the menu for $20.
You shouldn’t go to Racines for food, but you should absolutely go to check out their wine program. It’s one of the best in the city, with thousands of mostly French and Italian bottles served by staff, and particularly a sommelier, who seems to know an impossible amount about each one. Tell them your budget - there are a ton of great bottles in the $70 range - and general taste preferences, and let them narrow it down from 2,500 options to, well, one.