Smith & Vine and Stinky Bklyn
Brooklyn, New York
I stopped into the wine shop Smith & Vine one Friday night intending to grab a bottle from the $10 table and then bolt. But I got drawn into the new tasting room at the three-year-old shop, where owners Patrick Watson and Michele Pravda were setting out wines and cheeses brought over from Stinky Bklyn, the fantastic cheese shop they opened down the street last year.
Two tall oak tables were scattered with bottles for a blind tasting and, at the urging of a staff member, I found myself yelling out my flavor impressions, like "mushrooms" and "blackberries." Watson and Pravda know how to throw a good party, in part because they have both worked in the music business (he was an opera singer, she was in a rock band) and in restaurants (they met at Manhattan’s Lupa).
After the blind tasting, a staff member ran over to Stinky Bklyn to grab some Jasper Hill Winnimere to pair with a Staldmann Rotgipfler, an obscure Austrian grape he described as "Grüner Veltlineresque." The Winnimere, a washed-rind cow’s-milk cheese, is just one of more than 150 artisanal varieties the store carries, along with such unusual charcuterie as wild boar cacciatorini. Before they opened Stinky Bklyn, Pravda says, they would "have to go to one store for cheese, another for cured meats" when they threw a party. Now they’ve created a mini empire for entertaining, all on one block. —Jen Murphy
If I was looking for a cool party in L.A. where I didn’t need an invitation, I’d go straight to Silverlake Wine. On Sundays, a rotating cast of local chefs prepares small plates for customers to taste (last fall, Nancy Silverton previewed her menu for Osteria Mozza, now one of the toughest reservations in town). Thursday Night Flights mean wine flights, La Brea Bakery breads and artisanal butters. And Blue Mondays are all about cheeses from the excellent CheeseStore of Silverlake. Silverlake Wine co-owners George Cossette, Randy Clement and April Langford keep much of the space in the shop open for mingling. Cossette and Clement used to run the wine program at Campanile, and their membership in the powerful Campanile clique helps explain why they’re able to entice chefs to their shop—and also why they treat customers like diners at a favorite restaurant. Cossette might explain the history of Pignolo, an Italian grape rescued from near-extinction, while Clement might rave about a dry Hungarian white made from the Furmint grape (typically used for the sweet wine Tokaji). "There are thousands of grapes out there, and most people only drink three or four," Cossette says. "We want to show off more, like Carmenère from Chile." —Emily Kaiser
Details 2395 Glendale Blvd., Los Angeles; 323-662-9024 or silverlakewines.com.
I still remember when I first visited César, the Berkeley wine and tapas spot, soon after it opened in 1998: It was the first time I’d ever eaten at a bar, and everything was delicious. Now César has opened an Oakland outpost with an adjacent market called Mercado that sells selections from the restaurant’s 400-bottle wine list, hard-to-find spirits like Murray McDavid rums and Spanish pantry staples. "So many people would ask us where we buy our smoked paprika, piquillo peppers—even the spice mix we use for our salt cod," says chef Maggie Pond, who once interned at Restaurant Arzak in San Sebastián, Spain. Now customers can buy ingredients to assemble tapas at home and wines to pair with them. "Spanish food has fat and saltiness, which makes for great drinking food," says Stephen Singer, one of the co-owners. "It all works." —Ratha Tep
Details 4039 Piedmont Ave., Oakland; 510-985-1200 or barcesar.com.
Portalis feels like a seattle coffee shop crossed with a European wine bar. Jens Strecker, an expat German doctor, and his wife, Julie Howe, opened the wine bar and shop in 2003, where they serve more than 30 wines by the glass at a long concrete bar, alongside small dishes such as a rustic house-made pâté, a bubbling goat cheese gratin and a slow-roasted smoked-paprika pork sandwich with garlic aioli and cilantro. If customers like what they try, they can buy a bottle from the shop. The quirky selection of more than 400 bottles includes wines from tiny Washington State producers, like Barrister Winery’s Cabernet Franc and Fall Line Winery’s Bordeaux-style blend. Last year, Portalis moved to a larger space to accommodate the groups that come and linger for hours. If I lived in Seattle, I’d spend hours at Portalis, too, drinking and chatting—much like hanging out at a coffeehouse, but without the jitters. —Kristin Donnelly
Details 5205 Ballard Ave. NW, Seattle; 206-783-2007 or portaliswines.com.