Wine bars in LA: Where to sniff, swirl and sip

Check out our picks of the best wine bars in LA—and what to drink from red to white for newbies and winos alike.

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Photograph: Jakob N. Layman

Best Wine Bars: Corkbar

The best wine bars in LA are doing their part to elevate the juice in your glass, pouring newbies and enthusiasts wines by the glass, by the flight and by the bottle to put a wide grin—albeit red-wine soaked and proud—on your face. Whatever your wine speed, this town has you covered—from the hip, young scene at Bacaro and value seekers at Pourhaus to California locavores at Corkbar and the try-this-and-that approach at Bar Covell and Venice Beach Wines. Winos—check out our top picks of the city’s best wine bars and dig in your heels.


RECOMMENDED: See more Los Angeles Bars


Corkbar

  • Price band: 2/4

Locavore wine enthusiasts will find refuge at this hip Downtown wine bistro where the focus is almost exclusively on California wine. Roughly 70 wines by the glass, stored in temperature-controlled fridges, showcase a range of styles of our great state—Central Coast, Napa Valley, Sonoma, Lodi, Russian River, et al—has to offer. Collectors and winos marvel at Corkbar’s impressive two-story backdrop of shelves of carefully placed empty bottles in varying and alternating facings. Downtown locals and nearby Staples Center and LA Live crowds take in the action at the bar—as a knowledgeable and passionate wine staff help navigate the list—and settle on a glass or bottle served in 28-ounce, bowl-sized glasses (which incidentally and unbelievably hold an entire bottle of wine) for optimal swirling and tasting. On a nice night, sit on the outside patio by the fire pit and sample the carefully designed menu of small plate pairing options like charcuterie, cheeses and sandwiches.


General manager Matt Eldridge's picks

Wines by the glass to try :
White: Tatomer Riesling ($13) from Santa Barbara and Fiddlehead Sauvignon Blanc from Santa Ynez ($19)
Red: Schweiger Cabernet Sauvignon ($18) from Napa's Spring Mountain district. "It's been on our menu for the past few vintages and continues to shine."

Hidden gems by the bottle:
White: "2007 Sauvignon Blanc from Napa's Alta Mura ($163) is pretty special. The winemaker puts the juice in 100% new oak which transforms this varietal into a totally ethereal experience—the mouthfeel and structure like a full-bodied Chardonnay, but with the citrus and acidity of Sauvignon Blanc."
Red: 2009 Beautiful Earth ($82) from Paso Robles' McPrice Meyers/ "It's a Rhone-style blend that demands to be decanted and really blossoms over time."

  1. Downtown
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Bacaro LA

On most nights this intimate Downtown wine bar is hopping with USC sorority girls, grad students and professors, as well as the nearby, after-work crowd. The wine program focuses on esoteric, terroir-driven Italian wines by the glass and changes as frequently as the attention span of its patrons—the chalkboard wall showcases a constantly rotating menu of eight reds, seven whites, two sparkling and two sweet, replaced after each case. The food is California-fresh tapas that’s churned out quickly from a busy kitchen and served by a staff so casual you might mistake them for self-serving patrons. The atmosphere is pure conviviality and serious wine geeks sit at the long, communal table at the newly expanded room to revel in the chance to make new friends and sniff what’s in their Riedel glass. Don’t miss Sunday brunch (11am-3pm), when cocktails are $1, and Monday night happy hour (5-7pm) with $5 plates and half-off wines by the glass.


Co-owner Daniel Kronfli's picks

Wines by the glass to try: "Wines rotate so often, it’s hard to maintain one, but there’s always a rotating house white, red and sparkling."

Hidden gems by the bottle: Sorry, winos, it’s by-the-glass only.

  1. Downtown
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Barbrix

  • Price band: 2/4

This Silver Lake wine bar feels like home away from home: a cozy den of elevated, wood-beam ceilinging over a 360-degree bar and L-shaped dining room gives way to an open kitchen. The ever-changing wine list—after two cases of each bottle is popped and poured, a new wine takes its place—presents affordable and accessible value wines from around the globe with a focus on the marriage of food and drink. Sit on the patio or square, four-sided bar as you sip more than 50 pours by the (Riedel) glass from California Syrah to Rhone Valley reds and share plates like deviled eggs ($9), pork and ricotta meatballs ($11) and a seasonally changing assortment of cheese and charcuterie ($6-$28). The service is friendly, occasionally witty and eager to help, mirroring the lack of pretentious wine snobs here—just real, neighborhood folk, who are happy to have a great place to eat and drink on the Eastside.


Owner Claudio Blotta's (also of Cooks County) picks

Wines by the glass to try:
White: Austrian Reislings or Grüners like 2011 Hugo Gruner Veltliner from Markus Huber ($10)
Red: Nebiolos from the Rhone and Piedmonte like 2010 Langhe from Produttori del Barbaresco ($13)

Hidden gems by the bottle: 2009 Emilio Moro Tempranillo ($60)

  1. Silver Lake
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The Colonial Wine Bar

  • Price band: 3/4

Owned by Mary Anne and Carolyn Reyes, this intimate Hollywood, colonial-themed wine bar (formerly TiroVino) boasts gorgeous antique lighting, velvet chairs and cozy banquettes with a global wine list and food menu. Susan Brink of WeHo wine shop Venokado has developed a rotating and seasonal wine list that focuses on family-owned vineyards. Two-ounce pours showcase each wine’s terroir and encourage diverse tastings, better with food than on its own. The menu is mostly small plates for sharing—try the risotto with mushrooms, a decadent, creamy and flavorful dish ($12), and don't miss the cheese plates—with generous portions for $15. Stop by for happy hour from 5-7pm when $12 gets you three small plates paired with wine or beer. Grab a lounge chair at the back of the dining room or in front of the cellar and, on warm nights, opt for the enclosed patio. Stay tuned for a wine maker dinner series.


Co-owner Mary Anne Reyes' picks

Wines by the glass to try:
White: 2006 Aster Ribera del Duero Tempranillo ($16). "A powerful wine that’s well-balanced with gentle tannins and an intense nose of deep wood, blackberries and sugared plums against a spicy background of clove, cedar and noble wood."
Red: 2009 D. Bouissiere, "Les Amis" ($13). "A Grenache/Syrah/Merlot blend from Gigondas, France, is a personal favorite of mine and sells out all the time."

Hidden gems by the bottle: 2010 Peter Paul Bacigalupi, a Russian River Chardonnay ($27). "The grapes are grown in the famous vineyard that was part of the blend that won the Paris Tasting of 1976. It’s a rich, full-bodied wine, packed with stone fruit, citrus, spice, almond with subtle honeyed notes and plenty of acidity to give balance and finesse."

  1. Hollywood
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Venice Beach Wines

  • Price band: 2/4

The smoky scent of grilled panini and pizzas fills the interior and tented patio space at Norma Alvarado and Oscar Hermosillo's seven-year old casual and intimate, beachside neighborhood wine bar. There are 20 wines by the glass ranging in different prices, regions and varietals—choose from 100% Tempranillo house red ($10) to Sexual Chocolate ($15), a rich Zinfandel and Syrah blend with a subtle mocha finish—and a small plates, Mediterranean menu from chef Jill Davie, formerly of Josie Restaurant. Venice’s eclectic, artsy crowd convene around communal tables—opt for the table made from an old Oregon stump—for weekday happy hour from 4-7pm when beer is $4, wine by the glass is $7 and bottles are 25% off. Cheese selections are a must and pair nicely with any wine or beer—a $5-$20 list dominated mostly by Belgium, Germany and California—served in stemless for red, stems for white and separate glassware and decanters for bottles from the cellar. The staff is as low-key as the clientele, but attentive and helpful in navigating an impressive list of wines from around the world.

 

Co-owner Norma Alvarado's picks

Wines by the glass to try:
White: Muller Thurgau ($12), "a unique, full-bodied Italian white"
Red: Frappato ($12), "a lighter, jammy Italian red"

Hidden gems by the bottle: 2002 Camus Bruchon et Fils Burgundy ($65), "a medium-bodied wine with red fruit and nice minerality"

  1. Venice
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Bar Covell

  • Price band: 2/4

Dustin Lancaster and Matthew Kaner became friends at the retail shop Silverlake Wine, and years later opened Bar Covell. There’s never a quiet night at this Los Feliz den of wines that all have a story to tell, through interesting, lesser-known bottles. There are no certified wine pros here, but Kaner and staff are as deft in wine speak as they are in steering the consumer toward a happy pour of wine (or bottle) served in Riedel glasses. Ask for a seat at Bar 1—you have a view of every seat and can see everyone who comes into the bar for prime people watching—and discover a new wine from the ever-changing menu. A limited menu of wine- and beer–friendly items emphasizes cheese to help satiate bar-goers from locals and wine geeks to suits and amateur enthusiasts.


Co-owner Matthew Kaner's picks

Wines by the glass to try: "We prefer to focus on characteristics, as opposed to specific wines. Some winemakers I like are Arnot-Roberts in Sonoma County and Samuel's Gorge in McLaren Vale, Australia."

Hidden gems by the bottle: It's pours by the glass only.

  1. Los Feliz
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Pour Haus Wine Bar

  • Price band: 2/4

The revitalization of DTLA is alive and well at the just-over-a-year-old wine bar/retail store nestled on an enchanting, neighborhood block. Owner (and wine pro) Lorena Porras worked as a wine distributor for eight years and offers global wines she’s passionate about—from small-production, family-owned winemakers. The atmosphere is derived from the friendly, easy-going staff, Porras included, who’ll help you decide on an under-$8 wine by the glass or a three- to four-glass flight, which rotate monthly. If you really liked a wine you tasted, grab it off the shelf and take it home for more imbibing. Join the locals at the intimate bar or patio or drop in for trivia night on Tuesdays (7:30pm) when the winning team wins $20 toward their bill.


Owner Lorena Porras' picks

Wines by the glass to try: Any bottle under $40 in the retail store is available to try.

Hidden gems by the bottle: "2009 year Wallace Creek Pinot Noir ($26), the second label to Adelsheim, a respected Pinot producer from Oregon. 2010 Tuck Beckstoffer "the Sum" ($24), sold at a fraction of the price of similar-palate wines."

  1. Downtown
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The Redd Collection

  • Price band: 3/4

Whether it's California cult wines like Helen Turley's famed Marcassin Pinots or a vertical of four vintages of Screaming Eagle, you just can’t get the Redd Collection's wines anywhere else. Get on the mailing list and stop in Fridays and Saturdays for collectors series of $10 to $300 fancy-pants tastings (think: Mouton verticals and 100-point bottle flights), or other days of the week to sample from a selection of 30-40 bottles. The retail store's tasting bar also offers reasonably-priced wines by the glass, bespoke flights—pick and choose from the stock of fine, rare, mature, collectible wines—and pizza from a wood-burning oven to round out all that tippling.

Co-owner Michael Carpenter's picks

Wines by the glass to try:
White: 2011 Liquid Farm "White Hill" Chardonnay ($10). "We were the first retailer in LA with this discovery and it's now poured at the best dining rooms in the city. The Chablis-style wine is grown in the coolest part of Santa Rita and stands out from all others in California with spectacular minerality and a racy acidity. With only ten barrels made, it's an amazing value."
Red: 2011 Vivier Pinot Noir ($10). "The Sonoma Coast wine from skilled French winemaker Stephane Vivier is a wonderful, elegant wine with complexity that drinks at twice its price."

Hidden gems by the bottle :
2010 Skinner Vineyards Grenache. "The beautifully elegant wine of black cherry, herbs and spices delivers a wonderful drinking experience. With only 245 cases made (and in only 30% new oak), it's a serious over-achiever at $26."

  1. Culver City
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Vertical Wine Bistro

  • Price band: 3/4

Turn into an alley and climb the wrought iron staircase that leads to this eclectic wine bistro as the sounds of Sinatra pick up and suddenly you feel as though you're far from LA. A domed glass ceiling reminiscent of Paris’ indoor markets marks the entryway of this sleek, elegantly-lit and dark-toned noble house of wine in Pasadena. Old World is the focus here with French and Italian terroir-driven wines (think: earthy and mineral-y), though equally impressive is a list of New World crowd-pleasers: fruit-forward, lush, opulent wines from California. After-work bargoers stop in early evenings, while hipsters join in after 9pm. Ask to try a vertical flight—a tasting of three wines from three consecutive vintages from a single producer—poured in Riedel glasses. Groups convene at the communal tasting table, while date nighters snag a table by the fireplace. There are small plates—cheese, charcuterie, sliders and pizza—for snacking and sharing, as well as full dinner options like the three-course, Sunday night fried chicken dinner ($29/person) and Thursday burger night when Kobe beef ($15) and veggie ($14) two-fisters are paired with a three-beer flight ($12).


General manager and wine director Manuel Mesta's picks

Wines by the glass to try: "NV Gruet Brut ($11), an off-the-beaten-path rosé from New Mexico; and NV Billecart Brut ($22), a Champagne with fresh bread and pear on the nose."

Hidden gems by the bottle: 2008 Schnaitmann "Young Vines" Pinot Noir ($68), Wurttemberg, Germany. "Stored in a candle-lit cellar serenaded day and night by classical music, it probably should be priced higher, but I love it and like to recommend it as often as possible."

  1. Pasadena
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AOC

  • Price band: 3/4
  • Critics choice

To celebrate AOC’s 10th anniversary, Caroline Styne and Suzanne Goin upgraded to new digs, featuring an impressive patio, full bar and upstairs wine bar/private dining room, just down the block from the original location. The wine list focus remains dedicated to boutique producers of the unusual and eclectic (think: small production, biodynamic), with a condensed list of twenty-some wines by the glass, ranging from $8 to $25. No cute water glasses here—serious winos can appreciate the aromas and flavors in proper wine glasses, better appreciated with Goin's signature seasonal, Cal-Med small plates. (Large plates like paella make a debut for family-style sharing.) Stop in for $5 to $6 wine by the glass during nightly happy hour and take in the action from the communal table alongside the well-heeled (and imbibed) crowd.


Co-owner Caroline Styne's picks

Wines by the glass to try:
White: 2010 Navaherreros, Bernabeleva Blanco ($12)
Red: 2011 Folk Machine, Valdiguie ($12), "loaded with bright red currant notes and touches of lilac, incredibly pretty and vibrant"

Wines by the bottle to try: The rotating 100-bottle list features wines by the glass, bottle and carafe.

  1. Mid-City West
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Users say

2 comments
kellyhargraves
kellyhargraves

what about VINOTECA on Hillhurst? i love that place