Handcrafted cocktails and local beers are big in Chicago bars, but that doesn't mean we don't love wine. These days, sommeliers aren't afraid to think outside the box (or bottle, as it were), from wine cocktails to wine on tap. Even the bar food goes beyond the typical cheese plates—some have menus that rival Chicago's best Italian restaurants. Get ready to sip and swirl at some of the best wine bars in town.
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Best wine bars in Chicago
Mark and Liz Mendez, both formerly of Carnivale, escape the trappings of their former employer with this quiet spot. It's a wine bar, so drink up—Liz has assembled an excellent sherry program, and all the servers can direct you toward a glass. Mark handles food, and we're fans of the hearty paella and the generous cheese and charcuterie plate. A daytime menu features coffee and tea paired with sherry, plus snacks like doughnuts, English muffins and a tortilla espanola.
The novella-length menu at this low-key alcove contains loving and helpful descriptions of an impressive selection of wines and beers. And thanks to the array of small plates served until 1am, this is the kind of warm, simple neighborhood place you’ll never want—or need—to leave.
With the quiet sound of electro-swing in the background, sipping wine at Darren McGraw's Ampersand Wine Bar is easy. Most glasses hover around $10–$12, and the staff is happy to help you pick out the right glass—you can even ask for a sip ahead of time if you're not sure. There's food, too, including a prettily plated meat and cheese board in two sizes. The large is perfect for two, so grab a friend and belly up to the bar.
The restaurant attached to Lakeview's Pastoral is a dim, cozy spot for drinking an interesting selection of wines by the glass, along with the food you want while sipping wines—cheese plates, charcuterie and pâté. Half glasses of wine are just $5, so you can sample a variety. If you like what you taste, well, Pastoral's shop is just next door.
Old World wine list and Mediterranean small plates: Scott Harris has nailed the formula at Purple Pig and Davanti Enoteca, so why mess with a good thing? Admittedly, the scales at DiSotto (in the cellar-like basement of Francesca’s on Chestnut) tip toward drinking—the food is limited to antipasti, bruschetta, cheeses, salumi and a small selection of pasta. But when you’re spreading thick ricotta and fragments of honeycomb on toasted bread or sampling warm, marinated olives or indulging in the toast with a truffled egg yolk at its center, the appeal of this wine bar can’t help but feel unending.
You enter through an unmarked alleyway, glowing strings of lights leading you to a cobblestone courtyard and ornate parlor that resembles a Parisian hideaway. You forget where you are. You order glasses of champagne you’ve never heard of, you gently unhinge oysters from their shells, and when dessert comes, your selection is plucked from a fanciful cart, replete with bite-size marshmallows. Heaven? Who needs it when there’s RM?
This Humboldt Park hideaway from a group of Hogsalt veterans has a small by-the-glass menu but a well-curated bottle list. The menu includes different sized plates big enough to share. The bar fills up quickly, but the glasses of wine and tasty snacks make it great for sitting.
This sleek, shiny bar in Tree Studios boasts—as the name suggests—the city’s best selection of bubbles. Most of it doesn’t come cheap (it never does), but you’re not just paying for the booze—you’re paying for some of the most educated bartenders in town. Take advantage of their knowledge and ask lots of questions. And when you’ve had enough education (and wine), head downstairs to Pops’ cocktail bar, WaterShed.
Webster’s Wine Bar relocated from Lincoln Park to Logan Square (where it took over sister spot the Telegraph), but little has changed. It's still a solid place to sample an array of wines, since tasting pours are about $4.50–$7.50, and the knowledgeable staff and engaging menu descriptions will direct you to the right wine. The cheeses and charcuterie plates are just what you need to soak it all up.