Sommeliers are often regarded as the gatekeepers of wine trends. This isn’t entirely true. Sure, somms influence how restaurants stock and sell wine, and how those eating there purchase and drink it. But dining out is, for most Americans, not an everyday occasion — and very few of us are at the same restaurants frequently enough to get to know our somms personally.
Instead, most of us discover new bottles and fine-tune our tastes at our local wine shop. A good retailer can have enormous influence; its employees often affect wine drinkers’ habits, tastes, and purchases more than even the most lauded sommelier.
That’s why we’re launching the best wine shop category of our annual VinePair Awards. To create this list, we polled staffers, beverage industry professionals, VinePair readers, and a wide network of contributors and social media community members. For sake of consistency, we modeled geographic bounds after the venerable James Beard Foundation Awards.
Criteria were simple: In order to be considered, these wine shops had to be open on a regular basis and they had to sell a wide variety of bottles. They couldn’t be shops operated by wineries that only sold their own bottles.
We also looked for shops that had been operational for a year or more. While this wasn’t essential, it is an asset: Longevity helps indicate community engagement and appreciation.
Finally, we looked for shops that had an accessible and educational vibe. A high-quality and knowledgeable staff was key. These are places where consumers not only enjoy shopping, but also go to discover new wines and learn a thing or two.
Here are VinePair’s 10 best wine shops of 2017.
GREAT LAKES (IL, IN, MI, OH)
Independent Spirits, Inc.
Location: Chicago, IL
Akin to an excellent record store (remember those?), Independent Spirits is the type of shop that both serves and embodies its neighborhood. Embracing maker culture, and highlighting small and independent producers, Independent Spirits is where you go when you want to discover that unsung gem of a wine that will knock the socks off you and everyone you know. The staff is knowledgeable and friendly, there are always opportunities to taste, and you constantly discover new bottles to fall in love with. That they also sell great spirits is just the icing on the cake.
MIDWEST (IA, KS, MN, MO, NE, ND, SD, WI)
Underdog Wine Co.
Location: Kansas City, MO
Another shop that champions small, family producers, Underdog emphasizes delivering value to customers. Fans say the owners make concerted efforts to make the shop a part of its neighborhood, and hire incredibly approachable, knowledgeable staffers. At no time do you feel like you can’t ask a question, locals tell us, because the floor staff at Underdog is happy to answer and help you along your wine journey.
WEST (CA, HI, NV)
Location: Los Angeles, CA
This is the coolest shop we went to all year. Located in the back of hip, Italian-ish restaurant Jon & Vinny’s, Helen’s is small, but its selection is killer. Curated by Helen Johannesen, beverage director for Jon & Vinny’s as well as the group’s other restaurants (Animal, Son of a Gun), the bottles at Helen’s are available to take away or drink with meals at the restaurant. It stocks funky natural wines, but has none of the attitude or pretension that can accompany them at other shops and bars. Helen’s proves a shop doesn’t have to be physically large in order to have a massive footprint.
NORTHWEST (AK, ID, MT, OR, WA, WY)
Location: Seattle, WA
Located above Wilridge, an urban winery in Madrona, and situated alongside a cozy wine bar (also called Bottlehouse), this shop is a Seattle institution. It’s the ideal place to learn how wines go from grape to glass while sampling an excellent selection of bottles from local Pacific Northwestern producers and global estates. One of the first shops to embrace wine on tap, Bottlehouse is both forward-thinking and accessible. It’s a good place to get geeky about wine — and if you want to stick around for salumi and cheeses after you pick up a bottle, the adjoining wine bar offers both deck (below) and garden seating.
SOUTHWEST (AZ, CO, NM, OK, TX, UT)
Location: Houston, TX
Opened just over a year ago in West University, this Houston gem is another combination wine shop/wine bar. Helmed by Patrick McCray, chef-owner of Montrose’s Divino restaurant, and Divino wine director Thomas Moesse, the hybrid space pours a number of wines by the glass and has a 300-bottle retail selection. The list to purchase includes global, dessert, and sparkling wines, with a special concentration of Italian and French wines. Best of all, the helpful staffers are happy to point out great choices at every price point.
SOUTH (AL, AR, PUERTO RICO, FL, LA, MS)
Redneck Wine Company
Location: Tampa, FL
Tampa is consistently one of the most passionate wine cities in the South, and Redneck Wine Company fuels that fire. VinePair survey respondents say they never feel intimidated or pushed to buy an uncomfortable price point in this welcoming shop, where knowledgeable staffers offer tastings and educational experiences. All in all, a wonderful neighborhood destination dedicated to its community.
SOUTHEAST (GA, KY, NC, SC, TN, WV)
Location: Atlanta, GA
As the city and its restaurant scene continue to evolve, Atlanta is one of the most exciting cities for wine. Named for its location at the intersection of Atlanta’s Grant, Glenwood, and Ormewood Parks neighborhoods, 3 Parks is committed to building a passionate wine community. There are free weekly wine tasting classes and a wine club. The selection emphasizes small-production, biodynamic, and family-owned wines, with a special focus on providing excellent bottles that retail between $15 and $25.
MID-ATLANTIC (DC, DE, MD, NJ, PA, VA)
Location: Washington, D.C.
One of those shops you just want to root for, this Capitol Hill “wine boutique” is a D.C. institution. Co-owners Michael and Michelle Lim Warner launched the business simply based on their shared love of wine, and DCanter offers a wide selection of bottles, as well as a slate of classes and events held at the onsite tasting room. VinePair readers agree the classes are a big draw; subjects span such entry-level pursuits as Taste Fundamentals, as well as finger-on-the-pulse topics like Exploring Cru Beaujolais.
NEW YORK CITY
Location: Greenpoint, Brooklyn
New York City is flush with wine shops, many of which possess enormous selections — with oversized staff egos to match. Dandelion is not one of these NYC wine shops. The beautifully curated selection emphasizes warm service and incredible wines under $25, making it a go-to for those in the neighborhood and across Brooklyn. Employees are extremely helpful, providing an almost salon-like atmosphere that invites customers to stay, hang out, and chat about wine.
NORTHEAST (CT, MA, ME, NH, NY, RI, VT)
Location: Boston, MA
Urban Grape offers friendly service and a broad selection of wine, craft beer, and spirits; but what’s most remarkable about this South End destination is its innovative organization and display system. Bottles are stocked with prices rising from floor to ceiling, and wine’s body increasing from right to left. It’s an unusual but effective tactic, allowing customers to find new wines similar to those they already love, all without any intimidation. Urban Grape also has killer tasting events.