Washington, D.C. is much more than museums and monuments. Often regarded as a giant tourist trap, the District has rapidly emerged as a formidable food and drink destination, particularly since its first dedicated Michelin guide debuted in 2016.
In particular, wine is a growing commodity here. Its proximity to Maryland and Virginia means wine excursions are just a short drive away, but leaving the District isn’t necessary to enjoy top-notch wine.
“Washingtonians are becoming more adventurous when it comes to wine,” says Michelle Lim Warner, co-founder and CEO of DCanter, a local wine shop in the Capitol Hill neighborhood. “This city has always been a fusion of different cultures, and many people are well-traveled and crave experience over brand. The emergence of a more eclectic D.C. dining scene in these past few years has given Washingtonians the opportunity to try wines they’d normally only get to taste if you were in the country where the wines are made.”
Now that D.C. has made a name for itself among food lovers and sommeliers alike, the wine scene is becoming more spectacular by the day. Below, learn about the wine locales you need to explore on your next trip to the nation’s capital.
Flight Wine Bar
Some places just ooze cool. That’s exactly the case with Flight, located in the middle of Chinatown. A modern, circular bar that looks like something out of The Jetsons is the focal point of this sleek lounge.
Owners and certified sommeliers Kabir Amir and Swati Bose have created an expansive wine list based on their travels. Expect to find more than 600 wines in various formats, including over 20 flights and 35 wines by the glass. The bar is home to many under-the-radar varieties from small, family-owned wineries. Naturally, sampling the flights here is a must. Try the “Like A Diamond In The Sky,” a trio of celebratory sparklers from Jura, Lombardy and Malaga.
Barcelona Wine Bar
The two D.C. outposts of this popular and swanky chain of wine drinking destinations are rarely without a crowd. The popularity is understandable, as Barcelona offers one of the largest Spanish wine programs in the U.S. as well as a wide selection from South America and small-production wines from Italy, France, Germany, Greece and California. Choose from more than 400 wines, 40 of which are served by the glass.
Tempranillo fans will be in heaven here, with bottles that range from an affordable $27 Rioja to a splurge-worthy Vega Sicilia Unico for $680. The tapas are all excellent, though the patatas bravas and spinach chickpea cazuela are especially noteworthy. The food menu changes daily.
Adventurers take note, Maxwell Park is the place to go for nonstop surprises. Not your typical buttoned-up wine bar, this spot features a steady rotation of glasses, bottles, guest chefs, dishes, visiting sommeliers and winemaker-hosted get-togethers. No two visits will likely be the same, and that’s what keeps people coming back.
The bar, located in D.C.’s lively Shaw neighborhood, boasts around 500 labels on its wine list. About 50 wines are offered by the glass, 40 of which are rotated monthly and selected according to ever-changing themes. Recent motifs include “Born in the USA,” in which the establishment promoted “a patriotic panoply of wines from all corners of the country, both young and old.”
This wine boutique is filled with many bottles you won’t find anywhere else in the country. DCanter directly imports a portion of their selection themselves, with a focus on small producers and family-run operations. The global inventory changes constantly and staff members are always ready to offer insight about new additions. Build up your wine education as well—each weekend, the shop hosts afternoon wine tastings where you just might discover a new favorite pour. Patrons can also peruse and purchase current offerings online.
A shared interest in wine brought together Grand Cata’s co-founders, Julio Robledo and Pedro Rodríguez, who met in 2009 while working at a media-development nonprofit. Eventually, the two laid the groundwork for a Latino-focused wine company in the middle of D.C., which ultimately became Grand Cata. The shop’s wines, beers and spirits represent the history and vibrant cultures of Central America, South America and the Caribbean. The selection of Chilean wines is impressive, and, unsurprisingly, it’s the best place in the city to search for that perfect Malbec.
Via Umbria is stocked with a selection of wines from Umbria’s small, family-operated wineries in Montefalco, Italy, an often overlooked region known for wines rich in character and complexity. Housed in a rustic farmhouse, this Georgetown shop will introduce you to distinctive reds, crisp whites and other artisanal Italian treats. In addition to being a go-to destination for wine, Via Umbria is also home to a café and restaurant that will instantly transport you to the heart of Italy.
This waterfront winery along the Anacostia River is a welcome escape from the frenetic pace of life in the District. It was opened in August 2017 by the masterminds behind New York-based Brooklyn Winery. Quickly, it has become a hotspot in its own right. The 17,000-square-foot space is home to a production facility, tasting bar and restaurant. Most of the grapes are sourced from California, New York and Washington State. Looking to give the orange wine trend a go? Two varieties are available for purchase by the bottle.
City Winery opened in April 2018, less than a year after District Winery, effectively solidifying the allure of the urban winery in the nation’s capital. What separates City Winery, though, is its purpose. This 40,000-square-foot operation in Ivy City doubles as a music venue, as its 320-seat concert hall hosts pop, rock, and jazz shows and other events. A second “wine garden” can seat up to 100 guests for more intimate shows.
As for wine, look to a fantastic selection of classics like Napa Valley Cabs and Pinot Noir from the Willamette Valley in Oregon.
Visitors to this family-owned vineyard are in for a treat. As you drive up the hill and turn into the parking lot, the view may have you second-guessing your whereabouts, asking, “Is this Virginia or Tuscany?”
Oh, it’s Virginia alright, and a little over an hour’s drive from D.C. The sprawling hillside is so picturesque that it’s conceivable to stop by just for the view and ambiance alone. But no worries, the wine truly delivers. First-timers should start with a tasting flight and sample generous pours of a variety of varietal wines. Standouts include Hillsborough’s Cabernet Sauvignon and the Onyx, a red wine made from 100% Tannat grapes, which are particularly well-suited to grow in Virginia’s climate.
This 18th-century estate provides a regal backdrop for a day of wine tasting. The property has a seemingly endless array of nooks to explore, from the tasting room to Library 1821, where you can try a changing selection of flights of older vintages from the winery’s cellars alongside current releases. Go for a stroll along the historic landmark ruins of Thomas Jefferson’s mansion for Gov. James Barbour, all while sipping on a glass of Octagon, the vineyard’s signature wine. The two-and-a-half-hour trip from the District is well worth your while.
Restaurants with Stellar Wine Lists
These days, it’s hard to come across a talked-about D.C. eatery that doesn’t have an impressive wine list. Restaurateurs here understand the importance of wine. Lavagna, a farm-to-table restaurant known for its housemade pastas, has a delightful roster of Italian offerings. As an added bonus, bottles are half-off on Sunday and Tuesday nights.
A few blocks away in Eastern Market, Montmartre is a Parisian-inspired bistro with an expertly curated French wine list. The weekend brunch is wonderful, with quiche and crepes especially memorable. And, conveniently enough, wine bottles here are also half-off on Sunday and Tuesday nights here.
For an upscale night out, look no further than Bourbon Steak, located inside the Four Seasons. The 900-label wine list is sure to offer up something for even the most discerning aficionado. Local wines are part of the mix here, too, so you can try Virginia and Maryland bottlings without ever leaving city limits.