The Rise of Miami’s Wine Scene

Take a trip behind the neon and into Miami's wine scene / Getty

Miami tends to conjure up images of decadence: luxury yachts, condos with ocean views, six-figure sports cars that swerve through South Beach. It’s a place where people can drink all day and party all night. Miami is a city built on fun, often with a piña colada or mojito in hand.

Beachy cocktails reign supreme in some parts of the city, but the drinking landscape across Miami has begun to shift. Wine has emerged as a popular option on bar and restaurant menus, alongside drinks typically garnished with a mint sprig.

“I can see that there is an increase in wine education from consumers,” says Aleksandra Milinkov, lead sommelier at Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s Matador Room, located in the Miami Beach EDITION. “We can see a more approachable way when it comes to tasting new grape varieties and styles of wine. Guests are more inclined to experiment and try different varietals.”

Currently on everyone’s radar? Dry, citrusy and mineral-forward wines.

“I can clearly connect it with the weather we have here,” says Milinkov. “What we suggest are the varieties that do not have barrique aging and little or no malolactic fermentation, such as Rolle, Pinot Grigio or a dry rosè from Provence.”

Still, the hot, humid climate doesn’t necessarily mean that Miamians don’t appreciate rich, complex reds.

“It is surprising that Miamians tend to also be red wine drinkers,” says Milinkov. “Miami is definitely a growing wine city. Even though it is not a wine-producing area, the locals and visitors to our sunny shores are educated, and continue to nurture the wine scene with wine seminars, tastings, and classes.”

To discover Miami through a wine lover’s lens, these are some of the spots you can’t miss.

One of the "wine angels" at Cibo Wine Bar / Photo courtesy Liberty Group
One of the “wine angels” at Cibo Wine Bar / Photo courtesy Liberty Group

Wine Bars

Cibo Wine Bar

Spanning 12,000 square feet over two floors, nothing about this South Beach destination is understated. Guests can pick from more than 3,500 bottles that span the globe. Eating here is a must—after all, cibo means “food” in Italian—and the best place to start is with the lengthy antipasti menu. The bruschetta and tuna crudo are highly recommended. A second Miami outpost is located in Coral Gables.

Also, sip some Italian bubbly and check out the all-you-can-eat Sunday brunch special ($40).

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Happy Wine

Want to maximize your dollars? Say hello to Happy Wine, home to one of the best-valued happy hours in the city. Mondays and Tuesdays offer up incredible deals. From 3 pm to close, enjoy $2 house wines and sangria at the Calle Ocho location (a second location is housed in the Coconut Grove neighborhood). Additionally, look for sliding-scale specials on Moët & Chandon, where glasses start at $5 from 5–6 pm and increase by $1 every hour after that. Order a tortilla española to complete the experience.

Jamón on the table at El Carajo / Photo courtesy El Carajo
Jamón on the table at El Carajo / Photo courtesy El Carajo

El Carajo

No, your GPS hasn’t forsaken you. This wine bar/restaurant is indeed tucked inside a gas station.

But don’t let the setting deter you. The family-run business offers delicious baked goods like guava cheesecake alongside some of the best tapas on this side of the Atlantic. The wine selection is robust, thanks in large part to the know-how acquired by the proprietors over the course of nearly three decades selling wine from the location.

Wine Shops

Wine Vault

This wine bar/shop in Midtown is relatively low-key, despite that it’s home to “the biggest meatball in town.” The one-pound delicacy is made of ground beef stuffed with smoked prosciutto, one-year-old Manchego cheese and polenta, all covered in marinara sauce. If that doesn’t fill you up, affordable bar eats like flatbreads and hummus will do the trick. Wash everything down with a glass of house wine or sangria, on special for $6 during happy hour.

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The Best Wine Shop

The name speaks volumes about how the owners of this laid-back oasis in Alameda view their shop. It specializes in discounted vintages from Europe and South America. The spot doubles as a budget-friendly tapas bar where locals mingle over recently imported bottles. If you’re lucky, you may be greeted by live music.

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Matador Room

Comprised of a restaurant, bar and terrace, the Matador Room in the Miami Beach EDITION is a full-service experience reminiscent of the glitzy supper clubs of the 1940s and ’50s. It’s hard not to gravitate toward the stunning chandelier, suspended over a sunken oval dining room. It’s an original feature of the building, constructed in 1955 and now fully restored.

A seasonal menu of Latin cuisine sits alongside a wine list as lavish as the surroundings. Highlights include rare vintages like the Marqués de Murrieta 2005 Finca Ygay Gran Reserva Limited Edition Rioja and the Château Margaux 1995 Margaux.

Zucca, located inside the historic Hotel St. Michel in Coral Gables / Photo by Moris Moreno
Zucca, located inside the historic Hotel St. Michel in Coral Gables / Photo by Moris Moreno

Zucca

Located in the historic Hotel St. Michel, this Coral Gables eatery offers up Italian fare alongside more than 2,000 wines from throughout Italy and the world. In true Miami form, the sparkling options, which include Ruinart Brut Blanc de Blancs and Pommery Brut Rosé Royal, are the real superstars.

It’s an ideal date-night location that boasts housemade pastas like the Bucatini al Cacio e Pepe and Linguine alle Vongole. If you’re on the hunt for a post-work drink, happy hour at the bar is weeknights from 5–8 pm.

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Restaurants With Stellar Wine Lists

While Miami restaurants have always been known for excellent cocktail menus, high-quality wine lists are becoming the norm. It’s evidenced by the roster at Bunbury, a rustic Argentine eatery housed in a former tire shop. The outdoor patio is perfect to unwind and catch up with friends over empanadas and a robust Malbec. Cap off the evening with some dulce de leche.

Alter's beef tartare, ready for a wine pairing / Photo courtesy Alter
Alter’s beef tartare, ready for a wine pairing / Photo courtesy Alter

Just a few blocks east in bustling Wynwood is Alter, where hip industrial vibes are complemented by dishes as beautiful as they are delicious. The wines range from established, well-known producers to small artisanal growers from around the globe. The sparkling wines, like Schramsberg 2013 Blanc de Noirs and Dom Pérignon 2006 Brut, are especially noteworthy.

No trip to Miami is complete without a stop in Little Havana, which is a culinary destination in its own right. Casa Juancho is a solid starting point. Miamians frequent this mainstay, which features more than 450 aged and vintage wines.

Published on April 12, 2019
Topics: Wine Destinations


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