The St. Louis Wine Scene is Experimental, Unpretentious and Open-Minded

Interior dining room of Sardella / Photo courtesy Sardella
Interior dining room of Sardella / Photo courtesy Sardella

“The mentality of St. Louis seems to really support smaller businesses,” says Jon Parker, owner of Parker’s Table, a wine, dry goods and sandwich shop. “They get excited about small, innovative businesses and actively seek them out. Here, there’s room for experimentation and there’s room for play.”

This encouraging environment and the city’s lower cost of living compared to other Midwestern metropoles has helped foster a number of forward-thinking concepts in food and drink.

Little Fox is a new restaurant that just opened up, and it’s all natural [wines],” says Kara Flaherty, certified sommelier and beverage director of Vicia. “They only have organic, biodynamic, little to no intervention [wines]. It’s fun to see these things popping up [alongside] really old, classic restaurants like Bar Italia, whose wine list is deep. That diversity is fantastic.”

Some locals credit wine professionals like Andrey Ivanov MS and Alisha Blackwell-Calvert CSW, both formerly of now-shuttered Reeds American Table and Wine Enthusiast 40 Under 40 honorees, with shaping the city’s wine culture and piquing the interest of a younger generation.

“If anything, these people who have propelled their career and gone elsewhere [like Ivanov] have left behind a general interest,” says Bess Kretsinger Heffernan, general manager of Sardella. “That’s probably why there’s so many young people in St. Louis interested in wine.”

Here are a few of the spots wine lovers should get to know.

Flight of wine at Robust Wine Bar / Photo courtesy Robust
Flight of wine at Robust Wine Bar / Photo courtesy Robust

Wine Bars

Robust Wine Bar

With a mission to make wine and food pairing more approachable, Robust Wine Bar’s menu is bolstered by 40 by-the-glass options and an extended bottle list with categories like “bubbles,” “soft hearted,” and, of course, “robust.” It was opened by Stanley Brown, a certified sommelier with a passion for French wine, and his partner and wife, Arlene.

Chef Zachary Dale looks to wine-centric regions of the world to inform his “simple, approachable” food. Try the baked Camembert with Moniker La Ribera Vineyard Chardonnay, or a chicken confit with Anne Amie Two Estates Pinot Noir.

33 Wine Shop & Tasting Bar

Be prepared to take your time to peruse 33 Wine Shop & Tasting Bar’s selection of around 700 labels from all over the world. Guests can drink in-house or take their selections home. The narrow, intimate wine bar leads guests toward a climate-controlled room where a portion of the collection is stored, in addition to a basement cellar. A welcoming back patio is open from spring to fall.

The proprietor, James Smallwood, offers classes on everything from the regional wines of Tuscany and the Rhône Valley to specific varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon.

“[It’s] always been an educational bar,” says Smallwood, who insists on using proper stemware and climate control. “I think 10 years ago, people were just a lot more comfortable with California, and I think now they’re more comfortable branching out.”

Sasha’s on Shaw

As you enter through the year-round patio at Sasha’s on Shaw, a striking brick-and-wood wall displays the bottles offered. Open for more than a decade, the bar features wines from around the world, with a focus on Italian bottlings. It also serves craft beers and cocktails alongside its menu of low-key, Italian dishes.

Look for bottles like a Barbera d’Alba from G.D. Vajra to enjoy alongside a classic margherita pizza, or an Antica Terra Botanica Pinot Noir to go with the World Tour cheese plate.

Modern rustic at Vicia / Photo by Tara Gallina
Modern rustic at Vicia / Photo by Tara Gallina

Restaurants with Great Wine Lists

Vicia

With an intimate bar and bustling open kitchen, Vicia has received plenty of praise since its debut in 2017. The following year, it was a semifinalist for the James Beard Foundation’s Best New Restaurant award, while in 2019, Executive Chef Michael Gallina was nominated for Beard’s Best Chef: Midwest. His seasonal dishes, like kohlrabi shell tacos, use ingredients sourced primarily from around Missouri. They pair with Vicia’s 100-plus label wine list, which includes by-the-glass options that range from French Domaine Sérol Turbullent Sparkling Rosé to a Domaine Glinavos Paleokerisio from Ioannina, Greece.

“I like making sure that the people that we deal with are taking care of the earth and being responsible,” says Flaherty, also beverage director of Vicia’s new sister restaurant, Winslow’s Table. Try one of Vicia’s chef-curated menus, which include the farmer’s feast and an option for two wine pairings, or a more extensive tasting menu, available with a Missouri-sourced beverage pairing.

“I get to have creative freedom,” says Flaherty. “If something isn’t moving on the list, I have the option to open it up to all these other pairings and introduce people to it that way. I love that I get to educate people on things that they’ve never had before.”

Wine and housemade pasta at Sardella / Photo courtesy Sardella
Wine and housemade pasta at Sardella / Photo courtesy Sardella

Sardella

A 2018 Wine Enthusiast America’s 100 Best Wine Restaurants honoree, people from across the city come to dine in this Mediterranean-inspired space with floor-to-ceiling windows and an eye-catching, blue-and-white tiled bar. Sip lesser-known Italian wines, like Pinot Grigio Ramato, alongside dishes from Executive Chef Brian Moxey like mushroom conserva, as well as a selection of housemade pastas from Chef Giovanni Brex. Don’t miss the tahini-flecked sourdough chitarra or the black trumpet scarpinocc.

“We’re using local farms and sustainably raised produce and meat, and we want the same from our wine list, whether that’s biodynamic or organic or sustainably farmed,” says Heffernan. “But now we’re also kind of digging deeper into the regions of Italy so that we can better pair wine with where these dishes are coming from and keeping [their] roots.”

Kansas City Needs to Be Your Next Wine Destination

Farmhaus

Ten years ago, Chef Kevin Willmann debuted this eatery that helped pioneer the concept of a constantly evolving menu of farm-to-table food in St. Louis.

Inspired by Southern and Midwestern cuisine, Willmann partners with regional farmers, cheesemakers, bakeries and coffee roasters, and sources seafood from the Gulf Coast. In 2015, he was a semifinalist for the James Beard Foundation Best Chef: Midwest award. Dishes range from sweet potato chip nachos to pan-roasted Gulf tripletail with creamy polenta and sweet potato hash.

They’re bolstered by a wine list curated by Beverage Director Bailey Schuchmann. A certified sommelier formerly of Reeds American Table, she’s selected an intriguing list of Old and New World wines, from a Château Gassier 2018 Esprit du Gassier to a Robert Biale 2017 Black Chicken Zinfandel.

Don’t leave without indulging in one of Farmhaus’s standout desserts like a lemon pudding cake topped with citrus supremes.

Parker's Table, housed in a former 1928 post office / Photo courtesy Parker's Table
Parker’s Table, housed in a former 1928 post office / Photo courtesy Parker’s Table

Where to Shop for Wine

Parker’s Table

Housed in what was originally post office constructed in 1928, Parker’s Table is a St. Louis staple. It offers a selection of natural, biodynamic and skin-contact wines as well as a range of Greek, French and Italian bottlings. There’s also a selection of spirits, beer, cider and foods, including Missouri-made cheese and charcuterie.

“I call it Parker’s Table because…I see it as a place where all these things come together and work together,” says Parker. “Everything needs to work in support of each other.”

Bottlings are as far-ranging as those from Tuscany’s Morellino di Scansano DOCG, to Division Wine Making Company in Portland, Oregon. Grab a bite and a drink in the sandwich shop before you go.

Wines, cheese and charcuterie on display at Wild Olive Provisions / Photo courtesy Wild Olive
Wines, cheese and charcuterie on display at Wild Olive Provisions / Photo courtesy Wild Olive

Wild Olive Provisions

Opened late last year in the Shaw neighborhood, Wild Olive Provisions sells more than just bottles. You’ll also find craft beer and spirits, along with cheeses, fresh-baked bread and charcuterie. Take these bites home or enjoy them in store, paired with owner Nerida Wilbraham’s inventory of wines.

“Our wines are primarily Australian and Californian from small, family-owned wineries that practice sustainable farming practices,” says Wilbraham. Two labels she’s excited about are Dandelion Vineyards Lion’s Tooth of McLaren Vale Shiraz-Riesling from South Australia and Meyer Family Cellars 2015 Fluffy Billows Cabernet Sauvignon from Oakville, California.

Vineyard in Missouri's Augusta AVA, the country's first-ever established American Viticultural Area / Getty
Vineyard in Missouri’s Augusta AVA, the country’s first-ever established American Viticultural Area / Getty

Wineries to Visit Around St. Louis

Missouri was America’s first wine region. Though many of its historic wineries were shuttered by Prohibition, there’s enthusiasm to restore its former glory. Producers are using lesser-known grapes, from native Norton to a hybrid Cayuga variety from the Northeast.

Visitors to St. Louis can easily drive to two areas to get a glimpse at Missouri wine country. Starting in the Augusta American Viticultural Area (AVA), the U.S.’s first-ever AVA about an hour west of the city, you’ll find a handful of wineries housed in historic buildings with fantastic views of the Missouri River Valley that include Montelle Winery, founded in 1970. Enjoy a glass of the winery’s 2015 Norton Reserve and sample its range of fruit brandies. At Noboleis Vineyards, try its barrel-fermented Baril de Blanc, or head to Augusta Winery for its 2018 Estate Bottled Chardonel.

Venture another hour west to the town of Hermann, which boasts a 20-mile wine trail that spans seven family-owned wineries.

Historically a German community, the Hermann AVA is where about a third of the state’s wine is made. Stone Hill Winery, first established in 1847, boasts a series of arched underground cellars. Stop in to Stone Hill’s Vintage Restaurant, an onsite eatery where you can try all available wines.

Adam Puchta Winery, first founded in 1855, also offers a look at the region’s history. Now owned by founder Adam Puchta’s great-great-grandson, Tim Puchta, there’s a variety of bottlings to try, from a Cellar Select Norton to sweet Riefenstahler dessert wine.

The St. Louis City Museum, housed in a former shoe factory / Photo by Alex Holder, Alamy
The St. Louis City Museum, housed in a former shoe factory / Photo by Alex Holder, Alamy

Other Places to Visit in St. Louis

There’s no shortage of things to do in St. Louis. Eero Saarinen’s famous Gateway Arch is open daily year-round, but there are plenty of other sights to experience. A must-visit is the City Museum, a former shoe factory transformed into a miniature city by artists Bob and Gail Cassilly. Explore the Missouri Botanical Garden and its tropical pathways that sit inside the Climatron, a massive greenhouse dome.

Tour the Anheuser-Busch Brewery that sits along the Mississippi River and get a glimpse of its production facilities and historic buildings, like its famed clocktower. Check out Cherokee Street, one of the city’s most eclectic and vibrant areas, and spend an afternoon perusing an assortment of bars, restaurants, vintage shops and more.

It’s worth it to venture a little further to explore more of the city’s food and drink options. Find fresh-baked bread, pizza and beer at Union Loafers, or try a selection of Turkish flatbread and Bosnian sandwiches at Balkan Treat Box.

Try McKinley Heights for breakfast at Milque Toast and head to Midtown for Memphis-style barbecue at Pappy’s Smokehouse. Stop by cozy Planter’s House for a cocktail like the A Hit Off the Old Juice Box (reposado Tequila, dragon fruit-kiwi syrup, caramelized fig syrup, lime), or go for seafood and a daiquiri at Yellowbelly.

Published on March 10, 2020
Topics: Travel