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No matter where I travel, I usually hit at least one wine bar per vacation, if there's one available. Here are reviews of some of the places I've visited.

louonvine.jpg• BAR COVELL – Silverlake (LA), CA
I heard about the opening of this wine bar through my friends on Twitter. I had met Matthew Kaner, the bar's wine director and general manager, when he worked at Silverlake Wine and knew that he knew his stuff. I have even had the pleasure of drinking some of his own wines (AM/FM label), so I was excited to check this place out. It took awhile, since it's not in my hood, but, man I wish it was. It has a great, long bar, which is really the place to be, since it allows more attention from the staff. This is important because their list is constantly changing (see the chalkboard above the bar) and they allow you to taste until you come upon a wine you like. You describe what you're looking for and they try to satisfy you. It's an amazing concept. Not only do you get to try various wines, you don't have to take a chance, and thus pay, for something you don't love. The options are wildly varied and the prices/pours are right on target. Even the glassware is first rate. While Matt knows alot about wine, so does the staff. I ask plenty of questions and they always had the answer. Covell has some food – mostly small plates of cheese, meats, mac & cheese, croque monsieur – it's more of a pre/post dinner sort of place. Where you go to enjoy good company and equally good wine.

louonvine.jpg• LOU ON VINE – Los Angeles, CA
I've known about Lou's for quite some time, I just never seemed to be in the neighborhood. And while this bar isn't exactly where you would expect to find such a well-conceived, wine establishment (in a strip mall on Vine), it certainly delivers the goods. To distinguish himself from every other Hollywood wine bar, owner Lou Admur's focus is on wines from around the world that are made in traditional and organic ways. Ones from grapes most wine drinkers may know about, but have never actually tasted. I can pretty much guarantee his list had the only Altesse, Arinto, Ruché or Frappato by the glass, or even in the bottle, in town. With 30 choices you're bound to find something you haven't tried before and will probably be hard-pressed to see any producer you actually recognize. There's nothing pretentious or boring about Lou's from the service to the wine to the food. The portions are perfectly sized and deliver something different from the usual samll plate fare. We went out on a limb and ordered the Wild Boar Sausage with White Beans and Braised Fennel and the South Texas Antelope with Smashed Potatoes and Chanterelles. Both were completely great, but tasted like nothing we'd ever eaten before. Parking is a problem, but that's not unusual for LA. If you've never been before, you're missing a true wine bar original: one that takes you out of your comfort zone, yet makes you feel right at home.

enotable.jpg• ENO – Chicago, IL
I'm obsessed with wine bars. Or I guess I should say, finding the perfect wine bar. Every trip we take usually revolves around this odd quirk. However, it was not a priority on this excursion to Chicago. We only had one day in the city and I initially had other plans. Plus, the places I wanted to go were too far away from our hotel. Or so I thought. Traffic ruined my morning itinerary, so we ended up grabbing a quick snack and then just walking along Michigan Avenue window shopping, trying to overcome the minor hangover from the night before. With no thought of wine on my mind what do we come upon? ENO, a quaint little bar in the InterContinental Hotel, that specializes in wine flights, cheese and charcuterie. Believe me when I tell you I was going to resist, until they mentioned their Blind Tasting challenge. After a decade of serious education and tasting, I felt sure I could come out a winner...and so we sat down. >>The whole story...

redwhitemenu.jpg• City Sip – Echo Park, CA
Though located on Sunset Blvd., this wine bar doesn't look like much from the outside. In fact, if there wasn't an open sign in the window we might have kept driving. However, once you get inside the space is perfectly lowlit with a nice long bar and a smattering of tables. I instantly liked the quiet, neighborhood vibe, which continued with the friendly, casual service. This is not a place for a quick glass. With over 40 wines by the glass, I was duly impressed with the list that seemed to cover all the bases and was right up my alley with a number of lovely Rhone selections.

If you're going to be there awhile, I'd suggest the flights or buying a bottle. You'll get a better deal than buying by the glass where the prices are a bit steep. I guess they figure the locals can afford it. Loved that you can build your own cheese plate at $4 an ounce. The accompanying nuts, quince paste and honey servings were a bit spare, but getting a nice slab of Humboldt Fog for $4 was a treat. The olives were also quite tasty. The menu is pretty small – cheese, meat, paninis – mostly for snacking. Overall a good experience that made me wish there was a bar like this in my neck of the woods.

redwhitemenu.jpg• California Wine & Cheese – Monrovia, CA
Ever since meeting owner Tom Dugan at the Family Winemakers Tasting in Pasadena this past summer, I've wanted to stop by his store/wine bar. I finally took the plunge when I saw one of my winery finds from that event, Thompkin Cellars, were going to be pouring their wines at the bar. CA Wine & Cheese is both a retail outlet carrying wines from mostly small California producers, it does have a fairly large wine bar and seating area for you to try the weekly flight or just sit back and relax with a glass of wine and a cheese flight (which was yummy for $10).

Tom and his staff are very knowledgable about the wines they carry and choose to pour and the locals, who filled out most of the bar, have clearly taken this place to heart. Believe me, if it wasn't a 40-minute drive, I'd be there every week, too. It's a bright, friendly, casual place that serves hard-to-come by wines at decent prices and generous pours. There are no specific tasting hours. If the store is open, you can try what their pouring, which makes stopping in there for a sip a real no-brainer for wine lovers. Since the selections change from week to week, boredom will not be a problem. Plus, if you find a wine you love, you can take a bottle or two home as well. Despite the distance, I will be back.

redwhitemenu.jpg• redwhite+bluezz – Pasadena, CA
I've been wanting to go to this wine bar/jazz club for quite some time, but it's just that bit too far from our homestead for a spontaneous evening. Finally had a reason to be in Pasadena and I'm sure glad we stopped in. More a restaurant than strictly a bar, they still had an extensive wine by the glass menu (see pic at left) and went to the trouble of developing pairings with their food, so all you have to do is point. The flights were a bit pricey, compared to a single glass (which were also a bit on the high side), but were thoughtfully chosen. The bottle list gave the best bang for the buck with something good in every price range from all around the world. The servers clearly enjoyed what they were doing and were friendly and knowledgable. They also never hurried us.

The appetizers were reasonably priced and really delicious. I'm still dreaming about the Saffron Tempura Stuffed Prawns and the Crispy Smoked Gouda Mac N' Cheese. Their Signature Watermelon Salad was sort of odd, but the Braised Short Ribs were savory and tender. The bar has a quiet elegance that's both comfortable and adult. The music (that night by a two person band) was played at the perfect volume to be enjoyed, as well as allow conversation. Am planning on going back to take in their Jazz Brunch. Their location in Old Town is clearly reflected in their prices, but the experience was worth the money, especially if you like wine, jazz and a quieter crowd. If I lived closer I'd be at their Happy Hour at least once a week.

eight18.jpg• NEXT DOOR LOUNGE – Studio City, CA
Have known about this tapas bar for quite awhile and finally was able to check it out. It's not the easiest place to find with no signage and the entrance hidden inside its parent restaurant La Loggia. Location aside, it serves a nice middle ground for those looking for a pleasant and stylish place to share a cocktail without going broke or deaf. With a swanky bar, concrete fireplace and low banquette couches and stools, the room is open and comfortable while still being modern.

The wine list is filled with affordable choices by the glass ($6-$8) with most of them being Spanish, which is appropriate. The white wine options left much to be desired, there were only 3 by the glass, and the pours could have been a smidge larger, but for the price it's hard to complain. The bottle list also had many options in the $25-$35 range which was also nice to see. For those not wine-inclined, there is a full bar. The food, though pricey and small, was quite good with the Filet with 3 Sauces (the Gorgonzola rocked), Morroccon Chicken Skewers and the Grilled Serrano and Manchego Sandwiches with Truffle Butter being the best. The other items ordered were also quite good, if not extraordinary. Overall a pretty good watering hole, especially for those looking to avoid the "hipster" scene, but still enjoy a classy night out.

monsieur.jpg• MONSIEUR MARCEL – Farmer's Market, Los Angeles
Though I've known about this place for awhile, I've never gone because of its' location. The LA Farmer's Market (located on 3rd and Fairfax) is a tourist paradise since they added the giant Grove shopping area right next door. To keep one's sanity living in LA one must avoid people and traffic as much as possible, therefore we usually never go anywhere near the Market. However, we recently had a reason and I made this shop/eatery/bar a must visit.

It's a classy oasis amidst the throngs of shoppers with a great big wooden wraparound bar. The menu is French cafe, heavy on sandwiches, cheese and salads. The by the glass list is very international with most prices in the $8-$15 range. We ordered the Croque Monsiuer and glasses of Cotes-du-Rhone. Both were good, but nothing extraordinary. Should have gone for the cheese and salami selection. The service was quick and friendly. They offer weekly wine tastings and have a daily Happy Hour from 3-6pm. A must-stop for tired shoppers with need of a nice place to rejuvenate.

kazbar.jpg• KAZIMIERZ WORLD WINE BAR – Scottsdale, AZ
Located down the alley from Cowboy Ciao, the KazBar shares the same mindblowingly big 3000+ wine bottle selection. The list is arranged by color and price and would take days to explore it fully. There is something for every palate and pocketbook and the staff is very willing and quite able to help. We didn't really need more wine after dinner, but who could resist. The decor makes you feel like you're in someone's fancy wine cellar with plush couches and low lighting set against brick walls and wine casks. The bar features live music several days a week which adds to the noise level, but in a good way. They serve a small bites menu until about 1:30am, which helps when you get the munchies after drinking all night. A must for anyone who really wants to explore the world of wine. It's a pretty sure bet they carry your favorite.

• BLU – Milwaukee, WI
Located on the 23rd floor of the grand and classic Pfister Hotel in downtown, this wine, martini and cigar bar has both excellent selections and a marvelous view. Milwaukee doesn't really have much of a night life, so it was a pleasant and convenient surprise to find this bar where we were staying. No designated driver needed, which pleased my husband greatly. The wine selection wasn't large, but they clearly put some thought into the list. We had a lovely cheese plate while listening to the live music. This place is pretty fancy and was voted the "Most Romantic Bar" in Milwaukee, so if you're looking for a raucous night out, I'd go elsewhere. Those looking to savor will be quite pleased.

• WINE CABANA – San Diego, CA
winecabana.jpgThis was just one of those lucky, desperately-needed discoveries, like an oasis in the desert. While waiting for the train back to LA, we decided to go for a walk to find a place to hopefully, happily while away the time. I figured there had to be a wine bar in Old Town and it didn't take long to find this one. We found it empty (it was 3:30 on a Sunday), which allowed us to relax and just hang with Kevin, the bartender.

Obviously we got good service, but what impressed me the most was the broad-ranging list and the prices, which average between $5-$10 for a 5oz pour. Unheard of in LA. You can order by the glass or by flights, which gives you the chance to taste 4 wines (2oz each) for about $14-$30. There's a light menu and a wonderful patio area that was classy and comfortable. It's hard to judge what the crowd is like, since we were alone, but if the attitude of the employees was any indication, this is a good place for the laidback wine lover.

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