Sure, Miami is clogged with traffic and teeming with impossibly thin, tanned, trendily dressed people posing for selfies at an alarming clip. But it also has an expanding array of eclectic neighborhoods, a bunch of great restaurants, and a wine scene that’s getting more nuanced and exciting.
Not that long ago, it was hard to find anything to drink here besides overpriced cocktails and “prestige” wines – plenty of Veuve Clicquot, for example, but grower Champagne? Not so much.
Veuve is still ubiquitous, but if you know where to look, you can also find lots more interesting stuff. On visits over the past two years, I’ve had orange wine and natural wine, wine from Utah and wine from Japan, a nice bottle of Chablis in a gas station, and yes, even grower Champagne.
Where do you go for the good stuff? The best plan is to ask the locals. In my experience, Miami oenophiles are usually excited to find a kindred spirit, and I get new recommendations each time I visit. I’ve now collected enough great wine spots that I’ve put together this list of favorites for my fellow wine treasure hunters.
Miami Wine: My Top Five
1. Uvaggio (UPDATE: PERMANENTLY CLOSED AS OF JUNE 2019)
My first visit to this Coral Gables gem was my inspiration to start this blog two years ago. Sommelier Heath Porter still finds this puzzling, being the laid back and unpretentious sort. But there’s nothing laid back about Uvaggio‘s carefully chosen list of over 20 eclectic wines by the glass and half glass, plus many more by the bottle and a rotating selection on the Coravin program.
The list is ever-changing, but I guarantee you will always find something fun and unexpected. On my first visit, I tried Slovenian orange wine and koshu (that’s a grape) from Japan. When I stopped in last weekend, I was feeling pink, so I enjoyed a complex rosé of spätburgunder with extra skin contact and another from the village of Rully in Burgundy.
Uvaggio’s space on the Miracle Mile is small, airy, and casual. I like sitting at the small bar – better for geeking out with Heath or owner Craig DeWald – but there are also plenty of tables inside and a couple on the sidewalk. Food is not an afterthought here – there’s a nice menu of small and large plates – but for me, it’s all about the wine.
2. Lagniappe House
This funky Midtown wine bar/wine shop/music venue with a beautiful courtyard is the antithesis of stereotypical Miami. No pristine white walls or cocktail waitresses in skin-tight black tube dresses here. Lagniappe House is furnished with mismatched vintage pieces and wine racks brimming with small production bottles, including culty Scholium Project wines and less famous but still culty Lewandowski wines made in Utah. Friendly staff members are eager to guide you to the perfect nerdy bottle, especially if you get there before the crowds arrive.
The best plan of action is to grab a bottle from the rack and a few hunks of cheese and meat from the cooler and head out to the courtyard. The kitchen will turn your hunks of cheese into a lovely cheese plate, a couple of stray kittens may wander by to beg for crumbs, and strains of live jazz or blues will float out from the musicians inside.
If you’ve ever been to the New Orleans treasure Bacchanal, Lagniappe House will take you back there. I’ve discovered both these wine Meccas in less than a year – the wine gods are clearly smiling on me.
3. Abaco Wines
If Lagniappe House is the anti-Miami, Abaco is right in character, especially for the city’s high-end Design District. The sleek space was designed by the architects who dreamed up the Apple store in New York City. But don’t let the minimalist furnishings and hushed interior intimidate you. The people here are very friendly, and they love to talk wine. The bottles themselves, while on the pricey side, are unique and thoughtfully selected. A few, including two Sonomoa rosés I tried on my last visit, are made exclusively for the shop, under the direction of owner and winemaker Benjamin Disesa.
Abaco is primarily a retail outlet, but there’s a selection of wines by the glass, well as regular tastings and creative pairing events. “Burgers and Bordeaux” is coming up next month, and there’s a wine and donut tasting on the horizon too.
4. El Carajo
Imagine dashing into a gas station store for a quick soda and finding, in the cooler next to the Diet Cokes and Bud Lights, a selection of great wines from around the world. On shelves near the chips, candy bars and chewing gum, even more great bottles spill out into the aisles. And just past the cash registers, a tiled archway leads into a romantically lit restaurant.
A likely story, right? But that’s exactly what you’ll find at El Carajo, a wine store and Spanish tapas restaurant hidden inside a Mobil gas station just north of Coral Gables. There are great wine deals to be had here, and you can enjoy a bottle with your meal for a $10 corkage fee. The food is good, but the main reason to go is the wine and the sheer novelty of the place. There’s a new surprise around every turn.
5. Michael’s Genuine Happy Hour
Michael’s Genuine Food and Drink is a bustling Design District bistro with a weekday happy hour that’s happier than most. For one thing, it’s three hours long, and it lasts until 7:30. Even better, almost all wines by the glass are half price, and there’s some great stuff on the list.
On my first visit two years ago, I had a glass of Gros Noré Bandol rosé for under ten bucks. On my most recent trip, I sipped on Henri Dosnon grower Champagne for $12 and paired it with a half dozen oysters for under $10.
I’ve been to Michael’s Genuine several times over the years, but never after 7:30pm. Why pay more?!
Building Community Around Wine
The evolution in Miami’s wine scene got an extra boost two years ago with the opening of the Florida Wine Academy downtown. Brazilian transplant Alessandra Esteves put her WSET Diploma certification and her extensive wine knowledge to work, offering certification courses in two languages, as well as special tastings, classes, and events like the second annual Miami Champagne Week that’s coming up in October.
These events are bringing Miami’s wine community together in a way that hadn’t happened before, Abaco sommelier Henry Brimo told me. They’re also building consumer excitement around wine, which should mean more demand for wine businesses that go beyond the safe choices.
That’s good news for Miami oenophiles and for visitors looking for a fun and wine-filled weekend getaway.