The Best Places to Drink Wine in Washington, D.C.

When Michelin anointed Washington, D.C. as a worthwhile dining destination in 2016, the local food set wondered what had taken so long. True, the city was once a culinary wasteland with little more than steak houses, chain restaurants and cheap dives. But over the last decade, a back-to-the-city renaissance helped catalyze the launch of hundreds of new restaurants.

Thanks, in part, to the hip millennials who rode into the city on Barack Obama’s coattails, these new restaurants weren’t in stodgy hotels or downtown office buildings like yesteryear’s power spots. Rather, they popped up in neighborhoods like Shaw and Logan Circle, areas that were once riddled with crime.

The wine scene has improved alongside D.C.’s restaurants. The Federal City is now home to dozens of programs that showcase small, interesting producers.

High-end restaurants like Bourbon Steak, Kinship and RPM Italian still offer cult Napa Cabernet and First Growth Bordeaux, of course. But the wine directors at these spots know they need to appeal to savvy wine consumers who don’t have an expense account. In the mid-range, D.C. is now home to restaurants like The Dabney and Etto, spots that encourage patrons to drink adventurously. With Maxwell Park, Primrose and Cork, the nation’s capital finally offers serious wine bars where novices and oenophiles alike can find exciting options. —David White

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    Bourbon Steak

    With wood-paneled walls and tabletops covered in rich leather, the plush dining room at Michael Mina's Bourbon Steak whisks patrons back to a time when lobbyists could wine and dine lawmakers with impunity. Ethics rules have changed, but D.C.'s power brokers still need to eat—and Bourbon Steak is a favorite for most. As one might expect at a tony steakhouse, the 900-label wine list is strong in Napa cabernet and classified growth Bordeaux. But wine director Winn Roberton has made a point of packing his list with bottles for budget-conscious wine lovers. Values abound in a section dubbed "Secrets of the Sommelier." ...

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    KNOWN FOR

    • hotel bar
    • grower Champagne
    • vintage wine
    • outdoor / patio
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    Cork Wine Bar

    Cork Wine Bar was a pioneer along D.C.'s now-bustling 14th Street corridor when it opened in 2008. Dozens of restaurants have opened since, but Cork remains packed most nights thanks to dependable food and affordable wine. The Eurocentric list offers about 200 options, including nearly 60 by-the-glass pours. Refreshingly, most bottles are priced between $50 and $100, so even non-enthusiasts feel comfortable ordering multiple bottles of wine.

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    KNOWN FOR

    • natural wine
    • low wine markups
    • grower Champagne
    • outdoor / patio
    • full menu
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    The Dabney

    When the Dabney opened its doors at the tail end of 2015, expectations were high. Jeremiah Langhorne, the chef and co-owner, came to D.C. from McCrady’s, the acclaimed Charleston restaurant. He promised a hyper-local approach that would reflect the Mid-Atlantic’s unique geography. And his D.C. debut was previewed by a ten-part series in the Washington Post. The Dabney quickly lived up to the hype, landing a spot as one of Food & Wine’s ten best openings of 2016 and earning a Michelin star. In 2018, Langhorne took home Best Chef in the Mid-Atlantic at the James Beard Awards. The wine program, developed by general ...

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    KNOWN FOR

    • natural wine
    • low wine markups
    • French wine
    • New California wine
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    Etto

    A stalwart on D.C.'s popular 14th Street corridor, Etto has a reputation for offering the city's best pizza. But the restaurant also offers D.C.'s gutsiest wine list. Drawing almost exclusively from Sicily and Beaujolais, the restaurant only offers about 40 wines, half of which are offered by the glass. This focus makes sense once one examines the kitchen, since the chefs concentrate almost exclusively on pizza and cured meats.

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    KNOWN FOR

    • natural wine
    • outdoor / patio
    • full menu
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    Kinship

    For good reason, critics and amateur foodies alike were smitten when Kinship, the restaurant from husband-and-wife team Eric Ziebold and Celia Laurent, opened its doors in January 2016. A fireplace warms patrons who walk in. The music is present but unobtrusive. The bar and 85-seat dining room are visually arresting but immediately and obviously welcoming. And the food? Well, it might be some of D.C.’s best. The team takes its wine program just as seriously, with a well-curated list that’s packed with classic producers from Burgundy, Bordeaux and California.

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    KNOWN FOR

    • Bordeaux
    • Napa
    • Sonoma
    • grower Champagne
    • Burgundy
    • Rhone
    • vintage wine
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    Maxwell Park

    When Maxwell Park opened its doors in June 2017, the city's wine geeks knew they’d been blessed with a second home. The brainchild of 31-year-old Brent Kroll, who spent most of his twenties as the wine director for one of D.C.’s most successful restaurant groups, the Shaw wine bar promised to be “devoted to the adventurous imbiber.” It delivered on this promise. Kroll has put together an extensive list of about 500 wines that’s refreshingly thoughtful and approachable. Most of the by-the-glass pours change each month to match a theme—in June 2018, for example, “Camp Maxwell” offered “chill lakeside whites [and] ...

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    KNOWN FOR

    • natural wine
    • vintage wine
    • grower Champagne
    • France
    • Germany
    • Austria
    • Spain
    • Greece
    • outdoors / patio
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    Primrose

    Husband-and-wife team Sebastian Zutant and Lauren Winter have long been a force in D.C.'s dining scene. Zutant has designed many of the city's best wine lists and can take credit for introducing D.C. to orange wines and natural-wine producers like Arianna Occhipinti. Through her firm, Edit Lab at Streetsense, Winter has designed many of the city's most striking restaurants. In late 2017, the duo opened Primrose, a 65-seat wine bar just a few blocks from their home in Brookland, an up-and-coming neighborhood. It's as stunning as one might expect—with pitch-perfect bistro fare developed by consulting chef Nathan ...

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    KNOWN FOR

    • natural wine
    • low wine markups
    • outdoors / patio
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    RPM Italian

    One of the city's sleekest restaurants, RPM Italian quickly became a hotspot for lobbyists, lawyers and foreign dignitaries after opening its doors in the summer of 2016. The Italian-focused wine list is geared to those with deep pockets and corporate credit cards, offering a ten-vintage vertical of Ornellaia, back-vintage magnums of Sassicaia, and a full page of wines from Angelo Gaja. But budget-conscious wine lovers who know where to look won't be disappointed. From Italy, the list offers wines from producers like Radikon, Gravner, Bartolo Mascarello and G.D. Vajra without much markup. And from the United States, ...

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    KNOWN FOR

    • Italy
    • Napa
    • Sonoma
    • vintage wine
    • outdoors / patio
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