Like pretty much everywhere else in Italy, in Milan wine is considered more a part of the daily meal than a special occasion-only luxury. And unlike the city’s more upscale cocktail bars, Milan’s many enoteche function almost like public living rooms. Come as you are, they say.
But while causal, the wine scene here is hardly nonchalant. In Milan you can drink from progressive wine lists that highlight everything from natural wine to grower Champagne, as well as Lombardy’s own local wines like Franciacorta, whose sparkling wines Italians like to compare to Champagne (why would the French alone be entitled to la grandeur?); Valtellina, a mountain area producing great red wines with the nebbiolo grape, here called chiavennasca; and the bouyant, juicy reds and gentle, off-dry sparkling Sangue di Giuda from Oltrepo Pavese.
Below is a list of where to drink often, drink well and to do so in nothing more than jeans and T-shirt if you please. —Sara Porro
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The Cantine Isola (cantine means “cellars”) has been open for over a century, while the area around it has changed from bourgeois neighborhood to chaotic ethnic district to its latest incarnation: 50 percent trendy Chinatown, 50 percent Yuccie mecca. Throughout these tidal changes, the Sarais family has continued serving an outstanding selection of artisanal wines with a focus on Italy and France to a clientele of discerning patrons in an unpretentious setting packed floor to ceiling with bottles. The place is always busy, which is part of its charm.
- good wine
- day drinking
- outdoors / patio
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In Milanese dialect, el vin che buscia means spumante, or sparkling wine. While several Italian wine regions—from Franciacorta to Trento DOC—are particularly versed in making sparkling wines, spumanti made with countless indigenous grapes can be found all over Italy. El Buscia’s selection will make any bubbly lover very happy: hundreds of bottles ranging from super-famous Champagne houses to nearly unknown small producers.
- good wine
- bar food
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La Cieca means “the Blind,” which explains why the logo (and spirit animal) of this hole-in-the-wall enoteca close to Bocconi University is a mole. Choose from the well-curated, small list of bottles by the glass, or embrace the La Cieca spirit and ask for an anonymous wine, poured from a bottle wrapped in tin foil and served in a black glass. If you recognize the grape variety and/or the region, you’re not paying for it. If you go so far as to get the wine right (including who makes it), you’re going home with a free bottle. Full disclosure: It’s so much harder than it seems.
- good wine
- singles scene
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If this were a movie, a voiceover would say: From the creators of La Cieca... comes La Cieca Pink. Enter another tiny wine bar—slightly bigger than the diminutive La Cieca—with a very specific theme: All wines served by the glass, all year round, are rosé. You’ll see for yourself that on a cold winter’s day, a glass of full-bodied rosé can be more comforting than hot chocolate.
- good wine
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The comfortable Vino al Vino doesn’t suffer from the lack of space (and sometimes air) that can make other tiny wine bars feel claustrophobic. And yet it can still feel overstuffed, thanks to the half-full wine crates scattered all over the floor. Blame it on owner Antonio’s consuming passion for wine; like any obsessed collector, he’s always buying more than he’s selling. The resulting selection manages to be at the same time very personal and one of the biggest in the city.
- good wine
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The made-up name suggests that this place is like a velodrome, but for wine. Indeed, making the most of the experience requires proper training, since Vinodromo has more than 500 different wines. Compared to other local wine bars, the owners have invested a bit more in the décor and overall atmosphere; Vinodromo is comfortable and chic with plenty of space to sit, and is probably your best option if you feel like snacking on something while you’re drinking.
- full menu
- low wine markups
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If it’s true that over the last few years most enoteche have jumped on the natural wine bandwagon, not many have decided to completely ban any “conventional” wines from their list. In this small wine bar facing the untrendy (and all the more interesting) part of the Naviglio Grande, Gianluca Ladu pours a small selection of hardcore wines by the glass—an experience that will impress the newbie and the wine connoisseur alike.
- natural wine