Twenty-four wine bottles line the circumference of two stainless-steel cylinders, both of which add a futuristic flourish to the middle of the room. With the touch of a button, the machine dispenses a 1-ounce sample of any of the wines—red at room temperature, whites at 55 degrees Fahrenheit. Praised on Foodbeast, this self-serve tasting bar, called the Enomatic wine system, lets guests sample an array of wines before committing to a long-term relationship with a single—or several—bottles. This method is just one of several ways OC Wine Mart & Tasting Bar owner Julie Lim takes the intimidation out of wine buying.
At her boutique wine store, Julie fills the shelves with vintages from both well-known and under-the-radar vineyards, with some of her favorites including Silver Oak Cellars, Caymus Vineyards, and Cakebread Cellars. She and her team thrive on helping guests find the best bottle—whether they're hunting for wine, craft beer, or a fine liquor. Once guests feel confident in their selections, the staff can help them compile gift baskets for holiday parties or year-end performance reviews. Committed to green practices, the staff eschews foam packaging in favor of molded-pulp shippers, derived from 100% recycled materials. Such practices earned Julie a place on OC Metro's list of 20 Women to Watch, plus her boutique a place on Gayot's Top 10 Wine Bars in the United States.
To Master Chef Massimo Navarretta—who grew up farming and wine-making in Campania, Italy—it makes little sense to separate wine from food. At his eatery Onotria, which received Wine Spectator's Best of Award of Excellence in 2011 and 2012, he groups dishes on the menu by wine pairing, rather than by main ingredient or ability to be balanced on the tip of a tiny dessert spoon. Seafood-based plates, such as prosciutto-wrapped tiger shrimp or poached octopus with artichokes, complement a glass of dry, sparkling white wine. Lightly breaded pork medallions accompany a light, dry red, while hearty lamb chops or filet go with a bolder varietal such as zinfandel or merlot. These dishes can serve as tasting plates for groups, entrees for individuals, or finger food for visiting giants.
To create the seasonal menu, the kitchen uses hormone- and antibiotic-free meats, as well as organic and biodynamic ingredients. Meals are served under a high-peaked ceiling with wooden rafters, in a dining room with exposed-brick columns and mottled walls that echo the look of an old-country trattoria.
Modeled after an Old World wine cellar, WineStyles's shelves are lined with rare bottles accrued by its staff of in-house experts hailing from quality vineyards across the globe. The shop's bounty includes handcrafted gift boxes and baskets and merchandise, such as guidebooks for translating secret codes etched in cork. Along with retailing wine and imbibing gear, WineStyles's crew grants guests the opportunity to sample new pours at frequent events and two-hour tastings three nights a week. For dedicated aficionados, the chief wine taster chooses two bottles to send to wine-club members along with tasting notes that detail their origins, a winery description, and suggested food pairings.
The "secret" in Bacchus' Secret Cellar is gas. Argon gas, to be exact, which powers the bar's preservation system and ensures that the wines within stay fresh for long periods of time. There are about 50 wines—mostly reds—on tap at the counter, as well as 8 sparkling wines, 5 dessert wines, and 12 microbrews. The library of options encourages guests to sample several, so it's wise to order a flight: you can get a signature array of 2.5-ounce glasses, or you can compose your own for a unique harmony of tastes.
The bar is just the beginning of the cellar's wine selection. On the shelves that span the walls, more than 350 labels beckon to be uncorked. A bistro menu provides gourmet food to complement sips, from starters of oven-roasted dates to lamb burgers and prosciutto flatbreads, made by dropping a regular loaf of bread into a printing press by accident. There's also a full menu of cheeseboards, with goat, cow, and sheep cheeses from the United States and abroad.
In 2013, the Golden Foodie Awards' Best Californian Cuisine trophy went to SeaLegs Wine Bar. But while plenty of local and sustainable ingredients suffuse SeaLegs' seasonal dishes, the results don't always showcase Californian flavors. Composed mainly of tapas, executive chef Alexander Dale's menus range from crab bisques with dashes of pumpkin-coconut curry to chipotle-braised short ribs with butternut-squash polenta cakes. Alexander's culinary talents extend to brunch and dessert as well, with seared ahi tuna mixed into eggs benedict and brownies infused with ale from Stone Brewing Co.
When they aren't enriching sweets, craft brews fill pints from 10 taps and an extensive bottled selection. That, however, pales in comparison to the choices inside SeaLegs' wine cellar, which stores more than 2,000 bottles giddy for the chance to carry messages on the high seas. Feasts unfold amidst SeaLegs' elegant dining space, where vintage photos adorn walls, Frank Sinatra and Norah Jones tunes set a romantic mood, and water from nearby Huntington Beach laps onto shore.
Pours from extensive wine and beer lists mingle with sea air and classic Italian flavors at Luggatti's Italian Grill. Pinot grigios such as fruity Corte Giara pair with scallop-and-clam-smothered pastas, and an Antigual Uno malbec pairs well with a 12-ounce new-york strip. Other featured wines include Educated Guess cabernet, Plungerhead zinfandel, and Zaccignini montepulciano. Taps froth with craft brews such as Allagash Curieux, Flying Dog Doggie Style IPA, Chimay, and Shipyard Brewery Monkey Fist IPA. On weekend nights, guests can sip to the sounds of live musical performances in the indoor space decorated with snappy art, or carry glasses outside to enjoy the breeze off the nearby beach and the warmth of an outdoor fireplace.