It’s Friday night in Northport, and inside a bar on Main Street, an acoustic duo is belting out a Foo Fighters cover. All of the tables are filled, it’s two deep at the bar, and having a quiet conversation is futile — it’s easier to just sip a super Tuscan red and soak in the rollicking scene.
“And that was one of our slower Fridays,” said Michael O’Brien, co-owner of The Wine Cellar on Main.
The wine bars that began appearing in New York and other cities in the 1990s may have been slow to creep onto Long Island, and once they did, they didn’t always fit the traditional template: Sensuous, artful spots filled with women sipping Gruner Veltliner while they nibbled cheese.
Meat and cheese boards are certainly still the bedrock of most wine bar menus, and clientele still skews toward women — who often have the same powerful affinity for wine bars that men do for sports bars. “There was this whole mentality that you build a place for women, where women feel comfortable going by themselves,” said Alex Fiorentino, owner of Meritage Wine Bar in Glen Cove and a longtime beverage director.
Like other spots, though, Fiorentino is playing with the ages-old template of a wine bar, one that first emerged in Italy and France and even England about a century ago at places such as La Réserve de Quasimodo in Paris or Gordon’s in London.
Rather than build a menu solely around small plates, for instance, Meritage chef Howard J. Fay also turns out entrees for those who want a three-course meal to match an exhaustive by-the-glass list. In Lake Grove, wine shop owner Christophe Lhopitault has imported wine, tapas and an espresso bar into a shopping mall at Le Vin Wine Bar on the edge of the Smith Haven Mall. And O’Brien and his partner Lindsay Ostrander have created a laid-back, sometimes spirited atmosphere that magnetizes younger drinkers to The Wine Cellar on Main.
Despite their quirks and differences, these places share a few things: First and foremost, a lengthy and interesting glass list that reaches far beyond the range of the big guns such as Napa Cabernet or white Burgundy to touches on multiple styles, from sparkling to sweet and even sherry. Such a list encourages experimentation, but can’t exist in a vacuum — staff who have tasted the wines, and can guide guests through it, is vital to the experience. “If . . . [a customer] says they want full-bodied, I give them a few different options. I want to satisfy a wine fantasy they didn’t know they had,” said Jacqueline Malenda, owner and sommelier of Madiran the Wine Bar in East Setauket. “I give them a space to find out what they like.”
Working in harmony with those wines is a roster of small plates and finger foods to complement and highlight the vino. At Salumi in Massapequa, Serrano ham is shaved at one end of the bar for charcuterie boards, while Meritage sources things such as duck saucisson sec made in the Hudson Valley, and served with pickles, house-cured olives and fig jam. Hot dishes satisfy deeper hungers — from bone marrow (a peculiar fixture of many wine bar menus) to pizza, fondue, blood sausage and even raclette. A good rule of thumb for navigating the culinary loot: Ask for a wine that originates in the same region as the dish you’ve ordered. “What grows together, goes together,” said Andrew Isaacson, the wine buyer and sommelier at Salumi. “These regions have had centuries of making food and wine jive, and there’s something to that.”
Meritage Wine Bar
Meritage Wine Bar (90 School St., Glen Cove): The flaming heat lamps outside Meritage lend this place a primal look, and its interior — with a stately dining room on one side, and a bar on the other — looks and feels like a restaurant. That flexibility is intentional, said owner Alex Fiorentino. While you can linger through a full meal here, you also can dip into finger foods and dozens of wines by the glass, from a tart, barely effervescent Txakolina rosé from Spain’s Basque Country (made with the white Hondarrabi Zuri and red Hondarrabi Beltza grapes) to an inky 2016 Dos Minas Tannat made 5,000 feet above sea level in Argentina’s Salta region. There is practically something to match every one of chef Howard J. Fay’s imaginative small plates, such as blistered shrimp gussied up with ancho chili powder and a kiss of sherry. More info: 516-801-0055, meritagebar.com
Shrimp with garlic, a splash of sherry and a touch of heat from ancho chili pairs gracefully with sparkling Campo Viejo Cava Brut Reserva at Meritage Wine Bar in Glen Cove.
Le Vin Wine Bar, Tapas & Coffee
Le Vin Wine Bar, Tapas & Coffee (356 Smith Haven Mall, Lake Grove): Perhaps you first stumbled into Le Vin after you saw a string of twinkly lights on one side of the Smithtown Mall food court — then walked through them and into a space that was the antithesis of a shopping mall: Sultry lighting, plush banquettes, a towering chalkboard menu listing charcuterie and a rough-cut wooden bar facing a glowing bank of airlocked wines. There are 36 wines by the glass here, from earthy 2014 Charles Joguet Chinon ($10 for 6 ounces) to at least six sparkling wines by the glass, all chosen by Savoie native Christophe Lhopitault, also the owner of Lake Side Emotions wine shop in Stony Brook. The vin changes seasonally to complement a solidly French bistro menu, from succulent escargot in a crock of parsley sauce ($13) to boards of thoughtfully curated meats and cheeses, such as lomo serrano. Weekends bring brunches of raclette, and live music fills the place on Friday and Saturday nights. More info: 631-979-9463, levinlg.com
The glowing case of wines by the glass at Le Vin Wine Bar, Tapas & Coffee inside the Smith Haven Mall in Lake Grove.
Madiran the Wine Bar
Madiran the Wine Bar (209 Rte. 25A, East Setauket): Situated in a strip of shops along Route 25A, Madiran is all polish — a sleek, romantic spot with two long, wooden bars, some leather armchairs and an eclectic, sprawling wine list — plus a menu that travels from full-size plates to finger foods. “I got tired of going into the city to go to good wine bars, so I brought one home,” said owner Jacqueline Malenda, a former lawyer-turned-sommelier who named her 18-month-old spot for a favorite wine region in southwest France. Malenda is constantly upping the game on her heavily European wine list, tasting the wines of family estates to find “better Tannat, better cabernet, even better pinot noir.” That might be a 2012 Domaine Le Roc Fronton Folle Noire D’Ambat ($12 a glass), a spicy, smoky red, or a $7 glass of Duché de Longueville Antoinette Sparkling Cider from Normandy — the fizzy foil to a plate of peppery pinchos morunos (pork skewers, $15) cooked by chef Michael Armetta. When you’re ready to crack open a bottle, you’ll find 385 to choose from. More info: 631-675-2778, madiranthewinebar.com
A glass of Duché de Longueville Antoinette sparkling cider from Normandy with peppery pinchos morenos at Madiran the Wine Bar in East Setauket.
Salumi Bar (5600 Merrick Rd., Massapequa): There is one fixture always parked at the bar here: A pig (or at least part of one) from which ribbons of Serrano ham are shaved and served. Meat parts, whether cured or roasted or braised, are the stock in trade at this rustic, welcoming neighborhood osteria, but wine buyer and sommelier Andrew Isaacson makes sure his list of rotating wines responds to that seasonal menu. The nearly 20 wines by the glass might include a “chewy and bright” 2015 Poliziano Rosso di Montepulciano, that, at $10 a glass, is a foil for Salumi’s board of Italian meats. In the mood to experiment? Go for a flight of three wines ($16), or just crack open a few bottles with friends — Isaacson said Salumi’s bottle markup is low. “The bottles are where the value is here,” Isaacson said. Of Salumi’s list of 95 or so wines, none are more than $135, and the cheapest is $20. More info: 516-620-0057, salumibarli.com
Bocadillo with soy-braised bacon, kimchi, cilantro and sesame mayo served on a house roll at Salumi Bar in Massapequa.
Molto Vino (45 Deer Park Ave., Babylon): Babylon’s booming bar scene has its quiet oasis, and Molto Vino may be one of them. Sink into an oversized white leather bar stool inside this smartly designed grotto that somehow manages to evoke both a sidewalk cafe and a cellar, its walls lined with bottles. Owner Max Gargiulo built Molto Vino as a sort of tasting room for Solo Vino, the wine shop he owns a few doors down. Five years later, it’s got a dedicated clientele for a list that draws heavily on Italy’s dizzying array of styles and DOCs, and 70 or so are available by the glass. Get cozy and order a glass of lightly fizzy Branchini Pignoletto ($12 a glass) alongside one of Molto Vino’s salumi boards or crispy, thin-crusted Neapolitan pizzas. More info: 631-983-8915
At Molto Vino in Babylon, the large Molto meat and cheese board comes loaded with prosciutto di parma, capicolo, sopressata, burrata, manchego, pecorino, olives and pickled vegetables.
The Village Cheese Shop
The Village Cheese Shop (105 Love Lane, Mattituck): This combination cheese shop, cafe and market somehow feels like the kitchen of a good friend, with the addition of 200-plus French and local cheeses that fills the case here. At the hodgepodge of wooden tables in a bright conservatory, you can kick back and trace your finger along 38 wines by the glass ($9-$15) or bottle, and the most heavily Long Island list of any wine bar listed here. Either a crisp 2014 dry riesling from Jamesport Vineyards or bright 2014 Raphael Cabernet Franc quench as you drag torn pieces of baguette through a pot of molten fondue ($25-$65 for one to four people). Just do it early, because Village Cheese closes at 5:30 p.m. every day except Saturday, when it closes at 7 p.m. More info: 631-298-8556, thevillagecheeseshop.com
Wine Cellar on Main
The Wine Cellar on Main (70 Main St., Northport): What’s the first wine bar you hung out in? Judging from the heavily millennial crowd on a Friday night, it’s a place like this. The rustic room, with local art hanging on the walls, feels a bit like a rathskeller — and its wine list is an accessible collection of Old and New World cabernets, rieslings and tops out at $18 a glass for a super Tuscan, an able-bodied partner to a dainty plate of burrata, ribbons of prosciutto and roasted tomatoes ($14). If The Wine Cellar’s cured meats and tapas menu does not appeal, you can order from three surrounding restaurants — Maroni, Bistro 44 and Feed and Grain — and the food will be run down Main Street to your table. More info: 631-651-5555, thewinecellaronmain.com
Choose from the Wine Cellar on Main’s cured meats and tapas menu and pair with Italian Burrata and Artisan Flatbreads