Top stops for wine by the glass (or two) in Ottawa

Wine bars are great for a quiet, uncomplicated drink. But the good ones also allow patrons to explore Mother Earth’s greatest gift to humankind, glass by glass. So, if you’re like me, barely able to distinguish Muscadet from Merlot or Burgundy from bilge water, head to these capital area wine bars for an affordable and palate-pleasing time. If you’re already a connoisseur? No bilge water at any of ’em. Guaranteed!

Soif - Bar à vin

88, rue Montcalm, Gatineau, QC J8X 2L7

Véronique Rivest is the world’s second-best sommelier. So says the triennial Best Sommelier in the World competition, last held in Tokyo. Rivest holds court at Soif (French for “thirst”). She takes wine seriously, not snobbishly; you won’t be left gasping at high prices or feel stupid. Thanks to knowledgeable staff and two- or four-ounce servings, you can sample a few of her wide-ranging and somewhat idiosyncratic selections (a Canary Islands wine, perhaps?). You’ll get expert advice on what pairs well with the kitchen’s small plates, such as cobia tartare or grilled pork with pickled cherries.

Vineyards Wine Bar Bistro

54 York St, Ottawa, ON K1N 5T1

In the low-ceilinged basement of a touristy seafood restaurant is a wine bar that’s won the Wine Spectator award of excellence for 25 straight years. Most patrons sit at its booths, but true wine aficionados choose the bar for excellent tutelage on about 50 wines by the glass. You’ll find wide diversity – and a wide price range – on another 150 wines by the bottle. Want a meal? It’s a seafood kitchen; go for the fish. Just an appetizer? The deep-fried Camembert with blueberry-port reduction is recommended. Enjoy live jazz on Tuesday, Wednesday and Sunday nights.

107 Fourth Avenue Wine Bar & Café

107 Fourth Ave MN Fl, Ottawa, ON K1S 2L1

Beyond the bar you’ll find an aquarium. Thank heavens you don’t have to drink like a fish. Indeed, you’ll come here to savour selections from a menu of two-dozen wines by the glass, modestly priced for six-ounce servings. From Prince Edward County melon de Bourgogne to Spanish Garnacha, you should find something to slake your thirst. With light jazz in the background and low lighting accented by lovely retro lamps, you’ll feel a world away from busy Glebe area streets in this space that seats just 38. Chalkboard specials may include port-marinated quail or sirloin buttermilk salad.

Antipazzo Italian Plates And Wine

1091 Bank St, Ottawa, ON K1S 3X4

Carleton University students support several good pubs around Old Ottawa South. But fancier fare was scarce until star chef John Taylor opened this corner café, which seats about three dozen. The wine list, under Sylvia Taylor, the chef’s wife, skews to Ontario vintners, including several from Prince Edward County. But among the roughly 35 choices, you’ll find other terroirs, too. Glasses come in five- and nine-ounce pours. The small bar is a perfect place to sip. A small, seasonal menu relies on local suppliers. The beef is from nearby Winchester, for example; the organic veggies, from Ripon, Quebec.

Beckta Dining & Wine

150 Elgin St, Ottawa, ON K2P 1L4

Stephen Beckta has been the sommelier at acclaimed New York eateries Eleven Madison Park and Café Boulud. Now back in hometown Ottawa, he’s running his own restaurant empire, including flagship Beckta. The grand old house it occupies also features a wine bar, done up with exposed brick and intricate flooring. Small-plate snacks wash down well with three- and five-ounce glasses of some 20 vintages. The list by the bottle is staggering: 13 sparkling wines alone; unusual varieties such as palomino fino or aglianico; six vintages of sangiovese from the same vintner. Top off your evening with one of 19 digestifs.

Play Food & Wine

1 York St, Ottawa, ON K1N 5S7

Another property under the wing of sommelier Stephen Beckta, Play is as fresh and contemporary as Beckta Wine Bar is old-school. With about two-dozen wines by the glass, including a couple of sparkling choices, you can pair just the right choice with your selection of small plates, including grilled quail and cherry gnocchi. An additional 10 dessert wines by the glass will go down nicely with the salted caramel tart or peach millefeuille. Not confident about your choices? Staff is well informed.

Fauna Food & Bar

425 Bank St, Ottawa, ON K2P 1Y7

Sommelier Alex McMahon may be young, but he’s apprenticed at Ottawa’s best (Domus, Beckta, Back Lane) as well as two wineries. So when he says he could talk wine for three days straight, that might not be exaggeration. At Fauna’s zinc-topped bar, he’ll tell you about the 17 wines available by the glass, or the 24 biodynamic wines available by the bottle. Other selections include unusual finds from Macedonia, Lebanon, even Nova Scotia (Benjamin Bridge Nova 7, if you must know). He’s willing to open almost any bottle if a patron commits to ordering a couple of glasses.


41 William St, Ottawa, ON K1N 6Z9

Snag the high-top table by the window and savour your wine while watching the world pass by along a busy ByWard Market street. The space is all barn board and exposed stone, making for a dark setting on the tiny main floor; upstairs, similar decor is brightened by mirrors, art and pretty white curtains. Must carries a small but well-curated menu of wines by the glass, available in three or five ounces. Six pre-selected flights of three wines each are offered. Appetizers include a popular prosciutto and fig tartine; for a vegetarian-friendly main, try the mushroom asparagus Wellington.

True enough, Ottawa ain’t the city that never sleeps, but that’s not because of a caffeine shortage, especially in Lowertown where coffee shops abound. If you can’t find something to give you a java jolt among these options, you really are sleepwalking.
Hotel bars aren’t a mere convenience for hotel guests. Some of Ottawa’s best are grandly sumptuous: perfect venues for a milestone occasion. Other bars are stylish and sleek, ideal for a dress-up date night. There are those where friends meet after work, and a couple that are perfect for the T-shirt-jeans-and-bottle-of-beer set. One thing our favourite hotel bars have in common, though, is decent drinks and nibbles.
Maybe it’s because our summers are short that all Ottawa citizens flock to restaurant patios as soon as the snow melts, and stay till it falls again. Some eateries plop down a couple of tables just about anywhere outside, abutting busy roadways where they snarl sidewalk traffic. But we’ve found great al fresco dining – from gourmet fare to burgers ‘n’ beer – that eliminates both sunstroke and exhaust fumes.
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