Wine City

Sarasota's Wine Bar Renaissance

Our area is home to a number of bars with big selections of wines and friendly, knowledgeable staffers.

By Bob McGinn October 20, 2020

The last hospitality venues to reopen in Florida, and only recently, were bars. Count wine bars among them. It was eye-opening to see how many we now have locally and how they have survived. (Most have lasted by having a food or package license.)

So what makes a good wine bar and why are they so popular? Basically, they only serve wine, but in an unpretentious manner. According to VinePair, good wine bars showcase producers and winemakers, not brands. They let you drink what you want and never drink the “wrong” wine. There is no up-selling and hopefully no insane markups. If you are unsure of a selection, samples are available. And you don’t need to buy a bottle, since so many offerings are poured by the glass. Generally speaking, quality wine bars are casual, promote social interaction and encourage wine experimentation.

Here are some local wine bars worth a visit:

At Magnum Wine & Tastings, a bottle of Krug Champagne on the counter or the case of Montrachet on the bar are good indications of a high-end clientele. While that may be the case, they belie the engaging, down-to-earth owner, Heath Cordes. He is always willing to mentor your wine experience in this classy, inviting wine emporium.

Manuel Llanes of Grand Cru Wine Bar.

Over at Grand Cru Wine Bar, Manuel Llanes has created a modern, unique wine bar with taps for wine. Customers purchase a bracelet which accesses more than 20 taps. The bracelet keeps count of the ounces poured and the cost of each ounce. Wines are stored in kegs behind an impressive façade. I tried a Loire wine which was in the keg for six months and in excellent condition. Numerous events are planned and private parties are encouraged.

Entering Siesta Key Wine Bar is like arriving in a friend’s living room. A lovely ambiance created by Melanie Dodge, the proprietor, pervades the entire space. With a portfolio of 3,000 wines, she has the largest inventory around. After purchasing the bar in January, she survived the pandemic through hustle and a package license that allows her to sell bottles at retail.

Beach Road Wine Bar & Bistro in Englewood is more of a restaurant than a bar and is situated on the water. With more than 40 wines by the glass, it certainly qualifies as a wine bar, as well. Meals are excellent, and you can even rent a boat there.

The Zebra Lounge in Venice is a staple of the community. Open six days a week, it features a wine list of 200 selections, a food menu and nightly entertainment. A cozy, congenial atmosphere encompasses the room and sidewalk tables are available for those who wish to distance further. Ari Aisenberg is the amiable proprietor and wine steward.

If you enjoy tapas with your wine, consider Vino Loco in Englewood or Bohemios on Clark Road. Other local wine bars include Devines Wine Bar in Venice, and Rumours in Englewood.

All of our local wine bars have had a tough time this year, so give one a try.

Bob McGinn has spent his entire career in the wine industry—forming wine clubs, working in wine sales marketing and engaging in all facets of the winemaking process, including vine management, fermentation and yeast analysis. He has developed wine programs for companies such as Marriott, Sheraton and Smith & Wollensky, and consults with local restaurants. You can read more of McGinn’s work at

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