Everyone needs a wine bar within stumbling distance, right? These newer spots serving up the nectar of the vines offer experiences as different as the areas they call home. Each offers food to match its style of wine service, and those who aren't as devoted to wine and are along for the ride will be happy that each keeps craft beers on hand, too.
Next Door (7235 El Cajon Blvd. in Rolando,): This blink-and-you'll-miss-it spot is the kind normally found in North Park or Hillcrest. It's just west of the La Mesa border, adjacent to the husbanda-nd-wife owners' other business, the Treehouse Coffee Company. It's right next door— get it? Anyway, they opened it last year, fixing up the place with cute décor that the Martha Stewart set would call "shabby chic."
The wine list is a bit limited—mostly California wines with a few imports. Keywords are listed next to each as loose tasting guides. I relied on these to choose wines as the server (one of the co-owners) seemed uninterested in chit-chat. Her husband was quicker to explain the food choices, yet neither expounded on the wines.
One downside here stood out, in addition to the lukewarm reception: Happy hour offers a special on large flatbreads ($10 versus $14 to $16 normally) but nothing else. Regardless, the fare was tasty. My favorite item was the rosemary-and-cayenne mixed nuts—with slightly sweet heat, they paired well with a grassy and light Shannon Ridge Sauvignon Blanc.
Best of the bunch: Field Recordings Fiction is a red blend from Paso Robles filled with fruity layers that paired well with a cheese board loaded with apricots, olives, bread, crackers and various cheeses.
Village Vino (4095 Adams Ave. in Kensington): This corner wine bar in Kensington just celebrated its first year in business. Specializing in small-production wineries, it has an eclectic menu that changes regularly. Wines can be ordered by full- or half-glass, so I opted for several half glasses and sampled a variety. The knowledgeable servers helped sort through nearly 40 wines on the menu, and I didn't find any I didn't enjoy while picking through selections from France, Hungary, California and everywhere in between. A prix-fixe option Sunday through Thursday caught my eye: $25 for a salad, flatbread and two glasses of wine from a select menu. Sounds to me like date night in a cute neighborhood.
The last pages of the wine list include bottle prices for imbibing in the bar or to-go at $8 off the list price. For us over-achieving wine geeks, they offer educational tasting events and wine dinners regularly.
Best of the bunch: The 2012 Matthiasson Tendu from Napa Valley is a blend of white Italian varietals Vermentino, Cortese and Arneis, a great summer wine with notes of minerals and a lush aroma of flowering herbs—lavender perhaps?
Romeo & Julieta Wine Café (4715 Monroe Ave., in Talmadge): One of the newest spots I found opened in January. Wines offered include a range in styles and prices. Happy hour knocks a couple dollars off select glasses and includes an assortment of food items at $7 each.
Pomerois Picpoul Pinet from France grabbed my attention first, and the chilled white hit the spot. Plus, it's fun to say. My partner in wine and I explored more of the options from all around the world and were treated to freshly baked bread served with spicy garlic aioli.
R&J's cuisine has a European spin, as the owner and chef hails from Poland. Our bartender happily explained different food items and wines between attending to the crowd of afternoon drinkers indoors and out.
This spot seems like great fit with a warm ambiance, clean décor and very welcoming staff.
Best of the bunch: The Heavyweight Cabernet Sauvignon from Lodi is jammy and heavy with just a touch of sweetness, providing good balance for spicy menu items.