KC Wine Bars: Where to Swirl, Sniff, and Sip

Kansas City’s wine bars are as varied and unique as the delicious libation itself.

As ancient as it is intriguing, wine is something that one must drink to discover. If you don’t typically drink wine, you will never really “get” wine. It is known to ease the mind and open the palate, which is why it is so often paired with food. For many, drinking wine can be a moment of meditation and contemplation, because it forces you to slow down and move through the steps of seeing, swirling, sniffing, and sipping. Your tasting experiences will only be enriched by taking your time.

The world of wine is vast. So, the first rule of educating yourself about wine is to change the way you drink it. If you have found that one wine brand or grape that you know you like, and you only buy it to drink at home and only order it when you are out (you know who you are), then you’re denying yourself the opportunity to learn about other wines you might enjoy just as much, if not more. Think of every opportunity to buy a bottle of wine at the wine shop or enjoy a glass at a restaurant or wine bar as an opportunity to expand your mind and your palate.

In Kansas City, there are plenty of excellent restaurants with sommeliers and wine directors who have curated a wine list matched with the type of food and experience that they’re offering. Don’t hesitate to ask them to recommend a great bottle or glass to go with your meal—that’s why they’re there. There’s also a burgeoning selection of wine bars scattered across the metro, many who have their own wine clubs. They’re built for the opportunity to taste several wines in one sitting, usually with some amount of food available. These places are a gold mine of information, education and opportunity for the eager wine drinker, regardless of whether you are a newbie or an expert.

There are few experiences that require you to use all your senses at once, but wine tasting is one of them. Make 2024 the year you take the time to dive into wine, and you can start by visiting these spots.

JJ’s Restaurant | West Plaza
Jimmy Frantze opened the original JJ’s in 1985 with an incredible wine list that won its first Wine Spectator Restaurant award in 1990. In 2013, a gas explosion destroyed that restaurant, killing one person and injuring several others, in addition to ruining thousands of bottles of wine from JJ’s coveted list. With much public support and encouragement, Frantze relocated the restaurant across the street to the Polsinelli Building, where he and longtime wine director, Matt Nichols, worked to rebuild the list to more than 11,000 bottles and 1,200 labels and with over 30 wines available by the glass. With a focus on reds from California, France, and Italy, their wines can be enjoyed in the clubby wine bar, in the restaurant proper, or on the lovely outdoor patio with a pizza or appetizer.

Vita’s Place  | Crestwood Shops
The newest wine bar in Kansas City belongs to Ryan and Jenny Sciara, who built their wine following as the owners of Underdog Wine Co. in the Crestwood Shops. Now they have opened their own wine bar just around the corner. Named after Ryan’s Italian grandmother, Vita’s Place is a cozy and convivial neighborhood spot with a stylish interior and a wine list that’s organized not only by country and varietal but also by weight and flavor profile. You can find just the right glass to accompany their meaningful menu of interesting small plates and desserts. Find a wine you like, and they know someone who could sell you a bottle right around the corner.

Tannin Wine Bar & Kitchen  | Crossroads Arts District
Tannin was the first wine bar to open in Kansas City’s Crossroads, and after 13 years of popping corks, hosting wine tastings, and running a stellar wine-club program, it’s now a fixture that fills a late-night void for real wine lovers. Longtime wine director Barry Tunnell and his team have a low-key tableside manner and a casual everyday approach to wine that’s the secret to their success. Tannin continues to be a destination for people with varying degrees of wine knowledge who want to discover wines that can go from mild to wild. The food menu has always been solid, but their O.G. meat and cheese plates put the “cute” in charcuterie. 

Affäre |  Crossroads Arts District
Martin and Katrin Heuser opened their modern German restaurant in the Crossroads Arts District in 2012. In 2019 they remodeled the dining room to open a wine experience they call “The Wine Bar,” with a dedicated 14-foot bar and lounge area just to taste special wine selections from their menu. Although guests can still sit in the dining room to enjoy a delicious meal, those looking for a more casual wine-tasting experience now have a dedicated spot where you can enjoy Katrin’s personally curated selection of German and European wines. Nominated this year for a James Beard Foundation award for Outstanding Wine Program, Katrin has spent time on the phone and by email tracking down bottles of wine specifically for the restaurant. That level of tenacity and expertise makes her a source of wine knowledge you should tap into.

Wine Bunker |  Leawood, KS
Travis Wallace and his wife, Kathy Richman Wallace, opened their casual wine lounge in the Prairiefire Shopping Center in Leawood in 2020, after Covid accelerated their retirement plans. Wine Bunker, named after their own wine cellar in their basement at home, is a fun and interactive place to taste many different wines in one spot. They have 250 wines by the bottle, 160 wines by the glass, and nine rotating flights. Enjoy live music while you explore their list of wine flights that you can experience with a charcuterie board.

Vintage ’78 Wine Bar |  Overland Park, KS
For those who have been searching for a serious wine, cheese, and charcuterie bar in downtown Overland Park, search no more. You’ve found it. With fancy French bistro vibes, Vintage ’78 is an elegant place that provides great service with a world-class selection of wine. It features one of the largest selections of wine by the glass in the Midwest, along with cheese and cured meats in a casual, fun, and decidedly unstuffy way. Michael Scherzberg and Megan Downes have the wine and food knowledge to bring some of the best bottles of grape juice and bar snacks together to your table, in addition to some serious tasting notes. Scherzberg is happy to answer all your wine questions, and he is ready to share some serious wine knowledge with you.  

The Pairing | East Crossroads
When it comes to food and drinks, it’s hard to resist the perfect pairing. This very idea impelled Mat “Slimm” Adkins to open The Pairing: Crossroads Wine & Grocer in Kansas City’s East Crossroads. The handsome 3,500-square-foot storefront offers national and international wines, beers, and spirits that pair with its impressive selection of local and imported cheeses, cured meats, chocolates, and condiments. Adding to the appeal of the shop is a 30-seat wine bar, where customers can socialize while they sample a cheese or charcuterie board with a couple of different weekly wine tastings built around a theme and selected by Adkins and Kate Blackman, the general manager and food program director. It’s the most fun you will have learning about wine.

Big Mood Natural Wines & More  | Crossroads Arts District
Big Mood Natural Wines & More is a stylish split-level wine bar and bottle shop located in the Crossroads. It also has the distinction of being the first wine shop in the city to exclusively sell all-natural wine. Owner Richard Garcia has paired his love of natural wines with Matthew Chapman’s experience in booking entertainment and food vendors, including his own concept, Disco Burger, which he created with Darren Victor Carter. Together they have grown the vision of the four-year-old retail wine shop to become a place to party, offering food, drinks, live entertainment, and community. Boasting a groovy—yet approachable—vibe, you can try natural wines from all over the world, along with a selection of craft cocktails and fun food pop-ups.

Sail Away Wine |  North Kansas City
Sail Away Wine in North Kansas City is the only place in town that offers a unique passport system. It allows each guest access to its WineEmotion self-serve wine distribution system. Each type of pour (there is a one-ounce taste, three-ounce sample, or five-ounce glass) is priced separately, and at the end of the night your tab is rung through the point-of-sale system, including any food you order. Local sommelier Katie Hendley curates the list of 74 wines available, which hail from ports of call all over the world. The food menu includes flatbreads, meats, cheeses, salads, and small plates along with a few desserts.

Dennison Wine Bar + Lounge | North Kansas City
Named after Dionysus, the Greek god of winemaking, the Dennison Wine Bar + Lounge is located in North Kansas City’s Iron District. Sitting inside a dramatically decorated shipping container feels like you are sipping in the study of a wealthy wine merchant. The curated wine bar offers up seasonal wines along with generous charcuterie snack trays made by Scimeca’s Deli up the street. Stay inside and play chess or grab a glass and enjoy it in the courtyard. You’ll have access to a rotating selection of wines on tap or try a glass of their N/A wines instead.

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