5 Great Wine Bars in South Florida
By Carlos Harrison
Cibo Wine Bar is a wine-lovers' heaven on Earth, complete with "wine angels."
That’s what they call their girls on the flying trapeze, zipping up, down, and across the two-story tall, glass-walled wine cellar to pull the bottle of your choice from a selection that stands out as one of the finest you'll come across anywhere. It’s Cibo’s signature element, and the centerpiece of every location, perfectly positioned to showcase the expansive collection, to entice, and to entertain.
And, yes, if you ask, you can go inside.
With three South Florida locations, Cibo is a feast for the senses – the smells, the sights and oh, those tastes.
The rich aroma of pungent herbs and coal-fired foods surround you as you step inside. Meticulously coordinated contemporary art adorns a space that’s both sylvan and sophisticated, coarse and cultured, homey and refined. The menu comprises a rich and savory mix of Old World flavors like you would find in mama's house, if mama were the finest cook in town.
“Italian cooking is not French cuisine,” said Salvatore Natale, general manager of the Fort Lauderdale location. “It’s a little olive oil and a lot of love.”
Cibo’s is more than that.
The authenticity of its cuisine, with ingredients imported from Italy, has earned it the Ospitalitá Italiana Seal of Quality certification. They make pasta fresh at each location – you can even watch. The salumeria serves up freshly sliced meats cut with the "Porsche of slicers," as Chris Papadopoulos, general manager of the Miami Beach venue proudly describes it. The $10,000 slicer’s blade is internally cooled so that the meat doesn't get heated as it’s cut.
“That keeps it truly crudo,” he explains.
The attention to detail goes beyond the scrupulous selection of genuine ingredients and the insistence on treating the pastas and prosciuttos with painstaking care. Each Cibo is an artistic endeavor unto itself – a deceptively simple rustic wood and stone setting, with individual touches chosen by the founder’s wife that are both subtle and sublime. And all playing into the “Oh, so Italian” theme.
Pastas arranged by color – green, and white, and red – paint the colors of the Italian flag above the salumeria. The Miami Beach flagship boasts an intricate, yet delicate design of transparent glass globes dangling from the ceiling like multicolored raindrops. The arrangement has the free-flowing feel of nature itself. But, then again, a second look and the pattern reveals itself – those colors, green, and white, and red again, spill across the room like a gentle mist in the wind.
There’s an array of skull-shaped Dan Aykroyd's Crystal Head vodka bottles ensconced in neat squares at the entrance – all clear but for one that’s blood red. (The bottles also have an authentic Italian pedigree: designed by the artist John Alexander, they’re made at the Bruni Glass factory in Milan.)
And then there's the wine. Believe me, they don't call it a "Wine Bar" for nothing.
Each Cibo location features a floor-to-ceiling, glass-encased wine cellar filled with hundreds of bottles that range from modest moderns to dusty vintage bouquets awaiting the right connoisseur with wherewithal.
They offer better than 300 different wines – everything from Champagnes and sparkling to port and desserts, including reds, whites, and varietals from around the world. And if that don't do you, there's a 60-vintage private collection for truly discriminating tastes. It offers a 1960 Latour, a 1993 Banfi Brunello di Montalcino, and a 1983 Opus One.
Some of the most savory are offered by the glass, as well. And half-priced happy hours with an ever-changing choice of offerings allow budding oenophiles to develop their palate with a selection designed with a purpose in mind. “We always want to educate our guests,” said Natale.
Amy Weidig, the wine director at the Miami Beach location, began as an angel. A schoolteacher looking for a change and a chance to work with wine, she got set on a trapeze her very first day.
“It was terrifying but it was fun,” she said. “Quite a workout as well.”
When the wine manager quit a couple of weeks later, Weidig stepped in. She went on to get her Wine and Spirit Education Trust certification.
The wines at Cibo, she said, have a “heavy Italian focus,” including a number of less-common indigenous varietals that “most American consumers don't get exposed to very often, at really affordable prices.
“The idea of the wine list at all the Cibos is: there’s something for everybody,” Weidig added. “So you could come in and have a very reasonably priced bottle and a pizza. Or you can come in and have a vintage wine from 1997 and a four-course dinner. Or a pizza, if you prefer.
“The wine and food are meant to go together and we have ample options for you.”
- Fort Lauderdale: 4100 North Federal Hwy., Fort Lauderdale, FL 33308; (754) 900-2426
- Coral Gables: 45 Miracle Mile, Coral Gables, FL 33134; (305) 442-4925
- Miami Beach: 200 South Pointe Drive, Miami Beach, FL 33139; (305) 987-6060
More great wine bars…
At The Villa, Casa Casuarina (The old Versace Mansion on Miami Beach's Ocean Drive for those of us who've been around a while) with the newly launched “Wine Lover Wednesdays” cocktail program. Options include half off Louis Roederer Brut “Premier” Reims -- $60 ($120), white wines such as Jerman Pino Grigio -- $45 ($95) and William Fevre Chablis -- $40 ($80), and red wines including “Versace” Nero D’avola -- $45 ($95) and Stag’s Leap ‘Hands of Time’ Blend -- $55 ($110).
1116 Ocean Drive, Miami Beach, FL 33139; 786-485-2200
In the Bal Harbour Shops, offers nearly 150 options including champagne, rosé, white and red -- from $39 for a Cotes de Gascogne to $1600 for a 1998 Perrier Jouet Brut. French varietals are the cornerstone of the list but other regions are represented as well including wines from South America, the Pacific Northwest, and Europe.
9700 Collins Ave., Bal Harbour, FL 33154; 305-602-9663
At the JW Marriott Marquis in the trendy Biscayne District, this one has close to 500 different wines from, well, just about everywhere someone planted vines. It's extensive, expansive, and, they say, About 40 percent are under $100 a bottle, which means you don't have to break into your trust fund to indulge your inner oenophile.
255 Biscayne Boulevard Way, Miami, FL 33131; 305-421-8617
At the Breakers in Palm Beach. The 1,950-vintage selection is run by master sommelier Virginia A.S. Philip, the 11th woman in the world to earn the certification and holder of best sommelier in the U.S. from 2002-2006. Well, actually, she runs the selection for all The Breakers' restaurants, but HMF's is THE one. It includes over 32,000 bottles from 18 countries, dating back to 1907.
One South County Road, Palm Beach, FL 33480; 877-724-3188