While sourdough starters were all the rage during the pandemic, I started drinking wine instead.

Not the healthiest hobby, I know. My friends and I traded referral codes for online wine stores like baseball cards, and after we hoarded enough bottles, threw blind tastings in our cramped living rooms tipsily waddling around asking if we smelled “gooseberries” or “a freshly opened can of tennis balls.”

By the tail end of the pandemic, my curiosity evolved into a passion, and I enrolled in the Wine School of Philadelphia for formal training. A few months later, after memorizing a few hundred flashcards, I received my Level 1 sommelier certification through the National Wine School.

The title sounds awfully snobbish, and I am by no means an expert. Unlike the true master sommeliers — of which there are only 168 in the world — I cannot blindly pick up a glass of wine and pinpoint the exact region of the world where it came from. I just think it’s fun to learn about grapes and share that knowledge around a dinner table.

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Last summer, I moved to Baltimore to join The Baltimore Banner, leaving behind all my favorite restaurants and bottle shops back in Philly. Knowing nothing about the region’s wine scene, I set out to find new places to nerd out. After all, what better way to get to know a place than to eat and drink your way through it?

With that in mind, here are my favorite places to buy and drink wine in Baltimore — a first taste of the area that I plan to explore more. I am sure there’s many more gems to discover, so please email me and share your favorite spots.

Where I buy:

The Wine Source is at 3601 Elm Ave. Hampden contains a vast library of wines that are carefully categorized and curated. (Kirk McKoy/The Baltimore Banner)

The Wine Source:

3601 Elm Ave., Hampden

When I first moved here, almost everyone I talked to pointed me in the direction of Hampden’s Wine Source — and rightly so. The store contains a vast library of wines that are carefully categorized and curated. One aisle isn’t simply labeled “France,” but has shelves marked regionally like “Loire” and “Bordeaux.” I practically skipped through the store giddy with delight. It’s also up for sale.

If you are not looking for a specific bottle, the team are friendly and knowledgeable enough to give thoughtful suggestions based on food pairings and personal preferences. If you are in a pinch, look out for the “No Brainer” labels with staff picks. They have yet to do me wrong. Their range of sake, beer and spirits are also above par, and there’s a full selection of cheeses and other nibbles.

The Remington Bottle is at 329 W. 29th St. Remington offers a smaller more curated selection. (Kirk McKoy/The Baltimore Banner)

The Remington Bottle:

329 W 29th St., Remington

Unlike Wine Source’s staggering list of options, The Remington Bottle offers a smaller, more curated selection. Paper tags hang from bottle necks offering tasting notes and pairing suggestions, which I recommend reading.

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Better yet, the shop is around the corner from the beloved food hall R. House, so I recommend bringing a bottle there to drink with whatever cuisine your heart desires.

Angels Ate Lemons:

2223 Maryland Ave., Old Goucher

Visiting Angels Ate Lemons feels less like shopping at an actual store and more like attending a private viewing where you “need to know a guy.” The bottle shop is tucked away on the first floor of a “communal complex” that includes Sophomore Coffee, Chachi’s, Fadensonnen (see below) and more. You need to knock or ring to get in.

Owned by Lane Harlan and Matthew Pierce, the shop primarily sells “natural wine,” which refers to a movement among winemakers to use traditional, low-intervention winemaking methods. It’s a polarizing subject among wine nerds, but I personally find it fun to explore. Some bottles can be bewildering while others are downright exciting.

Every time that I’ve visited, the hip staff have a few bottles open to sample and learn about. The team also offers an attractive wine club subscription, which gives you monthly curated bottles as well as access to tasting events and discounts.

Spirits of Mt. Vernon is at 900 N. Charles St. (Kirk McKoy/The Baltimore Banner)

Spirits of Mt. Vernon:

900 N. Charles St., Mt. Vernon

Situated just a block away from the Washington Monument, this corner bottle shop has become the hub of the Mt. Vernon community for buying and drinking wine. The selection is on the smaller side but showcases a couple of bottles from each of the major winemaking countries. On sunny days, chairs spill out onto the sidewalk.

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Where I drink:

Le Comptoir du Vin is at 1729 Maryland Ave. It includes French favorites and hearty European fare. (Kirk McKoy/The Baltimore Banner)

Le Comptoir du Vin:

1729 Maryland Ave., Station North

Another purveyor of natural wines, this Station North wine bar is one of my favorite places to drink and eat. The Banner’s food reporter, Christina Tkacik, just wrote a wonderful article that speaks to chef Will Mester’s philosophy of no-frills food. The menu of hearty European fare, including French favorites like liver pâté and pigs head toast, perfectly pairs with their modest selection of pours. They also sell several bottles at the front of house.

Ben Zimmerman of Fadensonnen at 3 W. 23rd St. in Old Goucher, pours a glass of wine from the Pendes region of Spain. (Kirk McKoy)

Fadensonnen:

3 W. 23rd St., Old Goucher

Fadensonnen is composed of a secluded off-street beer garden and intimate tavern peddling natural wines. As the weather warms up, grab a spot outside, a rotisserie chicken from Chachi’s and sip on a glass while basking in the hum of late-night revelry.

Alma Cocina Latina is at 1701 N. Charles St. (Kirk McKoy/The Baltimore Banner)

Alma Cocina Latina:

1701 N Charles St., Station North

Helmed by the incomparable Irena Stein and Mark Demshak, the team at Alma has been pushing Baltimore’s restaurant scene forward with its imaginative and refined Venezuelan cuisine — and recently received a James Beard nod. The food is top notch, and the wine list, too, is exciting and fresh. Rather than stick to main grape varietals, I was pleasantly surprised to see more native grapes like torrontés from Argentina and viura from Spain on their list of “by the glass” pours.

La Cuchara:

3600 Clipper Mill Rd., Hampden

If you love Spanish cuisine (and wine), look no further than La Cuchara. The restaurant specializes in Basque cuisine, and its wine list has an impressive depth of Spanish and French bottles. The long wooden bar that stretches through the restaurant is an inviting place to post up and share tapas with friends over a few glasses. The restaurant also hosts dinner events and wine tastings.

On the bucket list:

Charleston:

1000 Lancaster St., Harbor East

The flagship restaurant of the Foreman Wolf restaurant group, Charleston has a formidable wine program curated by wine director Tony Foreman and chief sommelier Lindsay Willey. The restaurant’s menu comes with a meticulously considered wine pairing and the restaurant’s cellar list is dozens of pages long — described in all-caps as a “ridiculous matrix of information.”

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Admittedly, I have yet to visit Charleston since a meal with wine pairing will set you back $149 to $293 per person. Dining here should be saved for a very special occasion, like getting engaged or vanquishing a dragon.

Grand Cru Bottle Shop:

527 E. Belvedere Ave., Belvedere Square

One of my favorite questions to hospitality workers is asking where they like to eat and drink when they get off work. Grand Cru has come up again and again. Situated in Belvedere Square, the neighborhood wine bar boasts a selection of 300 wines, beer and spirits. I can’t wait to dive in.

Finally, a couple of tips...

Within the hospitality industry, it is no secret that alcohol is where the margins are. And when it comes to wine, the worst value is undoubtedly in the “by the glass” options of the menu. It often costs the restaurant the same price as the full bottle.

Furthermore, wine lists also have an ingenious way of tapping into our basic psychology. When it comes to the “by the glass” options, I was taught that the worst value is usually the second cheapest glass on the menu. It makes sense. When you are on that crucial second date, who wants to be seen ordering the cheapest glass on the menu?

But there is value to be had, primarily when buying by the bottle. They are still marked up considerably, but much less than buying single pours. Buying a bottle can feel like rolling the dice, I know, but it’s a wonderful opportunity to strike up a conversation with the staff and get the perfect pairing.

If you go to any of my suggestions above, the staff will make sure to treat you right.

As Newsletter Editor for The Baltimore Banner, James is responsible for overseeing all of the newsroom's editorial and breaking news email products.

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