BY SHAYLA MARTIN
Prohibition nearly wiped out the wine industry in the Midwest, but thankfully, it didn’t wipe out the region’s winemaking spirit. The cool-climate growing district along the south shore of Lake Erie in northeast Ohio boasts numerous soil types, deposited by years of glacial movements that provide fertile ground for viticulture.
Today, there are more wineries per square mile in this region than any other portion of the state. The past few decades have seen a resurgence of vineyards, and Cleveland has become the beneficiary of this renewed wine movement. Not only are there interesting urban/regional wineries and wine bars, bottle shops and area restaurants have kept pace with global wine lists.
Here’s how to explore Cleveland’s wine scene.
From the bar area surrounded by wine bottles embedded into the walls, to the quaint back patio beneath twinkling lights, there’s not a bad seat at Toast. The wine list features both global and domestic sustainable, biodynamic, organic and natural wines, and even blackberry- and Cascade-hopped mead from nearby Mogadore, Ohio. Regional breweries and distilleries are also well represented.
Flight Cleveland is a place to diversify your wine interests. It offers 12 themed wine flights, along with beer and saké flights, broken down geographically, with cheeky titles like “Island Time” (wines from Crete, Sicily and Australia), “Way Down Past the Rio Grande” (South American wines) and “The Sunny South of France” (self-explanatory). Savory and sweet snacks are offered to go with your wine, along with more than 400 labels available for purchase in their retail shop.
Astoria Café & Market
Named after a neighborhood in Queens, New York, with a large Greek population, Astoria Café & Market’s wine list is tightly focused on the Mediterranean, alongside a number of local pours. Sip reds and whites from France, Spain, Italy, Greece, Lebanon and Portugal, as well as a selection of Ports and Sherry. Old World Mediterranean cuisine complements the wine list, with dishes like souvlaki, Iberico shoulder steak, dolmades and French-style mussels.
Market Avenue Wine Bar
Candlelight, floor-to-ceiling drapes and sparkling chandeliers make for a cozy wine-sipping space across from the West Side Market in Cleveland’s Ohio City neighborhood. The extensive wine list includes a “connoisseur’s collection” of more than 300 labels and over 70 offerings by the glass. On cold winter nights, Market Avenue Wine Bar is the perfect spot to tuck into a hot mug of mulled wine.
Although it operates as a grocery store, the downtown location of Heinen’s offers more than 1,000 different labels from across the world. Housed in the Ameritrust Bank Building, which opened in 1908, visitors can sip wine from the second-floor Balcony Bar underneath the building’s ornate rotunda. There, 40 selections are offered from self-serve wine dispensers.
Rather take a bottle home? Peruse Pick of the Vine selections, which are comprised of favorite bottles that cost less than $15, or the Club 92 section, featuring wines rated 92 points or higher.
The Wine Spot
Part bottle shop, part wine bar and located in Cleveland Heights, The Wine Spotshowcases the best of the region, from the bottles that line the shelves to the art on the walls. The shop is only the third business to occupy this hundred-year old building—a neighborhood dairy in the 1920s and ’30s, followed by a hardware store that lasted from 1940 to 2011. Furnishings are crafted from reclaimed wood.
The space also doubles as a gallery for students from the Cleveland Institute of Art. Look for occasional concerts from local musicians.
Rozi’s Wine House
Located in suburban Lakewood, Rozi’s Wine House was named best wine store in Cleveland in 2019 by readers of alternative weekly newspaper the Cleveland Scene. An institution since 1939, the shop features a large selection at various price points, alongside craft beer, winemaking supplies, fruit baskets and an in-house wine bar. A $700 Napa Valley Bordeaux-style blend is as easy to find as a sub-$25 Côtes de Provence Rosé.
Want to drink local? The Ohio Connection gift basket comes with two bottles of state-produced wine, as well as pasta, sauce, snacks and coffee.
Banter Beer and Wine
What’s not to love about a bottle shop with a side of poutine? Banter may be better known for its housemade sausages and Quebec-style poutine, but there’s also an impressive, curated collection of craft beer and wines from around the world. The shop also hosts wine-pairing classes, Champagne and rosé tastings, as well as tastings of budget-friendly wines.
Château Hough’s mission is bigger than wine. Located in the historically African-American neighborhood of Hough, owner Mansfield Frazier took a chance when he planted 300 grape vines just over 10 years ago. Today, the winery produces wines from seven Ohio-grown varieties, including the red Frontenac and white Traminette grape. The urban farm also grows produce like shiitake mushrooms and strawberries in its onsite bio-cellar.
Frazier, an ex-convict himself, serves as a role model and employs formerly imprisoned individuals to foster their re-entry into society. Tours are available from 11 am–6 pm, Thursday through Sunday.
CLE Urban Winery
A truly urban winery located in the heart of Cleveland Heights, in lieu of a traditional vineyard CLE Urban Winery sources most of its juice from the West Coast. The resulting wine is fermented and bottled onsite in full view of customers. Each wine is named in homage to Cleveland, like the Mighty Cuyahoga Merlot, Rust Belt Rosé and Lake Erie Riesling. Guests can sample them all in the winery’s tasting bar, located in a 100-year-old former garage. Wine-related events and wine education classes can also be found there.
Vino Veritas Cellars & Old Brooklyn Winery
After its 2016 move from the Little Italy neighborhood to Old Brooklyn, Vino Veritasdoubled its winemaking space and became Cleveland’s first fully functional, federally bonded winery and vineyard. Although grapes are growing, for now the winery still sources fruit from California to make six varietal wines that include a Chardonnay, a Sonoma Cabernet Sauvignon and an organic cherry wine called Cougar Juice. Fire pits, cornhole and bocce put the finishing touches on a fun afternoon, open Thursday through Sunday during the spring and summer.
About an hour east of Cleveland in the Grand River Valley wine region, Debonné Vineyards is the largest estate winery in Ohio. More than 175 acres of vines produce award-winning Riesling, Cabernet Franc and the winery’s ever-popular ice wines. Tours of the barrel room, press house and bottling area are available for groups of 25 or more from Monday through Thursday, while themed wine tasting trays of five to eight wines are available daily for $10.
Firelands Winery grows its grapes on North Bass Island, off the southern shore of Lake Erie about an hour west of Cleveland. It enjoys a 200-day, frost-free growing season. Under the umbrella of Firelands, the winery offers five different labels: Mantey Vineyards, Lonz Winery, Dover Vineyards, Mon Ami and Specialty Wine Co., an Italian fine-wine importer. Tastings are available year-round in the onsite exposition kitchen, Osteria Gusto, where the winery also hosts chef dinners and live music. Deluxe bus tours are available to groups of 25 or more.
German immigrant Gustav Heineman utilized his winemaking heritage to open Heineman’s Winery on Lake Erie Island in 1888, creating Ohio’s oldest family-owned and operated winery. While most Ohio wineries failed during Prohibition, Heineman’s stayed alive by selling unfermented grape juice and providing taxi services and tours of the winery’s onsite crystal cave. Generations later, the winery produces a variety of red, white, sparkling, rosé and dessert wines. Need some family-friendly drink options? Heineman’s also produces Concord and Catawba grape juice.
Less than an hour from Cleveland is a world-class winery experience in the Grand River Valley at M Cellars. Owners Matt and Tara Meineke spent two years planting their Riesling, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Gruner Veltliner, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Petit Verdot estate vineyards. They now produce 19 varietals of red and white wines. Tastings are offered year-round from either the back deck and patio that overlooks the vineyard, or the cozy tasting room with a wood-burning fireplace.
Dining al fresco at L’Albatros Brasserie / Photo by Nicole Steffen
Restaurants with stellar wine lists
If spending all day at a winery isn’t your thing, these restaurants offer expertly curated wine lists with unique global and regional bottles to try. At Lola Bistrodishes from Chef Michael Symon are featured alongside a 16-page wine curated by sommelier Damir Terzic, presented to guests via tablet. The menu is categorized by type, geography, region and grape variety, with bottles that hail from places like Argentina, France and Lebanon.
Mediterranean restaurant Adega means “wine cellar” in Portuguese, and its stately glass wine vault is front and center upon entering the space. Here, the wine list is focused on the three major climate zones: Mediterranean, Continental and Maritime, so the list reflects bottles from wine regions anyone will recognize like Napa Valley, Bordeaux and the Loire Valley.
Urban Farmer deserves recognition specifically its the “Wines of Ohio” category that features eight red and white options from their home state. Seek out Marble Room, L’Albatros Brasserie and EDWINS Restaurant feature oenophile-driven lists as well.