Review: The Wine Press in St. Louis

A good wine buzz is subtle, relaxing. Not harsh like a tall slug of whiskey or overwhelming like a pint of bubbly yeast and hops. Wine is sexier, more subdued – two words that well define The Wine Press, the Central West End’s newest addition to The Lou’s current wine bar craze.

The owner, Greg Stevens, opted out of the regular Maryland and Euclid scene, locating his drinkery instead at 4436 Olive St., on an all-but-forgotten strip of run-down buildings between Taylor and Newstead. With a new boxing gym and loft space opening up around the corner and the Gaslight Square development a few blocks east, there are encouraging signs of some long-overdue resurgence. The Wine Press fits in nicely, and being an off-the-beaten-track, on-the-cusp type of place adds to bar’s slick ambiance. Finding it, though, can be something of a chore for those unfamiliar with the neighborhood. Thankfully, I live within walking distance.

It took me about three trips to figure out how I could put The Wine Press into words. The hardest part, especially since at this writing it has yet to gain a steady following, was getting a sense of the crowd and the atmosphere. A friend put it best as we walked home: This seems to be Stevens’ bar, created for him as a home away from home. A place where he’d like to sit down and share a few of his personal favorite vintages with friends.

The space is chic, urban, ever-so-slightly Gothic and overall quite minimalist. Track lighting throws soft beams across a grayish, industrial-looking space complete with concrete flooring. Lining the walls are black-and-white stills of printing presses and bindery equipment. About half a dozen small tables and a few leather couches sit across from a smooth, high-topped and fully supplied bar. But it’s fall now and outside is the place to be (apparently I can’t smoke inside anyway); Stevens accommodates with several tables on the sidewalk.

The wine menu is pretty solid: about 20 reds, 15 whites. There are several good Cabernets, Pinots, Zinfandels, etc., but the real winner I found was a 2005 French Minervois, a great balance of fruits and spices that hits the palate perfectly and delivers that aforementioned sexy buzz. If you like the Minervois, you’ll hate the Giuseppe Lonardi, a Venetian red that could pretty much double as Hawaiian Punch. But the Côtes du Rhône, another French red blend, was a good recommendation from a few of the Press’ excellent bartenders; it was more intense than the others I tried.

I was impressed by the prices. Generously poured glasses go for $5 to $8 a pop, while the average bottle will cost less than $30 – definitely a plus for those intimidated by astronomical bar tabs. Hats off to Stevens on this one: He’s one of those wise, unpretentious few who’ve come to realize that some of the greatest bottles come without a hefty sticker price.

Beer connoisseurs will love this place. Stevens saw fit to augment the grape selection with an intelligent set of domestic and European bottles: Chimay, Delirium Tremens, Fat Tire, SkullSplitter, St. Bernardus Pater 6, La Chouffe. A small menu rounds things out with an offering of wine bar standards: antipasti, cheese, bruschetta, olives and a few coffee/dessert selections.

The crowd, as I mentioned, is still in flux. The Wine Press definitely caters to an older, upwardly mobile clientele. As the space matures and the neighborhood reawakens, I expect to see more and more twenty- and thirtysomething winos ducking their heads in for a look-see. Though it’s off the beaten path, the location (not far from Midtown) makes The Wine Press ideal for a pre- or post-dinner drink with friends or a person of interest you’re trying to impress on a casual night out.

Regardless, it’s impossible not to have high hopes for a classy upstart like The Wine Press. My compliments to the owner. Welcome to the neighborhood, Greg; it’s good to have you.

Check it: Great selection of wines and beers, better prices.
Hipster or Hoosier: Middle-aged wine connoisseurs, neighborhood grad students.
Suds or Tinis: 2005 Minervois or a classy imported beer.
Where: The Wine Press, 4436 Olive St., St. Louis, 314.289.9463
When: Tue. to Thu. – 4 to 11 p.m., Fri. and Sat. – 4 p.m. to 1 a.m.

Tags : Places, Reviews, Wine, Bars