Review: Solera Wine Bar in Alton
Wine culture can come across as intimidating or snobbish, but Solera Wine Bar in downtown Alton offers a relaxed and approachable space for wine lovers and novices alike.
The small bar is warm with exposed brick and reclaimed wood walls and large pieces of bright artwork reminiscent of decorative Tuscan tiles. A long, L-shaped bar, high-tops and a comfy leather couch offer plenty of space to settle down with a bottle for an evening of intimate conversation. A few wine books are scattered around if you wish to learn more as you sip. There are also two tables outside the front door perfect for people-watching in Alton’s quaint downtown. It’s a quieter scene, but I found it deeply relaxing to be in a bar at night without needing to shout or jostle to get a drink.
More than two dozen by-the-glass options are available, including whites, reds, sparkling, sherries and ports. Glasses range from $5 to $11, and approximately 200 bottles can be purchased at retail prices. The selection can be dizzying, but the staff is more than happy to make a tailored recommendation. If a bottle is already open, they’ll even pour you a sample so you don’t end up stuck with a glass you don’t like. It’s a no-loss way to expand your wine palate.
The eight-page list extends beyond the usual varietals into less-explored territory. These are grouped under “Other Interesting Whites” and “Other Interesting Reds,” making it easier to try something new. Bottles from Hungary, Bulgaria, Austria and Sardinia all make an appearance.
If your only response to gewürztraminer is gesundheit, Solera won’t judge. It seems their policy is to never assume expertise, which makes for a less intimidating, more inclusive experience than some wine bars. When I asked how the sangria was, the bartender defined it without missing a beat. I’m familiar with the drink, but if that hadn’t been the case, I would have appreciated not having to ask. The sangria, by the way, was excellent – available only occasionally, it’s made with a dry red that isn’t overshadowed by an excess of sugary fruit. It was refreshing without being saccharine.
Beyond wine, Solera offers about 10 beers by the can or bottle, including selections from The Old Bakery Beer Co. in Alton and Destihl Brewing Co. out of Bloomington, Illinois. Meads from B. Nektar and Galena Cellars are also available.
The limited food menu features classic wine pairings: cheese and sausage, available in 2-ounce portions and served with crackers. Five cheeses are currently available, ranging from mild and buttery Havarti to pungently sweet blue cheese. The meat selections are from some of the best local producers, including Volpi chorizo and Veneto salami from Salume Beddu. Complimentary raw almonds are available on request, and Solera plans to add additional snacks soon.
If you have a sweet tooth, be sure to end your visit with a selection of chocolates from local chocolatier Rick Jordan. The chocolate-covered praline combined with the plummy, spicy Casa Smith Primitivo out of Washington state was ace.
Enjoying wine is about slowing down and savoring, and Solera has created an atmosphere that encourages exactly that.
Stephanie Zeilenga is a critic and contributing writer for Sauce Magazine.
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