The décor is sleek and simple: a long wooden bar, tables covered in white tablecloths and a comfy white couch and two chairs that share a table made out of wine crates. The wine is arranged by country on shelves against the wall, like interactive art that’s always changing. You can select a bottle from the wine list but it’s more fun to pick one right from the wall.
Wine 69’s slogan is “wine for pairing, food for sharing.” It’s owner Ben Neji who does the wine sharing. He explains each wine and helps both the inexperienced and the experienced find the right one. “I wanted to introduce locals, the neighborhood, to what wine is, because wine is very complex and it changes a lot,” he says. Mr. Neji’s enthusiasm for wine is clear; he calls his wine his babies and explains their unique qualities and tastes like a proud father.
Mr. Neji grew up drinking wine in his native France. A civil engineer by training, Mr. Neji traveled around the world and came to Miami while working for Save the Children. In Miami Mr. Neji moved into the wine and food business, working as the Vice President of the World Trade Center Miami. He discovered the concept of a wine and food bar during a trip to London about 20 years ago. “It really emphasized the wine, and good quality wine,” Mr. Neji says. “I fell in love with it because I really love wine.”
Mr. Neji is passionate about encouraging customers with limited wine knowledge to develop their own love of wine. He first tries to put them at ease, which may be difficult when looking at Wine 69’s wine list.
“I try to explain the range of wines, and let them experiment with these wines and let them find something they like.”
To do just that, Wine 69 offers a variety of wine flights: three smaller glasses of one varietal or wines from one region. “People get to understand wines and compare them, and then discover something new,” says Mr. Neji.
If you’re looking for a bottle, Mr. Neji is happy to suggest one from his always evolving wine list. Prices range from around $20 to close to $200. Says Mr. Neji, “I tell everybody you never buy a wine based on price, you can find a bottle for $15 that scores 91 points in Wine Spectator, you can find a bottle for $200 that scores less than that.”
Wine 69 hosts tastings every Thursday night. For $15 you can try wines brought in by local distributors, and sometimes meet the winemakers. The wines are available for purchase at a discounted price. It’s also a chance for customers to make recommendations to Mr. Neji about wines he should offer at Wine 69.
The food for sharing is a Mediterranean-themed menu that features organic ingredients. Just as with the wine list, great care is put into selecting and crafting dishes — and it shows in their great taste. For appetizers, the beef carpaccio is delicate and flavorful. My personal favorite is the escargot. It’s a generous portion in a delicious garlic butter sauce that you’ll want to soak up with the accompanying bread. For entrees, the braised lamb shank is so tender you can eat it with a spoon and so tasty you’ll want to lick the bone.
On Mondays through Wednesdays, Wine 69’s prix fixe menu is hard to beat. It’s a three-course dinner for $29.69, which includes a glass of wine. If you’re looking for a light bite, Wine 69 has a dozen cheeses to choose from that are served with complementing sauces.
Along with wine and food, Wine 69 features local art. Says Mr. Neji, “I think the concept goes together because people who love wine in general love art, and people who are artistic like wine and good food.” The paintings that hang on the walls are available to purchase, with all the money going to the artist. Wine 69 also hosts live musical performances on Friday and Saturday nights. The next pairing Mr. Neji is working on is selecting wines to serve at a poetry and book reading.
The friendly and welcoming environment encourages customers to linger for more than just one glass. Wine 69 is open from 5:30 to 11pm Monday through Thursday and until midnight on Friday and Saturday. It’s not a firm closing time; if people want to stick around and enjoy the wine, Mr. Neji is happy to stay open.
“Nice conversation, nice music, nice wine, nice food, what’s better than that in life?”
Wine 69 is located at 6909 Biscayne Boulevard in Miami. For more information visit wine69miami.com.
Photos by Isaac Levitan