Best Wine Store (2006)

Best Time Wine
Happy Wine and Gourmet

These sister shops, which sit ten blocks apart on Calle Ocho, carry a wide variety of inexpensive yet tasty wines. They also offer some specimens so rare and prized they'd make the most seasoned sommelier salivate. Stashed behind Best Time's counter, for example, is a bottle of 1967 Château d'Yquem ($700) -- one of the most choice vintages from a famed Bordeaux vineyard that hand-selects each grape. The stores' uncommon vinous medley comes care of Philippe Douriez, their gentle-mannered French proprietor. Not only does he cultivate variety by rotating his stock, but he also searches out coveted vintages and welcomes new wines from little-known vineyards. In addition, he buys in bulk, which allows him to offer among the best prices in town. But customers say value and variety are just a part of the stores' appeal. Both locations have a low-key, unpretentious vibe and delightfully funky décor. (At Happy Wine, the carpet is tattered, the walls are covered with graffiti, and the water-stained ceilings resemble a giant Rorschach test.) And around lunchtime both morph into lively cafés serving tapas to a spirited, mostly Cuban crowd that clusters around tables crafted from wine barrels and rickety crates. Happy Wine also offers live music five nights a week, which brings merengue and salsa dancers out en masse and occasionally spawns conga lines. Note that Fridays are by far the liveliest, but they're also the most crowded, so it's best to arrive early if you want a table.


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