In some cities, vast, wine warehouse-bistros are as common as jammy merlots, but South Beach was notably lacking until friends Philippe Buchbinder and Jean-Luc Oizan Chapon opened Wine Depot & Bistro 555 in October. The clearly marked, geographically organized collection of bottles includes some 400 labels. France, of course, is well represented, from a 2007 Chateau Haut Beausejour from St. Estéphe ($26) to a 2001Chateau Cheval Blanc Premier Grand Cru from St. Émilion ($425).
A trophy Opus One 2007 is $195, but most bottles are $10 to $30, with loads of New World offerings. There are plenty of $6-$8 by-the-glass options for those who want to sample (half-bottles would be a welcome addition). A dozen Provencal rosés and champagnes in regular and large-format bottles are perfect for our climate and the menu. Perhaps best of all-besides the free parking -- is the sliding corkage: $7.50 for bottles under $30, $15 for pricier picks. The idea is that customers walk in, peruse the store and choose a bottle to have with their meal or take home. "Here all the restaurants are very traditional," says Oizan Chapon, former COO of Club Med. "I wanted to do something more casual, more New Yorky." Most evenings, a friendly sommelier dispenses advice as he works his way through a stark, white, windowless space that grows prettier with each sip.
Ambience: Patrons can dine inside the 7,000-square-foot-store or outdoors at marble-topped oak barrels or plop down at the stainless steel bar where a friendly bartender is as quick with a joke as a refill of gently cooled pinot noir.