Europe Articles & Reviews
Europe's Best Wine Bars
Whether you’re sipping in Spain or tippling in Turin, T+L has the spot for you.
By Sarah Storms, Anya von Bremzen
Step into Le Bar à Vin du CIVB, in Bordeaux, and it will likely change any preconceived notion of “wine bar.” Soaring ceilings and Neoclassical pillars give the place formality and breathing room, while pebble-shaped chairs and original artwork add accents and whimsy. And, oh yes, there’s wine—a selection that’s not only top flight, but also (surprise!) reasonably priced, starting at just $3 a glass.
Across Europe, wine bars are not only booming—they’re also changing. Sure, you can still find traditional, cozy, low-lit hideouts, but a new crop of vino-centric hangouts is turning the original idea upside down, combining impressive bottles with high-concept cuisine and high-design interiors.
The wine bar can be traced back to ancient Rome; colorful mosaics still stand depicting scenes of wine bars in Pompeii before Mount Vesuvius’s eruption in A.D. 79. Today, great wine bars have one thing in common: “variety,” says Jennifer Simonetti Bryan, Master of Wine (one of only four women in the U.S. with the title) and former Rémy Cointreau sommelier. Variety of wines and price points, and staffers with a variety and breadth of knowledge are essential. “There’s nothing more annoying than asking for a Grüner Veltliner and getting the “deer-in-the-headlights” response, when it’s clearly listed on the menu,” she says.
Of course, ambience also matters. Beyond Le Bar in Bordeaux, design-minded vinophiles should head to sleek and modern Wein & Co. in Vienna. This hot spot serves up 50 wines BTG (that’s “by the glass”), a Mediterranean menu, and a sprawling retail space that’s Vienna’s largest wine outlet. Expect to see more of these retail/bar combos; since taking flight in California a few years ago, they’ve quickly spread across Europe.
If you’re looking for a menu beyond the wine list, Turin’s cheery, sunlit Vineria Tre Galli supplements its 2,000-label offerings with velvety Parmesan-and-zucchini flan, tender osso bucco, and Piedmontese agnolotti pasta (not to mention Grom gelato and complimentary antipasti).
The next step in the wine bar phenomenon? Help-yourself wine vending machines like Clo in New York’s Time Warner Center, says Bryan, due to their “ease, diverse offerings, and oxygen-free environment, which is ideal for youthful wines.” Airport boîtes are trending, too, with suave Vino Volo outposts gracing gates from Seattle toBaltimore.
But for your next trip to Europe, bring this list. Whether it’s Beaujolais in Paris or Riesling in Berlin, here are the best wine-sampling spots across the Continent. —Sarah Storms
Garrafeira Alfaia, Lisbon
Snag one of the 18 wooden stools at this diminutive Bairro Alto boîte, where you can savor a singular Chardonnay from the emerging Alentejo region and be wowed by Barca Velha—a mythical Upper Douro red released only in exceptional years. The food is just as artisanal: black pig charcuterie; unctuous Azeitão, a sheep’s-milk cheese coagulated with cardoon thistle; and sericaia, an airy, eggy soufflé served with famed Elvas sugarplums. Light meal for two $47. —Anya von Bremzen
Los Asturianos, Madrid
This no-frills taberna in the Chamberí district is the unofficial clubhouse for the capital’s food and art crowds, and chef, journalist, and TV personality Alberto Fernández Bombín is your ultimate hipster host. That delicious fabada? The casserole of white beans and handmade chorizo and blood sausage is the work of his shy mom, Doña Julia.Dinner for two $90. —Anya von Bremzen
Le Bar à Vin du CIVB, Bordeaux
Bordeaux fusty and overpriced? Not at this bar run by the region’s wine council. Architect Françoise Bousquet has appointed the soaring Neoclassical space with whimsical pebble-shaped chairs and original artwork, including a grape-themed Aubusson tapestry. And who could complain about prices when $3.50 buys you a generous glass of cherry-nosed Château des Fougères La Folie de Montesquieu? Wines by the glass from $3. —Anya von Bremzen
The concise wine list here is a paean to France’s vin naturel gurus, such as the Jura region’s anti-sulfur crusader Pierre Overnoy and Beaujolais renegade Philippe Jambon. The same ethos rules in the kitchen, where the gifted Arpège veteran Sven Chartier roasts chicken from the poultry prince Pierre du Plantier and assembles beautiful salads with heirloom vegetables from the biodynamic potager he shares with his mentor, Alain Passard. Dinner for two $110. —Anya von Bremzen
“Bloody brilliant!” proclaimed Londoners when Terroirs opened near the Strand. The bi-level space faithfully evokes cozy Parisian bistros, the prices are fairly recession-proof, and the Franco-Italian 42-page wine list captures the eco-zeitgeist with such ultra-natural offerings as Sicilian amphora-aged Frappato from Cos or a range of Jean Foillard’s funky, cloudy Morgons. Praise goes, too, to the earthy menu: gutsy pot-roasted quail with pancetta or wicked salted-caramel crêpes. Dinner for two $95. —Anya von Bremzen
Tre Galli, Turin
Fashionable Turinese dig into a fabulous bagna cauda or a velvety parmesan-and-zucchini flan under the vaulted ceiling of this vineria in the happening Quadrilatero Romano neighborhood. Although heavy on pedigreed Piedmontese Barolos and Barbarescos, the 2,000-label list is global in reach. Arrive around six, when the counter is a bonanza of complimentary antipasti. Dinner for two $100. —Anya von Bremzen
Le Volpi e L’Uva, Florence
When Florence’s top sommeliers want to learn about wine trends, they claim a stool behind the horseshoe-shaped counter at this enoteca between the Ponte Vecchio and the Pitti Palace. That’s because the wine bar’s passionate owners keep ahead of the curve by crisscrossing Italy in search of emerging producers. Their chalkboard list of some 40 mostly Italian wines by the glass changes weekly and features such discoveries as the intensely fragrant, bone-dry Kuenhof Sylvaner from Alto Adige. Dinner for two $33. —Anya von Bremzen
Weinbar Rutz, Berlin
A wine store, bar, and Michelin-starred restaurant under one roof, this softly lit Mitte spot has a 900-bottle list that will transport a Riesling fanatic straight to Valhalla. Let the city swells ascend to the main restaurant; we prefer the gemütlich-plus menu at the bar downstairs. Anyone for puffy sliced bread dumplings served beside grandma-style beef roulade? Or a burger of Saumagen (a hog-maw sausage from Pfalz) gilded with foie gras and paired with Kallstadter Saumagen Riesling from the same region? Dinner for two $98. —Anya von Bremzen
Vinoteka Movia, Ljubljana
Slovenia’s intriguingly minerally whites—especially those produced by iconoclastic vintner Ales Kristancic—are a cult favorite among grape geeks. If you can’t make it to Movia, his winery on the Italian border, visit his wood-paneled wine bar in Ljubljana. Movia’s Lunar, a satiny, amber-colored white from the unpressed Ribolla Gialla grape, is the ultimate biodynamic experiment. To eat: sweet, dusky prsut that puts prosciutto di Parma to shame. Snacks for two $25. —Anya von Bremzen
Wein & Co., Vienna
The most central and handsome location of this design-centric mini-chain combines a bar, acres of retail space, and a restaurant where delicious Mediterranean fare—burrata cheese with arugula and 20-year-old vinegar from Austria’s Styria region—is complemented by up to 50 wines by the glass. Not enough? Grab any bottle from the store’s selection of 2,000 and have it opened for a mere $8 corkage fee. Lunch for two $28. —Anya von Bremzen