Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Wine bar: Paris, Berlin, New York City, London

If you go to a winebar or a restaurant in Berlin, London, New York City or Paris, you will be surprised how different the wine lists are.

Paris is extremely inward looking. It is very difficult to find a non-French wine there. But Paris is the capital of France, with the most famous wine producers in the world. Though limited to French wines, Wine lists tend to be wide and deep. You often find French wines on the wine card that are impossible to drink outside of France. I appreciate the sometimes stunning selection of wines from the South West, like the Iroulegy, made from the Tannat grape. And of course, in the Michelin starred restaurants you tend to have an amazing selection of Bordeaux and Bourgogne wines.

The French have a strong resistance against wines from anywhere else in the world. When I lived in Paris, I invited friends for dinner and prepared a coq au vin, the French fricassee of rooster cocked with wine, lardons, mushrooms and garlic, and wanted drink a Australian Shiraz with it. My friends were disturbed—because only a Pomerol works with coq au vin!!

People in Berlin, and in Germany in general, are pretty lukewarm, when it comes to wines from the New World, in particular wines from the US. The Germans have a strong suspicion towards wine produced not in the Old World as they believe that in the New World too much hanky panky is going on in the wine cellar during the fermentation and maturing of the wine. In the good wine bars like Rutz – see my posting of August 31, 2009 -- you will find an excellent selection of German Rieslings and Spaetburgunder, coupled with a good selection of other European wines, in particular French, Italian, Spanish and Austrian wines. New World wines are on the list, but the selection is very limited.

In New York, Europe is far away and the American wines get the recognition that they deserve. Wines from California, Oregon and Washington State are the backbone of the wine lists and you also get a wide selection of other New World wines, though Old World wines are a must for any wine bar and restaurant in New York City. German Rieslings are very difficult to come by, in particular dry German Rieslings. One exception is Spruce, in San Francisco, which has about 150 German Rieslings on its wine list, though most of them are sweet. See my posting of earlier today.

London is the only capital of the four countries that does not have its own wine, at least not yet in meaningful quantities. But it is the center of the Commonwealth, the successor of the British Empire. In my view, London is the most cosmopolitan city of the four reviewed capitals. And this shows in the wine lists. These are broad, covering all major regions, though the selection of American wines tends to be limited. You find an excellent selection of Australian and New Zealand wines in London. I reviewed The Providores and Tapa Room in London in a posting of October 16, 2009, which has an outstanding selection of wines from New Zealand.

The other element that has influenced the wine offered in London is the British French axis. Down the centuries, the histories of both countries often interlocked and sometimes merged. William of Normandy conquered much of England in 1066. French princesses became English queens: Isabella, daughter of Philip the Fair, married Edward II ; Catherine of Valois, daughter of Charles VI of France, wed Henry V. In the 12th century, the marriage of the English Henry Plantagenet and the French Alienor d”Aquitaine made the province of Aquitaine English territory, and thenceforth the majority of Bordeaux was exported to the UK. It opened the Bordeaux region to the English market and since then Bordeaux wines have remained very popular in the UK. I reviewed the Vat Wine Bar, a French inspired wine bar and restaurant in London, in a posting on October 16, 2009.

Finally, the Brits have the saying “Good Hock keeps off the doc” meaning “Good wine from Hochheim, or more generally from Germany, keeps you healthy”. Frankly, I have not yet found a bar or a restaurant with a decent selection of good quality German wine in London.


  1. Excellent! If you want to drink German Riesling in NYC, go to Terroir in East Village... Amazing!

  2. Exactly ... and Ten Bells