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 to Baltimore.
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