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Shanghai wine bars for the anti-snob
A guide to the best places to sniff, swirl and sip in town without any snootiness
If a bottle of wine is in your future, but you just don’t know where yet, this Shanghai wine bar round up will help you find the right locale for the occasion.
Far from a wine snob’s world, Shanghai wine bars are proving that they can accommodate (and forgive) every type of wine drinker whether your palate is developed or unable to distinguish between Sauternes and Sauvignon Blanc.
Here’s our breakdown of the most popular and most versatile Shanghai wine bars.
Shanghai wine bar breakdown: This David Laris-stamped wine bar comes to life with the balmier weather. Fat Olive is two-thirds terrace and affordable, despite being close to Xintiandi. It’s all about al fresco consumption and lazy afternoons and more about the overall experience than just the wine. Enjoy Fat Olive’s view of the Old City and Pudong during sunset whether you’re drinking with a buddy or going solo. They offer 14 mostly New World wines by the glass (RMB 39-77) and a straightforward selection of a dozen wines by the bottle (the cheapest is RMB 110).
How’s the food? Greek snacks, including a very fresh Greek salad. Treat it all like tapas.
Keep in mind: The by-the-bottle selection is not extensive -- though it doesn’t need to be for this type of casual wine bar. Staff are dressed like California raisins. And if it’s raining? You’ll have to come back another day or bear the cramped interior.
Best for: Office workers celebrating the end of the work day. Visiting with tourist friends for the view (although it’s no Bund view). Summer and Spring boozing for those who like a sparkler and white wine dominated menu.
Recommendations (under RMB 400):
White: De Bortoli Selection, Chardonnay, Australia (RMB 148)
Red: De Bortoli Selection, Shiraz, Australia (RMB 148)
Rene Bardier Rosade Classic, Spain
According to Andre Lense, the man behind the wine list: “A fantastic rose, easy to drink and just the right wine for a warm Sunday afternoon on the terrace.”
Retsina, Greece (RMB 110)
According to Andre Lense: “A very interesting wine with a specific taste. Not everyone’s favorite but worth a try in a Greek-inspired wine bar.”
Fat Olive, 6/F, Silver Court Complex, 228 Xizang Nan Lu, near Huaihai Lu 西藏南路228号6楼, 近淮海路, +86 21 6334 3288, www.thefatolive.com
Shanghai wine bar breakdown: Enoteca is synonymous with “wine bar” in Shanghai -- the result of being first on the scene and maintaining their high standards. They directly import their wines from boutique wineries through their parent wine supplier, “Enoterra”, allowing them to offer wines for better prices. Their list includes about 150 labels (the cheapest bottle is RMB 98) with the red wine list divided into three sections -- playful, sensualist and hedonist (translation: "light, medium and full bodied," according to co-owner Marc-Antoine Malia) -- to make it easier on their casual-drinking customers.
Hows the food? The cheese board you see on every table is an Enoteca signature. It was good before, but now it’s even better since they started using Phillipe Olivier cheeses (five cheeses including a Camembert from Normandy, a bleu from Auvergne, a Comte and a raw milk cheese) while maintaining the original price. Malia recommends the duo of tartare.
Keep in mind: Enoteca seems to be everyone’s neighborhood wine bar. It’s always packed, even on weekday nights after dinner. So reserve in advance if you’re going with a party of three or more.
Best for: Even if you don't seek out wine bars, you’ve probably met your friends here for some occasion -- a glass of wine, jazz night or perhaps brunch. Enoteca is the norm for casual wine drinkers so the question to ask really is, why not go to Enoteca?
Recommendations (under RMB 300):
White: Van Loveren Blanc de Blanc, 70 percent Colombar and 30 percent Sauvignon Blanc blend, South Africa (RMB 145)
Description: “This wine has the fruity character of Colombar combined with the grassiness of Sauvignon Blanc to make a harmonious wine with a fruity nose and a dry palate.”
Red: Don Balthazar Petit Verdot, Argentina (RMB 220)
Description: “This is a very exotic group. In the mouth it is sweet and delicate, with floral notes. It tastes of black fruits covered by vanilla and chocolate. Creamy and unique.”
Sauska Villany Cuvee 7, 41 percent Merlot, 59 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, Hungary (RMB 483)
Description: “Deep red purple color. Aromas of black fruits and cherry mingling with anise and graphite. Flavors of sweet black berries, currant and plum exude from a dense core just starting to reveal its full depth. A bold and ripe wine, the sweet tannins persist, creating a long pleasant finish. A surprising wine from Hungary, it gives guests the opportunity to try a wine from a region not widely known for wine. It’s as good as a Bordeaux.”
Management says: “We import 95 percent of our wine list directly and we try as much as possible to make a balanced list. Sometimes we make trips to the vineyards and talk to the wine makers. We like to surprise people with new items, but also provide the bottles that wine lovers like and are familiar with.”
Enoteca, 53-57 Anfu Lu, near Wulumuqi Lu 安福路53-57号, 近乌鲁木齐路 + 86 21 5404 0050; 58 Taicang Lu, near Jinan Lu 太仓路58号, 近济南路 +86 21 5404 0050, enoteca.com.cn
Shanghai wine shop breakdown: Under new management since early June, Cuvee floats somewhere between the middle and the high-end wine bar range. The new owners have installed a small selection of cocktails, but kept the “interactive” element of their wine business: customers are guided into a temperature-controlled wine room and then choose from the changing selection (30 percent French, 30 percent Australian, 40 percent rest of the world -- mostly New World). Atmosphere feels rather intimate due to the bar and lounge sofa set-up. According to part-owner Alan Duffy, Cuvee is apparently frequented by ladies enjoying girls nights out over wine. Guys, are you taking notes?
Hows the food? The food menu here is minimal. Actually, it’s not even a menu, just a blackboard of offerings. Duffy recommends the cheese fondue and the crostini.
Best for: If you’re flying solo, come here for the selection of wines by the glass for RMB 55-65. You can choose from an unusually large selection -- five white, five reds (usually it’s 10 wines, but sometimes they will have up to 16). In general, Cuvee is more geared towards people with a few years of wine experience and are willing to pay a bit more. But on the weekend afternoons, bring your friends and do the cost-effective wine buffet (Saturdays 3-7pm, RMB 148 for a selection of 10 wines and various cocktails) or the beer buffet (Fridays 5-8pm, RM B88 for a selection of 10 beers, two rotating and eight imported) if you’re not prepared to pay Cuvee’s standard of RMB 350 or more for a bottle of wine. On the other hand, if you are hardcore, bring your favorite bottles to blind taste with Cuvee’s Tuesday wine club members.
Keep in mind: This place can be hard to find if you’re going for the first time. It’s tucked into a small lane with Kaiba and Crocus -- so pay attention to the signs.
Recommended (for under RMB 400):
White: Terrace Heights Estate Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, 2008, New Zealand (RMB 375)
Description: “It’s a safe bet that pleases a lot of palates. The thing, when you’re describing Sauvignon Blanc, it actually sounds kind of disgusting. Apparently the ideal Sauvignon Blanc is suppose to taste like cat piss on a nettle, or asparagus. But anyway, this wine is clean, crisp with a certain acidity compared to oaky Chardonnays. It’s perfect for summer.”
Red: Clancy’s from Peter Lehmann, Barossa Valley Shiraz, a blend of Shiraz, Merlot and Cabernet (RMB 425)
Description: “It’s a blend, so it hits a lot of flavor palates well. Soft, medium tannins with good fruit. This is a wine that when a group orders it, they almost always go for a second or third bottle.”
Cypress de Climens, Barsac, France (RMB 885)
Description: “This is not technically a white. Barsac is near the Sauternes area of France. This is a dessert wine -- it tastes like an angel crying on your tongue. It has orange zest on the nose. When you taste it is very sweet and has a thick, marmalade flavor. Tastes wonderful with blue cheese and crusty bread. It just goes on forever on your palate. We’re pretty sure it’s the nectar of the gods.”
Management says: “We offer wines that you can’t find elsewhere. Some of these are real bargains for what you’re getting.”
Cuvee, 528 Kangding Lu near Xikang Lu康定路528号近西康路, +86 21 6288 1198, cuvee.net.cn
Shanghai wine shop breakdown: Half wine bar and half wine shop, Just Grapes is about making wine accessible to everyone. According to part-owner Jonathan Li, the majority of their clientele are hip, young Chinese, followed by expats -- mostly casual drinkers who don’t care to know that their chosen red boasts a hint of manure on the nose and a “laser-like” finish. Just Grapes avoids getting esoteric by categorizing every bottle of wine with stickers to indicate the flavor structure rather than varietal or region. Your wine can be “fresh”, “smooth”, “rich”, “special” or a combination of these. Generally, wines on offer are fruity, mild to semi-sweet to cater to the Shanghainese palate, says Li.
How’s the food? We recommend the lasagna and the pizza.
Best for: In the day time, the under-utilized wine bar with its free WiFi and peacefulness (it’s on the second floor, relatively isolated from the chatter of first floor wine shop customers and staff) is perfect for a glass of wine and a date with your laptop. At night, it’s a nice alternative for groups of friends who prefer their wine in a 100 percent non-smoking environment and with uninterrupted conversation.
Keep in mind: Not every staffer can offer recommendations, so you may have to rely on those stickers.
Recommended (under RMB 400):
White: Arboleda Sauvignon Blanc (RMB 358)
Description: “Citrus aromas and freshly cut grass blended with light notes of asparagus, tomato leaf and green chili. A fresh and well-rounded palate framed by a bright acidity and minerality.”
Red: Familia Mayol Cuatro Primos (RMB 338)
Description: “A very nicely concentrated wine with power and balance. Very expressive accents of ripe berries and clove with undertones of vanilla in the nose. Undulating currents of these velvety round berries. Notes of spice and blackcurrant at the finish.”
Corte Riva Napa Merlot, 2005 (RMB 758)
Description: “This 100 percent Merlot from three well known vineyards (Kenefick, Blackbird, Switchback Ridge) exhibits a deep concentration of fruit flavors such as blackberries and black cherries along with a big thick and juicy mid-palate and undeniable succulence and hedonism. 91 points.”
Management says: “Our hope is that people will keep coming back and discover new wines. In the United States you might find one varietal that you like. Say you only drink Chardonnays -- then you get into this ‘Chardonnay box’. We arrange our wines by overall taste so that novices and experienced wine drinkers can discover new varietals they might like.”
Just Grapes, 462 Dagu Lu, near Shimen Yi Lu 大沽路462号, 近石门一路, +86 21 3311 3205; 162 Anfu Lu, near Wulumuqi Zhong Lu 安福路162号, 近乌鲁木齐中路, +86 21 5404 6505, www.justgrapes.cn
Other Shanghai wine bars to try:
Dr Wine: This large, new wine bar on Fumin Lu spanning two floors with an industrial exposed brick look with a bit of dark wood and refurbished “Old Shanghai” leather thrown in for a cozy-yet-modern look. The doctor directly imports some of the wines that sommelier (and former wine importer) Vincent Landais deems good enough.
177 Fumin Lu, near Julu Lu, 富民路177号, 近巨鹿路, +86 21 5403 5717
Tai Wine: Located on Taikang Lu, the small size of the bar betrays its impressive wine list. Enjoy the exposed-brick decor inside, or ask to go upstairs (careful, steep doesn’t come close to describing the staircase) to the dark-wood second floor and cozy terrace, which overlooks the lane.
No. 38, Lane 248 Taikang Lu, near Sinan Lu 泰康路248弄38号, 近思南路, +86 21 6473 3001
Epicvre: An extensive wine list at the Shanghai wine bar is complemented by a solid snack menu and frequent tastings. The open and relaxed atmosphere is a change of pace from some of Shaghai’s more low-lit oenephile residences.
98 Xinle Lu, near Xiangyang Lu 新乐路98号, 近襄阳路, +86 21 5404 7719; 16 Nanchang Lu, near Yandang Lu 南昌路116号, 近雁荡路, +86 21 5306 8365, www.epicvre.com
Roosevelt Private Celler and Wine Vault: International restaurateur George Chen and partner H. Delano Roosevelt are sure to make their mark once again with yet another luxurious addition to their Shanghai culinary entourage. Just steps away from its namesake steak house, Marshall Mansion’s newest resident, the Roosevelt Private Cellar & Wine Vault, serves up legendary old-world glamor. Wines are hand-picked by Bay Area native Chen and fellow renowned wine professional Markus Wong. The portfolio keeps a primary focus on American high-end wines, but doesn't neglect key international labels, spirits and collector's pieces.
160 Taiyuan Lu, near Yongjia Lu 太原路160号, 近岳阳路, +86 6433 8240
Rather take away than drink in? Check out our "Ultimate Shanghai wine shop guide"