A-Z Rating of Shanghai's Newest Wine Bars: Part I

By Sophie Steiner, October 9, 2021

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In the last two years Shanghai has moved deep into the double digits with venues touting themselves as 'French wine bars.' Emphasis on natural wines, organic wines, New World wines, Old World wines, low-intervention wines – you name it – it's become a thing. Who knew the baby born out of Shanghai's COVID era would be a wine bar obsession?

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So what is it about all these venues that make them stand out? Is it synergy – that corporate buzz word that actually rings true when it comes to the continuity that flows between a curated wine list, expertly executed dishes and elegant design? Or is it more simple than that – luck, location, lineup of wines (or investors backing the venue)?

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We compiled a roundup of recently opened wine bars that have done it right, converting us, along with the entire population of Shanghai, into Parisian wannabes.... or simply winos.

While this list mainly focuses on the newbies (wine bars that have sprouted up in the last two years), that is not to say we have forgotten about some of the 'oldies but goodies.' Places like Le Verre a VinWine UniverseLe VinVinisim and Épicerie & Caviste 62 Le Bec are definitely still worth a stop-in. 

But, let's be honest, everyone likes to focus on the hottest newcomers. So here’s the A-Z list, starting with Part I.

Bar À Vin

Bar à Vin opened quietly on Jiashan Lu in mid-January 2020, in a manner that mirrors its co-owner Jeffrey Yao’s demeanor: humble and unpretentious. Yet, in the time it’s been open, it has garnered quite the reputation amongst those in the wine industry and a consistent following of regulars that keep the two-story dining area full every day of the week. 

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Family-style French comfort food is what you can expect to dine on at Bar à Vin, but, to keep it interesting, Jeffrey adds his own twist, like rounding out a plate with Thai or North African herbs and spices to add an unexpected yet welcomed surprise.

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Similar to other French wine bistros, like SOiF and Le Verre à Vin, there is no fixed wine menu. Just peruse the ever-rotating wine bottle selection, stacked like books in an old library along the wooden shelves that cover the entire northern wall on the first floor.

Bottles are loosely arranged by region and style, but with dozens of varieties of wines from France, Spain, Italy, Australia, the US, New Zealand and China, you could spend countless hours looking through before ever finding a duplicate.

For people who find themselves crippled by choice (like us) Jeffrey makes himself always available to offer expert recommendations. Bottles generally range from RMB250 to RMB700.

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Jeffrey also makes sure to stock wines from major wine regions like Burgundy and the Rhône Valley in France, or La Mancha in Spain, yet simultaneously curates a list sporting matchless bottles that even Shanghai’s most well-known sommeliers are surprised by. 

Although he leans towards organic, he doesn’t just follow the latest trends of natural wines. Jeffrey wants to make sure his wine selection is always evolving based on customers’ preferences, ensuring that it’s fitting for wine nerds and noobs alike. 

Read a full review here. See a listing for Bar à Vin.

Blaz

Blaz helped breathe new life into the heritage villa on Donghu Lu that used to house the old elEFANTE. Simon Briens, co-founder of RAC, is in charge of all things wine, while Chris Zhu (formerly of Bird + Bitter) is pulling out the stops when it comes to food. The canteen and wine bar soft opened roughly a year ago, and it has been nearly impossible to get a table ever since. 

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Known in the industry for his fusion techniques, Zhu combines Chinese ingredients with typically French dishes, making each bite that much more thought-provoking and engaging for his customers.

Our number one tip for Blaz: bring your stretchy pants – you will want to try it all. 

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Moving onto the wine, Blaz offers five rotating daily options by the glass from around the world. On the day we visited, we sampled a tart Australian Riesling, a fruity French Malbec and a Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand with notably higher acidity than expected.

Wines by the bottle span from RMB300-2,800, with most falling in the RMB500-700 range. 

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A lively atmosphere is set by the funky upbeat playlist, friendly service and enthusiastic clientele. The expansive patio shared with fellow villa dwellers Cellar to Table has warm, dim mood lighting, ideal for afternoon sitting and sipping.

Read a full review here. See a listing for Blaz.

BISOU

BISOU, a casual yet sleek French restaurant, opened in Taikang Terrace this past April with a lot of warranted buzz (one of the partners is a well-known media mogul). The venue is split into two, BISOU and BISOU Rouge Cellar – a wine bar plus cellar – located across from each other. 

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The food menu is designed by chef/partner Rembrandt Van Der Laan (previously of La Creperie), drawing on his experience working at both the Eiffel Tower restaurant and at Alain Ducasse’s 3-star Le Plaza Athénée.

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Seven main courses and about as many appetizers and sides are scrawled in white letters on a chalkboard that is carried tableside for ordering convenience, making it easy to form a coherent meal, complimented by mostly Old World wines. 

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Wines by the glass start at RMB48, with house wine options changing bi-monthly. Every week, roughly 10 wines are selected and featured as wines of the week, showcasing the extensive spread of more than 100 unique labels on offer.

If your wine knowledge is minimal, all of the waitstaff are well trained to make a suggestion for you based on your budget. Bottles fall within the range of RMB250-1,600, with the most common price coming in at roughly RMB300-400 each. 

Read a full review here. See a listing for BISOU.

Cellar to Table

Cellar to Table popped on the scene as yet another French wine bar in the heritage villa on Donghu Lu that used to house elEFANTE. Owners Philippe Huser and Karen Ma have a leg up, in that they also own Napa Wine Bar & Kitchen (currently closed for renovation, with the rest of Bund 22).

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Cellar to Table is the everyday, cozy alternative to NAPA – like dining in your friend’s living room... if your friend happened to have a beyond impressive wine cellar and a critically-acclaimed chef on hand. 

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From the warm lighting and homey fireplace to the friendly yet curt service, can't-pick-wrong menu and generous pours on arrival (starting at just RMB40, we might add), everything feels intimate, relaxed and comfortable at this classically French spot. 

The tome of a wine menu – featuring Old World unusual finds and New World imports alike – is not what you would expect to flip through while Biggie Smalls’ ‘Big Poppa’ plays across the venue, but it somehow keeps in line with the easy-going ‘just hanging at your friend’s place’ vibe.

Select a comfy spot next to the fireplace, curl up with your magnum of red, grab some dishes to share and prepare for the most lux ‘staying in night’ to date. 

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In a world of ‘modern’ and ‘inventive’ twists, Cellar to Table’s menu stands out in that it’s not trying to reinvent the wheel. Straightforward and to the point, each element of the venue has its purpose without the unnecessary sparkles and frills that can so often detract from the whole.

Read a full review here. See a listing for Cellar to Table.

Dosage

Cafe by day, Dosage's cozy space switches into more of a wine bar vibe after 6pm. Coffee drinks are available throughout the day and into the night, as is wine. And if you want a pastry in the evening or a cheese board in the morning, no one will tell you off. 

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The wine lineup is also quite exclusive, which is getting harder for a venue to boast, given the explosion of inimitable wine bars around town over the last few years. We sampled a crisp yet juicy orange natural wine from Ningxia, the only venue in Shanghai to offer this specific, delicious variety.

Wines by the glass go for RMB58-88 and bottles generally range from RMB300-700. 

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Whether you like sweets or not, you will finish your plate at Dosage – recipe creator and pastry queen Vanessa Miao has made sure of that. Aside from pastries, Dosage does dabble in savory snacks like cold cuts, cheese platters and avocado salad for those looking for something more substantial to pair with that bottle of rare wine. 

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The always busy location and constant foot traffic keep the space bumping at all hours of the day, and with a stellar playlist and reliable WIFI, you will find us happily posted up here in the AM with a coffee (or a glass of wine, no judgment) for a few hours. 

Read a full review hereSee a listing for Dosage.


READ MORE: A-Z Rating of Shanghai's Newest Wine Bars: Part II

And...

READ MORE: A-Z Rating of Shanghai's Newest Wine Bars: Part III

So which is the best? Well, that's a complicated answer. Each fits its own unique niche. There are options that are all about the wine, and others that are better for food.

Some push a high-end date night vibe, while others are ideal for casual weekday sipping. A few on the list we opt for pre-dinner, yet a handful we tend to visit more for a nightcap.

We're just here to present the info – you pick your poison. 

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