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

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, Part II.

Forage 

Positioning themselves as modern-day food and wine rebels without a cause, Forage owners Jill Jiang, Fan Gao and William Zhu (SOiF) want to be the anti-boring kickback at what they feel has taken over the wine industry in Shanghai.

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Coming from a background of high-end kitchens (including Ultraviolet and Maison Lemolaise), the hodge-podge group of friends aim to create a funky wine bar that is unabashedly independent, with the main goal of doing something purely experimental – the kind of place they themselves would choose to hang.

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The wine program is the focus, designed by William Zhu to show his attitude towards the nectar of the gods – clean on the palette, well-made and interesting in regards to winemaker, region or flavor. Expect to choose from 200 bottles at any given time, ranging in price from RMB400-800 per bottle and RMB70-110 per glass. 

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Drinks aren’t limited to just wine. You’ll find trendy sour beers, honey mead and ciders, fitting into their loosely structured plan of ‘we don’t care what it is, as long as it’s exciting and tastes good.’

Chef Mario Fu (Grand Banks) leads the charge on food, combining his avant-garde style that stems from experience working in Michelin-star restaurants in Spain, Nordic Noma’s sister restaurant in Tokyo and his Chinese heritage for a mishmash of cuisines that are not defined by one particular style.

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Instead, each dish is broken down into two main elements – a seasonal component and a preserved one. Because of this, the menu will change regularly as ingredients go in and out of season; that’s the meaning behind forage, always a constant push to look for inspiration.

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

Le Saleya Bar à Vin 

Winner of the That's Shanghai New Restaurant of the Year 2020, Bar à Vin took over La Saleya on Changle Lu in December, making it Le Saleya Bar à Vin. With more of a 'home-style' feel, the French food is rustic, country eats and classically simple, yet still paired with a stellar wine selection. 

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The wine list, covering more than 320 vintages at any given time, is 90% French – a contrast to the original Bar à Vin's wine list that represents a global selection. But, with so much hailing from France, you can really discover one-off bottles and wines from small producers spanning a wide range of varietals that clock in from RMB250 to RMB700 per bottle.

There are around 10 reds, whites and sparkling available by the glass for RMB60-75.

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After taking over the space, owner Jeffrey Yao completely overhauled the menu that now offers everyday French fare like duck rilletes, Burgundy-style snails, terrine, beef tartare and braised frog legs. 

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A few summery bits and bobs – gazpacho with baby squid salad, tuna tartare and Hokkaido scallops in lobster sauce also grace the menu for the time being, best enjoyed in the quaint outdoor (yet covered from the elements) garden that is always full when the weather is nice. 

See a listing for Le Saleya Bar à Vin.

Mavis

Mavis rounds out the new French wine bars that hit Shanghai in 2020. This 30-seater 'neo bistro' features natural wines, French culinary techniques and a hip unpaved cement wall surfaced with graffiti by local artists.

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Starting in August, the kitchen moved over to a fully set menu concept, where each diner can choose from a range of appetizers, starters, mains and desserts, with three courses for RMB398 and four courses for RMB428.

The major upside to the set menu is that diners at the same table don’t need to order the same set, meaning you can share with others at your table to taste a wider variety of dishes than before.

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The by the glass wine menu changes monthly, with 80% of the wines coming from France and the rest being predominantly Italian and Spanish. Although the owner is Australian, you’ll be lucky to find a cheeky Aussie or Kiwi wine on the shelves, hidden near the back.

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The wine classification system differs from the norm – instead of the typical categorization, with wines broken down by region or kind, the wine room at Mavis is separated into Classic (wines that are true to their varietal), Funky (small vineyard, higher acidity or funky tasting notes) and Easy (wines that can be enjoyed by anyone at any time with any food pairing). 

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While most direct competitors focus on the Funky category, Mavis puts a strong emphasis on traditional wines to pair with some of their more characteristically French dishes. That being said, they don’t actively sport any big-name wine brands; exclusive is still the key to a well curated and interesting list.

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

Ottimo

Only curiosity would bring one to Surpass Court on Yongjia Lu, a somewhat ‘cursed’ area where many a restaurant has gone to die. But, in late December, co-owner of the auspiciously renao SOiFLi Ze, decided to put an end to that streak by opening Ottimo

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The interior’s most prominent feature is its walk-in wine closet, presenting mostly Old World wines – many from Burgundy or Bordeaux, with a few Super Tuscans sprinkled in. Like SOiF, there is no wine list and the selection is constantly changing.

Unlike SOiF, the classic wines found here are geared towards the older, more developed palate – very few of those funky natural wines adorn these shelves. The sake selection is smaller yet equally well-curated. 

Bottles range from RMB400-1,500 for the most part, and wines by the glass, which rotate monthly, fall between RMB65-95. 

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The food is mainly Italian braided together with French cuisine, seasonal Asian ingredients and a bias for assertive flavors. Approachable and somewhat playful, the menu is not intimidating – be it a first date or a 101st date, selections are straightforward. 

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Like its sister restaurant SOiF, Ottimo is humming with lively energy. The strategized flow of plates whizzing past, wine pouring into glasses and laughter emanating from various corners of the space is a choreographed dance, rather than a chaotic shuffle.

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


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

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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Le Saleya Bar à Vin: Classic French Fare & Wine in Quaint Garden

'Home-style' feels, rustic, country eats French food plus a stellar wine selection

Shanghai's Newest Wine Bar Rōzo芦苇 is So Hot, It's On Fire

Something about fire in unexpected places is equal parts dangerous & sultry. Bonus if it reflects off wine glasses.

A Bottle Shop with a Wine Bar Vibe at theWarehouse

Favorably priced wines and nibbles in a retail space

Experimental Wine Bar Forage Doesn't Care if You Don't Get It

A wine bar by and for wine geeks and food nerds

Emilie Steckenborn on the World of Wine in China

We chat with Steckenborn, a Canadian who’s been in China for almost a decade.

Mavis, a Neo-Bistro French Wine Bar with UK Flare

Mavis rounds out the new French wine bars hitting Shanghai in 2020 - classically French yet with a British twist, this spot is all about the cozy atmosphere.

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