Destinations

A sommelier's guide to Paris's wine bars

Sommelier Stefania Genisio, an alumna of Bones, Hong Kong's Belon and Sydney restaurant Fred's, shares her tips for drinking natural in Paris, the wine bar capital of the world.

Le Mary Celeste, one of the Paris wine bars that make the must-visit list of sommelier Stefania Genisio
Le Mary Celeste

I don't remember why I moved to Paris but when I go back now, it's for the wine. I grew up in Piedmont, in the north of Italy, where drinking wine is very much part of everyday life. When I was 11 years old I travelled to London with my sommelier aunt and her husband, a chef. They took me for lunch to Simpson's in the Strand, a bastion of British culinary tradition, and though I was too young to order wine, I was electrified by the experience of eating in so storied a restaurant.

Years later, after an attempt to break into fashion styling, I found my interest in wine growing. Learning about the regions, the history and the secrets of the grape was suddenly more interesting than assisting photographers in the freezing streets of Shoreditch. Then I found myself in Paris, where eating out was more affordable and the opportunities to learn seemed endless.

I worked as a sommelier at Bones and Heimat, where wine wasn't simply an everyday thing so much as the thing we discussed and thought about all day long. Sometimes we'd even drink some.

Le Baratin (photo by Carla Coulson)
Le Baratin (photo by Carla Coulson)

I'm often asked by friends where to drink wine in Paris. The truth is that it is not hard to drink well in Paris, but if your interest runs through the natural, the artisanal, the unusual and the experimental, as my taste does, then I have plenty of suggestions to get you started on your own Paris wine journey.

I haven't detailed all the places I like on this list. Le Verre Volé, for instance, Jones, Red House, Le Chateaubriand and Septime all remain close to my heart and I recommend them to you unconditionally. What I hope to give you instead is a collection of bars and restaurants that offers maximum variety and stimulation.

Aux Deux Amis

Each night, before the doors open, people line up in hopes of getting a seat at the counter or at one of the few tables at this tiny bar in the 11th. Aux Deux Amis, with its '70s décor, neon lightning and the mirrored wall behind the bar, is loud, joyful and feels like a time capsule. The menu offers plenty of tapas, from jamón Ibérico to grilled sardines and potato tortilla. The wine offer is playful and exciting. David Loyola, the owner, sources his wines directly from the producers, which means more affordable bottles and a better chance of discovering up-and-coming winemakers. Where else could you find a Marie et Vincent Tricot for less than $50?
45 rue Oberkampf, 75011, +33 1 58 30 38 13

La Buvette

A buvette is a small venue that acts as both bottle shop and bar. But this definition doesn't do justice to Camille Fourmont's venture. La Buvette offers inspired apéro-sized dishes such as bergamot zest on white beans, cédrat and smoked tuna and burrata sprinkled with powdered mandarin skin. The wine list is tightly focused on low-intervention methods of production, and changes so often that Fourmont says "it's hard to mention something more than something else" when asked about which wines to look for now. It's also home to a regular program of wine tastings and pop-ups – follow the bar on Instagram for the latest. Come spring and summer, a hip and arty crowd populates the footpath out the front.
67 rue Saint Maur, 75011, +33 9 83 56 94 11, instagram.com/la.buvette.paris

Smoked herring, sweed purée, pickled quince and radish at Le Mary Celeste
Smoked herring, sweed purée, pickled quince and radish at Le Mary Celeste

Vivant

When restaurateur Pierre Jancou opened the doors in 2012, Vivant Cave was an instant hit. Today, under different ownership, and having dropped the "Cave", this kitchen counter and cellar remains an institution. The menu by chef Pierre Touitou (previously of Gagnaire, Miznon and Aux Deux Amis) changes daily and the extensive by-the-glass wine list keeps regulars coming back meal after meal. The crowd here tends to be effortlessly sexy and maddeningly branché (that's Parisian slang for "cool and connected").
43 rue des Petites Écuries, 75010, +33 01 42 46 43 55, vivantparis.com

Le Grand Bain

Recently opened by British chef Edward Delling-Williams (previously of Au Passage), Le Grand Bain has dark, sleek interiors and soft lighting which attract photographers and creative directors during fashion weeks, and party-goers and bon vivants year-round. Come with a small group of friends to enjoy the fresh seafood, the chickpea panisse and the large selection of mostly French wines. It's the place to go for reasonably priced gems from the Loire Valley such as the vins-de-France (VDFs, if you will – wines that don't conform to traditional appellations) of Alexandre Bain and Pierre-Olivier Bonhomme.
14 rue Dénoyez 75020, + 33 (0) 9 83 02 72 02, legrandbainparis.com

Comice

Trust in the refined taste of co-owner Etheliya Hananova. The Canadian sommelier has more than two decades of experience (L'Astrance and Le Sergent Recruteur figure on her CV, as does singing opera), and is unblinking in her vision for what should or should not be included on the exhaustive wine list. Under her watch, Comice's selection offers elegant wines produced with artisanal techniques such as the Chablis from Château de Béru and Fanny Sabre's Meursault. Hananova's passion is so contagious that listening to her talk about wine is a pleasure in itself.
31 avenue de Versailles, 75016, +33 (0)1 42 15 55 70, comice.paris

La Buvette
La Buvette

Le Mary Celeste

Five years after opening, this oyster bar is as dynamic a player as ever on the international cocktail scene. Located between the Marais and Place de la République, Le Mary Celeste is the place to go after work to decompress and observe how the local hip crowd socialises. The hexagonal counter places the bartenders at the centre of the scene. Josh Fontaine, one of the bar's founders, travels all over France to source natural wines for a list that offers both established and lesser-known labels.
1 rue Commines, 75003, +33 9 80 72 98 83, quixotic-projects.com/venue/mary-celeste

Le Baratin

Raquel Carena opened Le Baratin 30 years ago in Belleville, a former working-class district that is now better known for its independent bookstores, art studios and markets. Back then, selling wines other than Bordeaux crus and Burgundies was considered a bolder move than it is today. That pioneering spirit lives on in Le Baratin's cellar: the bistro can be found on the map of every natural wine enthusiast hoping to find rare bottles and unicorn labels. There's no wine list, so I suggest planning a visit in the company of a regular customer, if you're lucky enough to have one among your friends.
3 rue Jouye-Rouve, 75020, +33 1 43 49 39 70

White beans and bergamot zest, and burrata with mandarin skin powder at La Buvette
White beans and bergamot zest, and burrata with mandarin skin powder at La Buvette

Martin - Boire et Manger

Martin is one of those places where plans for a quick snack and a glass of wine dissolve with the appearance of familiar faces, and all too easily it becomes an all-night eating and drinking adventure. Gareth Eoin Storey has done time in London cooking under Fergus Henderson, which translates in his kitchen here to a nose-to-tail approach to cooking and dishes such as sausage-stuffed trotter, rabbit terrine and deep-fried tripe. The cellar offers many affordable options and the opportunity to find apéro-friendly wines from regions such as Languedoc Roussillon and the Rhône. Storey's pedigree may be British but Martin feels French to the core.
24 blvd du Temple, 75011, +33 1 43 57 82 37, bar-martin.fr

Deck & Donohue

This brewery on the outskirts of Paris doesn't pour wine but Deck & Donohue beers are the first choice of many a Parisian sommelier and a hit at wine bars including Septime's. Thomas Deck and Mike Donohue left their jobs in 2013 to pursue micro-brewing full-time and their range includes special editions such as a lager created for the Quixotic group (Candelaria, Le Mary Celeste and Les Grands Verres) and the Saison de Chassignolles, crafted especially for the restaurant at Auberge de Chassignolles in the Auvergne, a region to which wine folk flock in summer for festivals and work.
71 rue de la Fraternité, 93100, +33 9 67 31 15 96, deck-donohue.com

Where to go for

  • Great wines on a budget: Aux Deux Amis
  • A classy wine list that will impress your date: Comice
  • Pre-party drinks: Vivant, Martin, Le Grand Bain
  • Rare bottles: Le Baratin