Daily afternoon drinks, ‘apéros’ and wine are an integral part of Lyonnais culture. For an insider’s guide to the best wine bars in the French city, Culture Trip asked local sommelier Caroline Conner to give us her recommendations.
Californian-born, Oxford-educated wine sommelier Caroline Conner chose Lyon to be the birthplace of her wine-tasting business just a few years ago. Holding a WSET Level 4 diploma, she offers regional wine tastings in English, and she knows the cities wine bars like the back of her hand. For Caroline, nowhere can compare. “The wine scene in Lyon is all about small production and natural wines that focus on the regions that are in close proximity: Beaujolais, Burgundy, and the Rhône.”
Given Lyon’s position at the helm of the Rhône, Beaujolais and Savoie, it’s hardly surprising that the wine bars here serve up an array of world-class wines at reasonable prices. From bars steeped in tradition to modern and quirky hangouts, the wine bars in Lyon share one thing in common: a penchant for the ‘local’. As Caroline says, “The best bars and wine shops will have regular evenings with winemakers.”
Of course, Caroline notes that the best way to initiate yourself into the world of Lyon’s wines is to attend one of her wine tasting classes in her apartment – a chic, converted silk factory in the iconic Croix-Rousse. As she says, “I share a handpicked selection of seven different wines and a cheese board as we cover wine tasting technique, our local regions and their wines.” But if you’re short on time, or want to explore further, these are her top wine bar suggestions.
Odessa Comptoir’s story starts with a chance meeting between David Schayne and Mathieu Kochen in Buenos Aires in 2008. Following stints in Brooklyn and Barcelona, the pair headed to quieter ground, setting up shop on a narrow street in the slopes of the Croix-Rousse. Top of Caroline Conner’s list of recommendations, she appreciates Odessa Comptoir’s commitment to natural wine and the warm welcome given by the owners. “They have a great selection, and they’re really friendly.” The owners are surprised there aren’t more natural wine bars, and so is Caroline since “the Lyonnaise love anything bio.” As the owners say, “We are one of the only casual bars in Lyon at the moment doing exclusively natural wine, which is a bit weird considering our location, and the moment that natural wine is having right now.”
At Table et Vins d’Ainay, don’t ask for a wine list, and don’t ask for a certain grape, either. Tell the waiting staff what you’re in the mood for, then leave the rest to them. The server will bring bottles to your table, offering a blind tasting of wines. More than aware of the wine prejudices travellers in particular hold – Chardonnay isn’t sweet in France – they’ll only reveal the grapes after you’ve chosen. With approximately 200 wines on offer, you’re likely to be given one of the lesser-known grape varieties favoured by the bar. Owner Yann Dereu’s self-proclaimed goal is to “ensure no customer has the same wine twice.” This bar is perfect for those looking for a relaxed glass of wine; the low lighting, stone walls and round red tables lend themselves to the cosy atmosphere.
Traditional decor meets innovation at Autour d’un verre. This small wine bar with stone walls and vaulted ceilings offers a selection of self-service wines. Self-service may not be very traditional, but Autour d’un verre is proof that though Lyon’s wine culture may be rooted in history, it isn’t afraid of change.
Boasting a large selection of wines on tap at just a few euros a glass, the newly opened wine bar Les Assembleurs has been an instant hit with Lyon’s residents and travellers alike. Anticipating your reaction, Caroline confesses, “I was skeptical about it at first, but the wines are really good. It’s such a fun idea.” Bearing the slogan, “de la vigne au verre” (meaning “straight from the vine to your glass”), Les Assembleurs only works with producers known to them. Caroline applauds their innovative blends of grapes known as ‘assemblages’, and for the daring, Caroline suggests having a go at mixing your own.
Claiming the title of Lyon’s oldest wine bar is La Cave des Voyageurs. Founded by Jean Markarian in 1998 on Place St Paul in Vieux Lyon – the same year Vieux Lyon was declared a UNESCO heritage site – La Cave des Voyageurs has been loved by Lyon’s residents ever since. Markarian, or ‘Jeannot’ as he is locally known, is famous on the Lyonnaise wine scene. Markarian says he wanted to “bring wine originally found only in first-rate restaurants to the people of Lyon and create the first place designed solely for drinking good wine and getting together with friends.” Unsurprisingly, places this loved by Lyon’s residents are always packed, especially at weekends, but it’s worth the wait for a seat.
With 400 options on offer, it’s just as well that sommelier and manager at L’Ivresse, Charles-Aymeric Palard, is on hand to help you choose. Caroline describes it as “a small wine bar and shop with a kitchen and a great wine selection, including some international wines.” Every glass of wine is served in a stylish Riedel glass, and with prices ranging from 6 to 600+ euros (£5.50-£545), there’s something for every budget.
For a true Lyonnaise experience, head to Le Ballon. A ‘bar à vin’-cum-‘bar à fromage’, Languedoc wines are served alongside main courses, cheese boards and charcuterie plates. The wines by the glass are reasonably priced, and thanks to their cellar you can even take home whole bottles at reduced prices.