Why don’t more French restaurants do wines by the glass?

IMG_6732-1Considering France’s reputation where wine is concerned, it’s always puzzled me that their restaurants are so stuck in the Dark Ages when it comes to offering decent drops by the glass. Feel feel to disagree (better still, give me lots of addresses to prove me wrong) but my impression is that eateries in almost any other country do a better job. Of the ones I’ve eaten out in of late, Spain, Switzerland, Italy, the UK and Australia get lots of brownie points. In some countries they simply bring you the bottle, invite you to drink what you like from it and charge you according to consumption (or stick the cork back into it for you to take home). Spain is admirable at this, plus their wine markups are exemplary in their modesty.

20131207_205706In France – where wine is anchored in the culture – it’s dreadfully complicated. Few restaurants offer any kind of a choice by the glass and the list of half-bottles (miserable things anyway) is generally limited. Imagine my delight and surprise, then, to find that at La Closerie (and their sister bistro La Bistronomie), twin restaurants hidden away in the nether regions of Mulhouse’s shoppyland (come off the motorway at Ile Napoleon, go past Carrefour, across a roundabout and hang right a bit), they’ve got it sooooooooo right. Okay, they are fundamentally wine merchants and belong to the Fedération Culturelle des Vins de France,an organisation which groups together tasting clubs all over the country, so you’d expect them to be taking wine seriously. But they do, they really really do. And they appear to have lots of fun doing it. (Fun? In a French restaurant? With wine? Sacré bleu!)

La Bistronomie is a dramatic, soaring, glass space that’s welded onto the main La Closerie restaurant. At dinner (they’re open evenings only) they offer three different menu options ranging from €24-€29, depending on how many and which courses you choose. The open wines, changed regularly, always feature two whites and two reds in three distinct categories and range from €5 to €9 per glass depending on quality. Wine advice is friendly and complicitous, and vinous curiosity seems to be welcomed as a delicious challenge rather than a threat – another pleasant surprise.

20131207_194659-001Last time we were there were I chose a fragrant Friulano, a northern Italian white and Monty went for a super Sylvaner from Emile Beyer, both of which did the biz with an A+ “cannelloni” of tuna, a rice paper wrapped around a sliver of marinated fish with petals (sic) of smoked salmon, lamb’s lettuce and crunchy salad shards.

20131207_201027_3-001With the criée du jour (the day’s fish special), a chunky piece of roasted cod with a bisque-y sauce, coins of yellow carrot and overcooked risotto), I was steered towards a white Cairanne from the southern Rhone (never knew they did white). Assuming a blend, I asked which grape varieties. A delighted smile, rather than the customary consternation, lit up the wine waiter’s face. “Oh it’s a real salade de fruits” he beamed, and rehearsed a dramatis personae of cépages in which (as I recall) Grenache Blanche, Picpoul and at least three more played their part.

20131207_201102(0)-001Options to go with a carbonara of guinea fowl included a Costers del Segre from Tomas Cusiné (one of the rising Catalan stars), an Anima Negra from Mallorca (wow! – this little nugget in a French restaurant and by the glass) or a Chianti Classico. The latter, a fragrant and not overly bossy Sangiovese, won the day, advised by the sommelier as the best match for the creamy, lightly smoky pasta and poultry dish.

As both open wines and the menu options change with delightful regularity, it’s worth checking out their current offer here. If you’re planning a little Christmas retail therapy up in Carrefour-land just short of Mulhouse, factor in a bit of excellent wine and food therapy while you’re at it. [Stop press: according to the patron, La Bistronomie is set to open Saturday lunch too but check their website and give them a ring.]

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