Strasbourg’s first Italian wine bar: Better late than never
4 September 2015
By Panos Kakaviatos for wine-chronicles.com
Strasbourg is a significant European city. Its multifaceted architecture reflects Europe’s rich, long history. Styles range from Middle Age bridges to European institutional buildings: some appealingly post-modern, others 1970s-era eyesores.
This capital city of the Alsace region in northeastern France hosts the European Parliament. It is located near the German border, something I appreciate because goods and services are less expensive in Germany, from housing to tobacco. Many French – who still love cancer-causing smoke – find their cigarette nirvana in the over-the-border town of Kehl, which features loads of tobacco shops.
Strasbourg’s Gothic Cathédrale Notre-Dame dominates the landscape. Its astronomical clock and sweeping views of the Rhine River from partway up its 142m spire are breathtaking. The old city is surrounded by a tributary of the Rhine River, so take a tourist boat ride to view the small city, which one can traverse on foot as another option in about 20 minutes.
The food is rich and savory, but one thing that has been missing for far too long is wine variety.
The 250,000 or so inhabitants can be proud of the fact that Strasbourg symbolizes European rapprochement following the horrors of many wars, including the Thirty Years War and, of course, World War II; that customs controls no longer exist and that French and German citizens live peacefully side-by-side. An old story, of course, but significant for culture and history.
But as an #winelover, I snicker when I drive past a highway sign proclaiming Strasbourg to be the Carrefour de l’Europe (Crossroads of Europe). When it comes to wine, Strasbourg has for far too long been like any other French provincial town. Your wine selection? Try French, French. Or, how about French?
OK, in recent years some interesting places have opened, with wines from around the world. But only recently. And can you believe that a city that fashions itself as a (if not “the”) European capital did not have an Italian wine bar until… October 2014? Yep.
By contrast, Budapest in Hungary, a country that was part of the old Communist Block, has seen several Italian wine bars open well before In Vino Veritas opened late last year in Strasbourg.
In Vino Veritas is a fine Italian wine bar. It even pleased a dear Italian friend and colleague from the Strasbourg-based Council of Europe, which is of course easily confused with the European Union, but that’s another story.
Anyway, my Italian colleague from Palermo has recounted many a story about unappealing Italian restaurants in France. “I’d like some olive oil rather than butter please,” he asked a waiter at one such establishment. “Vous etes en France, monsieur,” the reply. Not so at In Vino Veritas, where the food and wine is authentic, he said. Ok, so the pasta he ordered was not quite al dente enough. “You really need an Italian chef,” he said.
But I enjoyed very much my Cotechino sausage and lentils covered in a cream like sauce topped with copious truffle shavings. That went very well with a rather tertiary (aromas and flavors of wet earth, hints of truffle as well, baked fruit) Roagna Langhe Rosso 2009, an excellent restaurant wine. As wine people know, this is 100% Nebbiolo and a less expensive alternative to Barolo or even Barbaresco.
The wine bar features natural (or near natural) wines, with just enough sulfur to keep them drinkable. I jest. No, I did not encounter rotted apple aromas or flavors that I have at natural wine bars in both Paris and Strasbourg. Vincent the sommelier does a very good job of picking quality producers. I recall my first visit and enjoying a hardy Gavi, for example.
My overall favorite wine for our evening dinner with colleagues from the Council of Europe was the rather affordable Phoja Prosecco D.O.C. Treviso Frizzante. It is made 100% from the Glera grape grown on the hills of Coletti vineyards. Although the wine has 10 grams of residual sugar, it comes across as dry – balanced by 5 grams of acidity per liter that lend it verve. The color is a straw yellow with nuances of green. The bubbles are finer when compared to average Prosecco, which I really do not like. I appreciated the wine’s stone white fruit and white flower aromatics. The low alcohol – 11% – is pleasing.
I also recommend In Vino Veritas because the staff is professional, helpful and friendly, which is (still) not common enough in Strasbourg…
My only qualm is pricing. Sure, we are in Strasbourg, which is an expensive city. Thank goodness I have a job that permits me to afford such high quality dining. But none of the listed appetizers cost less than 15 euros. When you think of an Italian wine bar, you would correctly assume that appetizers should be enjoyed for between 4 and 8 euros. Both main courses and desserts (with one exception) were expensive, too. Expect to spend about 50 euros per person for dinner, not including wines, should you order a 15-euro starter, a 27-euro main course and a 9-euro dessert, for example, not including water and coffee, either.
On the other hand, you can discover a few economical nooks and crannies in the menu, such as “side orders” rich and copious – for just four euros each – including a very delicious roasted eggplant with melted buffalo mozzarella that I loved. Savvy clients order a side order as their appetizer, I say. Furthermore, superb (and economical) handmade ice cream scoops of lemon, strawberry and vanilla, for just two euros per scoop, is the single lower-price dessert option, and a darn good one.
One other tip: try the wine bar’s fabulous Limoncello. I could not resist having another pour, it is really that good.