Even before I moved, people were questioning my logic: “You’re going to Berlin to work with wine?” The skepticism continued after I arrived, with some locals wondering why I thought Berlin was the right place to dig into the wine business. I had other motivating reasons that brought me here, but I am now firmly convinced that Berlin is in fact a very exciting place to be involved in the wine scene. In the two months since my arrival, I have participated in some extremely engaging events, tastings, and conversations with members of this dynamic and energetic wine community who are helping to drive the scene forward. The physical manifestation of this energy lies in the bars, restaurants, shops, and event spaces run by these great people. The following establishments are by no means the absolute and objective “best” of the available wine bars, shops and restaurants in this city. However, I believe they represent a particular cross-section of places worth visiting whether you are an intense wine-enthusiast, or a casual drinker. Without further ado, I present the five spots that will make you believe that Berlin is one of the most exciting cities to be in for wine.
If you are not drinking Hungarian wines yet, then you need to jump on-board. The best place to get acquainted with these wines is this excellent, low-key wine-bar located in the hip Friedrichshain neighborhood. The focus here is really on the wine. The wine-list is fairly evenly split between Hungary and Germany with a small representation from Austria as well. This is perhaps a nice homage towards one of the owner’s dual German and Hungarian parentage. The regions covered for Germany include the classics from Mosel and Saar, Pfalz and the Nahe, but touch on less common regions of Württemberg and Franken as well. On the Hungarian side, the list digs into Eger, Ballaton, Villany, the spicy whites of Somló and the classic region of Tokaj with both dry and sweet offerings available. There are also a smattering of cheeses, charcuterie, and bread and dip options to accompany your wine.
The by-the-glass offerings are significant and offer a broad range of whites and reds, perfect for anyone who has yet to explore the variety that Hungary has to offer. This includes native white grapes such as complex and zesty Furmint, floral Harslevelu, and smoky Juhfark. There are also some excellent reds from light and spicy Blaufrankisch and Kadarka, to the famous full-bodied Egri Bikaver (Bulls Blood) blend. For incredible value, try the 2012 Cabernet Franc from the Petrenyi winery in Eger, intensely aromatic, with great complexity. On the German side, Spatburgunder (Pinot Noir) Riesling, Sylvaner and others are all represented. If bone-dry mineral driven Riesling is your thing, check out their deep selection from Weingut Von Racknitz, based in the Nahe.
The cozy feel, excellent wine selection, and the knowledge and warmth from the owners who are always on-hand make this place a great destination. Whether you are there to revel in the wines or to simply to enjoy company, you won’t leave disappointed.
Naturales Weinbar is a brilliant manifestation of the beautiful balance that I have come to appreciate about the wine scene in Berlin. It is at once both casual and relaxed, but with a very carefully curated wine-list focusing almost exclusively on “natural” wines. The definition of “natural” varies but generally includes wines made with organically grown grapes, minimal intervention in the winery, and little to zero added sulfites upon bottling. This category is one that has exploded in popularity in Berlin following a growing trend in Europe. Upon entering the establishment, there are two very apparent things; the very long and comfortable looking bar, and the warm and easy atmosphere. The lighting and music make it a good setting for both larger groups of five or six to sit around one of the three larger tables, or smaller groups of two and three to cozy up to the bar. The by-the-glass selections are extremely well balanced and offer up options for beginners and hardcore enthusiasts. Not only that, but the prices for the bottles on the glass list are some of the most reasonable I’ve seen in Berlin, making this a great destination for getting the most bang out of your buck. There is a full bottle list available upon request as well. The owner, Pablo, is extremely engaging and more than willing to give insight and recommendations based on your preferences. There are also tapas available to accompany your drinks, also reasonably priced with a real Spanish touch, as Pablo is originally from Granada. For experience, value, and quality this is easily one of my favorite places. Naturales is nestled at the edge of the fairly gentrified neighborhood of Neukölln, where you are sure to find many bars and restaurants worth visiting.
Weinerie/Edel & Faul
Walking into the Forum Weinerie, you might not know its smaller sibling Edel & Faul ever existed. If you walked by on the street, you might see no connection between these two locations. However, they are owned and run by the same group of people, but their experiences are a world apart. Set in the central neighborhood of Mitte, right next to a beautiful park these two places are well worth the visit.
The first is the Forum Weinerie Café. This is the place to gather on a Friday or Saturday night with a group of friends and have a good drinking session. Their weekend concept is simple and effective. A small fixed entrance fee gets you a glass, and then they have a selection of wines open on the bar for you to taste and drink at will. At the end of the night, you pay what you think is fair for the number of glasses you consumed. There is a menu with their regular weekday glass-prices, providing a helpful idea of what the average is. The wines themselves can be hit or miss, but that is part of the fun. There is a lot of seating available in a very casual setting, but make sure to get there early, or make a reservation online because it fills up fast, and the competition for seats with tables is fierce.
Just around the corner and a few doors down is the small and intimate setting for Edel & Faul. The tasting room is the scene for unique and specially organized wine events. There are a limited number of seats, so reservations are always required in advance. The fun here is that the events are entirely unique, each one has a new theme. For example, I was able to participate in a special blind tasting of “matured rarities” which had been organized by a wine-consultant, and many of the bottles we drank were from his own cellar. The course of the evening is guided by the organizers who walk you through the wines as you taste, answering questions and helping explain wine styles, grape varieties and production methods. The other great thing is that each event varies in price, whereas some are quite expensive (although no-doubt worth it) others are very reasonably priced for the quality of the experience. If you have the time and are interested in broadening your palate with like-minded individuals, this is definitely the place for you.
Vin Aqua Vin
From the outside looking in, the interior of Vin Aqua Vin is extremely inviting. A large open room scattered with mismatched chairs and couches, with lit candles gleaming on every table. This is an extremely versatile establishment because it is at the same time a wine bar and shop. You can peruse their diverse selection and decide to take a bottle home with you, or for a very reasonable corkage fee, drink it right there in the bar. If you aren’t interested in dealing with a full bottle, they do have a by-the-glass list offering a nice sampling of the wines they sell, and a hefty pour at that. Their German selection is quite varied, hitting all the primary regions in Germany. The glass-list reflects a focus on German wines as well. They touch on all the other major regions in Europe, but their New World choices are quite thin. I also laude them for their sparkling selection, which takes up a quarter of the wall in the main room. It is filled with Cremants, Cava and Sekt, and a few Champagnes. Many of their bottles are extremely well priced, which with a group makes splitting a bottle or two extremely cost-effective. The wine-shop/bar concept while probably not unique, works well for them precisely because their offerings are so interesting. They also offer monthly classes on various wine topics, but it is important to sign up online in-order to reserve your place. There is a full kitchen offering a small selection of plates to accompany your wine, with a few main courses if you get really hungry. The enticing smells emanating from the kitchen may convince you to get something, hunger or not. This is really a gem, their main room feels almost like a living room, which when full of people is boisterous and warm. Having a bottle to nurse with a friend or two almost feels like you’re at home. Vin Aqua Vin is also set on the edges of Neukölln, a neighborhood worth strolling around in either as a pre-wine exercise or post-wine come down.
There are some people who might challenge the inclusion of Viniculture as part of this list because it is not really a wine bar in the true sense. There is some merit to that argument, because Viniculture is largely a wine-shop. That being said, I believe it deserves inclusion for a number of reasons that make it stand out from the other wine-shops across the city. First of all, you can actually buy a bottle from the shop, open it and drink it on-site. There is a small table with a few chairs inside their premises, and in the warmer weather a few tables outside. However, don’t go there expecting the atmosphere of a wine bar, because if you go for a drink you might be the only guest actually consuming your beverage in the store. However, you will most certainly not be in bad company. The staff of Viniculture are all extremely knowledgeable and passionate about the wines they carry and will gladly engage with you in conversation about the merits of the bottle or producer that you decide to drink. The store focuses on entirely on natural, low-intervention, and organic wine from across Europe with an extremely carefully curated selection. There are often between 6 and 8 bottles open for sampling, and they frequently host larger tastings on the weekend which also create the ideal environment for having a glass or two in the shop. The store additionally supplies various restaurants and bars across the city, so they are always ready with recommendations of other wine-centric locations to visit. If you are a wine enthusiast, this is the place for you to nerd out with fellow wine lovers. You won’t be disappointed. Located in the chic West Berlin neighborhood of Charlottenburg, there are many fine restaurants, and beautiful architecture that make visiting the area worthwhile, although be prepared to drop some cash as many of the establishments are not cheap!