It’s impossible to generalize about natural wine. One could call the art of making wine made with minimal chemical and technological intervention a trend, and some infinitely more knowledgeable wine person will pop up to explain the movement’s complicated place in history. Say that you enjoy natural wines – or that you don’t – and a wine drinker from the opposite camp will come forward to challenge your stance. Natural wine is confusing. It’s not an official designation in Canada (or pretty much anywhere), so there’s every possibility that you’ve tasted a natural wine without even knowing it – unless you live in Montreal.
Thanks to sommeliers like Vanya Filipovic (a powerhouse known for her work with the Joe Beef restaurant empire and her private import company, Les Vins Dame-Jeanne) and Emily Campeau (who oversees the wine program at Restaurant Candide), Montrealers have had access to stellar natural wines for years. More importantly, they’ve had access to education about these wines. The city has become such an important natural wine destination that the first Canadian RAW WINE fair will be held there on November 1.
In an interview with Sprudge, RAW founder Isabelle Legeron said, “[Montreal is] definitely up there in terms of ‘best city to drink natural wine in’, perhaps even better than London!” We’re inclined to agree. If you’re curious about natural wine, start by talking to the experts at these go-to spots in Montreal.
Every time sommelier Emily Campeau posts a new bottle on Instagram, we’re tempted to look for last-minute reservations at Candide. The restaurant’s monthly tasting menus are a testament to its focus on local, in-season ingredients, an ethos that’s a natural fit for Campeau’s natural wine list. If you’re bored by tasting notes, you’ll appreciate the service here: every wine has a story – as the best ones always do – and that’s the team’s focus when they’re pouring your pairings.
There is no place on earth more perfect than Le Vin Papillon. Or, to be more specific, the wine bar’s terrasse on a sunny day, with the smell of the grill hanging in the air, while sipping a glass of something chilled and delicious. Don’t try to decipher the chalkboard-scrawled wine list yourself; Vin Pap’s brilliant young staff have a sixth sense when it comes to finding your favourites. Do order the greatest hits (thinly sliced ham with beurre noisette shavings, the smoked carrot eclair, smoked sturgeon with fried squid ink gnocchi) and whatever seafood items are in season.
A worthy sequel to Le Vin Papillon, the second wine bar from the team behind Joe Beef and Liverpool house opened earlier this year. It’s similar, yet different: there’s a ham dish, but this one is strewn with tomato sauce – a nod to Little Italy rather than Vin Pap’s Little Burgundy. The Jerusalem artichoke bread with sunflower seed margarine and the rose salad (pink lettuces topped with foie gras) have also become fast favourites.
You don’t expect food and wine this good at a place known for late night revelry. Located on rowdy Saint-Paul Street, Philemon tends to get busier as the hours slink past: it’s the kind of hotspot you choose for going *out* out. Rock up early, though, and you’ll find a quiet(ish) resto-bar with a menu worth sampling. Memorable pairings include an Italian orange sparkler with a mind-blowingly tasty take on burrata.
Whether you’re in the mood for brunch bubbles or a few glasses over happy hour, the wine list at this adorable cafe in the Cité du Multimédia has been known to include some great natural options. Monopole has been open for just over a year and still feels like a hidden gem: on a Friday after work, we snag a table in the window and watch patrons greet staff with such warmth and familiarity, we suspect they’re mostly regulars. After sharing a few plates – charcuterie, cheese, a creative asparagus dish – their loyalty is understandable.
Pizza and wine, but make it classy. That’s the vibe at Elena, a more casual spot from the co-owners of Nora Gray, a fellow heavy hitter on Montreal’s natural wine scene. Elena continues the tradition of brilliantly executed Italian classics in a brighter space; with the addition of cafe/wine bar Club Social P.S. around back, it’s a great option for solo dining and impromptu meet-ups.
Another O.G. of Montreal’s wine bar scene, Pullman still knows how to impress. The space is so huge, it feels unnervingly formal, almost corporate – like the kind of place you’d plan an office party if all your coworkers happened to be wine nerds. But the menu, presented with a little golf pencil to mark your choices, brings the experience back down to earth. We love the green beans with truffle oil and almonds, a simple snack you’ll want to recreate at Thanksgiving dinner.
If we had to pick one place to eat for breakfast, lunch *and* dinner, it’d be Larrys. The itty bitty sister restaurant to Lawrence, Larrys has perfected the art of all-day dining. You can go full Montreal with oysters and beef tartare, or stick to comfort food staples like flammkuchen; the beauty of Larrys is, you’ll never go wrong. If you’re not sure what you’re in the mood to drink, just ask for a little guidance – some bottles may not be listed, but staff know their stuff.
Planning on coming back with some wine that needs chilling? Here’s how to do it super fast: