Sunday, 29 September 2013

Basel buvettes

Basel has always had a fond relationship with the River Rhine, to which a popular local anthem bears testimony. When the weather is favourable, people in Basel congregate by the Rhine to play. Some even take a dip. In recent years, thanks in no small measure to landscaping improvements on the riverbank, a number of outdoor bars (or "Buvetten") have begun attracting the crowds on the Kleinbasel side of the Rhine. There are four buvettes in total, spaced out along the promenade on the right bank of the Rhine (along the stretch of river you see here).

Noticing some time ago that these bars served some interesting wines, I thought it would be an enjoyable and interesting venture to do a little tasting tour. The plan was to order a different glass of wine at each buvette. I would then give a respective mark out of 10 to each wine as well as separate marks judging each buvette in terms of a) its general feel-good ambience, and b) the views it afforded looking out toward the river. My wife joined me on this little excursion.

So, here we go...

Buvette Dreirosen
This is the furthest north of the four buvettes. At the risk of generalising, the rule of thumb is that the further downstream you go, the edgier and more "alternative" the river bars become, shall we say. If Rhyschänzli, the furthest buvette upstream, is sneered at in some quarters as being "too mainstream" (whatever that means) and full of expats sipping latte macchiatos (not guilty, your honour), then I suspect Dreirosen likes to be regarded as the exact opposite.

On arriving, we are pleasantly surprised however at the varied mix of people who are sitting out by the bar on this sunny, warm mid-to-late September afternoon. If the patrons are meant to be "alternative", then they're doing a pretty good job concealing it.

Wine: Wyyguet Rinklin, Gutedel 2010, Riehen, Switzerland
Nutty, pear, fresh acidity. Simple and straightforward but a good aperitif.
Mark out of ten: 6.5

In my eyes, the best thing about this buvette is its proximity to one of the ferries that link both sides of the river. A group of elderly men in animated conversation are playing boules on a nearby strip of gravel. People are either sitting at tables and chairs or are lounging by the river's edge. While the view isn't this bar's strong point (6), the atmosphere (7.5) is friendly and chilled out.

Oetlinger Buvette
So, if Dreirosen is maybe a little less edgy than its reputation, then the next stop is supposed to be the place to be seen for the student/self-styled hipster crowd who have made the Feldbergstrasse/Klybeckstrasse area their own in recent years. Maybe there is some truth to this, as a lot of the patrons do seem to be younger than us.

Wine: Weingut Konstanzer, Silvaner 2011, Baden, Germany
A clear step-up from the previous wine. Exotic fruit such as mango, mingling with freshly cut apples. Great fun and far more interesting than I would dare to expect from a Silvaner litre bottle.

Another positive thing to note is that this buvette serves its wine in full-sized glasses. The wine tastes all the better for it.

Situated at the end of Oetlingerstrasse - one of my favourite roads in all of Basel - this buvette offers an improved view of the Rhine (7.5), despite the incongruously glass-facaded offices of Basel's world-famous architectural duo Herzog & de Meuron, which are situated directly opposite on the other side of the river. The atmosphere is again fairly quiet (7.5). Maybe the students are still nursing their hangovers.

Flora Buvette
Making its debut only earlier this spring, Flora is the new kid on the block among Basel's buvettes. Taking its name from the up-market Florastrasse nearby, it has proved a welcome addition. Of all four bars, I would say it attracts the most eclectic crowd.

Wine: Jauslin Weine, Riesling x Sylvaner 2011, Muttenz, Switzerland
Very muscatty; floral notes and some lychee. Sounds a bit hothouse, yet it is anything but. Quite minerally for a humble Müller-Thurgau. The best wine of the four, by a whisker.

I love the ambience here (9.5). The man who runs the place also seems a genuinely nice guy. He tells me he comes from Muttenz where the wine was grown. In terms of its compact, well-thought-out layout, this buvette wins hands down, offering a lovely framed view of the traditional old townhouses across the river (9).

Again, the wine comes in a nice large glass.

Rhyschänzli Buvette
If you want a nice quiet drink in the shade of a large tree with good views across the river towards the old town in Grossbasel, then this is your place. Because it is the closest to Basel's main bridge, the Mittlere Brücke, it probably attracts the most pass-by clientele. Inevitably, this will include the odd tourist. I know people who wouldn't be seen dead there, but, personally, I've always thought this bar's popularity speaks for itself.

Wine: Weingut Bischel, Weissburgunder trocken 2011, Rheinhessen, Germany
Minerally with pear, lychee hints and a creamy texture. Very moreish and just perfect for quaffing.

I've already mentioned the view (9), but this buvette is not far off in terms of ambience either (8.5). With ample space, the tables and chairs are well spread-out and positioned just a little further away from the bustle of the riverbank. This is the ideal place if you enjoy people-watching. An Italian ice-cream seller regular plies his trade nearby, which is another plus. Some people complain about the time it takes to get served, but I find the queues get whittled down fairly quickly.

The wine glass is smaller than at the previous two bars, but at least it's a proper ISO tasting glass.


If you ignore the subjectiveness of my scoring for a moment, I would say that all four of the above bars are worth a visit, offering something for all tastes (in all senses of the meaning).

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