The best way to fully wrap your head around Monvínic is to think of this sleekly designed bar on the left side of Eixample district of Barcelona as the sun at the center of a wine solar system. Opened in 2008, the bar has exuded a massive gravitational attraction to any wine lover that visits the city and wants to explore. This is due to the bar being an extension of owner Sergi Ferrer’s own passion for wine.
The seeds for what would become the bar started long ago with Sergi making his money in the pharmaceutical industry and having wine as his other passion. In 2000, he met Isabelle Brunet who had briefly worked at the famed El Bulli restaurant and a wine shop called, La Vinya in Barcelona. Sergi had a worldly collection of wine as well as wine books at his home and he was always inviting people over to share in both.
In 2004, he worked with Isabelle and some software developers to catalog all of his wines with the eventual trajectory of creating a space for anyone to enjoy them in. From 2005-08 he and Isabelle searched for a space in Barcelona that could be just that. He bought the space in Carrer de Diputació and worked with architect Alfons Tost to create a modern yet warm and inviting space where people in Barcelona could come to enjoy an incredible selection of wines.
From the start in 2008, they made use of a proprietary system to search the wine database that patrons could use to select their wines thus eschewing the leather bound tomes one often is handed when requesting the wine list at a restaurant. Anyone who does the math can see that this predated the original iPad release in 2010 and as such it was a much different system than what you find now and one which is currently being upgraded to make use of newer and better technology.
Along with the opening of the bar was the installation of the wine library that sommeliers use to study. The general public can use it too if they pay for a membership. It sits off to the side just as you enter with large floor to ceiling shelves enclosed in a silent glass-walled room.
Complementing the bar on the other side is the restaurant which started with famed local chef Sergi de Meià who departed about a year ago to open his own eponymously named restaurant. Guillem Oliva took over as head of the kitchen and is focusing on tapas-esque plates. For those who might cringe at this prevalent trend amongst restaurants all over Spain (tapas are believed to be originally from Andalusia where they’re both the simplest and best still) the dishes are indeed well executed, original, and show a diverse range of options although a full meal for two can quickly climb upwards of €80-100 before wine. There’s also the weekday lunch menu that can be had at the bar for €19.50.
This wine bar/library/restaurant hasn’t remained static and has attracted other planets to its gravitational pull. One of the first was Fastvínic. Opened in 2010 right next door to the main restaurant, people walking by might see it to be a scaled down and potentially cheaper version of its namesake but it’s actually something much more than this.
Sergi knows quite well that finding fast, good food, especially sandwiches in Barcelona is exceedingly hard given that there has been a heavy tourist-centric bent developing and impregnating the city in the last decade. He wanted somewhere that he’d have no qualms about grabbing a quick bite and as is typical with his approach to life, he wanted it to be there for others. Then of course there was the fact that Monvínic, due to its success had been running out of cellar space for their thousands and thousands of bottles and they needed somewhere nearby to store them. So these two aspects blended harmoniously in to what you can now see, visit, and pick up a tasty sandwich from.
Then there is the store but before explaining this it’s important to understand the main aspect of why Monvínic is so different from other wine bars and restaurants is in their selection of wines. Not content to select from the same, stalwart albeit basic lists of Catalan, Spanish, French, Italian, and other wines, they decided to push themselves a bit more and import wines directly that they found interesting or worthwhile. Thus the bar is one of the few places in Spain to find wines from Greece, Slovenia, or high-end, “auteur” South African wines like The Sadie Family. It also allowed them to have a massive by-the-glass list that changes almost every day and offers a wonder of different wines to explore starting at €4 a glass and ranging up to €20-30. At times, they pull out rare/pricier cult wines to serve using the Coravin.
By importing directly, it gave them a direct link to the producers and in doing so they realized that it also allowed them to potentially sell these wines in Spain to those who had an innate curiosity to explore the world of wine. With this, Monvínic Store was born last fall. It is much closer to the Old Town center on Ronda de Sant Pere near the Arc de Triomf but while they have some tasting events as well as a rotating selection of bottles to buy onsite (much like the by-the-glass options at the bar) their main focus is ordering from their website and getting your hands on one of the many unique bottles stored in the 19th century underground warehouse.
For those who are able, visiting Monvínic is always a pleasure but it should be noted that one needs to come in with a mind and palate ready to explore. This is due to the staff of sommeliers wanting to happily share whatever new wine they might have and see how you like and if you didn’t they have no problem changing it—Isabelle is always adamant to emphasize this. This approach may be off putting to some in the wine world who want to walk in to a wine bar and show off their wine knowledge as was the case with one Anglophone blogger who wrote a rather nasty review of the place shortly after it opened. It should be noted that he also had trouble understanding how the front door opened when arriving (it slides to the left automatically) just to put his opinion in to perspective.
But all things considered the bar has found its footing well these days and with the other little planets orbiting it as they now do, it offers a holistic approach to discovering wine while in Barcelona.