Pierre Orsi—both the man and his restaurant—are Lyon legends. A trim septuagenarian, Orsi has been serving Michelin-starred, almost defiantly traditional food on the Place Kléber for nearly 40 years, accompanied by cloches, toques blanches and attentive service from Madame Orsi and team. It's as if nouvelle cuisine and molecular gastronomy never happened.
A choice of four set menus features an artery-challenging line-up of foie gras, pigeon and tenderloin steak, as well as some lighter lobster and sea bass dishes. But which wines to pick? In a city that’s not short of great lists—you can arguably drink and eat better in Lyon than in any other French city, including Paris—the choice at Orsi is a true pleasure.
Given the restaurant's proximity to the Rhône Valley, Beaujolais and (a little farther away) Burgundy, its sommelier, Frédéric Pralus, could be forgiven for concentrating exclusively on those areas. But he is admirably cosmopolitan, creating a list that covers all of France—including less well-known appellations such as Jura, Jurançon, Tautavel and Faugères—as well as the rest of the world. It's a pleasure to see wines from Italy, Spain, Portugal, Austria, Australia, South Africa, Argentina, Chile, Uruguay and New Zealand here.
Even better, the producers are rarely default choices. There are certainly famous names on the list—Lafite, DRC, Guigal, Gaja—but they are complemented by plenty of more obscure wines. It's also good to see older bottles from the southern hemisphere, such as 1998 Vin de Constance from the Cape.
It would be easy to rack up the bill at Orsi by picking some of the top Bordeaux or Burgundies—although by international standards these aren't outrageously expensive—but after two coupes of slightly pricey house pink Champagne (€21 a glass), we were happy to drink Rhône wines with our meal. First up was a half bottle of 2011 Condrieu, La Côte, Domaine Yves Cuilleron (€44), an intensely perfumed Viognier that combines lush, creamy flavours of vanilla and apricot with balancing acidity, followed by the 2010 Crozes Hermitage, Alain Graillot (€44). For me, this is one of the best-value Syrahs in the northern Rhône: violet-scented, subtly oaked, and pepper-spicy with fresh, vibrant blackberry fruit. Just the thing with pigeon or tenderloin.
pierreorsi.com; €45-120pp for three courses
Where else to go and what to drink
BRAZIER WINE BAR
Intimate, great-value offshoot of the double-Michelin-starred Mère Brazier. From €20pp
Best white: 2009 Muscadet Sèvre et Maine Sur Lie, Domaine Luneau-Papin Great Muscadet with a little bottle-age is a rare find, but Pierre Luneau specialises in wines that develop with time. This is sappy, spritzy and taut, but with a creamy undertone from ageing on lees; hence "sur lie". €18
Best red: 2011 Morgon, Cuvée Marcel Lapierre From one of the top names in Beaujolais, this is light and surprisingly approachable for a Morgon. Aromatic and alluring with crunchy acidity, and red-cherry and raspberry fruit. €48
Paul Bocuse's relaxed restaurant on the river, with a Mediterranean theme. €21.80pp for two courses
Best rosé: 2012 Château Ste Marguerite Côtes de Provence Rosé Classic, pale-coloured Provençal pink that works really well with the cuisine: crisp, bone-dry and refreshing, with subtle wild-strawberry fruit and mouthwatering acidity. €34.90
Best red: 2011 Beaujolais, Georges Duboeuf The so-called king of the Beaujolais makes very dependable wines at every level. This, his entry-point cuvée, shows the Gamay grape at its fruity, juicy, lip-smacking best. Make sure you order an ice bucket. €11