Paris Wine Bars – Vin Naturel
Wine bars are the latest development in the food scene in Paris. Instead of going to dinner to taste wines you can go to a wine bar and socialize over a glass of wine (or a bottle) with small plates of food. It’s an opportunity to sample different wines by the glass in a comfortable, low key yet hip atmosphere. Wine bars have sprung up all over the city (many in the 11th arrondissement on the right bank) and they are claiming their place in the Parisian food scene. I noticed Parisians congregating in wines bars on their way from work and at night. Several of the wine bars are opened by chefs who also run restaurants so it is an opportunity to sample the cuisine of some great chefs without the cost of a restaurant meal and the need for reserving a table in advance. Many of these bars serve the relatively new trend in wine, vin naturel, along with organic and biodynamic wines.
We went on a wine bar tour with Paris by Mouth. The tour was conducted by Aaron Ayscough of Not Drinking Poison in Paris wine blog. Aaron knows his wines as well as the wine makers and how they make their wines so the tour was packed with information and we tasted some very special wines at various price ranges.
Rather than evaluate all the 8-9 wines we tasted (and that you can probably not get elsewhere anyway) I thought I’d list them at the end of the post but tell you about the bars themselves and write about the concepts of vin natural, biodynamic and organic wines that are typical of the wines these new bars offer. Any inaccuracies are mine, not Aaron’s. Aaron wrote about Natural Wines on his blog and you can find his post on natural wines here.
Wines labeled organic (AB or Agriculture Biologique), which incidentally is a shifting and fairly recent development in Europe (2012), are made from grapes that are grown organically. This however does not mean they are free of additives and chemicals used in the wine making process. Organic wines must be made from grapes grown organically (use of chemical fertilizers prohibited) but can contain chemicals in the form of commercially produced yeast, acids and preservatives (sulfur dioxide) to name a few, added after harvest during the wine making process. Interesting to note that the only additive required to be disclosed on the label is the level of sulfur in the wine.
Biodynamic wines are mostly made from organically grown grapes with no chemicals in the vineyard but are unique in the sense that they are viewed in the context of the ecosystem in which they grow. Wine makers take into account factors such as the lunar cycle, conservation and renewability of resources and even metaphysical elements such as astrology in the viticulture and vinification process. Some burry cow horns in the vineyard and other seemingly strange practices.
The vin naturel movement is more of a wine making philosophy of non-intervention in the vineyard and in the wine making process. Vin Naturel is made with only ambient yeast (rather than adding commercial yeast strands to the fermentation process) and minimum or no preservatives such as sulfur dioxide, a common preservative in most wines. I don’t know why this is considered new. My understanding of French wine making is that it has always strived to be the best expression of the terroir with minimum intervention, but perhaps commercialism got the better of them and at least some of the more than 40 additives permitted in the wine making process are in fact added regularly to at least some of the wines. Grapes for Vin Naturels are grown organically without chemical pesticides and fertilizers, the grapes are harvested manually (I think) and preservatives are only used to a very minimal degree.
Aaron knows all the wine bars it seems and selected three of them for our tour this evening. We met in the 11th arrondissement which is considered hip and up and coming, home to much of the new talent in art, crafts, food and wine. Although my husband and I were late, Aaron contacted us by phone inquiring of our whereabouts and made sure they waited for us at the first tasting stop so we didn’t miss any of the fun.
We arrived by taxi from the 6th arrendissement (Saint Germain) at the first wine bar on the tour Septime Cave, located on 3 rue Basfroi, 75011 (no website). The Cave is the latest venture by the young and celebrated Chef Bertrand Grébaut’s of Septime restaurant across the street (catty corner) from the wine bar. Septime restaurant is listed as one of the best 50 restaurants in the world but we didn’t make it there for dinner this time. Too many restaurants, too little time. The bar is located in an old shoe repair shop and has a wonderful old wood facade reminiscent of that shop. Inside it is small and dark but cute and the informal atmosphere is very appealing. The bartender behind the wooden bar counter opens the wines, pours them and serves some of the delicious appetizers on small plates placed along the bar counter. There are a couple of stools at the bar you can sit at and a few more along the counter by the windows but otherwise you are on your own and can stand and do your thing, sip some wine, buy a bottle, enjoy an appetizer. The wine we tasted were good but being a foodie first, I was blown away by one of the appetizers: leeks vinaigrette with nuts and seeds. I was glad there were a few leeks left when we arrived and loved every bite. If this is a sample of chef Grebaut food then I must make it to Septime restaurant on my next trip to Paris, hopefully soon. I tried to reproduce it as soon as I got home (fun to call Paris home) and although it’s not exactly what chef prepared (were you expecting it to be?) I think it was good enough to share on the blog here. But the wine bar is about wine. We tasted very interesting vin naturel sparkling rosé and a biodynamic chardonnay. The chardonnay was special, made in the Jura region in north eastern France and according to Aaron the producer Francois Rousset is one of the “top four contemporary Jura greats”. I would definitely go back there for more tastings and definitely eating.
Next stop was at Cru et Découvertes on 7 Rue Paul Bert, 75011. I must admit that the cluttered space made me nervous and I was sure that if I made the slightest wrong move, especially trying to take pictures with my large camera, the bottles piled every which way would come crashing down to the floor. That’s all I needed. There was barely any standing room in the tightly packed bar and Aaron bravely climbed over some boxes into a narrow space behind a wooden bar and carried on the tasting from there. He wasn’t in the least perturbed and actually seemed to enjoy the adventure. I am slightly exaggerating of course. It was a fun space but even Aaron describes it as “Chaotic and gem-filled natural wine shop” in his email to us after the tour. The wines we tasted there were a surprisingly wonderful beaujolais from the cru side of the wine (Fleurie) and a beautiful pinot noir. The cru beaujolais had a wonderful floral fragrance to it. The Pinot Noir “showed beautifully when we tasted it and had a savoury complexity on the palate” says Aaron. The bar also had baguettes for sale as well as authentic looking sausages piled in baskets on top of some boxes. The owner was very relaxed about the group of us bouncing around in his shop and was busy talking and tasting with another customer while Aaron was making himself at home pulling bottles for tastings and consulting with the owner now and then.
The third and last stop was at Le Siffleur de Ballons, a “Popular neighborhood natural wine bar'” says Aaron. The owner, Thierry Brumeau, who also owns the bistro L’Ebauchoir across the street, stocks the wine bar with natural wines as well as artisanal food you can buy to eat or to go. I saw patés, terrines, honey, vinegars, soups, definitely an inviting place to come to for a bite and a glass of Vin Naturel. We settled in the room to the right pulling together a few tables to accommodate our group. Wooden trays soon appeared with a selection of cheeses and charcuteries to taste with the wines. We passed these around the table as we listened to Aaron, chatted among ourselves, tasted the wine and enjoyed the lovely, inviting surroundings. I think we were happy to just be seated for this tasting. As for the wines, we tried an off dry Chenin Blanc made from grapes grown on vines more than 100 years old just across the Loire from the Vouvray appellation. I love Chenin and this was a beautiful wine. We also tasted a wine made in France by a Japanese-Canadian but the bottle we opened had a VA fault (volatie acidity) so we didn’t get a sense for what it could be. The last bottle we tasted was a 100% Grenache from Edouard Lafitte. I have little recollection of it at the moment except remembering that I liked it with the cheese we were tasting. Aaron says it had a remarkably structured acidic profile for a 100% Grenache and tasted of rich purple fruit. He knows what he is talking about so I would go with that. We also talked about food and wine pairing of which Aaron says it’s overrated. “Too much emphasis on food pairing can confuse people and make wine buying cliental nervous about what they are buying” says Aaron. “You don’t need an Oscars worthy dress every day”. We also talked about the French paradox and why French people seem to eat everything with pleasure, unlike in other cultures, notable North American culture, where we count calories and vilify foods such as bread and cheese. “The French don’t have a culture of snacking” says Aaron, an observation I have heard a few times since arriving here.
It was interesting to visit the wine bars, learn about what is trendy on the Paris scene and taste some wonderful wines, cheeses and small plates prepared by some of top Parisians chefs. Aaron was very good about hosting the tour. Beside being highly knowledgeable and personable he looked after us well and even after the class ended made sure we all knew where we were going and walked us to the direction where we could pick up a taxi to get back to our hotel in Saint Germain. I am definitely going to follow his blog Not Drinking Poison in Paris.
Here is a list of the wines we tasted:
Septime La Cave:
Philippe Delmée – Vin de France “Le Rozzeto” 2012
François Rousset – Vin de France Chardonnay “Les Macrins” 2011
Cru et Decouvertes
Laurence et Remi Dufaitre – Beaujolais-Villages Nouveau 2013
Domaine de la Couer – Fleurie “Clos de la Grande Coeur” 2011
Ludwig Bindernagel / Chais de Vieux Bourg Pinot Noir (Savagnin Noir) 2009
Le Siffleur de Ballons
Lise et Bertrand Jousset – Montlouis “Singulière” 2011
Kenji et Mai Hodgson – Vin de France “La Grande Pièce” 2011
Edouard Lafitte Vin de France “La Luce” 2011