La Buvette, opened in 2013, is perhaps the most stylish and intimate wine bar of its generation in Paris. Its Lilliputian confines are the size of the average e-cigarette shop, and yet manage to contain four small tables, a thin zinc bar, a prep kitchen, and in the rear, an authoritative-looking wine fridge. Scrawled on a wall-mounted mirror is the menu: a rotating array of highbrow nibbles, ranging from orange-zested white broad beans in olive oil to thick-cut nubs of andouille au lard, or intestine sausage laced with lardo.
A key charm of the Marché des Enfants Rouges has long been the discrepancy between the surrounding Marais’ chic tourism and the humid food-hall atmosphere of the market itself. Les Enfants du Marché – a frankly luxuriant, avant-garde dining counter tucked in the rear right of the market – is arguably the first establishment to bridge these two cultures.
For the wine-indifferent, Café de la Nouvelle Mairie is merely a timeless, picturesque terraced café on a shady lane beside the Panthéon. Wines are inexpensive and available by the carafe, like in the old days. The café’s simply-executed bistrot cuisine is well-sourced and agreeable: oeufs mayonnaise, chicken liver terrines studded with grapes, and hearty Angus steaks for pressure-free meals on long summer evenings.
But for alert wine geeks, Café de la Nouvelle Mairie might as well be the Panthéon itself, as pertains to natural wine.
Three cheers to L’Entente founder Oliver Woodhead for having arrived at such an apt name for his curiously dainty, all-day- service “British brasserie” near Opéra. An entente is a diplomatic understanding between nations; any understanding, of course, is what British and French cultures have notably failed to acquire of one another over the last thousand years.
In a depressing, semi-apocalyptic year defined by reactionary responses to globalism, it’s fair to ask ourselves what, exactly, we are celebrating, when we celebrate the annual release of Beaujolais Nouveau on Thursday.
Is Beaujolais Nouveau a symbol of international marketing run amok, an artificial wine-like confection of sugared-up, overproduced grapes, aimed straight at the lower rungs of the world’s supermarket shelves? Or does Beaujolais Nouveau represent rather the opposite: an homage to local tradition, a village fête for newborn wines, fragile and pure?
It depends where one celebrates. In liquor stores, chain wine shops, and supermarkets around the world, believe the worst about Beaujolais Nouveau. But Beaujolais Nouveau in Paris is something else. The city’s traditional bars and bistrots enjoy unparalleled access to France’s natural wine scene, where many winemakers manage to produce unadulterated primeur wines that retain the fleeting, keen flavors of their village origins. So in Paris in 2016 we can raise a glass to the ironic destiny of well-made Beaujolais Nouveau – a simple village wine that, merely by maintaining its simplicity, can become a curious luxury.
What follows is a list and map of the Paris establishments hosting Beaujolais Nouveau parties in 2016, along with whose wines they’ll be serving, and which winemakers, if any, are expected to be present for the occasion. (Nothing is guaranteed. Winemakers are like that.)
Sommelier-turned-restaurateur Thierry Bruneau’s versatile and tasteful neighborhood wine bar is a cherished mainstay of the Aligre neighborhood. It’s got a long, lively bar for solo diners, a bevy of small tables for couples and small groups, and a rear room that can be privatized for minor occasions. Managers Tristan Renoux and Frederick Malpart curate the dynamic, well-priced, mostly natural wine selection with an enthusiasm almost unheard of in the Paris hospitality scene. And the bar’s simple menu of salads and gourmet foodstuffs is anchored by a brilliant steak for two, prepared in the kitchen of Bruneau’s restaurant across the road, L’Ebauchoir. Bottles can also be purchased to go.
Dynamic young Bretonne Pierre le Nen took the helm of this well-regarded neighborhood wine shop in February 2014 and promptly turned it into one of Paris’ most welcoming terraced wine bars, where an impressively wide selection of natural wines and their more conventional forbears can be enjoyed with zero corkage fee. For anyone peckish, plates of cheese and charcuterie are available, along with an array of tinned and jarred rillettes and the like. Le Nen also stocks an indulgent wall of whisky and a respectable range of French craft beer.
Les Caves de Reuilly’s out-of-the-way location in the 12ème arrondissement ensures an ambience worlds apart from the bustle and hype of more central neighbourhoods: here instead are bands of quality-conscious, budget-conscious Parisians, enjoying honest, inexpensive wine, each other’s company, and the cool evening air. Be sure to ask the staff if the terrace looks full – as often as not, they’re able to simply whip out another table and some chairs for newcomers.
Founded in 2010 on rue de Tourtille, Cécile Boussarie’s gourmet food and wine shop moved around the corner in 2014 to its current, more prominent rue de Belleville location. Its bold, clean red sign belies the unpolished dowdiness of the shop’s interior, where teas, jams, vinegars, spices, potted meats, conserves, oils, and assorted trinkets line all available surfaces. In the middle of über-urban Belleville, it’s like walking into a deserted village gift shop.
At midday, Fine L’Épicerie de Belleville offers soups and sandwiches enjoyably enlivened with various low-key delicacies (dry Sicilian caper sausage, say, or spiced confit grape cream). Tables in the shop’s deep interior are a refuge from the street for lunchtime diners and the odd professional meeting. Along with cheese and charcuterie, Boussarie stocks a slightly haphazard range of inexpensive natural wine and craft beer. While not a tastemaking authority by any means, Fine L’Épicerie de Belleville remains a handy back-pocket address for things to bring to last-minute weeknight dinner parties and relatives’ birthday brunches.
Naoufel Zaïm earned the loyalty of foodies willing to go the (literal) extra mile with his far-flung former Buttes Chaumont restaurant Ô Divin. That restaurant has closed and converted to table d’hôte service, available only for privatization upon demand. But one can still enjoy Zaïm’s winning hospitality, his sharp taste in natural wine, and his instinct for simplicity at Ô Divin Epicerie, his gem-stacked gourmet shop high on rue de Belleville. Chef Paul Houet offers a menagerie of meat products, all prepared in-house, from rillettes to merguez sausage to a variety of terrines. The wine selection includes some sought-after names and surpasses any other épicerie in the city both for value and quality. Sandwiches with sterling ingredients and the occasional prepared hot dish are available for take-out. And jostling for the rest of the shop’s limited space are Italian cheeses, artisanal olive oils, local honey, gourmet salt, canned meats, and all the other accoutrements of eating well. For those not lucky enough to live nearby, it’s worth the hike up rue de Belleville.
La Cave de Belleville’s unlikely origins sound like the set-up for a knock-knock joke: a pharmacist, a sound engineer, and a gallerist open a cave-à-manger. François Braouezec, Aline Geller, and Thomas Perlmutter deserve a lot of credit for the scale of their ambitions, as La Cave de Belleville, open every day of the week, is at once a wine shop, an épicerie, and a vast, casual wine bar. The airy, well-lit space (a former leather wholesaler) positively bustles at apéro hour, when locals nip in for inexpensive plates of charcuterie, cheese, and canned delicacies. The trio’s limited industry experience is sometimes evident in the inconsistency of the shop’s maximalist selections of wine, spirits, and beer. (Were the wine not mostly natural, it would be hard to call it a “selection”. Filling shelves seems to have been the priority.) But one senses the owners’ intentions are sincere, and the Belleville neighborhood – chaotic, culture-clashy, forever on the cusp of gentrification – stands to benefit greatly from a friendly, accessible social anchor like La Cave de Belleville.
Nestled on a shady corner of the up-and-coming Square Gardette, Le Vin de Bohème is thoughtful little wine shop so discreet it would probably wink out of existence altogether if it weren’t so usefully, crucially open every day of the week. Personable owner and sole employee Arnaud Fournier is a former graphic designer whose brief career in wine – he spent a mere year working for now-shuttered caviste Aux Anges before opening his own shop in 2009 – belies the acuity of his palate and the maturity of his selection. Le Vin de Bohème offers around 350 references at any given time, with no perceptible tilt towards or against the natural wine ethos that dominates most 11ème arrondissement wine shops. That alone makes Le Vin de Bohème unique for the neighborhood. The razor-sharp Burgundy and Champagne selections make it a standby for free-thinking wine lovers, particularly on Sunday and Monday evenings.
“Daron” is French slang for “father,” but there’s nothing fatherly or fusty about La Cave du Daron, which at night becomes a casual and intimate wine bar with a healthy cast of loyal habitués. On most evenings gregarious proprietor Jean-Julien Ricard offers a simple menu of charcuterie, cheeses, and conserves to complement his idiosyncratic and undogmatic wine selection, which encompasses everything from vogue-ish natural wine to Hungarian demi-secs to the conventional classics of the Rhône. Corkage is the east-Paris standard 7€, but the glass-pour selections are often unusual and worth exploring. Ricard also enlivens his bar’s offerings with semi-frequent guest-chef evenings: past collaborators have included Yam Tcha’s Adeline Grattard, and Maori Murota of Le Verre Volé Sur Mer.
Longtime Le Chateaubriand sommelier Sebastien Chatillon opened this tiny wine shop in 2013. Sandwiched between Le Dauphin and Le Chateaubriand, Le Cave is a narrow space and a deceptively narrow concept: it sells only no-holds-barred natural wines from outside of France. Expect exotic glass selections ranging from skin-macerated Slovenian Malvasia to Assyrtiko from Santorini. While it may contain less intrinsic interest for visitors wishing to discover French wines while in Paris, Le Cave’s most ingenious selling point is its surprisingly involved plat du jour program, a rotating nightly dish for take-out only prepared in the kitchen of Le Chateaubriand. Octopus tandoori? Chakchouka(North African ragù)? We’d expect nothing less from Inaki Aizpitarte’s idea of comfort food. And if nothing else, Le Cave functions as a cosy, well-run waiting room for anyone in line for a table at its neighbours.
Chatillon is soon to depart for the south of France to begin a winemaking project, but will continue to run the selection at Le Cave, aided by managing partner Paul Braillard.
Situated on a perpetually shaded nook just paces from the Panthéon, Les Caves du Panthéon’s boxy wooden room is wedged floor-to-ceiling with the cream of contemporary French natural winemaking, supplemented with a healthy stock of allocated classics from the Rhône, Bordeaux, and Burgundy. Current owner Olivier Roblin began working at the historic wine shop (founded in 1944) in 2001, before purchasing the business in 2009. He’s known for his longtime support of natural vinification, and his close relationships with many cult winemakers are evident in Les Caves du Panthéon’s 1000+ references. When, say, Jura winemaker Jean-François Ganevat makes a one-off cuvée for the French natural wine website Glougueule, here is where you’ll find it. Les Caves du Panthéon, along with nearby historic natural wine hotspot Café de la Nouvelle Mairie, make this flush, studenty corner of the 5ème an unlikely destination for anyone interested in the vanguard of French wine.
Philovino’s proprietor, Bruno Quenioux, is a singular figure in the world of French wine. A radical for his age, he fought all his battles from within the institutional retail outlets of the French wine establishment, first at Caves Legrand, and later in a long stint as the influential buyer for Galeries Lafayette (1990-2008). Anyone familiar with the nightmarish chaos of Lafayette Gourmet in the present day will be astonished to learn that during Quenioux’s tenure, the wine section was noted for its tacit support of organic agriculture and its resistance to faddish modern winemaking techniques, launching the careers of such winemakers as Jean-Paul Brun and Didier Dageneau.
Quenioux brought these and many other illustrious names to the shelves of Philovino, the modestly-appointed wine shop he opened in 2011 on a nondescript corner of rue Claude Bernard. The shop’s IKEA-quality décor belies the quality and rarity of its contents. Quenioux has his eccentricities – a disbelief in carbonic maceration, a disdain for what has come to be called ‘natural wine,’ and a latent interest in the occult sciences – but Philovino remains a destination for anyone wishing to experience the established classics of Burgundy, Champagne, or the Loire.
The imminent annual release of Beaujolais Nouveau – no longer a media firestorm in the best of circumstances – may seem, in the wake of last Friday’s Paris terror attacks, about as pertinent as a rubber duck.
In such troubled times, who needs wine? Who needs cured ham and cornichons? Who among us needs to gather with friends and loved ones? Who can bring themselves to purchase inexpensive bottles of glimmery young gamay and share it liberally with neighbors? Who wants to support Paris’ liveliest tradition-minded bars and bistrots when their business has been threatened?
Well, perhaps quite a few of us. Beaujolais Nouveau, ordinarily an occasion for slightly meaningless fun, can become, in 2015, an occasion for slightly more meaningful fun.
Don’t get excited: Paris has no Brooklyn. Due to short-sighted urban planning in mid-century, Paris is cinched into its ring-road, le péripherique, like a dress it wore sixty years ago and never removed. The sheer impracticality of crossing this eternally congested ring-road has long prevented, in les banlieues, development of establishments Parisians might consider destinations. For Parisians, you’re either within city limits, or you’re way, way out.
The rue Paul Bert – home to acclaimed restaurants by Bertrand Auboyneau and by Cyril Lignac – also contains this beloved, insidery natural wine shop, opened in 2003 by former wine agent Michael Lemasle. The narrow, slipshod space is perpetually overrun with new deliveries and Lemasle’s loyal clientele, who endure the proprietor’s relaxed, almost narcoleptic pace for the sake of his soft-spoken and well-considered wine counsel. Lemasle specialises in the more extreme fringe of natural wine, including many small-production wines vinified and bottled without the addition of sulfur. The well-priced selection is heavy on wines from the Loire, Beaujolais, and the southwest, while wines from marquee regions like Champagne, Bordeaux and Chablis are rather scarce on the shelves. One last draw: Lesmasle is among the rare Parisian cavistes who perform the true duties of the role, cellaring wines for years at a stretch at either of his two off-site locations before returning them to the sales floor when the wines have matured. Crus et Découvertes accordingly remains a source of fun discoveries even for the most jaded natural wine aficionados.
Loving the night of Beaujolais Nouveau in Paris is like loving country music. One is constantly obliged to explain oneself. No other genre of wine has been so rightly derided by the international wine press for its superficiality. And yet, as in country music, there remain practitioners of the form whose work attains a sublime simplicity, particularly when experienced in the correct context. In Paris, at the right party, Beaujolais Nouveau is a transcendental event, a cross between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve, the one night of the year when an otherwise reserved and miserly population abandons its dime-sized, forward-facing café tables to stand around and sing and offer cheers to strangers.
Well-appointed, informal and lightly exotic, rue Keller wine bar Aux Deux Cygnes is the answer for any casual diner looking to drink natural wine and snack on something other than the usual cheese plates and charcuterie. French-Vietnamese owner To Xuân Cuny shuttles between service and the kitchen, where she turns out a tasty array of sandwiches and small plates influenced by both her Vietnamese heritage and her experience in the Michelin-starred restaurant world. The latter means Aux Deux Cygnes is among the cleanest and most hospitable of Paris wine bars. The former finds expression in a tasty banh-mi, as well as some delicately piquant mackerel rillettes that arrive beneath a bright heap of cilantro. The natural wine selection perched amid the bar’s pretty triangular shelving is nicely curated to emphasize atypical grape varieties and marginal regions. If the overall experience at Aux Deux Cygnes can veer towards the dainty at times, it still makes for a welcome change from the mélée of beards and egos one encounters in many more traditional Paris natural wine bars.
Tucked around the corner from the resplendently stodgy brasseries of Montparnasse is Frédéric Belcamp’s miniscule wine shop and wine bar La Quincave, a destination for natural wine afficionados since 2003 (and featured in the 100th episode of Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations). Belcamp’s long support of more-than-organic, low-sulfur wine is apparent in La Quincave’s 200+ references, which include the occasional back-vintage as well as healthy allocations of certain sought-after selections. The man himself tends to hold court on Fridays and Saturdays; on other evenings his capable staff serve up simple platters of cheeses, rillettes, and cured sausage to the consistent crowd of low-key regulars.
La Quincave’s general template – 7€ corkage, simple snacks, natural wines – may have since become familiar to residents of the 10th, 11th, and 12th arrondissements, where caves-à-manger are as common hairdressers. But few newcomers have managed to replicate La Quincave’s frank, stylish ambience or the wisdom of Belcamp’s wine selections.
Septime’s Bertrand Grébaut and Théo Pourriat converted a shoe-repair shop to open this intimate, impeccably-designed wine bar just around the corner from their renowned restaurant. The well-informed staff serve a limited menu of exquisite small plates (ranging from cheeses and cured meats to foie gras stuffed with smoked eel) alongside a sizeable selection of well-priced natural wines from France and abroad.
On any given evening a mixed crowd of locals and tourists – some waiting for tables at Clamato, others just enjoying apéro-hour – perch on bar stools and repurposed grocery crates, mingling to a soundtrack of reggae and vintage jazz classics. For years more a way-station than an outright destination, Septime Cave has since summer 2015 been open for business on Sundays, rendering it all the more indispensable to the rue de Charonne neighborhood.
Since opening in 2001, La Cave des Papilles has risen to become arguably the most dynamic, well-stocked, and brilliantly-curated natural wine shop in Paris. Its daffodil-colored exterior displays made-to-measure posters of the cult winemakers featured at the shop’s regular tastings. Founder Gerard Katz and partners Florian Aubertin and Aurélian Brugnau enjoy an industry pre-eminence that ensures a healthy supply of rare and allocated bottles among the shops 1200+ selections. Prices are fair and despite the shop’s deserved reputation for support of more-than-organic farming and low-sulfur vinification, the selection remains broad-minded enough to please even more conservative palates. Keep an ear open for the shop’s occasional block parties, which reliably feature jazz bands, fresh-shucked oysters, and a who’s-who of France’s natural wine community.
Wine afficionados Etienne Lucan and Sebastien Obert opened this bare-bones cave-à-manger in 2009, having put in time on the floor at Cali-transplant Kevin Blackwell’s only-slightly-less bare-bones restaurant Autour d’Un Verre. Years later, Lucan and Obert oversee one of Paris’ most surprisingly excellent and affordable wine selections. Their prices remain well-suited to the location on the sketchier side of the 9ème arrondissement, but their natural wine selection, heavy on grower Champagne and the wines of allocated cult vignerons like Jean-François Ganevat and Eric Pfifferling, would make mouths water in any tonier district. During apéro and dinner hours, the tables are reliably full of locals enjoying simple cheese and charcuterie plates, or one of the restaurant’s limited main courses (typically a choice between chicken and a sausage). Le Vin Au Vert is a discreet destination for anyone for whom food is an accompaniment to wine, not vice versa.
Caviste Georges Castellato wields a canny, professorial charm and a magnificent array of back-vintage bottles ranging from established classics to newcomer natural wines at this small, unassuming terraced wine shop in the marché Saint-Germain. Castellato, a former restaurateur who bought Bacchus et Ariane in 1998, is one of tragically few independent Paris cavistes who remain faithful to the true definition of their métier: a caviste who actually cellars wine, putting in on sale when it is ready to drink. So if one has a jones for quality 1989 Châteauneuf-du-Pape, 1990 Madiran, or 2005 Burgundy, one is more likely to find it at Bacchus et Ariane than almost anywhere else in Paris. And at a better price: at a time when much of the surrounding 6ème arrondissement has become an overpriced circus for tourists, the value of Bacchus et Ariane’s selection is downright astonishing. Castellato offers bottle service for a 7€ corkage fee on the wine shop’s covered terrace and at its tiny interior bar, and while no food is prepared on the premises, he’s happy to bring over some oysters or charcuterie from his neighbors in the Marché Saint-Germain. In short, the shop is a perfect perch for fine-wine pre-gaming before dinner – as long as one doesn’t mind the evening’s oenological highlights arriving early.
Shopping for Champagne fills me with embarrassment.
Every year, I promise myself I’ll swear off the stuff. There are, after all, dozens of other sparkling wine types available in Paris, all arguably better bargains than the world’s most famous wine. For along with Champagne’s uniquely chiseled acidity and grace, we pay for the fame, the name Champagne. And to find a broad selection of what I’d call serious Champagne – upper-tier cuvées from independent grower-producers, rather than the predictable, cola-like entry-level bottles of the big houses – I’m often obliged to patronise the Paris wine shops I otherwise avoid.
Having already taken on the unprecedented challenge of publishing (and thereby endorsing) a detailed guide to Paris’ best Beaujolais Nouveau parties, the editorial team decided to put its money where its Mouth is and attend as many as possible in one night.
Meg Zimbeck called it “the Beaujolais Death March”: a tipsy trek from the 14ème to the 11ème. Along the way we met winemakers, shared bottles with strangers, used car roofs as bars, and, completely by accident, obtained actor Willem Dafoe’s opinion on Beaujolais Nouveau (“I prefer full-bodied reds,” he said, before ducking into an anonymous café in an unsuccessful bid to avoid paparazzi).
Beaujolais Nouveau is rather like gin – people who won’t touch the stuff usually have a legendarily bad story to tell involving a harrowing experience with the worst product imaginable. At its worst, Beaujolais Nouveau is indeed something less than a wine, a creepy under-aged creation of greenish grapes rouged up with sugar and sulfur. But just as the last two decades’ international cocktail renaissance has redeemed gin for many drinkers, so too does Paris’ booming natural wine scene contain the redemption of Beaujolais Nouveau – a quaff that, at its best, is a dashing, sun-dappled débutante of a wine, a pristine and lively beverage whose unseriousness is a big part of its charm.
Wednesday November 20, 2013 (night before)
La Robe et le Palais (13 Rue des Lavandières Sainte-Opportune, 75001) Owner Olivier Schvirtz and sommelier Loic Mougene throw what is possibly Paris’ last remaining quality-conscious midnight-release party for Beaujolais Nouveau on Wednesday the 20th November. The multi-faceted event will run as follows:
- 16h-19h : Book signing by wine writer Michel Tolmer.
- 19h-22h : Normal restaurant service.
- 22h-00h : Special Beaujolais dinner, with a fixed menu of regional dishes. Beaujolais Nouveau wines saved from previous years will be served to accompany the dinner.
- 00h-2h : Party, in the probable attendance of many Beaujolais winemakers. Beaujolais Nouveau from Karim Vionnet, Jean-Claude Lapalu, France Gonzalvez, Xavier Benier. Music: Possibly.
Thursday November 21, 2013
Café de la Nouvelle Mairie (19 Rue des Fossés Saint-Jacques, 75005) Benjamin Courty and Corentin Cucillat are the latest owners of this historic natural wine bar in the 5ème, which has changed hands over the course of its 20 years in business, but has always remained a destination for magnificent wine and simple bistrot cuisine. A daube de boeuf will accompany the gypsy jazz and sought-after primeurs. Beaujo Nouveau by Guy Breton & Jean-Claude Lapalu plus vin primeur by Jean-François Nicq.