La Quincave

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 Cave

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.

La Cave des Papilles

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.

Le Vin au Vert

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.

Bacchus et Ariane

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.

Champagne: A Bubbly Buying Guide

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.

Beaujolais Nouveau Death March: Our 2013 Report

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).

The Redemption of Beaujolais Nouveau

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.

Celebrating Beaujolais Nouveau In Paris 2013

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.