Passage des Panoramas, Paris
Racines is a natural-wine bar
which is located in one of the remaining Napoleonian shopping arcades of Paris. These arcades were some sort of early shopping malls and allowed the Parisians of the Napoleon era to do window shopping and stroll in a clean, well-lit and heated street (in winter) without being bothered by the rain and the horse carts. There are quite a number of these "passages" and "galeries" in Paris and most of them are located around the Palais Royal and the Grands Boulevards on the right bank. See this map (mouse over for names and click) for their location and details The Passage des Panoramas was built in 1799 and it was probably the very first covered arcade in Paris. Emile Zola writes at length about the passage in his novel Nana, which features an intriguing and energetic young Parisian prostitute. Read the chapter 7 of Nana (in English), where you'll have a taste of the sexual freedom of a high-class prostitute under Napoleon III and glimpses of this lively shopping arcade in an era that historians deem as having known "the most rapid economic and social change in French history".
The wine bar looks like it has always been around, it melts perfectly into this bustling neighborhood and in this arcade lined with traditional local stores. The shop facing Racines, at N°57 of the passage, is where the famed "chocolatier Marquis" stood in the 19th century. Zola's Nana loved this "perfume of vanilla emanating from a chocolate dealer's basement". It still has some of its period fixtures and it is also really worth a look, even if you didn't read Nana.
Although these Napoleonian covered arcades have begun to come to light these last few years, they are mostly still largely ignored by mass tourism (we wouldn't complain about that) and out-of-town visitors need to do some research to reach these havens of authentic local life. At least with Racines, wine lovers will have a chance to be introduced to one of these architectural gems in addition to sipping some of the best natural wines around.
Pierre conceived Racines as a bar/restaurant where he would serve only top-quality, artisanal products, and when the inauguration of Racines took place, last fall, every single of his producers were there: all the artisan vintners and all his Italian charcuterie suppliers. That's where B. and I met and tasted Guy Blanchard's Macon whites for the first time (we later visited him in Burgundy). This inauguration highlighted the special relationship that can take place between a bar/restaurant owner and his suppliers, these people visibly had a strong bond which was more than simple commercial friendship.
Racines is not a very big place as you can see on the pictures and it is easily crowded, so Pierre takes reservations by phone, especially for dinner. If you just want a glass of wine, you need to order also something to eat for licence reasons, be it only a plate of cheese or a few slices of saucisson.
His philosophy is to use only the best products from a short list of selected suppliers, and a look at his website will help you put a name under the great foods and ingredients : the butter comes from Jean Pierre Bordier, an artisan who uses only tradionnal methods to make his butter in a remote corner of Brittany.The meat comes from Hugo Desnoyers' butcher-shop. Hugo Desnoyers is also the suplier of Paris top restaurants (and of the Elysées Palace, the residence of the French president). Racines' vegetables are biodynamicly-grown in Alain Passard's 2-acre farm in the Sarthe. The Parmigiano Reggiano cheese at Racines is made by Giorgio Bonati, who matures his cheeses for up to 10 years. The ones Pierre stocks are respectively 36-month and 7-year matured. Last but not least, the onctuous and delicate "lardo di Colonnata" [see botton-right picture] is made by Fausto Guadagni in Tuscany, this is probably the best lard in the world and I suspect some people first come for the lard and THEN awake to Pierre's natural wines...
In Racines, Pierre Jancou decided to stock fewer wines, but only the purest sort of natural wines. He serves or sells (you can also stop there just to buy a bottle) the wines from 15 to 20 vignerons who don't use any additives during the vinification (and farm organic of course), including most of the times no SO2. He says maybe 80% of the wines he stocks and serves have zero sulphur addition. His choice of sulphur-free wines was not dictated by extremism but because these are the wines that taste the best for him. He has a small cellar under the bar where he installed a temperature-control system. With fewer vignerons suppliers, he also can stock more of their wines, which allows him to wait the right time to release some of these wines. His vignerons are of course Claude Courtois (Loire), Pat Desplats (Loire), Philippe Jambon (Beaujolais), Jean-Marc Brignot _ a pure magician, he says_ (Jura), Pierre Beauger (Auvergne - Loire), Louis Julian (Languedoc), Gilles Azzoni (Ardèche - Rhone) Gérald Oustric (Ardèche - Rhone), Loïc Roure (Roussillon), Axel Prüffer (Hérault- Roussillon) and a few others. Asked about a particular wine he serves, he says that he has a Mondeuse de Savoie by a vintner named Grignand. It is a beautiful thirst wine full of crushed-red-fruits aromas with an undetermined color between a red and a white, a light fizzyness and only 8,5 in alcohol. He says he has other miracle wines, for example Pierre Beauger's Auvergne (Loire) wines : this vigneron has one hectare of Gamay and only a half of chardonnay on the historically-charged Gallic Plateau-de-Gergovie (Caesar was defeated there) and his "Vitriol" cuvée (Gamay) and his evocatively-named "Champignon Magique" (magic mushroom) cuvée (Chardonnay) are pure natural-wine gems, Pierre says. they are usually sold by the bottle, though and he made me want to try them.
His has usually 9 wines by the glass on his wine list, 3 dry whites, 3 reds and 3 dessert wines, with prices from 4 to 7 euro a glass. Note the beautiful pig logo on the glasses [see picture on left], the same one than the "Lard Vin" by Claude Courtois. So cute that you want to bring a couple of them home... You can also order a bottle and drink it there with a cork fee of 8 Euro, which makes a much better deal than in many restaurants. The cheapest bottle at Racines is a 4,5-Euro by Louis Julian in the Languedoc. The last time I stopped there, I had a glass of Quartz 2005, a voluptuous and atypical Sauvignon made by Claude Courtois in Sologne (Loire). See here the insightful report (in French - Word file) about the Quartz 2006.
Racines is open on weekdays only (Pierre has three children and wants to share time with them).