I shot this picture on the right a couple years ago, Tim Johnston was receiving Gilles Lapalus, the French winemaker of Sutton Grange Winery and we could all at Juvéniles taste his Australian wines.
Tim Johnston worked at Mark Williamson's (the Brit) Willis' Wine Bar from january 1981, the wine-bar concept as we know it today was new then paradoxally even though there was no shortage of wines and cavistes in Paris. Going to a bar for its clever selection of wines by the glass was something rare as strange as it seems.
Juveniles is by the way located very close from Willis Wine Bar which is around the corner on the rue des Petis Champs. It sits at 47 rue de Richelieu, a very central location near Palais Royal, the Louvre and the Grands Boulevards further north. Don't expect a terrasse, the sidewalk is very narrow in this street and even if it's not a large street it's an important one-way thoroughfare going from the rue Lafayette and the Grands Boulevards to the Louvre and the rue de Rivoli.
I checked the wines-by-the-glass list, some 15 wines from France and a few from Italy, Australia and Lebanon (the wine list changes regularly). Glasses volumes are 12 cl and the rates are good for Paris, starting at 3 €. I flashed on the Chateau Musar on the list (a Chateau Musar ! my first one !), it was only 6,5 € and I wouldn't miss the chance. It's actually a "second vin" made from younger vines, but by reputation, a second wine from this estate couldn't be ordinary. Chateau Musar is a legend by itself. The Hochard family came to Lebanon from France in the 1400s' with the crusades and lived there ever since. The winery was started by Gaston Hochard in the 1930s' under the French mandate in Lebanon with export to France in mind. It makes wines which have reached a quasi cult-status among the wine connoisseurs. The winemaking style changed gradually since the start of the winery and Chateau Musar wines were already known 30 years ago for being exceptionnal. I heard several people say Musar wines were among the very best in the world. According to Gaston Hochard (the gradson of the other Gaston Hochard), the philosohy was to try to make wine in the most natural way possible without any additives and they still continue to that day. There's only about 15 wineries in the whole of Lebanon, and Chateau Musar's vineyards lay in the Bekaa valley at an altitude of 1000 meters. One side of the Bekaa valley (the north) is by the way also a stronghold of the islamist militia Hizbollah. Tim says that although the vineyards went unscathed from the fightings that took place years ago there, there has been a time during the civil war when the Hochars took a machine gun on the tractor to go to town...
This Chateau Musar "Musar Jeune" red 2007 is a blend of Cinsault, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon. The label reads 13° in alcohol and the mouth agrees, that's very reasonnable for a hot country like Lebanon must be. This wine is so nice, beginning with the nose, and the tasting notes on the back label say it so well : intense flavours of cherries, blackcurrants, blueberries and violets finish on warm, spicy, savoury notes...And that is a second wine... This is intense and refined at the same time, and onctuously delicious, it was realy an experience up to my expectations. Tim says that until this second wine went out Chateau Musar was too expensive to have the wine in the shop. Plus, the one which is very well-known is a white which is quite oxydative, which he doesnt like, he considers that it's an intellectual wine, sort of, not a passion wine.
There are a few bubblies, a Prosecco Di Valdobidiane extra dry (28,5 € a bottle), an Australian Green Point Vintage Brut Rosé (8,4 € glass), Champagne Moutardier Brut Pu Meunier (9,5 €). The wines, red and whites are diverse and reasonnably priced, starting at 3 € and a couple of them peaking at 8,5 €. When I last visited, there was three whites : a Petaluma Clare Valley Riesling 2001, a Picpoul de Pinet 2008 Domaine Felines Jourdain and a Pouilly Fumé 2008 "les Cris" by Alain Cailbourdain. There was also a liquoreux, a Monbazillac 1996 Cuvée du Chateau Grande Maison, Terry Despres.
The reds were Coteaux du Lyonnais 2009 (Guillaume Clusel), Cahors 2007 Cèdre Héritage, Casamata 2008 IGT Toscana (Bibi Graetz), Cornas 2007 Empreintes (Durand-Durand), the Musar Jeune 2007 and a Beaujolais Primeur 2009 Cuvée Vieilles Vignes Domaine du Vissoux. There's a rosé too, the menu having a line in French saying : "in spite of the cold, a sip of rosé to boost the mood" : Côtes de Provence 2009 rosé Chateau de Roquefort "la Poule de Bédoule".
Tim is a Scot after all, so there a nice list of harder drinks, Apero'z, Muscats and Sherries from Spain and Australia and at last, the Hard Stuff chapter ("a wee dram afore yer go") which are Cognacs, Fines Champagne, whiskeys and whiskies (prices from 6 € to 11 e and a couple at 15 €), and even an intriguing Versinthe (5,5 €). Tim Johnston even bought his own cask for the 20th anniversary of Juvéniles : Compass Box Malt Whisky (natural cask strength 53,9°), 11 € a glass.
This list evolves permanently and Tim also adapts to the seasons, offering for example in winter wines that go well with the season and the food. And anyway he likes to see the wine list change regularly. Employees at Juvéniles are often Anglos, young expats who also play a role in the fact that the venue is casual and friendly. Tim doesn't hire regular sommeliers but prefers people who also have other passions in life.
Tim Johnston selects himself the wines, and there are also quite a few foreign wines there on the shelves. He likes the wines that are rich and neat, he says, adding that he likes the wine itself, not the wood. He says that the most important word in wine is balance, and he doesn't want to drink things that are high in alcohol with nothing behind. Asked if it's not too difficult to avoid these wines in the Rhone, he says that Marcel Richaud who makes wines at 14° or 15° still gets a balance that others don't have at 12°. Asked about tartaric-acid addings he says that it's like wood, if it's well done and discreet it's OK.
Also on the wall [picture on right], you can see many paintings, most of them been authored a friend of Tim. His daughter Caroline who is an artist also occasionally creates labels of Juvéniles' special cuvées. Yes, Tim Johnston makes his own cuvées from time to time, and in his previous life before 1984, he vinified for example at Chateau Montelena in Calistoga and Jordan Winery in Healdsburg. He also vinified in Margaret river in Australia, a region he considers the only one in Australia to make great Cabernets. Australia used to make in the past great blends of Cabernet-Shiraz, he says this blends fits perfectly with Australia's conditions. Speaking of Tim's ties with the wine trade, his ancestors were at Ducru-Beaucaillou a couple of centuries ago, and he says that there is a letter written by a Johnston from there saying that sadly because of a bad harvest in Tain L'Hermitage, this would affect downward Bordeaux's wines, which proves that at the time this blend was also made in Bordeaux [or that the Rhone wines were used to correct Bordeaux wines].
Speaking of Tim Johnston's family ancestry, Tim says that he is the first one in his direct family tree since 300 years not to have been in the military or fought a war. He says that there was a split of the Johnston family several centuries ago following the civil war and part of the family left Scotland for Australia or for Ireland, the latter taking ground also in Bordeaux. The Johnston Negoce is still there today to prove it.