Paris, 2nd arrondissement
Le Rubis is located (map) near the metro station Sentier in the center of Paris, in a side street from a pedestrian street you might be familiar with, rue Montorgeuil, a lively street going up from Les Halles to Sentier. There's a namesake bar Le Rubis, an older version located (map) rue du Marché Saint-Honoré 17 minutes by foot from here. While I've been several times (never wrote a story though) to this other one which I like for it's ageless patina, I'll prefer certainly the more recent version for its uncompromised and endless wine list.
Paris is a town where natural wine is making such a killing that we now seldom notice when a new venue opens serving these exciting wines, the question being more today how can there still be new bars opening who still neglect their wine list and buy the uninteresting wines made available to them by the specialized companies (initially created a century ago by people from Auvergne, oddly) catering for the restaurants and bars.
Marie Carmarans is not alone behind this wine bar & restaurant but she's the one we can't miss because of her last name, and although she is the real creator of this place we can't overlook her past experiences summarized in her last name : she is the former wife of Nicolas Carmarans, a man who before heading to his ancestral region of Aveyron to revive small vineyard parcels on narrow terraces and make wine there, had revived a wine bar that was to become one of the most sought-after in Paris : the Café de la Nouvelle Mairie near the Panthéon.
But as said above, she is not alone and you will have more reasons to come here, like the fact that her companion is no less that Michel Tolmer (pictured on left) who is the artist behind the 7-drawing strip cartoons centered on a small group of natural-wine amateurs (link to Mimi, Fifi & Glouglou, the book gathering all these hilarious stories).
Although this place opened in april 2014 it was below my radar and Aaron (read his initial story on this place) tipped me about a special evening they were having here in october to celebrate, if a bit late, the opening of the bistro. This was indeed a great evening, a gift by the managers of the venue with plenty of great natural wines poured from 7pm to midnight and later (I went back home at some point, so I don't know when it ended exactly) to the visitors, I definitely should keep abreast of such recurrent events, who can ignore such cool parties with free natural wine and such a relaxed atmosphere ?
Géraldine Sarfati (pictured here with Marie during this wild evening) is the business parter of Marie in this vinous venture. Géraldine was working in her previous life in the fashion and garment business (the Sentier near here is the right place for it) while Marie was also sort of in this occupational segment herself, she is a stylist and home designer. During the years with Nicolas carmarans she not only cooked at the Café de la Nouvelle Mairie and worked there many years (cooking, service, wines) but she also did some interior design for this venue as she and Nicolas set up the wine-bar project together. When they parted from each other she continued to do some interior design as this first experience at the Café de la Nouvelle Mairies brought her other clients who needed her touch to design their new venue. She for example designed Les Fines Gueules or also L'épicerie du Verre Volé, two prestigious natural-wine venues. She kept working also as graphic artist, designing the labels of Hervé Villemade or posters for Autour d'Un Verre for example (like the one on the left).
About 2 years ago with her friend Géraldine they began to have the idea to set up a bistro, Géraldine on her side beginning to be tired of her job in the fashion industry. They found this place in the classifieds, this was L'Hédoniste before (about which I wrote this story) which happened to be also a natural-wine venue but she wasn't very familiar with it then. They had visited lots of places in different part of Paris but they loved the place and decided this was it.
I tried to keep note of all the wines I got this evening but I may have missed a couple (and I poured myself refills of certain of them) :
__ Hervé Villemade white Cheverny 2013
__ Sébastien Brunet, Vouvray (another white)
__ Les Deux Terres, Ripaille, red Vin de Table
__ Julien Meyer Alsace Riesling 2013
__ Hervé Villemade red cheverny 2013
__ Jean-Claude Lapalu Beaujolais Villages Vieilles Vignes (old vines) 2013
__ Sébastien Bobinet Ruben, Saumur-Champigny (a cab franc)
__ Hervé Villemade Les Acacias 2009 (the one Marie pours us from a magnum on the pic above).
__ La Soeur Cadette, Melon, Vin de France
__ La Grange aux Belles, La Chaussée Rouge 2013
As I'm writting this, I'm myself amazed at what I drank that evening, having just deciphered the folded piece of paper where i wrote a few words including the name of the cuvées. Some wines impress you always more than others in such events and from the short geometric signs I recovered on my piece of paper the top experiences were with Villemade's Les Acacias 2009, the Melon, Julien Meyer's Riesling, Les Deux Terres' Ripaille and maybe atop of that, La Chaussée rouge 2013.
There was the bar staff helping keep full bottles on the table as well as food, and Marie & Géraldine had additional help this time, people whom I didn't see again when I dropped there a "normal" day.
Speaking of the wines you find at Le Rubis on a "normal day", I learnt from Marie whom I met again later in the following week that they have around 70 different wines on the printed wine list plus a few cuvées they don't put in because they have very few bottles, like for example the wines of Eric Pfifferling. You'll find of course the wines of Nicolas Carmarans both white and red, and I list here a few of the names I found here : domaine Poivre d'Äne, Puzelat, Mosse, Mas Foulaquier, Binner, France Gonzalvez, François Ecot, Foillard, Les Foulards Rouges, Bruno Duchêne, Mouressipe. Most bottle prices go from 20 € (Poivre d'Âne 2013 to 34 € (La Guerrerie 2013, Puzelat) with a few wines above that window (like Pierre Breton's Les Perrières Bourgeuil 2010 at 48 €). There are also 5 sparklings (priced 28 € to 32 €) including Nathalie Gaubicher Happy and the excellent Mauzac Nature from PLageoles and one Champagne from Fleury. This is fairly priced for Paris. There's a large cellar (for Paris) underneath the bistro, accessed through a trap door on the side of the room and they have plenty of volume to store the wines at a cool temperature.
The selection of wines by the glass varies but the other day there were 7 wines including a bubbly (Villemade Bulles Vertes at 5,5 €. The other wines, white and reds were all from 4 € & 5,5 € (Villemade, Meyer, Puzelat, Lapalu and a couple others), also a very good deal as wines by the glass easily reach 7 € when you deal with this quality. Marie says that this wine-by-the-glass list changes and that there are sometimes glasses reaching 6,5 €.
You can get a glass of wine without having to eat, the bar opens at 6pm and it's just that at dinner time (8pm) the tables at for dinners time.
Marie gets her wines directly from the domaines (she knows personally the winemakers), except for those who work exclusively with agents. She also finds time to visit regularly the vignerons in their regions (she was visiting Jean Foillard a few days before this interview and they went here and there to sample more wines in the Beaujolais), plus she has ones who come here (usually young vignerons like in this story) to let her and the staff taste their wines. Asked what Nouveau she planned to pour on the 3rd thursday of november at Le Rubis, she said Lapalu, Remi Dufaitre, Jean Foillard and also Puzelat who has a primeur de Loire for the occasion. For this special day there'll be music also, another group than the one you can listen to here, this is the brother of Géraldine's husband who is a musician and he will come with a buddy to play music. this will be her first Beaujolais Nouveau here and she is impatient to see how it unfolds.
There were nice people to meet that evening, some I knew and some I didn't, and the coolest girl was certainly Sandrine, she was surprising and doing things you'd not expect, like with this plush animal (I didn't get if she brought it here or found it in the street). When I asked her name she first said Chantal Ladesou, which hints she has some common ground with this unpredictable french humorist; we'd alternate the inside (which was sometimes agitated with the dance & music) and the outside, the street in the night being the welcome haven to cool down and raise your glass.
This Paris street is pedestrian but now and then a car would still take it, pushing us on the side for a few seconds. I realized that I could have parked my motorbike in between these street-repair fences, the parking police wouldn't have dare meddle near our party, but it was too late anyway, I'd have to suffer all the way back home in the metro...
The event was also a good opportunity to rub your shoulders with wine people like François Morel (center left) who opened one of the first natural-wine bar in the 1980s' before becoming a wine writer and editor in chief of Le Rouge & Le Blanc, the only really-independent wine magazine in France. Gilles Bénard with whom François Morel chats while sipping a glass of wine is also someone whom you can meet in wine tastings, this easy-going man manages an excellent wine bistro in the 19th, Que du Bon (the same says it all, you get only good wine there...). It's yet another venue which is on my list for a story and this should come one day.
There was also another person of intertest among this crowd, a man who opened the earliest natural-wine bar ever in Paris 25-30 years ago : Bernard Pontonnier (my story about him here), you can see him on a side picture a bit lower on this page, standing behind François Ecot (a Burgundy vigneron) who is sitting at a table.
I spotted at one point Fred (from Quincave) and Gilles (Que du Bon) who were chatting on the other side of the street, the scene was too tempting for me with the sparkling of Villemade (Bulle) along the wall in front of the no-parking "night and day" sign (brainstorming to find a meaningful sense to these words and context...);
When I joined Fred was recalling the time 25 years ago when Gilles poured him certain new wines [which hadn't this name of "natural wine" on them then], trying to convince him that this was really what wine was all about, the future of wine, he was dubitative at first, and surprised by these wines. At this time, or at least just before this discovery, Gilles says they all, Fred and himself, but also other now iconic wine bar owners like Pinoteau, Morel, Camus and others sold wines that were so-so, as the natural-winenemaking was still hesitant and yielding often faulty wines. These wines still were easy to drink, they admit, and you never had headaches with them.
Fred says that at the time he had a wine bar Quai des Augustins [bistrot des Augustins] and among their counter wines at the time he had some Jacky Preys, adding that actually even in their present-day perspective focused on demanding natural wines, these wines are quite good. Gilles adds that at the very beginning when the natural wine thing began, the best thing they could find in the Loire was Marionnet, they both agree with a laugh that things have changed since. At the Time, Preys and Marionnet was already much better that what you could find on bars' counters in Paris. Then it all changed when they met Marcel [Lapierre] and Chauchau [Chaussard] who was then at the Domaine de la Saboterie and many others. Fred says that at the beginning he didn't understand these wines though, but he didn't say at the time to Gilles that they weren't good. At that Time Gilles had the Ramulaud, and before that he had managed Le Galopin place Sainte Marthe in the 1980s'. Le Galopin closed down in these years and recently Romain Tisdchenko came to him to ask if he could open his natural-wine restaurant on the same spot and name it Le Galopin, which he agreed. Gilles remembers that at the time had the wines of Corinne Couturier (Domaine de Rabasse Charavin in Cairanne), who is considered the "Mother" of Cairanne wines, he says that people like Marcel Richaud, Frédéric and François Alary (Oratoire Saint Martin) or Vincent Delubac decided to make wine because of what they tasted at Corinne Couturier's domaine. The lanscape opened widely since then but at that time Preys, Marionnet and Couturier were above the crowd compared to the counter wines available in Paris.
Michel Tolmer, Marie's companion, was around that evening, he's not directly involved in the business, he says, but in reality he does a lot, giving a hand when needed, from what I understand. The other day as I was waiting for Marie at around 6pm in the bar/restaurant I saw him set the tables with the plates, glasses and everything for the following dinner, and he seemed well trained. I didn't dare shoot a picture then but the scene was interesting when you know him by his drawings and stories. Watching the author of Mimi, Fifi & Glouglou (a comics about 3 buddies spending their time drinking natural wine) humbly set the table isn't common, and I don't know visitors of the restaurant were aware when they arrived for dinner later
in the evening (he left at about 7pm)...
On the picture left I had barely the time to shoot a picture of Michel filling a glass of draft beer... Marie told me then she and Michel travelled to the Beaujolais a few days ago to taste the primeurs (the Nouveau), Michel had his sketchpad and was drawing material, presumably as inspiration for his inspired comic strips.
You may not know this book with these vertical comic strips (another example here) but you probably know his iconic poster (pic on right) as almost every natural-wine venue has now one copy on the wall, and I'm sure abroad too as it has become the visual symbol of these different wines and how you can help these real vignerons by drinking their non-spoofulated wines. Michel Tolmer recounted to me the origin of this poster all the while setting up the tables at the Rubis : originally this was a lithography, a limited edition of 300 copies in a slightly bigger size, and when the last lithography was gone (except two original copies he keeps for himself) his artist stand was to say now it's over, the works had been all sold and he didn't intend to go beyond that for this particular work, but he got pressed by Pierre Breton who loved the work and he ended up accepting that posters be printed from the original work and that's the story of what is probably the most sought-after wine-related poster. I have one myself in the Loire, we had one in Paris too but B. wanted to change the decor and I had to move it south... It's regularly reprinted to get along the demand and Michel has no idea of the total number of copies out there.
I'll translate the meaning of this poster : On the top you can read : "learn the gesture that saves the vignerons [the winegrowers]". Below you can read Epaulé Jeté, which means in French "Clean and Jerk", the gesture of the shot-put sport, where you bring a heavy object on you shoulder and then throw it as far as you can. Here the gesture, if less diificult is no less heroic as it saves the real vigneron who work hard in the vineyard to make these terrific wines : the drawing shows how to bring the glass at your shoulder level and then empty it swiftly...
You can order a poster on this page, the color varies depending of the batch of prints (I'm not usually into promoting posters of any kind but this one is really special, there are so many good vibes behind it). I'm sure the Bretons do international shipping.
Facebook page of Michel Tolmer
At one point I saw Hervé Villemade arriving at the bar with a box under his arm, i suspect there were a couple of nice bottles, I don't remember the chronology but this may have been the magnum of Les Acacias that we had during this evening. I of course asked him how the vintage was going on with the weather we had this year, he said very well, he says half-joking-half-serious that you make better wines when the summer is contrarian and cold like we had this year. He had to pass with the tractor many times to keep the grass in check and he had to handle the disease pressure, with the last copper spraying on august 16 or 17. Like elsewhere in France he had to do more sprayings along the season, 12 in total. Then the sunny september saved the harvest, especially for the whites where the grapes were very nice. He does two sortings at the harvest, both in the vineyard, one by the pickers and the second when the specially-appointed people pour the buckets into the boxes. they had more sorting to do on ther reds with both dry and wet rotten grapes to take out, this was more tricky to manage. Hies yields are not to low, considering the challenges, he estimates it will be 25 ho/ha. On a normal year (he says with a grin that it's been a long time there hasn't been a normal year) he would make 35 to 40 ho/ha. The 25 ho/ha of 2014 comes after the 20 ho/ha of 2013 and the 8 ho/ha of 2012... This year will have enough volume for all his traditional cuvées when in the two previous years several cuvées had been shunned.
Laetitia who has been heading the AVN (a natural-wine group) for years has moved from Paris to Blois and she is the one behind the tasting event Les Affranchis which takes place in different parts of France, the next being in Montpellier on january 25 & 26 and hosting 40 winemakers. She says it's a lot of work, setting up a tasting event needs lots of energy.
the staff : Marie & Géraldine, plus Roberta Tringale, a young Scicilian cook who had her own restaurant (Casa Vigata) in Paris for years before joining this team in july. Plus Arnaud Lamboley for the service. Roberta is helped by a commis in the kitchen.
the food is made with selected ingredients sourced in the right place, be it vegetables or meat (USA, Black Angus & Spain, Galice beef). Entrees cost between 7,5 € &9 €. Main dishes from 13 € to 17 €, prices are service included. There are several (8) charcuterie & cheese plates from 8 € to 15 €.
Coffee is suplied by Gianni Frasi, an artisan coffee roaster in Verona.