Rue Bailleul, Paris 1st arrondissement
The Beaujolais Nouveau day is really a day where you'd like to be in multiple venues at the same time in Paris, as it's happening all over the city : people massing in/outside bars and bistrots to enjoy together this festive wine by excellence, the freshly-vinified Gamay, a Brut de Cuve which even at conventional-winemaking wineries is more authentic and alive and haven't had time to be much spoofulated. But here of course we visit venues that anyway pour only the real thing, Nouveau wines from artisan vintners who only make real, uncorrected wines, and I stopped counting these bars, bistrots & restaurants long time ago, they basically hold the upper ground now in Paris. I could have gone to Les Pipos but this time I remembered that Aaron was working kind of full time for Chez La Vieille at the corner of Rue Bailleul and rue de L'Arbre Sec, and here we go...
The other good point for choosing to go there is that there's another top-rated wine bar just round the corner (10-15 meters away), Le Garde-Robe (pictured here on top of this Bojo-Nouveau story), you'll find different wines but in both venues they'll be natural wine. Chez la Vieille opened under this format and the management of American chef Daniel Rose in maybe october 2016 while Le Garde-Robe is dealing these wines since october 2005. The full name of the former is Chez la Vieille Adrienne, it's been for decades a quasi institution run by Adrienne Biasin who opened the place in 1960 and served hearty dishes for lunch only, this was the time of Les Halles, the giant wholesale food market which hadn't been moved yet outside Paris to Rungis, and there were many top quality eateries for the busy professionals that frequented the market. The restaurant had different owners since, until Daniel Rose renewed the format.
Aaron isn't doing this all the time, be quiet, but Beaujolais Nouveau is only once a year, and if you have been around in Paris that night you certainly know that Paris become weird in the good sense along these few hours, it kind of connects us back to the era when wine was viewed as a simple & healthy drink, easy and cheap, Hemingway summed it up well in his time : Drinking wine was not a snobbism nor a sign of sophistication nor a cult, it was as natural as eating and to me as necessary. I wish we could experience this relation with wine again nowadays in France, it isn't antithetical to modernity, just see how the Japanese can indulge in unbridled drinking and socializing after work, and this often at a very affordable cost.
I was surprised (and at the same time not entirely surpised) to see several prominent vintners dropping that evening at Chez la Vieille, here Guy Breton, known under the nickname of P'tit Max he's as you certainly know a member of the "Morgon gang" who started making sulfites-free wines there along with Jean Foillard and Marcel Lapierre (and headed by Marcel Lapierre and Jules Chauvet). Not really surprised because if you have read Aaron's Not Drinking Poison over the years, you'll know by now that he's an expert on real wines in Beaujolais, visiting the old guard and the new guard as well. Aaron lived a couple of years there in Beaujolais, renting an appartment to friends of Julie Balagny (if I remember) and touring around in all seasons on his small scooter, taking part to the harvest, the pressing, devatting and everything. Whenever I want to know something about the wines and the people who make them over there I just text him.
The thing is, Aaron actually was planning to open his own wine bar in Paris at the end of his couple of years in the Beauijolais but it cut short after his planned associate pulled out of the project, and when he was considering the arduous replacement of this chef/associate, he was contacted by Daniel Rose who had been running Chez la Vieille for a year, his wine director Remi Segura was leaving, so he was looking for someone into wine to reshape the venue into some wilder place, more bistrot-food and wine than regular restaurant.
When Daniel called him about this wine-buying position at his venue that fell right at the good time for Aaron because he was available and not about to create his own thing (in the medium term at least) because of circumstances beyond his control. He had worked in restaurants before (he was a sommelier in L.A.), he also gived a hand in Paris recently and knew the milieu, loved the concept Daniel Rose had in view, classic French cuisine without too much adornment. Daniel whose other restaurant in Paris is La Bourse et la Vie (he's in the process of selling Spring) wanted the place to become more like a wine bar, the soul of this place was to be a lively, improvisatory kind of bistrot, it has to have the feel of improvisation, something wild.
The room was already crowded and B. hadn't arrived yet straight from her job and i saw this guy walk in with a few friends, i surely recognized him this was Jean-Claude Lapalu, another Beaujolais vintner whose story is very interesting : he kind of discovered natural winemaking through other people than the "gang of Morgon", through incidently tasting the wines of Gramenon, Domaine Milan and Marcel Richaud, he changed his winemaking and the guys of Morgon tastes his his wines here and there in wine tastings, liked them and visited him.
There were a few of the best Beaujolais Nouveau by the glass that evening, and I started with the one of P'tit Max, Guy Breton. Great pleasure, easy drink, and with these vignerons you know there's no trick, just pure grape juice, no correction to hide the viticulture imbalance, no sulfites to put the wine in cage, and the wines gives it all back ! At least, wine again with its magic (just look at the color)...
That evening they had 4 Nouveau wines by the glass, all at 5 € per glass, 21 € for a bottle to drink here, 13 € for a bottle to go (à emporter : Guy Breton, Jean Foillard, Kéké Descombes, Romain des Grottes. Great deal, especially the 13 € for a bottle to go... You could order a few side dishes from 6 to 10 € to share with your buddies, and there's more than side dishes by the way, the chef is Oleg Olexin, a talented guy with roots in Ukraine and Israel.
Otherwise speaking of wines on a regular day (not Beaujolais Nouveau), wine by the glass is more like between 8 and 10 € at Chez la Vieille.
I'm not sure Georges Descombes recognized me at first hen he walked in the bar, he also was with a few friends touring Paris bars for this special night, and his son Kevin was there to (this is the bottle his friend is holding). Descombes is a humble man but I love his wines, and he seems to come every year in Paris for this festive night, but I think that 3rd thursday of november may indeed be the day of the year with the highest concentration of artisan vintners in Paris, even those not from the Beaujolais want to enjoy the wilderness of it, and natural-wine vignerons are the most fit for that believe me, whatever region they come from, they of course run a business like other people, but the real kick for them is this excitement, they make real wines that brings this enjoyment Hemingway was telling about, and taking part to it brings more rewards than financial returns.
I can't be eveywhere, but there sure was good time to spend at les Pères Populaies, a relaxed and timeless cantine/bar sitting in the middle of the 20th arrondissement out of the beaten path (considering that the immediate surroundings of Belleville are now beaten path), the owners there had ordered 230 liters of Descombes' Beaujolais Nouveau for this Holy Thursday, certainly a barrel worth of Nouveau, and Georges gave me this great sticker they had done specially for him.... I hope to go there soon and see what it looks like (not sure they'll still have some Descombes Bojo though... Note that they were listed recently among the few Paris café/bars selling a cup of coffee for 1 € only, a rarity nowadays. On the map it's one of the venues the most eastward, just above Place de la Nation (interesting map/list by the way, there's so much rip-off when you just sit casually for a cup of coffee in this city, tourists should keep the link at reach on their tablet). The glass of Nouveau over there may be a bit more expensive but still a bargain compared with many wine bars.
We sure have here another great vintner, Kevin Descombes whose nickname in the milieu is Kéké is the son of Georges Descombes, and his style is
quite different from the one of his step brother Damien Coquelet, I'd say you get more the feel of his father's style, and I love it. Back a few months ago in the Cellier de fleurie (scrol down to the 7th picture) I had already loved the Saint-Amour wine co-authored by himself, Damien and Fred Cossard, but of course this wine was so good that I couldn't but credit Fred Cossard for its magic...
Now I'd like to know excactly who made what, and where... This cuvée Kéké is a great Beaujolais Nouveau, Georges can be proud, the domaine will be in good hands when Georges retires, if he ever accepts to retire... All the old guard of the Beaujolais artisans is now backed by a new generation which is really doing a good job, and not just reproducing a recipe, I think.
Read here Aaron's piece about Kevin Descombes' debuts.
But if I had to say which Beaujolais Nouveau impressed me the most this evening, I'd have to say this was this Romain des Grottes, it was delicate, vibrant and silky at the same time with this lovely acidity, just delicious. I asked Aaron about this wine, he says that what's good here is that he breaks all the rules for his single red cuvée (Brut de Cuve), in both viticulture and vinification. First on viticulture (which is biodynamic) : there's a common narrative among good vignerons that you can't make a good Gamay with a planting density below 7000 or 8000 vines/hectare because you're supposed to get competition between the vines, and Romain actually has a much lower density because he uprooted every other row and planted different things between, like barley, elder flowers or fig trees, plus he makes two pickings using only the 2nd one for this wine. On the vinification side he makes a particularly-big pied-de-cuve, something very unusual, which means there is much more juice in the maceration vat. Read more on Romain des Grottes through Aaron's piece, it's so exciting to see what's behind such a terrific Beaujolais. I'm not sure his wines are easy to find, I know in the U.S. Vineyard Gate sells them in California, there may be more but it's a small domaine, especially if you consider half of the rows are missing, so expect a small production.
Then my special prize for an outsider this evening (not a Beaujolais) : there was a bottle of Nouveau humoristically named Déprimeur (déprime or déprimé means depressed in French), it's made in the vicinity of Dijon (a region that was covered with vineyards a century ago or more) by Marc Soyard of Domaine de la Cras, a young vigneron who farms organic and vinifies without SO2, this was really delicious as well, grab one also if you see a bottle somewhere. I called Marc to know more about this cuvée, he told me it was not supposed to exist in the first place, his intent was to make a try of full carbonic maceration in orde to blend the result to the other part, as he usually does semi-carbonic (after a week, he uses to foot-stom the grapes to have juice flow). But it happened at that time that his Japanese importer agent [Kinoshita if I'm right] visited the facility, tasted this carbonic just after pressing and said he needed a Primeur, so he had virtually to sell them this batch. It's by the way of course already in the natural-wine barsin Tokyo, like here (picture to prove it) at Winestand Waltz... Marc made 580 bottled in all of this great Déprimeur, and 360 were shipped to Japan, the rest being either sold at the domaine to visitors passing by (at the retail price of 9 € tax included) or to the caviste Naturellement Vin (based near avallon, Burgundy) who happened to pass through at this time. Lucky people... But there'll be more next year, this experiment will become a regular cuvée from now...
On the export side, Marc Soyard wines are exported by Paris Wine Company, Josh (who was there at Chez la Vieille that evening) having met Marc very early when he was just starting his domaine.