As if to underline the fact, our next stop was Racine's in the Passage des Panoramas, the nerve centre of the Vin Naturel movement. We had vowed to eat there one day having found it closed on a previous visit months ago. There is no wine list. The bottles (about 100 we were told), were on shelves on the wall. The higher ones' labels could hardly be seen. Not wishing to drink an entire bottle even with a friend to help out, we asked what wines we could have by the glass and were told, if memory serves, a Sancerre, a Chablis, a Chenin Blanc, a Burgundy, a Toscano Rosso (Sangiovese) and maybe a Beaujolais (or was it a Bordeaux?). Anyway, nothing much of interest as far as varietals were concerned. We decided not to stay as the food was a little on the expensive side with €40 a likely cost per head.
More disappontments awaited us, this time probably thanks to French labour laws which mean that smaller wine shops have very erratic hours, opening at about 11.00, closing between 13.00 and 15.30 and going on until 20.00. Typically, they bring the roller-blinds down between times without any sign as to opening hours. In this way we missed 'le Chapeau melon' (92 Rue Rebeval, 19ième) who apparently were 10 minutes late in re-opening in the afternoon, never got to Julien (Rue Charlot, 3ième) which appeared closed over the two days we were in town, missed Le Versant Vins (Marché des Enfants Rouges, 39 Rue de Bretagne, 3ième) who were about to open when we passed by but already closed when we returned and the final disappointment; a ghost shop -'les Ultra Vins' near the Opera Bastille whose neighbours assured us had been closed these 5 or 6 years.
For all these there were an equal number of delights. The first was Caves Augé (fondée en 1850), 116, Boulevard Haussmann, in the 9ième.
- Paris's oldest wine-merchant and one which has not just moved with the times but has been a leader in Vin Naturel and has an eclectic selection of 'vins du monde'. They also have a multi-cultural and very well informed staff and the place is not too stuffy with so many wines on show it is better to ask rather than picking bottles out oneself for fear of knocking something over. They also retain the old system of having a lady behind a cash counter to take payments.
There we found again the Gringet we has so much enjoyed from Galéries Lafayette and another Mauzac from Robert et Bernard Plageoles in Gaillac, this time the Mauzac Roux (Douce).The next 'Splendeur' was the Caves du Panthéon, 174 Rue St. Jacques, 5ième
(Persan/Mondeuse) we had found previously chez Julien and then two absolutely new discoveries for us; Pierre Picot Sainte Agathe Tresailler (= Sacy) 2008, Vin de Pays d’Allier (Saint Pourcin, Massif Central) 12%
and a Greek wine made from 100% Vostilidi grapes; Sclavus ‘Metageitnion’ Cephalonia 2009, 13.2%. Apparently Vostilidi is a thick skinned white grape producing pronounced tannins. It is used mostly for 'village wines' (perhaps a more polite way of saying 'rustic'?).
The Caves du Panthéon is not nearly as large as Augé but they have some interesting specialities including Vins Naturels as well as about 20 Greek wines and no doubt others (the patron rejected any suggestion of specialisation).
Alsong the way we visited a place called 'La Dernière Goutte' which was nice but more conservative (6 Rue Bourbon le Chateau, 6ième) where the only cepage inconnu was a Bianco Gentile from Corse. This really is a rarity having been discovered during a census of the grapes of the island and brought back to life by a few producers. It apparently has loads of personality:
Le Bianco Gentile est un cépage qu'on ne trouve qu'en Corse et plus particulièrement du Cap Corse. Arraché à tour de bras au profit du Muscat, ce cépage avait presque complètement disparu. La station viticole expérimentale de Corse a sauvegardé des exemplaires de Bianco Gentile et a effectué des expérimentations durant une dizaine d'années. Antoine Arena a remplanté une parcelle en 1997. Ce vin est une rareté vinifiée en sec sur ce millésime (contrairement aux précédents) qui garde ses origines méditerrannéennes avec des notes de fruits blancs mûrs, de miel, de viennoiseries et une touche de rancio qui deviennent plus réglissées et minérales à l'aération. N'hésitez pas à le carafer au moins un heure et à le laisser longtemps dans le verre, vous serez surpris par son évolution (le verre vide est d'ailleurs particulièrement odorant). Toujours cet équilibre sur le fil du rasoir, aucune lourdeur et un équilibre remarquable. La bouche est marquée par le gras, la rondeur, et une finale longue et soyeuse avec une pointe d'amertume. Un vin séducteur et de caractère.
Finally, from a previously not particularly exciting chain, 'le repère de Bacchus', a Negrette which we learn is just a synonyme for 'Folle Noire' - d’Ambat ‘le Roc’ Fronton, NV 13%