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More from Philippe…

A small vineyard in Piemont which grows Demeter certified grapes produces the bottle that was my pick of the crop at the 10th anniversary edition of the Bouffons Bios Organic Wine Fair in Montreuil (see here for last year’s review of the fair). Le Vin en tête, a natural wine distributer with a number of bottle shops across Paris, was showcasing Italian producers only that day, and is the one I have to thank for my introduction to Cascina Zerbetta.

To my palate that day, Cascina Zerbetta’s Barberra di Monferrato 2010 outshone even the Italian organic pioneer Maule’s more famous bottles. The colour is a deep ruby, and the nose is typical of grenache vinified in whole clusters using carbonic maceration techniques. It is a very ripe drop, recalling, at first, blackberry preserve, then strawberry jam, but it also has distinct cherry-stone and light liquorice notes, eventually evolving towards cherry jam. Immediately after opening the bottle, the aftertaste had a certain walnut and almond tinge, which suggests a slight oxydization in the vinification process. But these notes quickly vanished after the wine was carafed. It is fresh and highly drinkable with its silky tanins and pleasant acidity. High altitude pleasure guaranteed for €11,70 (special wine fair price).

The details

Available at Le vin en tête for around €13/bottle

We arrived in Verzé‘s village square round 2 pm, with half an hour to mosey away before our appointment at Nicolas Maillet‘s vineyard. There was a terrasse, there was sun, and we were thinking about coffee. But there was also a blackboard ‘proposing’ (as menus do in France) a bavette, a particularly flavoursome cut of beef, for €8, an entrée at €4, and a full market menu, including a cheese course, for a whopping €12.50. We sat down. The genial Guillaume Sicard came out. And told us about all the entirely home-made offerings concocted with carefully sourced produce. Which convinced us to precede our coffee with a plate of excellent jambon persillé (chunks of ham with parsley in a gelée) and home-made terrine coloured up with salads, a compromise between main and entrée (€6).

Fresh, honest and very good. Accompanied by a generous pour of Nicolas Maillet’s fruity organic gamay at €2.50/glass, one of a selection of quality organic wines from the region. Carrément réjouissant !  When we explained to Madame Maillet afterwards why we were a little late, she seemed to understand.

The details

Address: You can’t miss it in the centre of Verzé, 71960.

Phone: 03 85 40 47 68

I once again hand over the keyboard to my wine side-kick Philippe, for his latest dada.

This is what the empty bottle looks like... the contents disappeared before I could photograph them...

Alexandre Bain‘s Pouilly Fumé totally redefines the experience of drinking sauvignon blanc. This aesthetic shock shook me from a certain lassitude fostered by years of standardized production in Sancerre and Menetou Salon (respectively, the prestigious and somewhat less appreciated appelations of the Loire valley, where sauvignon blanc is grown). Not to mention New Zealand’s low-end production, where artificial yeasts, enzymes, chaptalisation and high yields have disfigured the subtlety of this grape variety.

Bain’s bin is aptly named ‘Pierre Précieuse’, and gem-like it is. With deep yellow sparkles, rarely seen in a sauvignon blanc, its colour showcases the low yield and optimal ripeness of the crop. Sure enough, it was harvested on October 20th, belated indeed: it would a safe bet that Alexandre Bain was the last winemaker in the region to harvest his grapes.

The nose bursts with citrus, including lemon and white grapefruit, but these familiar nuances are transposed into an unusually elegant register. There are also discreet smoky notes, true to the Kimmeridgian limestone and marl terroir of Pouilly Fumé, whose trademark is compressed layers of fossilized shells. This empyreumatic element — less pronounced on a second tasting, however — blends with distinct lime-flower and exotic fruit notes such as passionfruit and lychee. They strike their harmonious chords again on the palate, where acacia honey wraps the mouth in a dense, tense structure, with a nice acidity spike which carries everything forward.

And the persistance is just outstanding.

This nectar is produced by hard work in the vines, including the “more personal” method of working the soil with a horse rather than a tractor. This effort has been thoroughly documented in a typically comprehensive review by Wineterroirs.

The only sulfites that get a look in are the marginal quantities used just prior to bottling, as Bain adheres to the philosophy and practice of natural wine. But his production should be distinguished from that of his Sancerre neighbour Sébastien Riffaut, whose bottles play too much on excessive oxydization for my liking. Anyway, with Bain’s yellow gem, the attraction was immediate and my enthusiasm – in case you hadn’t noticed – entire.

The details

Available at Cave Augé in Paris at €22/bottle, or €20/bottle if you buy six.

Available from the vineyard for  €20/bottle.

Alexandre Bain also has his own blog

Le Villaret

Entrée: boudin noir, apples

Fine produce, a taste for rich, full-bodied flavours, and a strong faith in cream and butter are to be found at Le Villaret.  This stalwart of Paris’ 11th arrondissement bistrot world was once run by the legendary Michel Picquart, who still keeps an eye on the place from his photo on the wall, but it has been in the hands of Olivier Gaslain, formerly Picquart’s head cook, for over a decade. He certainly knows how to treat quality ingrediants right, and his Norman background must have something to do with that cream thing.

Entrée: sardines stuffed with green olive tapenade

Arguably the most remarkable thing about Le Villaret however is the long wine list that leaves amateurs of traditional references with weak knees, dreamy eyes, and quite probably, a lighter pocket at the end of the meal, even if the mark-ups are quite reasonable. It was lunchtime, and all three of us were returning to work afterwards, but we succumbed to a classic by Jean Thévenet, Domaine de la Bongran, Viré-Clessé 2004 : golden, complex, waxy with green apple notes and long persistance on the palate; and also to a Minervois by Jean-Baptiste Sénat, La Nine 2010, whose crushed-black-berry fruit nose comes with a full, lingering mouth.

Main: red mullet, endive, cream and fish eggs

We opted for the €25 lunchtime entrée-main-dessert formula, starting with two large sardines stuffed with green olive tapanade in a green soup for me; and an explosively flavoursome and meaty boudin noir (French black pudding) with apples for my two companions. They followed this up with grilled red mullet, served with braised endives and shreds of serrano ham under a dollop of cream that the little orange pearls of fish eggs on top made light and vapourous. I enjoyed one of the most flavoursome and succulent beef-cheek pot-au-feu (stew) I’ve had for a long time, which came with a garden-full of root vegetables.

Dessert: yoghurt ice-cream with fressinettes (lady-finger bananas)

Dessert: yoghurt ice-cream with fressinettes (lady-finger bananas)

The desserts that followed were disappointing: the green apple sorbet was nice, sans plus, and the  warm apple and cider soup that accompanied it a little heavy, too thick for my liking. The yoghurt ice-cream with fressinettes – small lady-finger bananas, fried – wasn’t the best we’ve tasted, although the bananas were sweet. And I would add that €4 for a coffee is steep.

When compared to the current wave of young chefs changing the gastronomic landscape not only of the city, but, even closer to home, of the quartier (Inaki Azipitarte, Giovanni Passerini and Bertrand Grébaut are all based in the 11th), there is something slightly anachronistic about this place and its cuisine. But that perhaps adds to its interest: its like turning back a page in the book you are reading, and finding the picture there still intact, as you first saw it.

The details

Address: 13 rue Ternaux, Paris, 11th arrondissement

Phone: 01 43 57 89 76

Open: Monday-Friday

Reservations: recommended. You can often get a table at the last minute, however.

Lunch menu: entrée-main: €20, entrée-main-dessert: €25. Coffee: €4

Dinner: count on spending €40-50 per person before wine.

Wine: available by the glass, by the 50 cl pichet, and by the bottle.

Here is my first glass of post-worthy wine in 2012, which I’m raising to you, dear readers, with all my best wishes for a delicious deux mille douze vintage year.

Millton Chenin Blanc 2009 in the foreground, a "flight" of other wines from the Gisborne region in the mid-field, and two groovy Kiwi wine drinkers in the background. Gisborne Wine Centre, Jan 2nd 2012

It’s Millton Estate‘s Chenin Blanc 2009, which I discovered on January 2nd at the Gisborne Wine Centre. Very few bottles of chenin blanc are produced in New Zealand*, but this drop, grown, vinified and bottled according to organic and natural wine principles in the Gisborne area, is proof that lovely things can be done with this grape variety in the Land of the Long Grey Rain Cloud**. Mineral and delicately fruity with definite pear notes, it has a very nice acidity which keeps things dry and airy, balancing out the 7g of residual sugar and allowing for length and persistance in the mouth.

This bottle was also a refreshing discovery after two weeks trawling through New Zealand, where, more often than not, drinking wine involved being slammed by oak tannins with the subtlety of a baseball bat, schmoozed by pungent pineapple and passionfruit aromas that come on you with their artificial yeast pick up lines from more than a metre off, and/or quickly satiated by the residual sugar levels almost omnipresent in reds and dries, as Kiwis seem to like their wine “sweet as.” But good wine can be found everywhere, and this chenin blanc proves it.

East cape beach

*Michael Cooper‘s very comprehensive guide to New Zealand wines only mentions a handful.

** Aotearoa, the Maori name for New Zealand, means “The Land of the Long White Cloud”. The clouds were mostly grey and low however during my visit.

Mr Schenck and his wares, Domaine du Grand Arc

Here are three picks from the crop of the Autumn 2011 edition of the Independent Winemakers’ Expo (Salon des Vignerons Indépendents), Paris 23-28 November.

Domaine du Grand Arc (Corbières, Languedoc)

Recently, we opened another Aux temps d’histoire 2007 and were as entranced as ever by this century old carignan bin, so we decided to pay a visit to Mr Schenck’s stand to sample his latest creations. Although the 2009 proves to be not quite as intense as the exceptional 2007 vintage*, this edition of Aux temps d’histoire is suave, the notes lingering in the mouth to deliver the force of guarrigue, cocoa, and dark berry jam in successive layers. Cuvée des quarante, a predominantely carignan blend with a mix a grenache and syrah, is another favourite from the winery, and great value for money. 2009 oozes spices and liquorice with a silky smooth tanin structure.

But the true discovery of this year’s tasting was Six terres siennes. This bin is the fruit of Schenk’s search for excellence, undeniably successful in the 2007 bin we sampled. Predominantly structured around syrah, blended with carignan and grenache, this is a dense, complex wine, perfectly balanced with a lovely acidity. It has the nobility and lofty distinction of the nearby Queribus castle, and comes with a booklet penned poetically by Schenk. A real reflection of terroir: that is, an expressive blend of the land, the traditions, and the winemaker himself.

*2007 was an execeptional vintage year in Corbières and across the Languedoc region more generally. 

Mr Moynier, Domaine de la Coste

Domaine de la Coste (Saint Christol, Languedoc)

For those who savour the exuberance a syrah from Languedoc can yield – that is, wild, beasty, meaty, furry, leathery scents, combined with the spices and guarrigue typical of the Mediterranean – the Cuvée Prestige from Domaine de la Coste is for you. I’ve often delighted in the outstanding 2001 vintage from this vineyard, and so, upon spotting the most impressive moustache of the Salon, I decided to have another sip of Mr Moynier’s wares. Up for tasting were the 2008 and 2009 bins of Cuvée Prestige, a long-standing favourite of the Taillevent restaurant, where it is served with game. It once again proved to be a pleasurable drop, especially as Moynier’s down to earth, true to the soil – an exceptional patch of shingle and slate – vinification methods gives rise to the minerality which makes this red so recognizable in a blindfold test. Both vintages came out very well. And they’re great value for money too.

Domaine de la Bergerie's bottles, with Mr Guégniard in the backdrop

Domaine de la Bergerie (Savennières, Anjou, Côteaux du Layon)

At one point in the Salon, having lost my way amongst the rows and rows of stands, I stopped at the closest one to consult the Salon’s guidebook. Mr Guégniard of Domaine de la Bergerie obliged, and, after raising my eyes to the stand’s appelation on its little sign, I decided to try his Savennières. In truth, my curiosity had been piqued by the words “Clos le Beaupréau“, an outstanding terroir in the Savannières appelation which is familiar to me thanks to  Vincent Ogerau, a top producer of Côteau-du-Layon and red and white Anjou and a long-standing favourite of mine. Clos le Beaupréau is near Coulée de Serrant and la Roche aux Moines, and comprises sandstone, slate and volcanic sand, and Ogerau shares it, I learned, with Mr Guégniard.

If only all lost sheep were found by a shepherd like this one: Mr Guégniard’s whites are impressive and alluring. The difference in vinification methods is really what differenciates his two Savennières. While the “Grand Beaupréau” is fermented and matured in oak barrels,  “La Croix Picot” is fermented and aged in an innox vat. The 2009 and 2010 vintages of “Grand Beaupréau” were on offer, and both are excellent. The opulence of 2009 will doubtless be tamed with a few years of aging. The unique minerality of the terroir is evident in both, particularly in the lightly smoky aromas. Traditional fruit flavours such as quince and almond persist in a long mouth, balanced by savoury acidity. The lack of wood has certainly enchanced the fruity expression of “La Croix Picot“, and liquorice, citrus and toasted notes also linger in the mouth thanks to its perfect acidity. The less prestigious terroir is hardly felt on the palate at this age, as this bin is just as pleasurable as its Beaupréau sister. Which makes it hard to chose a favourite. 

Of this vineyard’s other whites, the entry-level range of Anjou deserves a mention. The generous maturity of the vineyard’s 2010 harvest has produced a lovely wine with an intensely yellow colour, exhaling peachy, almondy and white floral fragrances. Great value for money at €7 a bottle. The sweet Côteaux-du Layon wines, charactarized by the same high standards, are remarkable for their drinkability, as the residual sugar is not excessive even in the 2009.

A strong incentive to taste the reds next time.

Although the tasting was a joint effort, this review is signed by my wine side-kick P, who collaborates on all wine posts that appear on tablefables. Many thanks to him!


Philou

Home-smoked salmon, avocado

A filou is a cunning thief or trickster. Which makes Philou — run by a Philippe (Damas) — join the ranks of bistrots with misleading names: filou indeed.

That said, the practice of announcing a fixed-price menu (here, €30), and then adding supplements to more than half the dishes is starting to get to me. One member of our party did succumb to the siren call of pheasant, €8 extra, very good (but why the square of filo(uche) pastry? An unnecessary addition that looks and tastes like an afterthought).

Pheasant, caramalized endive

But the rest of us stuck resolutely to the €30 limit, and had a right good meal. For the market produce featured on this blackboard is fresh, seasonal, and good quality. Smooth and nutty Jerusalem artichoke soup and tasty home-smoked salmon and avocado got the ball rolling, followed by mains of meager with finely sliced sautéed cauliflower, and tender, tender beef cheek pot-au-feu style and silverbeet (which would have been further enhanced by a few aromatic herbs, if I may say so).

Beef cheek, pot-au-feu style, with silverbeet

For dessert, the fruit sabayon with thyme ice-cream was lovely, but the pear with vanilla ice-cream eaters complained of lack of pear and excess of sponge.

With the hum and comings and goings of the ever-trendier Canal crowd as a soundtrack, our evening unfolded under the benevolent eye of a Morgon 2010, the last by the legendary natural wine pioneer Marcel Lapierre: fine, fruity and suave (€38). The 50 cl of Côtes du Ventoux by the Ferme Saint Martin (€14) we ordered afterwards was disappointing however: notably forgettable, if you’ll excuse the oxymoron.

This is not a bistrot to cross Paris for. But if you’re in the neighbourhood, there is a lot to recommend it, not the least of which is the friendly, accommodating welcome we received. The locals have cottoned on to this though, so reserve your table well in advance.

Pear, vanilla ice-cream and sponge dessert

The details

Address: 12 Avenue Richerand  75010 Paris

Telephone: 01 42 38 00 13

Reservation: necessary, and at least a few days in advance. Small interior plus heated terrasse.

Menu: €30 market-based blackboard menu for entrée, main and dessert at dinner, with supplements on more than half the dishes on offer. Count on spending: around €45/person.

Wine: All natural. Some nice things here, however the list seems a little off balance: some regions and winemakers are overrepresented – lots of Christophe Pacalet (Beaujolais) and Hervé Souhaut (Ardèche) for example — while others are thin on the ground. By the glass from €3.50,  and by the bottle from around €30 upwards. 50cl carafes also available.

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