SURFACING: PARIS; Bevy of Wine Bars Go au Naturel
By ALICE FEIRING
Published: September 25, 2005
OVER the last few years, a collection of new bars dedicated to wines made with minimal intervention has made an appearance in Paris. Run by wine enthusiasts who are nearly evangelical about the natural wine movement, the 20 or more bars vins have personalities as distinctive as the products they showcase.
Though there is no official term for these wines, the French usually call them vin naturel, and the production process involved goes well beyond ''organic,'' a term that generally refers to how the grapes are grown rather than the winemaking method. Natural wines are made without industrial helpers or even excessive flavor interference. The best of these reflect their origins and vintages beautifully.
Don't expect elevated design concepts when trying out one of these wine bars, although there are, of course, some exceptions. Take the 20-seat La Cremerie Caves Miard at 9, rue des Quatre-Vents, (33-1) 126.96.36.199, in the Sixth Arrondissement. A tiny, retrofitted, retrofeeling former dairy store, it inspires oohs and ahs, it's so cute.
For about two years, the owner, Pierre Jancou, has been positioned behind the tiny marble-slab bar, saucisson gently swinging above his head, intensely slicing and dicing. While there are terrific wines here -- many extremely trendy Loire wines like the Domaine Griottes -- Mr. Jancou might push some other little-known bottles. The highly recommended Vitriol Vin de Table by Pierre Beauger ($25, at $1.25 to the euro), was a wine so natural it was turning to vinegar, an illustration of the fact that just because a wine is natural doesn't mean it's superior.
Most of the natural wine hangouts are clustered in the Bastille and Oberkampf districts. One of these is La Muse Vin, 101, rue de Charonne, in the 11th, (33-1) 40.09.93.05. La Muse's walls are lined with about 250 choices of wines, thrillingly unfamiliar to most American wine drinkers. The northern Rhne winemakers Dard et Ribo make a fierce syrah and the St.-Joseph is a bargain at $29. One of the Muse's owners, Guillaume Dupr, likes to play wine psychic, and can often channel the perfect wine for a customer. If you don't like it, he'll take it back.
Autour d'un Verre, 21, rue de Trvise, (33-1) 188.8.131.52, is in the shabby part of the Ninth. In 2004, the natural wine bug bit the ex-pat owners, Marie from Sweden and Kevin from California. With little change in dcor, they converted their Internet caf into a wine bistro.
Visually, the place has more in common with a college dorm, but looks are deceiving. Their small wine list is dense with winemakers on the rise. Comfort-style food is modestly priced (a two-course meal featuring cod steak with hefty dose of pink peppercorns and lime peel, for instance, is $15 at lunch and $19 at dinner).
While there seems to be a new place opening every other month, some natural wine bars that have been around the longest are the best. With about 15 years at the same address, the natural-wine-bar prototype is Le Baratin, 3, rue Jouye-Rouve in the 20th, (33-1)184.108.40.206. Philippe Pinoteau, one of the few gray-haired gurus in this green world, is a sly host who might pull a switcheroo on your requested wine if he disagrees with your food and wine pairing. (He is, however, known to absorb the cost when he plays such games.)
Attitude aside, this ragtag establishment is known for generously proportioned clean cuisine (a three-course la carte dinner without wine starts at $32). On a recent visit, the marinated sardines were intensely fresh and, surprisingly, a great match with the Domaine d'Anglore ros -- so dense and complex it could have been a full-bodied red. A full range of intriguing wines by the glass starting at $5 encourages experimentation.
But Mr. Pinoteau has a secret stash of more important wines. For example, at $77, a wonderful cinnamon-scented Burgundy, Philippe Pacalet's Gevrey-Chambertin, was a bargain. Be forewarned, these wines aren't accessible to just anyone. You might have to beg.