Paris' natural wine scene, like any subculture, can get a bit repetitive. I've been in town just two quick years, and already I find few new discoveries at a public tasting like the one held at 19ème bistro Quedubon the other Sunday, entitled "Vivant Les Vins!" The wines themselves are familiar, if not from the similar line-up Quedubon proprietor Gilles Bernard hosted last year, then from other tastings and dinners around town since then. And the vignerons, cavistes, restaurant staff, and so forth who reliably appear at these things comprise a cast of a hundred or so, no more.
At times it can seem like all that's changed is the vintage. Which, in the case of the entry level wines of reliably good natural winemakers,* does not always imply a markedly new wine. Another slightly oxidative Chenin, eh? More bright Gamay, more Grolleau? No kidding.
It was heartening, then, to encounter at Quedubon that day the surprisingly solid, opinion-reversing red cuvées of Côte Roannaise estate Domaine du Picatier, which fall under the heading of Things I Thought I Knew But Did Not.
Domaine du Picatier is the project of Christophe and Géraldine Pialoux, who took over the estate in 2007, Christophe having previously studied at the lycée viticole in Beaune and worked extensively for Maison Drouhin. Of the couple's 7ha of vines, there is 1ha of 40-year-old Pinot Noir, and another 1ha devoted to Chardonnay; the rest is Gamay. The Pialoux practice natural methods in the cellar, using only indigenous yeast and no sulfur during fermentation, and are presently working towards organic certification for their vineyards. For reasons of avoiding appellation strictures,** their wines are all bottled under the somewhat unflattering appellation of Vin de Pays d'Urfé, which sounds like a planet from which muppets might launch an attack on Earth.
I'd actually been avoiding the extremely affordable Domaine du Picatier wines for a while, having had a very middling encounter with a too-old bottle of their "Le Blanc" Chardonnay last year. So that day with my friend J I'd proffered my glass expecting zilch.
The Chardonnay is still pretty middling, actually. Let's not talk about the Chardonnay.
The bright, Beaujolais-style Gamay "Cuvée 100 Percent" is what J and I dug most, what we wound up purchasing several bottles of on-site, what we drank for the afternoon with our friends W and D as we all loafed in the shade on the outskirts of the tasting, much to the unreasonably vitriolic displeasure of Quedubon's miserable vampire neighbor across the street.*** More bright Gamay, yes... It was just a magnetically drinkable one, brisk, focused, berry-fruited, and all for about 2/3 the price of a decent Beaujolais-Villages.
It had a kind of effortless, frank catchiness to it, like certain recent tracks by Philly indie rocker Kurt Vile:
"L'Intro" is the Pialoux's tougher, more structured Gamay, also very tasty, but less well-suited to the occasion of drinking off the lid of a trash can, which is what we were reduced to, after the aforementioned neighbor formally asked us to leave his doorstep and subsequently chased away for same reasons a producer of eaux de vie and a small young girl and then put up a rude handmade sign. "Auvergnat-Noir," meanwhile, is the Pinot, aged for 11 months in oak; it was also very well-made, if not especially expressive. (But again, price must be considered. It is as fine a Pinot Noir as exists in the under 15€ bracket.)
Part of why I liked these wines so much is, I'll admit, a vestigial mercantile impulse from back when I had wine lists to play with. Domaine du Picatier's red are natural-born glass-pours, every one them. For the sake of drinking well around town, I can only hope quite a few of the actual restaurant wine buyers present at the Quedubon tasting drew the same conclusion.
* A certain faction would have you believe that this is a contradition in terms, like saying "benevolent despots," but such broadsides against natural wine invariably derive either from ignorance or antiquated mid-century traditionalism, or some combination of the two.
** Really? The AOC of Côte Roannaise was created fairly recently, in 1994; it would surprise me if there were particularly rigorous rules surrounding its production. It's not, like, Vin Jaune, after all.
*** Unmistakeable dickhead vibes from that guy. He pushed past us into the apartment with his two goober friends, lugging sacks of Franprix ham and Kronenberg, complaining loudly about the festive free natural wine tasting happening right on his doorstep. He and his friends then commenced drinking their crappy beer in his dank living room and talking about nothing other than how disrespectful it was, for people to be enjoying themselves responsibly on a Sunday afternoon in the street outside his apartment. The shocking thing is, it's not like the guy was trying to read or sleep or study Chinese or anything. He was doing precisely what everyone on the street was doing: drinking with friends. But he and his sad fellow masturbators had insensibly decided to define their drinking in opposition to the more tasteful drinking occurring outside in the sunlight. I hope they all get rickets.
22 Rue Plateau
Metro: Buttes Chaumont
Tel: 01 42 38 18 65
An unfortunate experience with a dead 2008 bottle of Domaine du Picatier's Chardonnay
Running into Antoine Arena and Eric Narioo of Caves de Pyrene on the same night at Quedubon
A mag of excellent Jousset Montlouis with LA indie-afro-pop band Fool's Gold at Quedubon
Riesling and cod ceviche at Quedubon
A good profile of Domaine du Picatier @ RichardKelley
A profile of Domaine du Picatier @ PetitesCaves
A write-up of Domaine du Picatier's "Auvergnat-Noir" @ TheWineBottega