Not far from the concert venue l'Olympia in the central 9ème is a conspicuously classic-looking bistro-à-vin called Les Bacchantes, plastered with PUDLO Paris dining guide tags dated back to the early 2000's.* I passed by the other day and, noting a few natural / organic names on the wine list (Bernard Defaix, Domaine Combier, Philippe Pacalet) I resolved to return one day for lunch, thereby proving that, despite my often-overwhelming cynicism on this blog, I'm just as susceptible as anyone else to vain hopes of discovering overlooked gems in this raked-over city. It's because I'm an optimist.
The other day my friends R and N gamely agreed to pay the place a visit with me during our lunchbreak. They'll probably be more skeptical of my lunch suggestions in the future.
The wine list, as I'd promised, was varied and relatively interesting. To me. It was our lunchbreak, though; we couldn't really go to town. After a full-bore traditional lay-it-on-thick welcome, in which the waiter / possible proprietor shoehorned us into some perversely tight banquette seating, I took a glass of 2008 Domaine Léon Boesch Riesling, on the grounds that it was domaine I hadn't heard of that was marked bio. But when it arrived, it was miserably compost-heap oxidised, indicating only what I'd pretty much expected - that the primarily clientele of Les Bacchantes are not natural wine weenies seeking a balanced Riesling. Domaine Léon Boesch are, from what I gather, a reputable father-son biodynamic operation based in Westhalten, south of Colmar in Alsace. But the bottle at Les Bacchantes had probably been open for weeks, if not months.
Cue - when I mentioned the flaw - the waiter / possible proprietor's stock explanation that the wine was natural. I told him I know a thing or two about natural wine, but didn't press the point. Some time had passed by then, and since a tartare de boeuf I'd ordered was imminent to arrive, I ordered a glass of Jerôme Galeyrand's 2008 Côte de Nuits-Villages "Vieilles Vignes." It was something I'd planned to do since ordering the Riesling, since if the latter hadn't been oxidised I would have finished it by now. But I knew how the situation appeared. I looked like another schmoe tourist switching to the opposite colour of wine because I hadn't liked the first glass. The waiter / possible propietor commented on this, and I said yes, yes, I know!
(When I'd ordered the tartare, he'd gone so far as to inform me the tartare was raw. I swear I wasn't wearing a Hawaiian shirt with a camera around my neck on that particular day. It is just difficult to not be taken for a tourist in some places.)
Happily, the Galeyrand Côte de Nuits-Villages, while not a natural wine per se,** was poised and lovely. Limber dark cherry fruit, and a light, by no means unpleasant vinous-vegetal accord. It was very fairly priced at 5,5€. I proceeded to praise it to the moon, asking to see the bottle, and in doing so I finally succeeded in convincing the silver-haired server / possible proprietor that I wasn't some twit who'd strayed too far from Galeries Lafayette. He was kind enough, in the end, to not charge me for the oxidised Riesling, either because of or despite the fact that I'd never asked.
I had asked for ketchup, to go with my fries, which hadn't helped my case. Charmingly, they had none in the house. It was no-ketchup as policy, which is downright perverse for a place that anticipates tourists to such an absurd, cattle-prodding extent. Unfortunately the fries were just passable, the tartare fresh but overmayoed (possibly for my sake), and R and N's filet mignon de porc dry and unflavourful. And each of these mediocrities were overpriced by about 4€.
We'd had a late lunch, and beside us was seated a clear lifer regular who maintained a continual banter with the server / possible proprietor throughout the entire meal, even when the former's mouth was full. It was impressive, and heartening, to see that such an affectionate bond had seemingly managed to sustain itself throughout the years, throughout changing times, styles, service attitudes, etc. - ever since Les Bacchantes was, in theory, a viable place to enjoy a nice glass of wine.
(It wasn't a total bust. I enjoyed all the florid old booze ads, of which the staff were justifiably very proud.)
* How long has that guy been at it? His arteries must be like spent fuel rods.
** He appears to practice some form of lutte raisonée. Galeyrand has 5ha around Marsennay and Nuits Saint Georges. His first harvest was in 2002; he's since become the treasurer of the Syndicat Viticole de Gevrey-Chambertin.
21 Rue de Caumartin
Tel: 01 42 65 25 35
Le Petit Vendôme, 75002: a better option for lunch near Opera, sadly without natural wines
Le Rubis, 75001: another better lunch option near Opera, also without natural wines
A good in-depth profile of Jerôme Galeyrand @ EmmanuelDelmas
A heck of a lot of coverage of Jerôme Galeyrand @ BourgogneWineBlog