16 August 2013

n.d.p. in champagne: aux crieurs de vin (bistrot), troyes

Just as the town of Troyes in the Aube can be said to contain a history of France - from its origins as a Roman settlement, to its role as a medieval trade capital, to its present state of post-industrial muddling - so does Troyenne cave-à-manger Aux Crieurs de Vin, the town's one great restaurant, contain a history of natural wine in France.

The restaurant and wine shop was founded in 1998 by Jean-Michel Wilmes and Nicholas Vauthier, two wine afficionados who'd previously worked together at an unlikely place : faceless wine retail chain Le Repaire de Bacchus. Vauthier, when I spoke to him recently at his cellar facilities in Avallon, admitted that he and Wilmes were "among the worst" clerks to work in that shop - because it didn't stock anything they liked. Wilmes and Vauthier preferred natural wines, particularly from the Rhône, Beaujolais, and the Loire.

So they astutely wagered that in sleepy Troyes - a 90 min. train ride from Paris' Gare de l'Est - they could create a clientele for the wines they loved. Fifteen years later, the restaurant is still packed. Aux Crieurs de Vin has since expanded with a stand at the town's central Marché des Halles. Vauthier has departed, striking off in 2008 to make wine as a négociant under his ViniVitiVinci label. He sold his share of the company to a friend of Wilmes, fellow wine lover and former textile industry executive Franck Windel. In the kitchen, fixing up the most heavenly simple cuisine imaginable from expertly sourced ingredients, remains Wilmes' mother, Françoise. And in the cellar remains another history of natural wine in France : back vintages of the classic cuvées of France's natural wine vanguard, at extremely honest prices.  

Everytime I step off the place Jean-Jaurès into the cave's shaded interior, I am reminded why I fell in love with natural wine. Confronting a selection at once older and more varied and priced lower than any present in Paris restores a sense of adventure to dining and drinking.

It's a step out of the fresh-fruit ghetto that Paris bistrot wine lists are beginning to collectively comprise, as they all increasingly offer the same pleasant young vins de soif, year after year. At Aux Crieurs de Vin you'll find a magnum of De Moor Chablis from 2006 for the same price as a standard 750ml of current vintage in Paris.

You'll find Hervé Souhaut's 2004 "Saint Epine." Bottles of Lapierre Morgon "MMX" from 2005. All for the price of a steak in Paris.

There is, naturally, an impressive Champagne selection, including the more introuvable cuvées of nearby natural Montgueux vigneron Emmanuel Lassaigne.

In my experience, at any given moment either Wilmes or Windel is present at Aux Crieurs de Vin, and both are immensely knowledgeable. The rest of the service staff, too, far exceed the usual French small town standards of reactivity and professionalism. Aux Crieurs de Vin is an institution, a place where people who wish to continue in the wine industry work. (E.g. my friend Florian Perate, who recently helped open new Paris 9ème restaurant Encore.)

The cuisine at Aux Crieurs de Vin is home-cooking with perfectionist product standards. For a wine-focused restaurant, it is sheer unimprovable perfection. Tender pink coins of saucisse, pristine andouillettes, mana-like yogurt and honey for dessert.


More ambitious chefs exist, as do more fascinating menus. But in the context of wine appreciation, serving a baroque or overly innovative menu is like booking elephants and fire-jugglers for a wedding: a distraction from the main event.

I'd also argue that it makes sense to serve simple, traditional recipes beside natural wines because the wines, like the recipes, spring from a continuous cultural tradition. A perfect andouillette or paleron de boeuf, served more or less how it was in the early 20th century, becomes almost as necessary to wine appreciation as clean clear glassware.

I could go on and on about the glory of Aux Crieurs de Vin. Wilmes and Windel's (and Vauthier's) tastes and dining priorities seem to dovetail precisely with my own, and as such the restaurant is probably my favorite in the world.

But what strikes me as their signature achievement is that, practically alone among their generation of restaurateurs and cavistes, they had the foresight to age natural wine, and the generosity to share the experience.

Aux Crieurs de Vin
4, place Jean Jaurès
10000 TROYES
Tel: 03 25 40 01 01

Related Links:

N.D.P. in Champagne: Emmanuel Lassaigne of Domaine Jacques Lassaigne, Montgueux

A 2008 piece on Aux Crieurs de Vin by Champagne / Sherry authority Peter Liem at BesottedRamblings.
A brief 2011 rave on Aux Crieurs de Vin at GillesPudlowski.
A 2012 account of a typically wonderful, wineful meal at DuMorgonDansLesVeines.
A 2012 article on Aux Crieurs de Vin at L'Est-Eclair.
More on Aux Crieurs de Vin at LeFooding.

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