06 August 2013

sandwiches du terroir : u spuntinu, 75009

I had a mildly embarrassing moment the other day at U Spuntinu, the colourful Corsican épicerie I've been frequenting for sandwiches lately. I walked in, ordered my warm omelet sandwich and tomato-and-brocciu salad as usual, paid, and left. 

Then I walked back in, having resolved, finally, to purchase one of the many bottles of Corsican wine on offer so I could justifiably say something nice about the place on the blog. U Spuntinu is a mildly exotic and utterly unpretentious lunch takeaway destination operated in a highly-routinised kaizen fashion by a team of formidable Corsican ladies - and what's more, they stock the wines of actual reputable estates like Yves Leccia, Clos Nicrosi, and Domaine Giudicelli, among others. (Domaine Antoine Arena is notably absent.) 

But then I said to hell with it and walked back out again, because really what is the deal with the abysmal price-quality ratio of Corsican wine in general. 

U Spuntino's wines are not priced as kindly as their sandwiches, but it's not their fault. The uncompetitiveness of Corsican wine was something I noticed way back in 2006, when I was buying wine for an Italian restaurant in LA.

My list at the time was nominally entirely Italian, but I liked to stretch the definition slightly by including the wines of border regions, like San Marino (a micro-state contained in Italy), Slovenia, and Corsica. I bought Yves Leccia's and Antoine Arena's wines from Kermit Lynch, and, somewhat unsurprisingly, they didn't sell that well. Mainly because more characterful Vermentino could be found cheaper from Sardinia and even Liguria, and more characterful Sangiovese positively overflowed - also more cheaply - from Tuscany, Umbria, and Emilia-Romagna. 

I can't pretend to have done any in-depth research on the subject. I've never even been to Corsica. There are nonetheless a few factors I can think of that might explain the discrepancies in price and overall quality between the wines of Corsica and a vaguely comparable region like Sardinia.

Corsica is smaller and more mountainous, for one thing. There's no underestimating the effect of the landscape on the costs of cultivating vines. 

There are presumably governmental factors. French labour law is famously constrictive. I'd be curious to see how labour costs compare between comparably-sized domaines on the Corsica and Sardinia. (Not that Corsica's administrative apparatus is reputed to be any less free-wheeling than Italy's.)

I also wonder whether cultural differences might explain certain personality differences in the two islands' wines. Are winemakers making wines with vastly different ideals in mind ? Am I the only one who finds Corsican wine overall to be significantly more rigid and uninspired, stylistically-speaking, than wines made from the same grapes in neighboring regions?

As far as I can tell, the only Corsican domaine with any significant presence in quality Paris restaurants is Domaine Antoine Arena, about whose wines I remain very much on the fence. Arena's Muscat de Cap Corse is, admittedly, fantastic - more agile and more pure-fruited than any other example I can remember tasting. But I hope I'll be forgiven if I suggest that the popularity of their dry whites and reds seems more related to the likability of the winemakers than to the wines themselves, which typically strike me as stolid and - yep - overpriced.

Anyway. U Spuntinu remains awesome, despite my reservations about the entire Corsican wine industry. For one thing, U Spuntino is the only place I've found near my office that serves take-out cheese omelets with fries, a universal hangover remedy.

Their sandwich selection is also noteworthy for containing relatively unusual ingredients - things like tomme de corse, the aforementioned brocciu (a ricotta-like lactose-free whey cheese made from sheep or goat milk), and anchoiade, an anchovy dip or spread akin to the Italian bagna cauda, only not hot.

But what's so winning about the fare at U Spuntinu, finally, is that it's not presented as exotic at all. The tomato and brocciu salad I dig so much is presented next to an array of biddy-ish pan-Française salads like celerie remoulade, carrottes rapés, pasta salads involving corn, etc. To complete the cultural clash, the place offers couscous on Thursdays. There's a line down the block.

I seem to remember one of the ladies who works there telling me the place has been owned by a man called Henry Ceccaldi for around for 30 years - which means they've been bending cultural conventions in their own small way since long before kim-chi tacos and David Chang's soft-serve.

21, rue des Mathurins
75009 PARIS
Métro: Havre-Caumartin or Madeleine
Tel: 01 47 42 66 52

Related Links:

GillesPudlowski has, as ever, got there first. He's like GoogleMaps ! And about as discerning. 

More solid sandwiches in central Paris: 


  1. Abbatucci has been positively everywhere in NYC recently, and the less-fancy reds, roses and whites can be found in the $50 to $80, and for the quality, I think this is a fair tariff. The "Faustine" rouge is like some mad love child of classically-styled Sangiovese and top-flight, feminine-styled Beaujolais.

    The QPR on the higher-end wines decreases greatly though, I imagine, and some of the top bottlings would scrape the $200 dollar restaurant mark if I remember wholesale pricing correct.

    I would suspect the relative rarity and as well as high labor costs being problems. At least stateside, the people who handle Arena are known for taking possibly more than their fair share of mark-up, but I agree, however you cut it, they're way too expensive.

  2. i haven't tasted abbatucci - will keep an eye out for it.

    but when you say $50-80, are you talking case prices, or bottle prices ?? i can't think of a single thing i've tasted from corsica worth $50-80 / btl. here in paris i balk when i see corsican wine at 20-30€, because for those prices i could have 1er cru chablis or village gevrey or a nice saint joseph. mild bianco gentile or tight nieluccio doesn't stack up too well.

    arena is kind of pricey here too.