The other evening I had the occasion to follow up on a surprising recommendation I'd received in March from Guardian wine columnist Fiona Beckett, who had turned up what sounded like a splendid wine bar in the least likely place of all: mere paces from luxury department store Le Bon Marché. This is deep, gerontocratic Paris, home to those Parisians whose wealth and social stability have largely spared them from meaningful interaction with the contemporary era, let alone any re-examination of their drinking habits.
I adore this neighborhood, naturally. But, save for the splendid Café Trama up the road, it's until now been very hard to find anything to drink there.
So newcomer natural-wine cave-à-manger Sauvage, when it opened in February on rue de Cherche-Midi, needed merely to exist to qualify as groundbreaking. Bare-bones, boxy, and cheerful, Sauvage resembles a small-town Scandinavian coffee shop. But owner Sebastien Leroy outdoes himself with a surprisingly uncompromising natural wine selection, and an improvisational menu that grasps beyond the usual cheese and charcuterie to include - at least on the night I visited - a bright and vivid lobster salad.
Who knew that all cold lobster needed as adornment were a scrappy herb vinaigrette and a broken-necklace of fresh berries?
Sauvage's menu is verbalized (at great length) without prices, so I'd been waiting for a wallop with the bill after a round of these salads. The wallop never came. Exact prices escape me but nothing was gougingly expensive, as one might expect in Sauvage's neighorhood. (Perhaps Leroy is passing onto his clients what he saves in labor costs by preparing everything himself, with some of the attendant delays.)
Wine prices, too, are fair. For the initial selection I understand that Leroy, a former film set designer, received some help from my friend Michel Moulherat, formerly of La Cave de l'Insolite, now of La Poudrière in Issy-les-Moulineaux. (There seems to have been a falling-out between the two over the project, hence Moulherat's departure. An issue about which I have neither requested nor received details from either party...)
The selection as it stands now is Loire-centric, but a little lean on readily enjoyable white wine. (Points for courage to anyone trying to explain the Courtois family's skin-macerated Sologne creations to anyone looking for a nice white before dinner.)
|I was happy to see the wines of upstart natural Beaujolais winemakers Hervé Ravera and Romain des Grottes. These are less-than-obvious selections for a new wine bar.|
Sauvage's chief draw for those not overwhelmingly interested in natural wine will be its terrace, which is just slightly broader than your average tongue-depressor. I suspect this was done less out of sadism than for fear of having it removed entirely by the Mairie. As it is, ones ankles are in continuous competition with droves of coiffed old ladies and their dogs.
That didn't stop us passing a really splendid evening. After about 8pm, bedtime for the quartier, foot traffic largely disappears, and one can begin to spread out. My friends and I shared, among other bottles, one that has become a favorite of mine this spring and summer, Domaine de La Paonnerie's 2014 Vin de France Rosé "Voilà du Gros Lot."
It's a fascinating, unclassifiable wine that splits the difference between an orange wine and a rosé. Domaine de la Paonnerie's Jacques and Agnès Carroget make it from grolleau gris, a pink-skinned mutation of the more commonly encountered red grape grolleau noir. The grape see whole-bunch fermentation and short maceration, yielding a strawberry-blonde color, and an enthralling, iris-tinted nose. At around 14€ retail at most places I've seen it, it's easily the best price-quality ratio of the season, for anyone looking for complexity in rosé.
I recently tasted the 2013 vintage at 12ème arrondissement wine bar Le Siffleur de Ballons, who still have quite a bit of stock. It holds up alright, although a lightly skunky incense note starts to obscure the fruit. My friends there shook their heads relaying how impossible it was to sell - a waxen, cloudy rosé from an unknown western Loire variety.
Proposing it to Bon Marché shoppers, many of whom are probably in Provence as I type, is deliciously quixotic. Here's to more of the same.
60, rue de Cherche-Midi
Métro: Rennes, Vaneau, or Sèvres-Babylone
Tel: 06 88 88 48 23
Fiona Beckett's March 2015 piece on Sauvage.
Le Fooding's piece on Sauvage boasts by far the worst photo the site has ever published. It looks like it was taken with Google Street View.
Café Trama, 75006