22 August 2016

n.d.p. in lyon: le fleurie, 69007

Far-flung Lyonnais wine bistrot Le Fleurie exists in a wonderful parallel universe where the old Léon Daudet chestnut - that Beaujolais wine comprises the “third river” nourishing Lyon, after the Rhône and the Saône - still rings true.

Le Fleurie’s cuisine is solid and satisfying and co-proprietor Jacinthe Gomes’ concise, inspired wine list is the model of what a fine Lyonnais list should like: reds divided evenly between Beaujolais and the northern Rhône, with whites deriving mainly from Burgundy, the Mâconnais, with a dab of Rhône. Classic selections all, and at great prices!

Yet the fact remains that the population of Lyon, at time of writing, famously prefers almost anything to Beaujolais, and tends instead to identify with Rhône wines. Just why is a matter of speculation, into which I’m happy to delve at length later. For now, another fact remains: most people are idiots. Most Lyonnais, most French, most Americans, most drinkers, most humans. The rest of us are happy to go out of our way for lunch at Le Fleurie.

“It used to be the football quartier,” says Gomes, apropos of the rather parched Gerland neighborhood. A new stadium opened in 2015 on the other side of town. “There’s not much going on at night here.”

The streets around Le Fleurie contain very little, as far as I can tell, besides a pet shop bearing the hilariously revolting name, “Reptile Passion.”

So Le Fleurie opens for lunch-only, except for dinner service on Thursdays and by special request. Gomes runs the place with her husband, chef Olivier Paget, who is usually found across town at his other, gastronomic restaurant, L’Ame Soeur.

My friend R and I had Ubered down from Part-Dieu station, intent on making the most of a day in what, when you live in Beaujolais, constitutes “the big city.” Living in Beaujolais is also what motivated us, despite our love for the region’s wines, to drink something else for once over lunch at Le Fleurie.

A splendid and well-priced bottle of Domaine Ramonet’s basic 2013 Chassagne-Montrachet was in vivid form, with scintillating acidity and saturating notes of cedrat. (I use the French here because the English for this fruit - “citron” - is, confusingly, the French for “lemon,” which is not at all the tasting note I’m trying to convey.)

Le Fleurie’s menu has a split personality, reflecting, presumably, its need to appeal both to locals and to visiting wine industry gourmands. There are lunch formules at 18€ and 30€, though one is free to pick and mix between them à la carte. I took a pleasant and refreshing chilled squash soup, though it was nowhere near as memorable as my friend’s duck breast tartare.

The duck flesh, which had been lightly smoked, was tender as a sigh.

At the risk of suffering tartare overload, we ordered another one of beef for as a main course. It was bright and invigorating, and evoked a mild longing for an aged Moulin-à-Vent.

If the roast filet mignon of pork was a bit overdone, with a texture resembling that of a suede jacket tied into a knot, well, it bore a plate-saving flood of fine sauce poivre.

Desserts were essentially of the same workaday, perfunctory quality, but at least the chocolate bore an eye-popping, seemingly un-ironic garnish of M&M’s.

All these plates came and went in a dining room with oddly bi-leveled walls in the shadow of a wine list superior, in conception and concision, than most Michelin-starred restaurants. The mostly-natural list guides diners to drink what makes sense within Lyon and its surrounding regions.

This is so simple as to seem self-evident. Yet many of the Beaujolais winemakers I know - almost all of the natural ones - admit to having more professional clients in the 11ème arrondissement of Paris than in all of Lyon.

Partly this is just ‘the natural thing’ : Lyon, a rather conservative town, has been slower to embrace natural vinification ideas than Paris. I would chalk this up, partly, to Lyon’s closer proximity to winemaking regions. To believe natural winemaking is a necessary corrective to what came before requires that one believe also in a discontinuity within winemaking tradition, which could arguably be more difficult the closer, geographically, one is to said tradition. 

But Lyon’s disavowal of Beaujolais dates back further than the ascendance of natural wine ideology. Rudolph Chelminski, in his hagiographical book on Georges Duboeuf I’ll Drink To That!, conjectures that during Beaujolais’ heyday - roughly the 1970’s to the early 1990’s - the Lyonnais grew to resent both the outsize attention Paris and its media outlets (Gault & Millau, etc.) paid to the region, and to how eagerly that region responded to markets further afield. It’s like if your kid brother attains fame in badminton and ceases to prioritise playing matches with you, you promptly lose all interest in badminton.

This seems plausible enough. But it doesn’t seem to tell the whole story, particularly in light of Beaujolais' ill commercial fortunes since the early 1990’s. Lyon's general wine conservatism doesn't seem entirely appropriate, either, given that university students make up over 4% of its population. (It's home to France's second highest student population, after Paris.) Why aren't the students rebelling, and taking an interest in the wines their parents mistakenly avoid? 

I have a theory. 

The population of Lyon is invariably aware on some level that the city is geographically isolated from international influence. (Lyon's most significant international influence arrives from Francophone Switzerland, which enlivens and broadens the culture about as much as the proximity of Canada does to upstate New York.) Lyon will simply never be as cosmopolitan as Paris. 

The Lyonnais - parents, students, all of 'em - might therefore understandably be slightly sensitive about appearing 'behind the times,' by drinking Beaujolais for example.

Never mind that, in the time since the industrial Beaujolais nouveau scandals of the 1990's, Beaujolais-style vinification has become fashionable in the rest of viticultural France; never mind that restaurateurs from New York to Paris to Copenhagen and Tokyo now clamor for allocations of the greatest cru Beaujolais wines; never mind that the Beaujolais region has become an influential hotbed of natural winemaking. How were the Lyonnais to know? 

Well, they might have taken a cue from Le Fleurie. It has been open since 2003.

123 rue de Gerland
69007 LYON
Tel: 04 78 72 64 32

Related Links: 

An article on Olivier Paget and his restaurants at Lyon Saveurs

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