09 May 2012

other factors: le vin de julien, 75009

The Native Companion moved into a new apartment recently in a different part of town. On the one hand this will mean an awkward trafficky Velib ride whenever we wish to see each other. But on the other hand it's a joyous occasion, because she's no longer living across the hall from a clingy overly-familiar drunk woman, and because now we (me and the NC, not the clingy drunk) get to explore a whole other part of town together.

The other afternoon we were walking down one of the streets in her new neighborhood and, as is my wont, I peered quickly inside a more or less pokey-looking cave called Le Vin de Julien to see what was what. We were hurrying to a brocante before the NC had to work that evening, and so were a bit unprepared for what followed, which was an amusingly opinionated rapid-fire tasting session in the company of the eponymous cave's proprietor, Julien Arnaud, and a fellow who turned out to be the writer of a European dining guide, Roger Feuilly.

The tableau upon entering Le Vin de Julien was Feuilly and a younger man sitting at the tiny cave's communal hang-out table, while Julien bustled at the periphery, gesticulating about the Nebbiolo he was sharing with the two men. I made a brief tour of the shelves and decided the selection is what might be called natural-indifferent, which is to say that while there were a few sturdy selections of natural wine on offer - Christophe Pacalet, Mas Foulaquier, Binner - they had not been selected on that basis.

The NC and I accepted pours of the Nebbiolo that was open - a refined and delightful 2008 Nadio Fiorenzo, perfect except for the inescapable mark-up of the French importer* - and, in mentioning I wrote a wine blog, I almost declined to mention it was about natural wine, wanting to avoid controversy.  As it was Julien, half in gest, immediately opined that he'd been open for two years, and bloggers never wrote about his cave.

Well, the thing is, bloggers almost never write about caves. Caves are sort of boring to read about. Even my caviste friend J, with whom I do most of my wine travel, agrees. Don't write about caves, he often advises me, although he may just be referring to caves other than his own.

What's more, Le Vin de Julien is, as I've hinted, a totally conventional cave. There is no reason a natural wine afficionado would shop here unless it were right outside his girlfriend's house. Thinking I might nevertheless write a little something, since the guy was so nice, I asked him what he'd done before opening his cave. This prompted another short tirade about how he's not one of these natural winos who open caves without ever having worked in wine. (He didn't specify then, but further research indicates he worked for the very commercial Provençal estate Château Miraval before coming to Paris and working at Cavesteve, a hideously designed 16ème cave I've never visited.)

In my experience the natural / conventional divide is sort of irrelevant in this case. More or less informed people open all kinds of caves all the time, Paris is crawling with cavistes. But upon later reflection I suspect what Julien resented was the easy branding that comes with the natural wine ethos. It's hard for the press to write about caves in general, but it becomes slightly easier when one can unite all a cave's wines all under one rubric, in this case "natural," rather than the somewhat harder to define rubric of "the caviste likes them."

That day we let the matter drop and, despite still wanting to get to that broccante, we went on to taste two bottles of Beaujolais Julien opened for the audience that had now gathered (for that was what we were).

The first bottle - a 2009 natural Beaujolais by Domaine de l'Astrolabe, a micro-estate (1ha30) based in Bully - was opened as a continuation of an argument Julien was having with Feuilly, about whether it was any good. Here I agreed with Feuilly: while the wine was enjoyable and retained impressive acid, given the vintage, something felt a little murky and overworked about it, kind of as though the winemaker, Pierre Pitiot, were attempting to extract Morgon structure from non-village vines.

The domaine's ostensibly lesser cuvée, the punning "Maintenant ou Gamay,"which Julien opened next, showed a lot more promise. Knife-like acid, with a keenness and purity I usually associate more with northerly red Burgundy. It felt brief, focused, and heartfelt, like Forest Fire's killer debut album opener "Fortune Teller."

I was delighted, mainly for having found, in this totally conventional cave, something for under 10€ that I could happily snag on the way to visit the NC. But it was also nice to confirm once again, in our interactions with Julien, what every good Paris caviste knows - that being charming trumps all other factors in wine retail, even for hypercritical natural-wine flag-wavers like myself.

* Not Julien's fault, and possibly not even the fault of the French importer. The demand for Italian wine in France is just so low that it's impossible to import it in quantities sufficient to justify fair pricing. The wine I mention here would have been cheaper in Los Angeles.

Le Vin de Julien
42, rue Condorcet
75009 PARIS
Metro: Anvers
Tel: 01 83 96 12 84

Related Links:

A tiny local news article on Le Vin de Julien @ LeDailyNeuvieme (I'm surprised such a site exists.)

An interview with Domaine de l'Astrolabe winemaker Pierre Pitiot @ MorgonDansLesVeines
A piece on Domaine de l'Astrolabe's attention-seeking "FuckS@rkozy" cuvée by my friend Antonin @ Rue89
A mention of same cuvée presented on Beaujolais Nouveau night at Le Vin de Julien @ L'ActduVin
A mention of same cuvée @ RichardBellia
A mention of same cuvée @ 20minutes (Not that I disagree with the sentiment, but the fact that this unnuanced, fairly idiotic statement got this much press says unsalutary things about popular political discourse in France.)

A few other great cavistes in the neighborhood:
Autour d'Un Verre, 75009
Le Vin Au Vert, 75009


  1. Woohoo, welcome to the hood! ^_^

    I was going to recommend caviste/table d'hôte Le Vin au Vert, but I see you know about it already. And although it's a bit of an uphill hike, I think you'll enjoy Le Grand 8, where many of the natural wine guys go and have dinner on Sunday nights.

  2. hi clotilde ! unfortunately it's just the NC living there for now, not me... it definitely makes for a nice break from the lawless corner of the 11ème where i continue to reside.

    le grand 8 is indeed totally great. (http://notdrinkingpoison.blogspot.fr/2011/10/those-who-know-best-le-grand-8-75018.html)

    hope we get a chance to catch up soon - many thanks for reading in the meantime !

  3. Hello Aaron,
    Tell me something. Is a cave different from a regular wine shop? More specialist? Or are all French wine shops AKA caves (cavistes)?

  4. hi John! cave = wine cellar, but often used in the names of wine shops. caviste = wine merchant, or wine shop. I'll admit I use that terminology mostly for atmosphere. but for me it also specifies that we're discussing wine retail in France, which for various reasons is peculiar and unlike wine retail in other countries