24 March 2015

symbiosis: la cave du daron, 75011

For better or worse, the fate of tiny 11ème arrondissement caviste and wine bar La Cave du Daron seems intimately linked to its famous neighbors across avenue Parmentier. Inaki Aizpitarte's ubiquitously publicized triumvirate of Le Chateaubriand, Le Dauphin, and Le Cave are like the Great Whites Sharks of Goncourt, leaving the impossibly low-key La Cave du Daron to perform a remora-like function, living off the overflow.

I lived three blocks away for four years, and for all that I appreciated owner Jean-Julien Ricard's varied and intelligent wine selection, I could never think of much to say about the place. It's the size of a sardine tin, comprising just eight or so seats. Small snacks of prepared foodstuffs are available. While Ricard organises semi-frequent events with outside chefs, including Maori Murota (ex-La Conserverie, presently making lunches at Le Verre Volé Sur Mer) and Adeline Grattard (of Yam Tcha), La Cave du Daron's miniscule size pretty much restricts their audience to the hardcore fanbase of the visiting chef in question.

Ricard, too, has a loyal fanbase of young professionals who populate the bar during apéro hours. If I'm quite late in joining the party, it's because his wine prices can be a little high. What changed, then, to make me visit the other evening, and finally discover the charm of La Cave du Daron? Well, in the time since I praised the utility and simplicity of apéros at Aizpitarte's Le Cave, that wine shop has stopped serving bottles on premises, leaving La Cave du Daron as the block's only option for fine wine consumption without the attendant obligation of expensive cuisine. Modest and welcoming, Ricard is well-suited to the role he's found, as the Goncourt local's favorite low-key foil to the brouhaha across the street.

'Daron' is French slang for 'father' - it roughly translates to 'pop,' but with slightly more derisive connotations, from what I understand - but Ricard tells me his father actually drank no wine. It was his grandfather, pictured on the wall of the bar, who first initiated him to wine. His selection nowadays is refreshingly undogmatic: it ranges from natural wines like Guillot's, to more conventional classics from Auguste Clape, to foreign curiosities from Georgia and Hungary, to perennially underrated traditionalist domaines like Chateau de Suronde.

I gripe about the prices, but truth be told, the same pricing obtains at Camille Fourmont's La Buvette. The fact is that small-scale cavistes that double as wine bars have to make up the margin somehow for what they're not making on full-meal service. While I wouldn't order cases from either place, it remains a very fair deal to consume bottles on premises, even when one factors in La Cave du Daron's 7€ corkage.

On our recent visit my friends and I shared a two bottles of 2013 Julien Guillot reds, both of which were in absolutely glimmering form.

Not planning to have two bottles, we went backwards, starting with a Bourgogne Rouge whose 30€ price tag began, as often happens in the realm of natural Burgundy, to stretch the limits of credibility. (I appreciate that there are significant costs and risks involved in biodynamic cultivation and natural wine-making in Burgundy, as elsewhere. But until the genre of natural Burgundy expands enough to offer a drinker's a more complete spectrum of Burgundian terroir, its pricing will continue to invite unfavourable comparisons to that of more conventional domaines.)

To my surprise, the wine was worth every centime. At once limpid and richly dimensional, with notes of ripe cherry and hydrangea.

I was, if anything, more keen to taste the second bottle: a new cuvée of Beaujolais-Leynes, "Hauts de Balmont," from 90-year-old granite-soil vines.

A friend had recently described it to me as showing quite lean at the moment, but in fact this was far from the case: the wine exhibited taut minerality, a tap-dancer's agility, and the bright, chewable-vitamin and cherry fruit of the best young Chiroubles.

Beaujolais-Leynes is a Beaujolais-Village-level appellation, whose distinction of permission to use the name "Leynes" is considered a step towards cru-status. Its high-altitude, granite soils are on the northernmost tip of Beaujolais production, bordering Saint-Véran. I have a special reverence for Beaujolais from Leynes, because it was the source of one of the most memorable bottles I've ever tasted, a haunting, truffle-inflected 1989 Beaujolais-Leynes by the late Jean Corsin of Domaine des Hauts Balmont, whose vines, I'm told, were recovered by none other than sulfur-free maestro Philippe Jambon. (The Corsin was was opened in 2014; I owe the honor of tasting it to my friend Rodolphe Paquin of Repaire de Cartouche.)

At La Cave du Daron that evening, we paired Guillot's promising young Beaujolais-Leynes with no more than a few slim coins of chorizo and Ricard's pleasant conversation. Which was precisely the point. To hell with people who describe high-acid wines as "needing food." Who needs food? Food I can get anywhere. I don't always need food.

I ran into Julien Guillot back in November on the night of Beaujolais Nouveau. This was early in the evening, as I recall.

La Cave du Daron
140 Avenue Parmentier
75011 PARIS
Tel: 01 48 06 21 84
Métro: Goncourt

Related Links:

Inaki Aizpitarte's deafening triumvirate across the road:

Le Chateaubriand, 75011
Le Cave, 75011
Le Dauphin, 75011

The 2011 tasting at Quedubon where I first met Julien Guillot. 

A 2012 note on La Cave du Daron at LeBonBon.

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