28 October 2010

big heart, small plates: la cave de l'insolite, 75011

La Cave de l'Insolite, my friend Michel's offbeat natural wine lair near Oberkampf, has just begun serving a tiny menu.

In proper insolite fashion, this was done with zero fanfare. Michel touched up the paintwork on the place, and threw in a few new tables. When I say 'new' in this context, it is a very relative term; regulars can rest assured that the tables are rustic and antique-seeming, and the place is still spacious, whimsically decorated, and soulful.

I passed through last Friday and lucked into a mini-tasting of the new menu with the gregarious Olivier Chabanis of Domaine des Agates, a 27ha-or-so organic estate in the center of the Rhone Valley that produces wines under the Côteaux du Tricastin AOC*.

Guillaume et Olivier

The bottle we tasted of Olivier's petite cuvée - "Teroirs de Rabastes" - was one from 2005, past its prime, which he'd opened just for curiosity's sake. But another cuvée from the same year, "Le Grand Luas," was showing better, a gritty, turfy sort of red, unpretentious and spirited. Fresh vintages of both wines are fine bargains, which explains by both are currently out of stock at La Cave de l'Insolite (I'm told this will soon be rectified).

No, we didn't drink the reds with the oysters. There was a biodynamic Clairette de Bellegarde by Terre Des Chardons open; it was honest and pleasantly honied, but a little ripe and thick-around-the-middle for my liking. The wine equivalent of the waitress at a diner in a small town leaving you her number. (Someone one of these days is going to point out that I simply don't like Rhone whites, and, with certain exceptions, they'll be right.)

More importantly, the new menu was great. All the plates are essentially thrown-together affairs - the most extravagant flourish was a squeeze of lemon on some magret du canard - and that is pretty much all you need with such brilliantly high-quality products. It was actually the best magret du canard I think I've ever had. Michel's style of service can be politely called improvisational, but the end result is a tremendously charming, personable, and inviting** cave, where the wines - and now the menu, too - all evidence his bold tastes.

*In researching this post I learned that, due to a 2008 accident at the Tricastin Nuclear Power Center, the vignerons of the AOC have successfully lobbied to change its name, to avoid really unpleasant (frankly slightly alarming) associations. As of this year, the wines will be labeled Grignan-les Adhémar. Not catchy, but I guess it sounds less radioactive to consumers.

**Which quality, I can say, always makes for a refreshing change from another well-stocked cave nearby, where the proprietor is about as friendly as a kick in the face.  

30, rue de la Folie-Mericourt
75011 PARIS
Metro: Oberkampf
Tel: 01 53 46 08 33

Related Links:

Gilles et Catherine Vergé's wonderful bizarrre oxidative Chardonnay, which is still in stock at La Cave de l'Insolite


  1. You're looking for trouble if you declare a disliking to anything on this blog, but you're writing off all rhône whites except condrieu?? Can you drink some Alain Voges and the domaine des sept lunes st. Jo blanc for me and see if that makes a difference? Vieille Julienne blanc - CdR or chateauneuf ? It's possible to not like Hermitage? I've been getting through your backlog slowly and mostly mind my own business, but spent too much time in valence to let that one by!

  2. i have had jean delobre's whites before, and can appreciate they're very well made. i'm sure the others you mention are also excellent... it's just a personal taste thing; i find most rhône whites a bit sleek and thick and honied, even the vin nature stuff. to be honest i'm not even a huge fan of condrieu, though i haven't tasted the best stuff in enough depth. i am however totally willing, eager in fact, to have this personal preference turned on its head some wonderful bottle or other.

  3. i LOVE this place (and your blog), the only thing that stops me from stopping by and buying some wine on the way home every night: the overly-flirtatious, albeit cute, brothers who work there!

  4. hi anonymous ! it's a different place now, as you might be aware already... i'm told that the new owners are doing a capable job, and i really ought to stop by, given that it's a few minutes' walk from chez moi. but haven't had the heart or the occasion to, just yet.