18 March 2011

ô god no: ô château, 75001

I didn't stage this photo. That issue of Stuff magazine was actually lying around when we arrived.

On this blog, and elsewhere in life, I'm routinely chided for having drastic or polemical views about things. The title of this blog is a ready example. There are presumably many in the wine industry who would take exception to the embedded implication that to drink any wine other than natural wine is to drink poison.*

To hell with 'em.

No, but seriously, I do hold more nuanced views on these subjects than might be perceptible from certain statements I make. (I try to explore these nuances in footnotes, parenthetical asides, and digressive introductions.) But I find that in the din of contemporary blog-journo chatter, unless one says something memorably, what one says makes very little impact. I prefer to convey something of what I genuinely feel about a subject to a reader, even if now and then I get a pang of remorse when phrasing a complicated issue in terms that are harsh, or reductive, or vaguely violent.**

That being said, my friend J and I visited newly opened club-à-vin O Château: The Wine Bar the other Saturday evening, and while J left puzzled by the experience, and refrained from passing judgment, I myself walked out - shortly after we walked in - with refreshingly unshaded ideas.

O Château embodies everything I detest about the wine industry, and if the place were to burn down tomorrow, the unlucky proportion of honest wines captive inside would all meet happier fates than remaining seen there.

"Almost genius," is what J remarked, upon seeing O Château's wine list. On a Saturday night, the bar - an enormous space - was about half-full. The crowd was strangely fratty, or business-scholastic: a lot of hoodies, a lot of women with big earrings and outdated Jennifer Aniston haircuts. It was the first time I'd even seen that sort of crowd in Paris. (I avoid monuments.)

"Evil genius," was my reaction, although it risks giving O Château's founder, young sommelier Olivier Magny, significantly too much credit.

The wines at O Château, a whole battery of them lined up like frozen astronauts in an extensive Enomatic wine dispensing system, are hubristically overpriced. Just jaw-dropping audacious rip-offs, like if someone mugged you and then flew straight into the sun with your wallet and your car-keys.

For instance, Dard et Ribo's Crozes-Hermitage "C'est le Printemps" - a bright, lovely Syrah, but a base bottling by these vignerons - will run you a walloping 19,90€ for the largest of O Château's three sizes of glass pours: 12cl.*** This is a wine I have in the past purchased for under 15€ by the bottle at retail prices. And it bears mentioning that roughly 15cl is considered a normal glass pour, in places that are not run by banditos. If you do the math, M. Magny will get 6.25 baby pours from one bottle of "C'est le Printemps," which will net him a staggering total of 124,37€, or over a 1000% markup from the likely wholesale price of that bottle. C'est le printemps for someone, that's for sure.

This is supposing people will hemorrhage that kind of money on O Château's measly squirt pours. Realistically they won't. But the companies they work for might.

The real cynical genius of the place, however, lies in how O Château's prices, and, let's face it, overall college-town nightclub vibe, will see to it that no one with even a modicum of wine sophistication or taste in general will ever spend a dime there.**** This will in turn ensure that M. Magny's brand of swaggering wine goober-ism encounters no informed dissent within the confines of O Château. He gets a captive audience.

With no educated drinkers around, O Château is free to hawk all the blowsy wine myths anyone might need!

Free to book all the wine cruises anyone might need!

Free to arrange private tasting events for the honeymoons of the sons of Singaporean dentists!

Free, on a nightly basis, to not actually sell much wine, and to instead use the bar's decanters for vodka service:

Oh, shoot me in the face. The place isn't even worth getting breathless about. It's a wine-themed business venture, just like if you want to make money on toilet paper or widgets your business ventures are themed on toilets or widgets, respectively. The sole difference is O Château actively trades in misrepresentation. O Château is a wine education company with two establishments a large scale establishment in ooh-la-la Paris and fairly high visibility, which in turn confers (false, very very false) legitimacy. Their other former establishment, a wine education center, is rented tasting rooms were situated right next to Spring, Spring Boutique, Spring Buvette, and Le Garde Robe - all establishments run by non-fakers, from whose proximity O Château doubtlessly benefitsed greatly.

[UPDATE: 18.03.10: I'm informed that O Château no longer use the premises on rue de l'Arbre Sec.]

O Château's wine list does contain, among the usual baller Rhône and Bordeaux prestige-bottle boredom, about 30-40% distinctive, engaging (if sickeningly overpriced) wines from good producers. J optimistically saw this as evidence of some kind of beneficent attitude toward the industry on the part of O Château. I saw little more than some dim reptilian cred-hunting awareness of what wines are considered cool by professionals. It made the list reminiscent of one of those boardwalk claw machines filled with clear plastic bubbles, several of which contain iPods, the rest rubber ducks. (Just imagine instead of iPods, the bubbles contained vignerons you respected.)

After finishing, in two sips, our thimbles of wine, J and I wandered around the premises a bit. There are several gigantic hangar-like wine tasting rooms well-suited for joyless corporate events or sinister Masonic meetings.

There is also a non-lit downstairs lounge area, perfect for Rohypnol adventures. We passed M. Magny himself, who was in the process of macking on a drunk-looking chick in the dim stairwell. J, who knows the guy, said hi. Magny invited us to show ourselves around and kept right on macking.

I can't really blame him. After all, we're merely, you know, wine professionals who possess some love for and knowledge of the subject. We are totally external to the guy's business model, which is a wine miseducation company.

* Such as the crotchety wanker who devotes a blog to proving biodynamics a hoax.

** The key phrase here is "now and then." For an example of the monstrously florid, antisympathetic writing that results when a writer tries to be memorable 100% of the time, see anything by A.A. Gill.

*** The smallest is 3cl, a serving so small it actually evaporates before it reaches your tongue. 

**** Except J and I. We did it out of morbid curiosity. And we still felt raped afterwards.

O Château
68, rue Jean-Jacques Rousseau
75001 PARIS
Metro: Etienne Marcel
Tel: 01 44 739 780

Related Links:

Wine By One, another slick faceless faker endeavor. 

A 2004 visit to Dard et Ribo @ WineTerroirs
A rave about Dard et Ribo's 2008 Crozes-Hermitage @ LeBlogd'Olif


  1. Wish I had waited a day to go to O Chateau as I would have seen your post and saved myself the trip. I went there last night with a couple of friends. I perused the list of wines by the glass and was totally shocked by the prices -- esp. for 3, 6 and 12cl (which as you rightly pointed out the 12 cl is not even a full glass)!?

    We decided to order a bottle instead thinking that we might avoid getting hosed on the price of wines by the glass. Wrong. After looking at the wine list and seeing that the cheapest bottle on the 4 page list was a Bourgogne Aligote for 45 Euros (!?) we promptly left. There was a table of 4 people next to us that did the exact same thing. Enough said.

  2. Aaron you are allowed to find O Chateau's wine hangar charmless but i'm not really interested in M. Magny's nocturnal endeavors and I think "wine miseducation company" is taking things a little far. Anselme

  3. @allessandra: oh no! i'm glad you had the sense to simply leave, at any rate.

    @anselme: it can be difficult to bear, as i'm sure you know, but the fact is that when you own or manage or even work at a restaurant, every interaction you have there is necessarily a public interaction, and therefore fair game for criticism. proprietors are not clients in their own establishments, and have none of the same claims on privacy. i found this particular interaction in the stairwell very illustrative of where the proprietor's interests in wine lay.

    i also stand behind the miseducation bit. every aspect of the ô château operation, from the sinister goofiness of the website, to the 90's décor of the wine bar, to the very idea that the subject of wine can be effectively learned by attending cruises, is offensive to me. i'm sure they are fine ways to make money. but they invariably transmit a glib, touristic, luxury understanding of wine in general. and this is a form of miseducation.

  4. @all: I agree with the fact that when you are working in a restaurant/wine bar/bar/whatever place you are supposed to pay full attention to your patrons, flirting, acting inappropriately in any way that might make your clients feel you are not interested or couldn't care less about them, is completely unforgivable. But then again, we are in Paris and the standards of service are saddly and often, extremely low and little attention is paid to service when in fact, it is really a major part of the experience. I have been to O Chateau once to inquire about the location and was brutally rebuffed by the, let's face it, execrable attitude of the staff. I don't believe that it is justifiable in any way to act haughty or superior under any circumstance I don't care how cool you think you are.
    In any case, what goes around comes around.

  5. Yeow!

    I haven't yet been, so I can't comment on your review of the new place (except to say that it was an awful lot of fun to read). But I also bristled at the "wine miseducation" jab. I sat in on two of their classes for an article I was writing and they were honestly very good, especially the intro course that was led by Anselme (the second commenter who's now at the Bal Café).

  6. @meg: it's great to hear that anselme's class was worthwhile. he's excellent. i debated internally whether to make it clear in my response that he had worked with ô château, but decided against it, as i thought it might be seen as me trying to discredit his response through his association with the company, rather than through genuine debate (which i prefer!).

    it seems like our (@meg, @anselme, @mydamnself) difference on the applicability of the term 'miseducation' rests upon how we define it. my usage doesn't mean to imply that anselme or any other instructor at ô château was teaching wrong facts about wine; nor do i mean that an attendee of these courses could learn nothing about wine. 'miseducation' as a term was popularized in the present day by lauryn hill, who titled her album as a reference to the carter g. woodson book "the miseducation of the negro," which concerned not bad schooling, but rather cultural indoctrination. companies like ô château, whatever the factual merit of their individual courses by individual excellent instructors, fundamentally miseducate drinkers by indoctrinating them with the habit of accepting as normal the underlying premise of these organizations: that wine knowledge is best accessed via the methods that are most well-suited to the consumer marketplace - package tours, organized courses, champagne cruises, etc.

  7. I went on Monday with a friend. I was also shocked SHOCKED by the expense of the wines by the glass. We finished our sips in 10 minutes and forked over 12+ euros with a wince.

  8. Randy de Paris18 March, 2011 17:42

    Wine bars are in now, and I think alot of people are capitalizing on this trend, so they think they can charge tons of money, which they can, because people will come, just like tourist come in the summer; however, the pool of people will get smaller, unless of course it becomes a place to see and be seen! There's no price on that, n'est-ce pas?

    Love your A.A.Gill style of writing

    A new fan...

  9. Ooooh cat fights! Always Fun!
    I'm not a wine expert. But I DO like a good glass of wine. And I would prefer to pay X euros for a good glass of wine than spend the same amount of money for a crap glass of wine that's three times as large.
    As far as the actual space... I thought it was fun, relaxed... It was packed when I went - the wine was good, the food was great.
    Or maybe I'm just a sucker who has more money than sense?

  10. Sinister Masonic Meetings? As you have obviously no idea of what goes on at a Masonic Lodge please keep your uninformed and ridiculous opinions to yourself.

  11. Since I'm not beholden to anyone or anything:

    The original O Château was garbage. The sheer mediocrity of "wine education" in Paris is what has allowed a charlatan like Magny to succeed and open up a mothershithole.

  12. @ann: judging from our similar experiences, they seem to have discovered a miraculously efficient way to turn over bar seats. also, your blog is tops. thanks for reading!

    @randydeparis: you seem to mean that as a complement, so thanks! i'm not a great fan of a.a. gill, however... there's a contortionist quality to his writing, like he's reaching very hard to have superlative takes on everything. thank you for reading, regardless!

    @katia: maybe. either way i do urge you to visit the kind-of-limited map features on this site, which contain names and addresses of wine bars that are not screaming rip-offs. you could spend drunken weeks visiting most of the places i've listed for the price of one glorious night (glass?) at ô château.

    @george: oh, the powers of the internet. i bargain on offending some wine-fakers and i wind up inadvertently offending the freemasons. in any case, your commentary has assuredly cleared up any confusion about whether the organization is sinister, or defensive, or watching everything we do.

    @omid: what a great word! i'm using that word in a sentence today. totally agree, anyway.

  13. Wow!!
    So... If I get it right, I'm a crook, a charlatan and a free mason. I'm glad you didn't catch up on this tendency I have to eat children for supper - that would have been bad publicity. Or maybe that was included in "evil genius" - not sure. 
    Reading your article - which by the way did not sound ridiculous at all - I thought to myself: "how interesting that the only people who have ever written a negative article about O Chateau (you that is) are people who just started to teach wine classes in English in Paris (there, free publicity for you...). - which is what O Chateau has been doing on a daily basis for the past seven years" (and for the record,  we were operating on rue de l'arbre sec before spring. Spring and le garde robe did benefit from our presence there more than we did from theirs since, as the money hungry people we are, we didn't have a shop or a bar in our old place and would send our clients to these two establishments to buy and drink wine after their tasting).
    Interesting too that you rant about the misinformation we seem to be all about without even having taken the time to attend a class. 
    But what i love the most in this article of yours is your humility: considering that anyone with taste or wine knowledge should never set foot at O Chateau, considering that 40% of our wine list is engaging (should i take the remaining 60% and the people that Made them with me back to hell where we belong?), stating that someone like me who has spent seven years of his life teaching people about wine without paying himself was a faker, insulting all the clients at the bar that night...
    There are many great wars to wage these days and clearly, that against me is one of them. So in the name of the people I've been ripping off with O chateau for the past seven years: thank you. Finally, I'm uncovered. I can now be my true evil self. 

    ... Response continues in next comment)

  14. Now, as per the price of wines thing, the concept of our wine bar (ah, concept, marketing, evil) is that it's a "bar à grands vins". So, the 3cl size has no other point but to allow people to try the most legendary wines in the world at the cheapest possible price: Pétrus 2004 for 49€ - sold at cost price by the way - Yquem 1991 for 18.5€ a glass... I would or (believe it or not) could never afford to buy a bottle of these wines, but i do feel like making mini glasses of them accessible to most is a Great thing. Now, i do thing our prices are extremely reasonable. Extremely (prominent wine journalist David Cobbold agreed publicly on BFM he's probably like me a faker and someone not blessed with your wine knowledge - or maybe he's not trying to promote his or his friends' businesses by talking crap about competition). Clients two nights ago at O Chateau ordered a bottle of Alain Voge's Vieilles Fontaines 2001 and paid 105€ for that bottle. For anyone with a desire to try great wines, O Chateau is I reckon unbelievable value. But, thing is, and contrarily to what you wrote, our new place happens to be stunning. Since we opened 3 weeks ago, we've found that people love the space, the music, the staff... And we couldn't be happier. But we conceived this place as a place to come have a few glasses of unbelievable wine, in an amazing setting, with great glassware and good food. That goes with making choices. And ours was indeed to be coherent. If I want my clients to have a glass of amazing wine, i need to offer them the best possible conditions for that. And this is how we designed the place. We want o chateau to be a place for moments of quality. If people want a non distinct glass of wine for less than 5€, and a big crowd of arrogant bobos  then yes, I'm not afraid to say that our bar is the wrong place. 
    You know, I'm neither a snob, nor a crook. Not even an evil genius. I'm just a Parisian wine lover and sommelier who finds Paris very dull and arrogant when it comes to its wine scene (and your supposedly illuminating article comforts me in that thought). With thid new space, we tried to create something different, something ambitious. Something that doesnt exist in Paris. Somewhere with a fun vibe, a desire not to take ourselves seriously (you should try that) and fantastic wines to try. So maybe Paris is not ready for that, maybe in a few weeks, we'll realize that the project of a wine bar that serves only great wines is too ambitious and that we should do what Everybody else does: serving glasses of average wines in average environments for 4 to 9€ and make it sound like Good value because it's inexpensive. If we do that, you can call me a faker. I'll just join the group. It'll be a pity but at least, maybe i'll be able to draw a salary.
    Also, just to set the record straight (someone has to), we now offer 3 sizes of glass: 3, 10 and 18cl. And everyday, we offer a large glass of our wine of the day for only 6.5€. And our 2-hr/6 good wines tasting class is Only 50€.

    One last thing: the drunk girl I was talking too was not drunk and is someone important to me and very dear to my heart. 

  15. I don't really know what credit I have to give reading that kind of reviews written by the closest O Chateau's competitor...
    Thank you Olivier for your answer that will make people read that article differently...

  16. @olivier: i'm pleased to hear you're now offering a volume of pour that is not significantly less than the conventional restaurant pour. (18cl seems sort of super-sized, but whatever. progress is progress.) the points you bring up in your response probably merit another post entirely. i'll respond to just two here:

    1) where on earth did you get the idea i was employed by spring? or that i taught wine classes? i do not teach wine classes. i do not work for spring. or for le garde robe, or la robe et le palais, or for any of the superior wine bars or restaurants in paris (of which there are legion). i am friendly with people who work at these establishments, because we all like wine, and i respect what they do. my involvement with the wine industry extends no further than this blog at this point. i used to be a sommelier and wine director in la. now i work for a fashion company. all of this information is very clearly available in the "about" section of this blog. so you may put to rest your frankly quite paranoid and offensive fantasies about your competitors; unlike me, they have a vested interest in the industry, and they are all respectable people with too much class to publicly criticise your establishment.

    2) there are many internationally recognized wine destinations in paris that do not charge 1000% mark-ups. you might consider the arrogance of insisting that your establishment, with its legendary prices, is the only one serving legendary wines. but it isn't arrogance, is it? you seem to possess a truly delusional belief in what you do and how you go about it.

    thanks for reading, and for joining the discussion.

    @anonymous: see #1 above. i will repeat it here, on the off chance you are not in fact just m. magny posting anonymously like a weasel: i do not work for any of o château's competitors, nor do i teach wine classes. m. magny was mistaken.

  17. @Aaron. Just for the records... Can you clarify what is the name and the job of the "J" you were with during your "O Chateau visit"?

  18. @"Anonymous": uh, nope. this is my blog, and it represents only my opinions. so the policy is that my friends and drinking buddies get to remain anonymous, except in those instances where i am writing about them in their professional capacities.

    another policy: i'm no longer responding to anonymous commentary, olivier magny. it says clearly in the original post that J knows you, ergo you know J. you may continue to indulge your paranoid fantasies about your competitors. but you're not fooling anyone.* geez.

    * nor am i, to anyone who's been paying attention to this blog. i'm just trying to keep this between me and my subject, without involving a whole community of people who are as a rule nicer, more polite, and less confrontational than me.

  19. Sounds like some sort of homoerotic attraction thing. Do you want to bone Olivier?

  20. Boy, you boys really know how to spar. I have been watching the HBO show TUDORS and this exchange is not so very far removed from the testosterone charged threats, challenges and vicious plotting depicted there.

    I've been to O'Chateau on several occasions. I like the room, the atmosphere (preferring to go in the late afternoon) the music, the welcoming staff, the food served and the great treat of being able to order several small pours. No, I'm not the 'chick' on the stairs... in fact, I'm old enough to be Olivier's (and probably your) mother.

    For the record: I've chef'd/owned restaurants (3rd generation) my son is a sommelier for Batali & Silverton in LA & soon to open his own place... so I'm not green to the hospitality business. I have this to say about the review: I found the writing acerbically clever and designed to mortally wound... so extreme in fact, it is difficult to take seriously - because it makes an intelligent reader wonder why in God's name "Aaron" finds such a obsessive need to be not only rip O'Chateau a new one, but personally attack Olivier's character in such a cheap and tawdry manner.

    While Adrian may have a point, I'm going to chalk it up to pure and simple jealousy... Olivier et Co. pulled off a monumental feat, and I will continue to support their efforts and watch them blossom.

    Kudos to Olivier for responding so eloquently, not to mention elegantly.

  21. Aaron, just read your bio.. When I wrote my previous comment, I didn't know you had worked for B & S, or that you are bringing LA criterion (or is it an intense dislike of LA) to Paris. This explains a lot.

  22. good lord. as reluctant as i am to scrape the bottom of this particular can of worms:

    hi marie z. thanks for reading. funny that your son works for my former employers! my mother also has somewhat undiscriminating tastes in wine, although she has the excuse of never having worked in hospitality industry, except as a waitress long ago.

    i'm afraid i don't fully understand your point about my LA criterion: what you appear to be saying is that my having spent time in los angeles influences, in some way, my perspective on paris, either because i like LA or hate LA. this seems fair, if a bit tautological. can you explain how this relates to ô chateau, and why i find the place tremendously offensive?

    i see that, like olivier, you are in the business of giving tours to tourists. i'm not against the whole industry, don't get me wrong. i object only to the really vulgar ventures that attempt to pass themselves off as genuine experience. anyway, i appreciate your input, and up until the bit where you praised olivier's eloquence i managed to suspend disbelief that you were an impartial, disinterested party, not just some righteous uninformed friend of his, willing to argue on his behalf in the face of all reasonable evidence.

  23. Went recently, and I have to say, Because I live in Paris I have been to soooo many wine here. People who know usually know I'm very afront, this by far was the best in so many ways. First the place has room to move in, there's actually air. The wine cellar was fantastic, I don't necessarily like being in a dungeon. The selections of wines are immense, and the two owners could not have been more accommodating and I am by no means a wine connosieur, but they were extremely patient with the likes of me. Taste is really subjective in so many ways.

  24. hi randy! thanks for your input. it doesn't sound like you're talking about taste at all, however. it sounds, rather, like some people who wanted to overcharge you for wine were very nice to you.

  25. Like always, a voice comes screaming from the underground telling the truth, and a whole lot of effort is immediately made by a bunch of brainwashed I-love-to-feel-sociabily-congratulated-by-the-fact-I-can-afford-it losers.
    Hi-class Hi-standards (in fact real poor standards) losers. I mean, you are right to share your opinion with us, or try to rehabilitate O Chateau's image (which means you do agree the importance of this article), but don't think the one's reading you are fooled.
    Granny, with your comfort, and at your age, don't change a thing, help ur friends that are nice and gentle to an old lady that just wants to know how to spend her hard-earned money.
    Anonymous, bounce or bring up some sense,
    Olivier, we recognize in you the thief/shady sneaky parisian that lies even to himself, and almost succeeds in it. We can read it from the delicacy of yours, trying not to fall in the massive hammering, but still trying to aim at your oponent's defaults. This post's about you, not Aaron, and could be tagged 'wine misguiding hustle theft paris'
    City is watching you boy
    The hell with you and your prices, why giving you good conscience for giving to low-hi-mid class folks the wine that belongs to hi-hi-upper-mid class ginuine 'beeings' ain'to no Robin Hood, u just Robbin' the whole Hood