I'd intended our dinner at 12ème Italian-ish restaurant Rino earlier this month to be a celebration of the much-anticipated arrival in Paris of my sister and her boyfriend. They live across the world in Los Angeles, and I hadn't seen them in two years, so someplace soulful and slightly splashy was in order.
Rino, with its fixed market menu and Franco-Italian natural wine list, is actually very reasonably priced, for what it is, but I'm not (yet) such an inveterate gourmand that four or six courses at dinner is the norm for me. Ben Franklin famously said, "Three good meals a day is bad living"; an addendum for contemporary Paris dining might be: "Six fine courses is two meals."
Unfortunately, due to a complicated story involving an arrest, my guests missed their flight and arrived a day late. I found out that morning, by which time I'd already corralled a gang of friends and the Native Companion had invited her sister, who I'd yet to meet. So, what the hell, we celebrated anyway. I was delighted to meet the NC's sis, and furthermore it turned out my friends C and J had just settled on an apartment that day. Then, even setting aside those happy circumstances, simply to encounter such a splendid, well-priced Italian wine list in Paris is a major occasion for me.
J, who is a caviste, among other things, has often lamented the near-insurmountable difficulties of selling Italian wine in Paris. I think this derives mainly from the city's status as the tourist capital of the world: any ambitious restaurant or wine shop here invariably draws a non-negligible proportion of business from tourists, who understandably want to drink French wine while in France. But it's still not clear to me why native demand for the wines of neighboring nations has remained so low across mainland Europe in general, to the extent that the wines of other nations are largely unavailable, even in the capitals. For instance, shouldn't there be more Spanish, German, and Italian wine concepts targeting the native French drinking populace in Paris? Whose fault is this, that there aren't?*
Be that as it may, J still plunked for a bottle of Champagne - Vouette et Sorbée's 2007 Blanc d'Argile - when it came time to celebrate his new apartment purchase. It's not, you know, Prosecco.**
Vouette et Sorbée is the project of cult biodynamic vigneron Bertrand Gautherot, himself a protogé of cult biodynamic vigneron Anselme Selosse. Vouette and Sorbée*** are names of two of his vineyards, all of which have been cultivated accordingly to biodynamic principles as far back as 1998. The "Blanc d'Argile" is not from the eponymous vineyards, hailing rather from one called Bas des Biaunes. "Chablis-like" is the line on this wine, as it shares a soil type with that region, and in fact Gautherot's whole operation is situated closer to Chablis than Reims. In the case of this vintage, right now, however, "Chablis-like" is a polite way of saying 'searingly acidic.' Some sips were like eating the flute, brittle and almost painfully intense. It was mineral in the sense that a fall from a cliff is mineral.
I'm glad wines like this exist. Particularly in Champagne, a region that for all its accepted excellence is not principally known for the production of challenging, perverse wines.
A pasta of pecorino ravioli with licorice mint, market greens, and raw artichoke was fresh and bright-tasting enough to justify its place as a starter (rather than mid-course, which would perhaps have been more traditional). The bitter crispness of the shaved artichoke was a splendid counterpoint to the chewy, somewhat mild pecorino bundles.
I'd been guilty, that evening, of overhyping the next wine we took. In My Opinion The Greatest Sauvignon Out There, etc. Markus Prackweiser's Tre-Bicchieri-crowned 2009 Alto Adige Sauvignon "Praesulis," the previous vintages of which I sold to restaurants during a brief stint working for an importer in Los Angeles.
I was pleased to note that C did not seem disappointed in the slightest.
It really is pretty heavenly. On the basis of this wine, and those of certain other producers whose products come close (Ignaz Niedrist, Niklas, Cantine Valle Isarco) I'm surprised Alto Adige Sauvignon isn't more famous than it is. I'll go on record as preferring it to most French Sauvignon. To generalize, I'd propose they show less hay / ammoniacal properties; a more wintergreeny herbaceousness; a routine sterling purity. They're like vintage Crowded House songs: not ballsy, per se, but impeccably crafted, with no want of soul:
I'm also tickled by the incidental contrast between the sheer overwhelming grace of this wine, and the name of the estate, which in English can't fail to recall a certain Tom Hanks film.
Perhaps partly due to wine-related distraction, an entire course of cod over quinoa came and went without significant comment from me. I also just didn't know what to make of it. What's Italian about quinoa? Why would this essentially flavorless grain merit a break in the theme? Fish was fresh, expertly prepared, etc. but could not compensate for the quinoa flavor-vacuum.
Quinoa aside, I really enjoyed the menu. For Paris, it felt refreshingly vegetable-driven - a relative measure, surely - and unfussy, considering the delicacy of the dishes. Rino's Roman chef Giovanni Passerini previously worked for chef Peter Nilsson at the nearby (and outwardly similar) restaurant La Gazzetta. But where calligraphic plating and fine service at the latter restaurant feel relatively unsurprising, given the general air of ambition and professionalism about the place, finding the same virtues at humble under-designed Rino is a great deal more impactful. The presentation of the restaurant as a whole, and the ideas about dining and wine evinced by said presentation, are just more contemporary at Rino.
(Contemporaneity in restaurants is the difference between a place that enthusiastically presents the things its proprietors love, and a place that enthusiastically sells the things its proprietors think guests will love. Our era is marked by the phenomenon of the celebrity chef, of kitchen tell-alls, of urban farming, and so on. However questionable these projects might be individually, together they represent a shift in the consciousness of the restaurant consumer, who, faced with the certainty he or she knows essentially nothing about how food or wine is made or where it comes from, has finally absorbed the idea that restaurants can be edifying experiences, that the people behind good ones are worth listening to. "I want my steak cooked the way you want to cook my steak," is a good attitude, and a relatively new one.)
It is, for instance, very savvy for a Parisian restaurant to provide excellent Italian wines, even if the average customer in Paris might not know them from straw-wrapped Tuscan swill. Because, as mentioned earlier, peple travel. At La Gazzetta I remember being flummoxed by the lack of decent Barbera - or Italian wine in general - on an ostensibly pan-mediterranean wine list. Whereas at Rino we capped our evening with a superlatively crackling Dolcetto / Barbera blend - the 2009 "Bellotti Rosso," by famed Piemontese biodynamic vigneron Stefano Bellotti, who I recently went on about after tasting his rocking Gavi at 2ème restaurant Frenchie.
In profile, the wine struck a perfect middle ground between St. Joseph and Lambrusco: refined, meaty, purple, with a nice refreshing giggle of fizz to it. Dolcetto makes up just 35% of the blend but for some reason its more shrill, matte-finish flavors seemed to prevail over the lush sheen I associate with Barbera. If it weren't for the fact that the meal was essentially over - with just a pleasant but very busy dessert of yogurt gelato, semolina, rhubarb, and hazelnuts left to come -
- I could have probably gone through three more bottles myself, that is how deliriously drinkable it was.
My dear sister, of course, had still yet to arrive in Paris, and was sorely missed. But brilliant wines at brilliant restaurants have a way of unavoidably kick-starting celebrations.
* Well, upon further reflection, there are. But they suck. Themed bars aimed at students, and hammy traiteurs pushing novelty olive oils. Before I go blaming Paris or mainland Europe, though, I must take a moment to remind myself that this same low standard is found equally in most American cities that are not New York or San Francisco.
** Prosecco, being cheaper and vastly less complex, just doesn't contain the same celebration quotient. It's for celebrating afternoons off, or the purchase of a bottle of Aperol. Not new apartment purchases. Rino's list quite rightly contains just one Prosecco, a token Nino Franco.
*** Unable to speak about this Champagne without thinking of sorbet, the dessert. A positive assocation, in this context, and amusingly malapropos, considering how space-food dry this particular bottle was.
46, rue de Trousseau
Tel: 01 48 06 95 85
My disappointment with the wine list at La Gazzetta, 75012
Stefano Bellotti's rocking Gavi at Frenchie, 75002
Alexander Lobrano's review of Rino @ NYTimes
A faint-praisey review of Rino @ JohnTalbott
A glowing review of Rino @ MegZimbeck
A glowing review of Rino @ BarbraAustin
Another glowing review of Rino by Barbra Austin @ GirlsGuideToParis
An entry on Rino @ LeFooding
A forceful pitch of Vouette et Sorbée bottles by Joe Salamone @ CrushWineCo.
A well-informed review of the 2005 "Blanc d'Argile" @ PeterLiem
A review of the 2005 "Blanc d'Argile" @ MadAboutWine
An interview with Markus Prackweiser @ Gumphof.it
A useful summary of Gumphof @ MoonLightWineCo.