01 July 2011

first introductions: café de la nouvelle mairie, 75005

For about a year I was in a cross-town relationship with my friend F. In addition to teaching me much of the French I know, I credit her also with getting me into the habit of biking everywhere, without which form of transportation our relationship would probably have been obviated or abbreviated by the hassle of getting to the 5ème from my neighborhood. In less informed days I used to consider the whole quartier kind of a natural wine write-off, and would complain loudly about the sickening moron tourism afflicting rue Mouffetard* whenever we hung out in her 'hood.

Lately, to my continuing bittersweet pleasure, I seem to routinely discover more and more to like about the 5ème. First it was Restaurant Christophe and Les Pipos - a magnificent meat destination and a boisterous bistro à vin nature, respectively - and then earlier this spring I finally got around to visiting Café de la Nouvelle Mairie, a lovely terraced natural wine café just east of metro Luxembourg.

When I stopped by recently, it was to meet my fellow LA transplant T and her rotating cast of colorful friends, most of whom were unfamiliar to me at the time. F dropped by as well, since I was in the neighborhood, and she was there to witness what was perhaps my most catastrophically inappropriate wine choice in my recent memory.

The glass list, all accessible natural wine standbys. 

The more interesting bottle list, available upon request. 

Not that it was a bad wine, per se. Just not great for new introductions. Having scanned the bottle list in search of something bubbly, cheerful, and informal, I instead noted they had a 2002 sparkling Chardonnay from Auvergne, by Pierre Beauger, called "Champignon Magique." The staff of C de la N M assured me it was still tasting lively, so I figured what the hey, might as well take some private intellectual pleasure from this social occasion...

Pierre Beauger is by all accounts a principled, well-traveled, fairly iconoclastic non-interventionist natural vigneron from Auvergne, based near Gergovia, where he's made wine since 2001. (Some really excellent photos and characteristically in-depth text are available over at the inestimable WineTerroirs.) I'd heard the name but not had the wines before that afternoon at C de la N M, which accounts for my ignorance of the rarity of the bottle we opened, and also for the fact that I chose it in the first place.

The 2002 "Champignon Magique" is a high octane late-harvest botrytised Chardonnay with 100g of residual sugar. At time of drinking it was also 9 years old, an age that, while invariably attenuated by both the bottle's crown cap and its CO2 content, was extremely perceptible in the glass. Our mostly-French tablemates quite understandably reacted as though I'd just handed them radioactive apple pie. I witnessed a chorus of phwoarrhs and bleeaarghs that could have been confused for any table of clean-sipping Britishers.

For my part, I found the wine intriguing, and perhaps half-enjoyable. There was an undead quality, in that the oxidative flavors were so gruesomely apparent but coexisted with an unquestionable vivacity. There was cider, buckets of it, but also wet hay, chewable vitamin, confit fruit, and mushroom, this last flavor being, I think, more than just circumstantial suggestion from the wine's zany label.

That T's friends all helped me finish the bottle despite their disgust is testament both to their general niceness, and also, I suspect, to the winning atmosphere of the Café.

While difficult to term the place a bar (it doesn't have much of one), C de la N M still manages to at least present the vibes of one. The space itself just breathes, with wide windows airing the room onto the tree-shaded square outside. I hear they host live bands on some nights, which sounds like a fine reason to return.

F casually let drop during the course of the evening that she'd known about the place throughout our whole relationship, claiming she just didn't think it would have been my thing at the time.

* Seriously, the mind reels. Many of the tourists scarfing cheap crêpes and 1€ shots on this road are not even Anglophones, which is reassuring in some ways, less so in others. It turns out the visiting families of provincial Europeans studying in Paris are just as unsophisticated as we are. 

Café de la Nouvelle Mairie
19 rue des Fossés Saint Jacques
75005 PARIS
Metro: Cardinal Lemoine
Tel: 01 44 07 04 41

Related Links: 

A nice long 2010 piece on Cafe de la Nouvelle Mairie @ WineTerroirs
A great informative 2010 tasting with Pierre Beauger @ WineTerroirs


  1. I really love that place, even though the sporadically friendly service can be inattentive to the point of criminal neglect (even by Parisian standards, and even on ultra-slow afternoons). But I've spent a lot of time there, nonetheless, and for a while it was a sort of hangout. Hey, if you can't get a server's attention, at least it's quiet...

    Re: the crown cap...if anything, that should have preserved the wine, not accelerated its maturity. The "problem" (I haven't had the wine) was/is the winemaking or the storage, not the closure.

    Anglophones don't visit rue Mouffetard because there's nothing on the short list near there. Lay it over rue Cler and...well, it would be rue Cler, but without Marie-Anne Cantin, and that would be a shame.

  2. unclear syntax on my part, i think: by "attenuated" i meant to refer to the effects of the 9 yrs age on the bottle; which is to say that yes, the crown cap and the CO2 should theoretically have helped to guard against oxidation.

    service was acceptable when i went. but, like you say, a good atmosphere goes a long way towards making waits endurable.