08 November 2011

labors of love: terroir santo domingo at les pipos, 75005

The wine list at 5ème bistro à vin Les Pipos is not presented when you take a table. Nor is it always presented when you ask for it; often you are just handed the menu, on the back of which are listed a few easy-drinking natural selections.

The other day when I met my friend Cesar E. Castro Pou and his wife M on Les Pipos' terrace, I had to specifically mention foreknowledge of its existence before receiving the Les Pipos bottle list, which in its devotion to serious natural producers is assuredly someone's labor of love. There are more than a few back vintages of rare crus and micro-cuvées, probably the result of lack of turnover. The place is situated in the shadow of the Pantheon, so they're accustomed to tour groups and students, two demographics known to avoid all but the cheapest, least challenging wines.

I had chosen the place because I knew Cesar would dig the list. He's a natural wine aficionado, like me, and furthermore he's no stranger to quixotic endeavors: for the past two years or so he's been the sole importer of natural wine to the Dominican Republic.

After all, why should only temperate northern nations get to enjoy the wines of Marcel Lapierre, Domaine Ostertag, Philippe Pacalet, and François Chidaine, all of which are imported by Cesar's company, Terroir Santo Domingo?*

Cesar was working in the banking industry in Barcelona when he took a keen interest in natural wine. He tasted widely, and took trips through the wine regions of France whenever he could. When after a few years he and his wife decided to return to their native Dominican Republic, they realized that the only way for them to keep enjoying the wines they loved was to start a small import company.

They report that it's been challenging, to say the least. While Cesar's portfolio contains none of the hyper-delicate fringe-natural stuff one sees in some Paris wine bars, its still unanimously stabilizer-free, low-sulfite wine that must travel across the Atlantic to a Caribbean climate. Temperature control at all stages of importation is even more critical than usual. He says he's encountered some minor issues here and there, but that the principal difficulty lies in convincing the market to sell wine as something more than a luxury product. To sell natural wine is to ask clients to promote not just wine in general, but a very specific, ecologically and organoleptically honest ideal of wine, something that can understandably be difficult to introduce in a developing market in a non-wine-growing nation.

No surprise, then, that's in Santo Domingo it's his Champagne that sells best, with its unanimous luxe name recognition. He imports three excellent producers, Jacquesson, Larmandier-Bernier, and Benoît Lahaye, all at prices that occasionally provoke incredulity on the part of buyers in Santo Domingo, who are apparently accustomed to paying much more for Champagne from the bigger houses. I note that on his online portfolio, Cesar savvily lists world-famous restaurants in other markets where his wines are stocked, presumably in efforts to reassure his clientele about the potential appeal of natural wine.

After I succeeded in obtaining Les Pipos' wine list that day, we shared a plate of oysters and a bottle of Jura maestro Jean-François Ganevat's 2004 Côtes du Jura Savagnin "Les Chalasses Marnes Bleues" (39€). The wine was still pretty young, mineral-plated, just beginning to show secondary flavors of brazil nut and beeswax.

Later, waiting for more friends to join us, we alighted on an awesomely expressive bottle of Pascal Lambert's 2006 Chinon Blanc "Cuvée Antoine," drenchingly sec-tendre with vivid notes of sweet-corn and vidalia onion.

It would be easy to take our eager enjoyment of these wines as an argument for Les Pipos to put their bottle list on every table, and for Cesar's Santo Domingo clients to let him write their wine lists. But I suspect that to do so would be to make the incorrect assumption that good taste is inherently persuasive. The reality, in Paris as in the Caribbean, is it requires a sort of noble struggle.

* A notable perk to developing a new market for natural wine - in addition to roping in a major team of star winemakers - is that you get to name your company some variation of Terroir(s) without fear of lawsuits by competing enterprises of the same name. 

Les Pipos
2 Rue de l'Ecole Polytechnique
75005 PARIS
Metro: Cardinal Lemoine 
Tel: 01 43 54 11 40

Related Links:

A meal at Les Pipos, during which I provoked an awkward situation with Georges Descombes

A great 2010 piece on Ganevat @ WineTerroirs
Various posts on Ganevat @ LeBlogd'Olif

Notes on a Lambert Chinon Rouge @ McDuffWine

A 2004 article on Les Pipos @ WineTerroirs

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