27 October 2014

les vendanges: champagne jacques lassaigne, montgueux

When I arranged to harvest with Montgueux Champagne winemaker Manu Lassaigne this September, I had convenience in mind. His is the best domaine in the vicinity of the Native Companion's mother's house outside of Troyes. I figured we could stay with her and sort out transport to and from Montgueux without undue hassle, perhaps on bicycles.

"Attention!" said the NC's mother, when I proposed what struck her as a dangerously bad idea. "Ca mont beaucoup vers Montgueux!" (Tr.: "The way to Montgueux is very steep.") She says this about most hills.* When this failed to sufficiently terrify me, she invoked gypsies. Harvest time brings a lot of low-paid migrant labour to the Aube, and she worried these voyageurs would ambush me with long knives as I bicycled home. "We'll deal with such situations as and when they arise! " I laughed.

And in the end the NC's mom needn't have worried. It took just one day's harvesting at Domaine Jacques Lassaigne for the Native Companion and I to realise we had neither the desire nor the capacity to bike eight kilometers to and from the domaine each day. I was reduced to reliving my early teens, gratefully begging rides to and from my summer job... Harvest is always a blend of festivity and grunt work, in proportions that vary according to the individual traditions of the domaine. Harvest chez Lassaigne is mainly the latter, punctuated with charcuterie and various interesting non-commercialised cuvées.

15 October 2014

brothers in arms: la cave à michel, 75010

In writing about Paris restaurant openings, I'm accustomed to grousing about stillborn fads and failed trendhopping. (Meatballs, anyone? Wine by the litre?) But newly opened Place Sainte Marthe wine bar La Cave à Michel floors me, for it's perhaps the first place I've encountered since Bistro Bellet last fall that seems genuinely forward-thinking.

Located in what used to be the physical premises of online wine retailer La Contre-Etiquette, La Cave à Michel is a joint effort from two longtime neighbors - Fabrice Mansouri, formerly of La Contre-Etiquette, and Maxime and Romain Tischenko, the telegenic brothers behind nextdoor tasting menu restaurant Le Galopin.

Mansouri and the Tischenkos have transformed the awkward old Contre-Etiquette space into a spare, elegant, standing-room-only wine bar that offers, Wednesday through Sunday (!), a solid natural wine selection, a rousing atmosphere, and a winning menu of ambitious small plates produced from a comically small kitchen. The eponymous "Michel," as I understand the idiom, refers to a kind of Everyman figure, and this seems appropriate. Every neighborhood should have one of these.

10 October 2014

takes a village: le rubis, 75002

When asked what makes a wine natural, I often reply that a wine is natural when it is bought by natural wine buyers. I'm only being half-facetious: Paris is blessed to be home to several generations of curmudgeonly gatekeepers to the natural wine scene, restaurateurs and cavistes who have been working to define what natural wine is for upwards of thirty years. This cliqueyness has its drawbacks - such as an incomprehensibility to outsiders, unenforcability, etc. - but it also creates a palpable sense of community in Paris.

If Le Rubis, a terrific, new-ish neighborhood bistrot by Sentier, largely escaped notice upon opening in April, it's because reviewers were unaware of its impeccable bona fides in the natural wine community. Or unaware of the value of such cred. Co-owner Marie Carmarans is the ex-wife of celebrated Aveyron winemaker Nicolas Carmarans, and together they were the second generation of ownership of legendary natural wine bistrot Café de la Nouvelle Mairie. What's more, she's often aided at Le Rubis by her husband, Michel Tolmer, a cult figure in his own right for being the illustrator behind the ubiquitous "Epaule Jété" poster that has become, throughout France, the easiest way to identify a natural wine establishment.

Along with co-owner Geraldine Sarfati and chef Roberta Tringale, Marie Carmarans has created the closest thing the right bank has to the 6ème's Café Trama : a refined, contemporary bistrot with the confidence and smarts to remain simple.