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Parisian Wine Bars Go "Au Naturel"

By John Saker

Article by John Saker

The first Parisian bars to specialise in natural wine started appearing quietly in the 1980s. That kicked off something of a wild ferment. Now there's nary an arrondissement that doesn't feature spots for the unsulphured set to gather and imbibe. This has made the French capital the world's number one natural wine playground. As with any good subculture, the establishment has taken notice. Natural wines increasingly feature on the lists of many of the more trad Paris bars and restaurants.

Explanatory note: a natural wine is one that is organically grown (what the French call a 'vin bio') and made with minimal intervention. That usually means indigenous ferments, low – sometimes no – sulphur use, no additives, and no filtration or fining. The attractions of this new breed are many, the obvious one simply being the differences it offers. Natural wines have broadened the range of wine's tastes and textures in unexpected and often exciting ways.

That those differences spring from a more earth-friendly, less manipulative and chemically inclined approach adds to the appeal. The movement's rebellious tone is enhanced by mad names and colourful labels. These are closer in style to our craft beer branding than to that of traditional French wine.

A number of young Parisians I spoke to also mentioned the added bonus of a hangover-free drinking experience. Low sulphur dosage in particular is the big factor here.

Finally, going natural means bypassing those less than laid-back black waistcoated Parisian waiters who are happy to serve you a glass of wine from a bottle that was uncorked the week before. Natural wine bars are unstuffy, fun and staffed by people who love their product. And they'll always offer you a taste of whatever wine interests you before you buy.

During a recent visit to Paris, I did the rounds of the more than a few natural wine bars. Here is my top five:

Aux Deux Amis

Aux Deux Amis opened in 2009 and is on everybody's 'must drop in' list. I got there early evening and propped up the bar, gorging myself on the excellent 'bombas' (potato croquettes stuffed with smoked fish), accompanied by a glass of Alsatian pinot. It bustles with good cheer under bright lights. The food extends beyond bar snacks and is excellent, as is the wine list. (I also noticed some interesting looking gins behind the bar). I'm told it's a very popular place to wash up late of an evening.

25 Rue Oberkampf, 11th Arr.

La Buvette (pictured above John Saker) is funky, rustic and intimate.

My winemaker daughter suggested I visit La Buvette and I wasn't disappointed. It is funky, quite rustic, intimate (space is definitely limited) and well-run by founder Camille Fourmont. It doesn't have the most extensive wine or tapas list, but what is on offer is à point. I was recommended an old vine Loire Valley cab franc made by the highly regarded Luc Sebille. Gorgeous … as was the charcuterie I had alongside.

67 Rue Saint-Maur, 11th Arr.

Septime Cave

Septime Cave is the younger, renegade sibling of nearby Septime restaurant, which is very hip but presents a challenge to even get a reservation. Septime Cave is every inch a 'cave'… rough-hewn low beams, almost nowhere to sit (most cluster around the bar), walls of wine all around. The service is youthful and casual; the tapas are simple though creative; the wines well chosen.

3 Rue Basfroi, 11th Arr.

Le Vin Au Vert is a well-regarded fixture in Paris.
Le Vin Au Vert is a well-regarded fixture in Paris.

Le Vin Au Vert

Le Vin Au Vert was established a decade ago, part of the city's second wave of natural wine bar openings, and has been a well-regarded fixture ever since. Well lit, with a crisp, functional interior, it attracts a slightly older crowd than the others in my top five. Service is pleasant and helpful and the wine list has treasures aplenty with grower champagnes something of a specialty. Food offerings are cheese and charcuterie platters and a small range of mains. The pricing is very reasonable.

70 Rue de Dunkerque, 9th Arr.

Mika Grosman of Les Enfants du Marche
Mika Grosman of Les Enfants du Marche

Les Enfants du Marché

Situated right at the back of a market called Le Marché des Enfants, this is another one you should not miss. It's the creation of Michael (Mika) Grosman, a young dude whose heart pounds with a passion for natural wines. New wines appear regularly, and the list is extensive – I counted around 40 available by the glass. Southern extremities such as Rousillon are well-represented. The food here is also terrific. Japanese chef Masahide Ikuta's offerings (eg wild mushrooms from the Vosges with foie gras poelé) will ring your tastebuds. Note: It's only open for dinner Thursday - Saturday; other days it closes at 5pm.

39 Rue de Bretagne, 3rd Arr.

Food & Wine Les Enfants du March?
Food & Wine Les Enfants du March?


Hotel George

This three-star hotel which will leave you vowing to return. A great location (the 9th is central yet folksy, and a haven for smart restaurants and bars), fine breakfast, very comfortable beds and moderate prices are all part of an appealing mix. As is the playful 1950s pop art décor. 46 Rue Notre Dame de Lorette, 9th Arr.

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