At a restaurant, a major attraction for me is the wine list. I read it the way some people immerse themselves in Facebook, detective fiction or food blogs. And in France, where the word ‘food’ cannot be mentioned without ‘wine’, it is always of particular interest.
In France when it comes to wine, provenance is of vital importance. French wines dominate their wine lists in restaurants, and rightly so. Support your own, I say. (Ditto Italy, where Tuscan wines dominate most Tuscan restaurant wine lists, and so on.) It’s mostly in the more ‘starry’ restaurants that you usually get a mix of different wines from different countries, and that also makes for exciting reading and some phenomenal pairings with food.
Back to France.
On my last trip, I discovered a little jewel of a wine cellar-store. De Vinis Illustribus would probably be known only to the connoisseurs and treasure seekers of French wine: it is off the beaten track in the 5th arrondissement in an old, lovingly restored multi-levelled wine cellar. And its owner, Lionel Michelin (no relation to the stars) is a walking encyclopaedia on all wines French. (The name, which means “about famous wines” pretty well sums it all up.)
I was scheduled to attend an hour-long private tasting at his cellar one afternoon, but by the end of it, one hour stretched to almost three and we were firm friends. His wife, the very affable and hospitable Dominique, plied us with a deliciously nutty rare 2 year old artisanal Comté cheese which proved spot-on with the wines we tasted. Once Lionel figured out my interest in French wine regions, he opened up a few special bottles for me to taste. Among them, one was especially memorable not as a big name but an unusual one: a Domaine Isabel Ferrando Chateauneuf du Pape Cuvée Colombis 2011– a special pure Grenache cuvée which retails for €110 – if you can find a bottle. A very small batch (no more than 500 cases made per vintage) by a rarity in the Rhône – a female winemaker, once a banker, who stepped into winemaking on a whim and soon started beating the big names of the region at their game. Michelin, with his finger on the French wine pulse was quick to pick up a special allocation for his store which has since completely sold out. The wine we tasted was deep, dense, red berry-luscious and just growing up into a gorgeous stunner of a CDP. That made my day. (more…)