Wine bars and restaurants in the French capital have been closed for over a year, but ever since the first confinement 16 long months ago, cavistes have been providing an essential — as deemed by the government — service: keeping Parisians in wine. In that time, a few trends have emerged.
Natural, natural, natural
Natural wine is nothing new in Paris and, according to Tanisha Townsend, chief wine officer of Girl Meets Glass, the low-intervention trend is showing no sign of stopping. “Most cavistes are starting to stock at least a few natural wines because people are asking for them,” she says.
Thomas Perlmutter, co-owner of Cave de Belleville, notes that natural neophytes ask him about vins natures “15 times a day”— often without truly understanding what they are. “They think if it’s red, it has to be very light,” he says. “If it’s white, it’s a bit murky. They think that’s all that natural wine is.”
According to Caroline Marteau, co-owner of Sobre, a wine cellar and tasting space in the 10th arrondissement, the inconsistency of natural wine “made an entire subset of the population suspicious. Sometimes when I tell a client that a wine is unsulfured and unfiltered, they ask me right away, ‘Oh, does it smell weird?’”
But those in the know are not only embracing the trend wholeheartedly, they’re also moving away from once-popular bottles that hide flaws behind their funk.
“People have refined their taste for natural wine,” Marteau says, noting that whites that smell of cider or acetone are no longer acceptable to Parisian palates.
It didn’t hurt when natural wine advocate Pascaline Lepeltier was designated Best Sommelier of France 2018, something that, according to Pierre Renauld of 228L, a wine bar and cellar in the 9th arrondissement, would have been “inconceivable” just a few years earlier.
Bordeaux is out; Beaujolais is in
Recently, Perlmutter received a shipment of natural Bordeaux he was planning to sell at just 10 euros ($11.85) a bottle. But he was worried. How would it be received by those clients he’s nicknamed TSBs: tout sauf Bordeaux (anything but Bordeaux)?
“Parisians are abandoning the big regions — Burgundy, Bordeaux, Rhône — to discover regions that haven’t been highlighted as much,” explains Amandine Pastourel, head sommelier of Michelin-starred La Dame de Pic.
In place of a heady, tannic Bordelais red, customers frequently ask Perlmutter and other wine shop owners for “un petit rouge léger” (a light little red). Such wines, according to Renauld, mainly hail from the north of France, specifically the Loire and once-denigrated Beaujolais.
He believes this shift is partly a result of the effects of climate change. “Wines are becoming riper and riper,” he says. “The riper wines are, the more we’re going to go looking for freshness.”
Parisians are also shifting away from increasingly expensive Burgundy. “Some people are speaking out against the prices,” says Renauld. “I don’t know if it’s the beginning of the end for Burgundy.”
Parisians are, instead, looking east. “Jura has exploded in recent years,” says Perlmutter. “And it’s well deserved. It’s one of the great white wines of France, and it was unfairly little-known.”
Jura’s increasing popularity has also caused its price to rise, but the same is not yet true for nearby Savoie or Bugey, the latter of which, Perlmutter says, “has exploded with young winemakers in the past two or three years. For me, it’s really the wine region of the future.”
Pastourel and Perlmutter also note an increased interest in some southern regions, notably Pic Saint Loup. “We’re not too sure why,” says Perlmutter. “I congratulated the president of the winemaker’s association there a few years ago. I said: ‘I don’t know how you did it, but Pic Saint Loup has got this aura now.’”
To this list, Marteau adds Ardèche, thanks to its granite terroir that, she says, offers “a particular minerality” that is coming into fashion.
“They think if it’s red, it has to be very light. If it’s white, it’s a bit murky. They think that’s all that natural wine is.”
“People aren’t looking for light rosé as much,” says Marteau, noting that Parisians are seeking darker, more aromatic rosés like those from the Loire or other parts of the South. “I think the issue with light Provençal rosé is that the predominant flavor and aroma is grapefruit. And people have gotten tired of it.”
A new vision of bubbles
Bubbles, long associated with the holidays in France, are becoming far more democratized, partly due to the rise of independent Champagne grower-producers.
“They have a winemaker’s approach,” says Renauld. “There’s a lot of dynamism.”
Champagne is also no longer the only bubble people drink. “What’s also really working right now is pétillant naturel,” or naturally sparkling, says Marteau. These effervescent wines are made using an ancestral, single-fermentation method. The result is a funkier-flavored wine with bubbles that aren’t quite as fine as Champagne. They boast lower alcohol and, of course, a far lower price point. “They’ve exploded in popularity,” she says. “I used to have one in stock; now I’ve got three. People love them.”
A new curiosity
When asked how Parisian wine trends have evolved the most since the first lockdowns, Perlmutter says simply: “They’re drinking… more.”
And since people can’t yet drink in restaurants, they’re spending a bit more on bottles to enjoy at home. “When I have met up with friends (outdoors of course), the wines are a bit more expensive than usual,” adds Townsend. “I’m guessing we’re cherishing the time more and not saving anything for ‘another time.’”