Text by Omid Tavallai & Images by Matthew Rose
The story has almost become a cliché in what’s hot and exciting in Paris: A young upstart with no formal training. Someone who bailed on a corporate career to pursue an unrelated passion. A DIY ethos guiding rebellion against the well-rooted establishment.
This is not the story at La Cave des Papilles just off Marché Daguerre in the 14th.
Meet Florian – one of the three members of a tightly knit crew (“We work like a family,” he says) that runs La Cave des Papilles. He knows his wines. He’s been in the field for fifteen years, since finishing hotelier school and specializing in the subject. His biggest career shift was leaving his post as sommelier to Michelin-starred chefs… only to delve further into his tipple of passion as a caviste.
Of course, as the story often goes, he knows all of his producers personally. But we’re not talking about a handful of obscure, craft wines. La Cave des Papilles stocks 900 to 1000 different wines at any given time. 80% of which are vins naturels, “natural wines.”
“It’s in the same realm as bio (organic) wine, but even more purist. As far as organic wines go, the organic part only applies to how the grapes are grown,” Florian says. “Natural wines are more concerned with keeping the whole process natural.”
“Our mission is to be the ambassadors of natural wines in Paris.”
Judging by the steady stream of clients coming through the door – even on a Wednesday night – this embassy is a hotbed of diplomatic relations. And business. Customers come in, shake hands, maybe pick up a bottle of “the usual,” maybe ask for a wine that will go with their dinner, and seem to all walk out smiling.
“We’re largely a neighborhood business, and that’s where our customers are primarily from: The neighborhood. But there are also people who come from across town because they’re looking for something specific or unique. And we also work with a number of professionals, helping to round out the wine lists for restaurants.”
Neither these customers nor the Cave itself are cashing in on a trend. “We’ve always been in the field of natural wines, before it was in fashion,” Florian says of the 10 year-old store. “Selling natural wines isn’t a commercial goal, but one of taste. We want to offer the wines that we like.”
Which leads to the toughest question to ask any sommelier: Which wine do you like best?
After the expected deflection explaining the great many varietals and regions and styles on offer, Florian surprisingly comes upon a wine surprisingly quickly.
“There is a wine by Jean-Marc Brignot of Molamboz in the Jura region,” he starts off. And describes in detail the wine’s easy drinkability, its brilliant color, its overall qualities. Maybe he does have a clear favorite.
So what if one were to ask the knowledgable caviste: What would you drink to celebrate a special occasion… without Champagne?
“Well, Champagne is certainly an excellent choice, but we have plenty of vins moelleux that are sweet but not cloying that would be good for special occasions. And, of course, other sparkling wines for any budget without approaching Champagne’s prices.”
Speaking of budget, would cheapskates or the cash-strapped be able to delve into the world of naturally crafted wines? “Certainly!” Florian is happy to point out that their red wines start at 3 euro, including a very well made Languedoc. An excellent white from the region costs only 4 euro.
“We have plenty of choices for all kinds of clientele, not just the – I don’t like this term – elite wine consumers. The world of wine is open to everyone, not just for the rich or experts. There are many people who do know wines very well but want good prices – whether it’s red, white or rosé.”
Those who don’t know their wines can rest easy. La Cave des Papilles offers group tasting courses to help people gain an understanding of the differences between various regions, varietals and styles. Everyone is welcome.
“We’re lucky to be in a great neighborhood that still maintains its vie de quartier in the face of the dynamism and constant change that are part of being a big city in a globalizing world.”
“But we remain approachable, both the neighborhood and the wine. Wine is a big, complex world, but we’re doing our best to make it accessible and comprehensible to everyone, for all levels of knowledge and all budgets. People can come in knowing exactly what they want, or to ask us for recommendations, and we’re happy to oblige.”
Even the winemakers are encouraged to visit the shop. “On Saturdays, we often invite the producers to come and present their offerings. Customers can come and at the very least taste them, and hopefully like them enough take some home for themselves!”
La Cave des Papilles
35 rue Daguerre
Mº Denfert Rochereau
01 43 20 05 74
Open Tues-Fri 10am – 1:30pm/3:30pm-8pm, Sat 10am-8pm, Sunday mornings
A schedule of wine tasting classes and winemaker presentations will be available in the near future on the Cave’s web site: http://lacavedespapilles.blogspot.com/