Get tipsy on organic wine with expert caviste Olivier Aubert at his cave-à-vin, Ferveré in the heart of the 11th district.
Galileo, who said: “wine is sunlight, held together by water”, had for a scientific mind, perhaps an oversimplified view of wine production. My wine knowledge isn’t much better to say the least. Any tips anyone has ever given me on wine, and the memory of drinking it, seems to have invariably been lost to the bleary depths of boozy nights. So, it was with keen interest (and a sober mind) that I came to meet the caviste Olivier Aubert at his organic/natural cave-à-vin, Ferveré, in the vibrant Oberkampf district of Paris.
Olivier is serious about his wine and can talk at great length about its production and provenance, but it’s his irreverence and relaxed attitude, which makes me think that a night spent drinking at his cave-à-vin would probably be memorable. My first question to put to Olivier, is to explain the difference between all these different and confusing categories such as natural, organic and biodynamic?
‘There isn’t really much of a difference, the production is much the same, the difference is really only in the label. With conventional wines, the vine has invariably been treated with pesticides, which kills the natural yeast that resides on the skin of the grape. There are about 15 to 20 different varieties of yeast that live on the skin of a grape. During the wine making process, if the fermentation happens with these indigenous yeasts, this generates the complexity that can make a good wine or even a great one.
Obviously, if the farmer treats the vine with chemicals, then he kills off the yeast, and he is forced to add yeast during the production. The problem is that with just one variety of yeast, fermentation produces a less complex wine. What interest me are wines such as organic, biodynamic or natural, wine made with their own indigenous yeast. Another element that is important in the production of wine is the adding of sulfite in order to stabilize it. Most organic and normal wines have sulfates added but natural wine has little or no sulfates added which makes it a more interesting wine. I like a vivacious or living wine, full of complexity and it’s for this reason I stock them.’
Now that I understand a bit more, I tell Olivier that it still isn’t clear to me the difference between biodynamic wine and organic wines? ‘Again its all in the label’. Biodynamic wine for instance is attached to a German organization. ‘The reason natural wine doesn’t have a label is because the producers don’t want the bother of being regulated by a specific organization. Some of them put a small amount of sulfate into their wine, many don’t have sulfates added at all - it’s for this reason they don’t want to be hemmed in by one practice.
On the differences between a cave-à-vin and a restaurant, Olivier says that there is none. ‘They are the worst places to drink wine’, he states in his deadpan fashion. ‘A wine needs to breath before it is served. It needs to be exposed to the air. We often drink wine much too early and in many cases a wine tastes much better drunk the following day. Often when someone wants to try a wine I will tell him or her it’s not the right moment. I will open the bottle and tell them to come back the following day. Obviously that can’t always be done but customers are welcome to take an opened bottle home with them to drink the following day’.
I ask Olivier what his top tip would be to a tourist ordering wine in a restaurant? ‘The wine must always be decanted’, he says firmly. ‘Even Champagne should be decanted and it shouldn’t be served below 7°. The best temperature to serve Champagne is 12°.’
Olivier is originally from the southwest of France, I am interested to hear about some of his favorite addresses in Paris and what brought him to city. He says lightheartedly he came for le flouze, which is French slang for money. ‘Paris is a good place to come and meet people, it’s a melting pot, and the advantage is that it’s only in Paris you will find all the different wines at the same level of quality. It goes without saying the best cavistes are found here also.’ On that note I ask him about his favorite spots. ‘I like Gilles Bernard’s place, Que du Bon, 22 rue du Plateau. I also love Juveniles, 47 rue de Richelieu. A Scottish man by the name of Tim Johnson runs the place and I enjoy talking with him. Nearby is my favorite place in Paris, Le Palais-Royal. It is a magnificent and peaceful oasis from the noise of the city.’
I ask him what he is drinking at the moment? ‘Lots of things! I am particularly a big fan of wine from the Loire and Côtes-du-rhône. Joir de Soif by Gauthier is my wine of the moment. The Jura region in France is producing particularly amazing white wine at the moment, really sublime!’
With that I decide to buy a bottle from Olivier, he picks out a bottle of red after careful deliberation. To my surprise he tells me to put it in the freezer 15mins before I serve it. Later that evening I take a drink. Not bad at all. It seems knowing the right caviste in Paris is a little secret not all Parisians are in on.
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