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New Paris wines shops turn their back on tradition

A newly opened bar-restaurant-boutique in Paris is presenting wines to appeal to diners' moods and match typical drinking scenarios instead of listing wines by colour, country and region.

‘It’s a revolution in the rather conservative world of wine,’ says sommelier Laurent Queftaigne. ‘Rather than have 500 or 600 references, we concentrate on just 70. We want to simplify wine, to make wine accessible to everyone.’

Chai 33 is the latest venture of Thierry Bégué, who is also behind the city’s successful Barfly, Buddha Bar and Barrio Latino bar-restaurants. The new venue is housed in three former wine warehouses at 33 Cour St-Emilion in the Bercy district and is aimed at the young and fashionable who enjoy wine but are not necessarily experts. It’s a wine shop, bar and restaurant in one.

Five drinking scenarios are catered for, with wines colour-coded into one of six styles, including ‘light and biting’, ‘dry and delicate’ and ‘fruity and intense’. ‘Vin Séduction’, for example, lists wines that are perfumed and supple with a fine bouquet, such as Alsace Pinot Blanc. For the ‘En Apéritif’ category, Queftaigne has chosen, among others, a dry white Bergerac and a red Grenache-based Roussillon from Domaine Mas Amiel instead of the usual sweet and sparkling choices.

The cellar contains 33 ‘Coups de Coeur’ for special occasions or laying down. They range from South African to New Zealand, and include England’s Chapel Down and Georges Verney’s Condrieu. There’s an organic wine from Alsace and one made from century-old Catalan vines. Some 43 countries other than France are represented.

Another wine boutique to make space on its shelves for non-French wines is Thierry Servant and Pascal Chevrot’s Lavinia at 3-5 boulevard de la Madeleine in the centre of the city. The new Parisian branch (there are smaller outlets in Madrid and Barcelona) offers almost as many non-French wines as it does French (2000 non-French to France’s 3,000), with the former occupying prime position on the ground floor. French wines are in the basement.

Classification is strictly classic – regions and countries – and the emphasis is on small producers and harder-to-come-by wines, including those from Cuba, Lebanon, England, Japan and Canada (Inniskillen ice wine). Other rareties include the Passito Carole Bouquet 2000 from the eight-hectare vineyard of French actress Carole Bouquet on the Sicilian volcanic island of Pantelleria. Prices range from €3 to €36,000 for a methuselah of Romanée-Conti 1991.

The shop is maintained at 19°C temperature and 70% humidity throughout, and has 14°C cellar for storing grands crus and fragile wines. Fifteen sommeliers are there to give expert advice.

Written by Natasha Edwards25 September 2002

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