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Restaurants / Bars

The Paris Wine Goddess Tells All

This Southern Girl Knows the City of Lights’ Food Secrets

BY // 02.08.17

I love to talk about wine with people who share my passion for it. We open bottles, we trade stories about travel and winemakers,  terroir and residual sugar, and we talk of taste and food and restaurants. We recommend wines to one another, we drink, and we learn a lot. In Wine Talk, I introduce you to some of my friends and acquaintances — individuals who love wine as much as I do, who live to taste. You’ll appreciate their insight, and I hope you’ll learn something from them as well. 

Wendy Lyn is Southern gal who lives in Paris, and her personalty is big and infectious. She leads private food and wine tours in the City of Light, tours that have been named by more than a few fans and publications as among the best in the business. Most importantly, Wendy respects food and wine and the men and women who make it.

She’s constantly making the rounds to restaurants and wine bars in Paris and other cities, and takes part in harvest every year. I’ve known of her for a good number of years now, and met her in Paris 2010 at Spring Boutique, the great little store of Spring restaurant (sadly now closed). The gregariousness I had sensed in her writing was on full display, and I immediately understood why myriad people told me I needed to meet her.

If you plan a trip to Paris, make sure you consult her site, Paris Is My Kitchen. Her recommendations won’t fail you, and her writing style will have you coming back for more.

PaperCity: Tell me about three wines you think are drinking well at the moment. What makes them worthwhile? How about a food pairing for each one?

Wendy Lyn: 2013 Patrick Desplats Blanc “Les Fleurs” Domaine des Griottes in Anjou — gorgeous blend of Chardonnay, Chenin and Sauvignon. It’s super aromatic, fruity, and complex. Slightly effervescent. I love this as an apéro (apéritif) wine.

Brutal Wine Corporation (Languedoc – Roussillon) is a fun joint venture between Anthony Tortul (La Sorga), Remy Pujol, Joan Ramon Escoda, and Laureano Serres. They each bottled the same label with their own wine. I love Remy’s version, a 50 percent Carignan and 50 percent Mourvedre blend. Perfect with anything spicy or red meat.

Laurence and Remi Dufaitre’s Côte-de-brouilly Gamay from Beaujolais, 2015, is tasting fantastic. Light, bright and fruity. Perfect for afternoon/day drinking, apéro, fish, and cheese.

PC: Would be nice to know where my readers can purchase them and how much they cost. 

WL: In Paris, you can find these wine at retail shops for between 15 and 30 euros, and in restaurants for between 20 and 40 euros.

In Paris, you can find them at the following wine bars: Septime Cave, Bistrot Paul Bert, and Yves Camdeborde’s L’Avant Comptoir. These places are all special in that they are wine bars, but also licensed take-away bottle shops. You can taste wines. and when you find a favorite, buy some to take with you. The owners are all best friends with the natural wine-making community and have first-pick access from the guys who are making it in small amounts.

Some of the employees in these places actually spend time on their days off in the countryside with the winemakers to learn more. This is a huge advantage to customers seeking advice.

[Note: While it might be difficult to find some of these wines in the U.S., if you do you will not be sorry.]

PC: How did your passion for natural wines begin?

WL: By accident. I was with several chefs from Burgundy in a bistrot in Paris. Little did I know then that the owner (Gilles Benard) was/is one of the pioneering voices in the natural wine world who questioned restaurants serving hyper-sourced food products, but not doing it in the details with the bread, cheese, salt, butter, coffee and wine.

The ah-ha moment was when he opened a bottle of wine, poured it into a carafe, then put his hand over the mouth of the carafe and started shaking it vigorously. Bright purple bubbles formed on the surface and he left the carafe on the table and went about his business. I thought, who is this mad man?

We continued laughing and talking as a group, but when I reached down to drink some wine, my focus wasn’t drinking the wine, just in taking a pause while talking. When I swallowed, I stopped mid-phrase to look at my wine glass and said, “What, is, THAT?”

It was fantastic. It tasted like pure grape juice, fruit explosion. I’d never tasted anything like it and had no idea what it was. Gilles smiled big and said, “Ah-hah Wendy, now you know.” He said, “Meet Eric Pfifferling, a wine grower in Tavel making red wine rosé with no additives, it is pure juice.”

I called him the next day and said, “Tell me more.” And boy has he, for the last 20 years! He is the man who organized the first natural “RAW” tasting in Brooklyn last year, bringing the wine growers and wines with him.

Now it isn’t a passion, but a way of life. I also spend my summers in Corsica with winemaker Antoine Arena and his sons (Jean-Baptiste and Antoine Marie) during harvest with a lot of young people who work at the above places. It has become a family affair much bigger than the winemaking family.

Wendy Lyn and Eric Pfifferling in Paris.
Wendy Lyn and Eric Pfifferling in Paris.

PC: If cost was no consideration, tell us the one bottle you would add to your personal collection, and why.

WL: I could not choose between two Godfathers. I’d be thrilled with either.

Philippe Valette is an extraordinary farmer in Chaintré, a small village in the south of Burgundy on the border of Beaujolais. His Chardonnay grapes are of course organic, but the entire winemaking process is free of any additives, aged in old barrels until he feels they are ready. The 1999 Mâcon-Villages was a religious experience, one I’d happily do again.

The other bottle would be revolutionary Anselme Selosse’s Champagne, 100 percent Pinot Noir “Sous le Mont” or “Le Bout du Clos” — from Mareuil and from Ambonnay – good Lordy are they delicious. Deep, rich, complex flavor with barely-there bubbles, almost copper in color. It drinks like a honey wine without being sweet. Collectors hoard every bottle they can find.

At the end of the day it isn’t about cost, but about hard to get your hands on, which in France does not always equate to expensive.

PC: What is your favorite grape, and why? If you don’t have a favorite, tell me about one that you really, really like.

I can’t choose. Any wine that is alive and full of interest is worth trying enough to drink. I don’t discriminate. I once asked my friend Jean Foillard (Morgon, Côte du Puy) which of his wines he preferred, and he answered, “I love all my children.” I feel that way about all French grapes/wines.

WL: How about one bottle that our readers should buy now to cellar for 10 years, to celebrate a birth, anniversary, or other red-letter day? 

That is a hard one to answer. I don’t normally choose wines that can age — only ones that are to be drunk/shared when I buy them. But I’d probably hang on to Philippe-Overnoy’s Arbois (Jura). Emmanuel Houillon took over Pierre’s domain when Overnoy retired, but they are still close collaborators and the result is extraordinary. The Chardonnay/Savagnin 1999 is remarkable. Minerally, smoky, nutty, earthy, round mouth. No additives or unnecessary manipulations in the cellar. Good luck finding it in the U.S., and when you do, you should grab it!

Selfishly, my hope is that one day more wine growers will learn to do this style for themselves in the States so our stock stays in France. Unselfishly, I also wish this, because then folks could have more opportunities to taste it affordably, and it won’t appear that “natural” wines from France are expensive, because they aren’t. I am completely spoiled by sharing friendships with these guys, where they just come to my house for dinner and we crack the bottles.

Wendy Lyn with Justin Chearno, left, and Mr. Overnoy.

PC: Where is your go-to place when you want to have a glass or bottle outside your home?

WL: To find a wine that is new and interesting, I usually head to Septime Cave, Bistrot Paul Bert, L’Avant Comptoir, or Le Baratin. The winemakers also call these unpretentious places home away from home — we meet up and drink and learn a lot. The owners enjoy putting bottles in brown bags just to share a new discovery with us — making us guess. It is a lot of fun. If you are at these places in Paris, odds are you are standing/sitting next to the winemakers. I love seeing visitors connect with them.

PC: If there was one thing you wish everyone would keep in mind when buying and drinking wine, what is it?

WL: Forget buying regions or grapes; buy producers. My grandfather used to say, “I just love Bordeaux.” That frustrated me, because Bordeaux isn’t a wine or a grape, but a region. There are a LOT of winemakers in Bordeaux. I can’t imagine asking for a generic region or grape. What does that tell the owner, sommelier, shop owner. etc. to help customers get the flavor they want in the glass?

Now that I have learned which producers do well-made wines from certain grapes in certain regions, I trust their name. At any of the wine bars and bistros serving/selling these wines in Paris/France, customers order “Pfifferling”, “Overnoy”, “Foillard”, “Selosse”, “Valette”, “Dufaitre”, etc.

PC: What was your “wine eureka moment,” the incident/taste/encounter that put you and wine on an intimate plane forever?

WL: I go back to Gilles at his bistrot. That, and sharing my last three magnums of Pfifferling with my friend Jimmy Buffett in Paris — boy howdy did he become a fan after that.

PC: What has been the strangest moment/incident involving wine that you have experienced in your career?

WL: Aside from seeing Gilles shake it in the carafe, I guess that would be seeing people taste it for the first time without knowing what it is. They wrinkle their nose after smelling and tasting it. They find it “strange” because it is different.

Same reaction I see when people eat an unpasteurized cheese after having eaten only pasteurized cheese their whole lives. I love seeing that moment of discovery — not that it is “strange” moment for me personally, but in watching it be strange for them.

PC: Your favorite wine reference in a work of literature?

WL: You’ll think I’m crazy for mentioning my favorite wine reference/lines from a silly movie like Sideways, but I could not agree more with Maya. I’m a pure romantic when it comes to the life of a wine (especially when I’m in the vines during harvest in the hot sun, back aching and sweat blinding me):

I like to think about the life of wine . . . How it’s a living thing. I like to think about what was going on the year the grapes were growing; how the sun was shining; if it rained. I like to think about all the people who tended and picked the grapes. And if it’s an old wine, how many of them must be dead by now. I like how wine continues to evolve, like if I opened a bottle of wine today it would taste different than if I’d opened it on any other day, because a bottle of wine is actually alive. And it’s constantly evolving and gaining complexity. That is, until it peaks, like your ’61. And then it begins its steady, inevitable decline . . . And it tastes so f*cking good.” 

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