There are two wine retailers that are so closely tied together in my mind, although their similarities would seem inexplicable when announced together: Cantina Peppone, Bordeaux (France) and Port Francs Vins, Auvernier (Switzerland). The detail arises from the experience of discovery, as is commonplace when discussing wine, and I take the liberty of elaborating on this hereafter.
The former of these retailers has a reputation in Bordeaux for authentic Italian pizza, which is what first drew me through the doors of 31 Cours Georges Clemenceau. A rustic dining room is fitted out with vintage Italian meat slicers and wheels of parmesan, accompanied by the wonderfully indulgent aromas that rise from a pizza oven. Italy, it could very well have been.
Very rarely does one select wine to accompany a meal by being invited through a small door at the back of the restaurant, and I was surprised to inadvertently stumble into a shop selling a cogently authentic range of Italian products. Halfway between the two, and easily missed in my parched enthusiasm, was a small set of stone stairs that spiralled down to a wine cellar. Dried ham hung from the walls and parmesan wheels were stacked, acting as an olfactic reminder of what one would soon be eating. The wines were presented in no discernible order and with no tasting notes, but the range was such that great wines could be picked with no more knowledge than that of an amateur.
Enthused by the omission of the wine from the bill, I returned to the store (accessed from 6 Rue Lafaurie Monbadon and pictured above courtesy of Google Streetview) the following day to purchase some wine. There is a distinctly naughty feeling about buying Italian wine in Bordeaux, but I was truly taken by this well-chosen wine cellar that seemed in a world of its own.
No sleuthing is needed to find the similarity when, four years later, I hurried out of the rain and into Port Francs Vins, selling French wine in Switzerland. More specifically I was in Auvernier for the Swiss caves ouvertes, which I feel makes it doubly naughty to renege on the abundance of Chasselas and Oeil de Perdrix.
Does the smell of spilt red wine evaporating from the outside of an oak cask bear any similarity to that of an Italian pizzeria? In my mind, yes.
Passing the wall of wine that stretches down this narrow store, I was invited to begin my tasting with a wine from Quincy AOC. Never before had I heard of this appellation, and the name does inspire one's senses to search for heightened sweet, floral notes of quince paste; yet the wine is made around the corner from Sancerre AOC and is a similarly dry Sauvignon Blanc, even if it isn't grown on the banks of the Loire.
The tasting developed in such a simple way as to endear Nicholas, the owner, to me indefinitely: I would point at a bottle, and it would be opened for us to sample. On occasion a layer of complexity was added, insofar as being recommended to taste another wine in advance of the selected bottle, but this was only for our benefit.
Nico's selection is superbly picked and the prices are astonishingly low as a result of using lesser-known producers. Some wines are even bottled in Switzerland from the cask, which serves to cut the prices further. The small team are very adept at finding a French wine for any occasion, and they do justify the few Swiss wines in stock too – the bottles of Saint-Saphorin are bracketed with complimentary notes from well-known critics.
So I recommend these independent retailers as places to indulge in the unknown, or to delight in the unexpected, for a connection is never stronger than when a drinker is inspired to discover a wine for themselves.
31 Cours Georges Clemenceau
+33 5 56 44 91 05