When a wine shop becomes the reason for where you choose your second home, it's definitely worth writing about. Max Smith describes the cave that stole his heart.
Fifteen years ago, on a cold, crisp, clear day in February, we drove into Uzès for the first time and wandered through the narrow streets, past the Duché, in search of lunch. By chance we discovered an authentic bar à vins called Au Suisse d'Alger. The patron was Jean-Louis Bouvard, the eponymous Suisse d'Alger, and he made this English couple very welcome, happily discussing the couple of dozen wines available by the glass and, when it became clear that we were struggling to make a decision, decided for us. We each received a glass of Clos du Caillou. It was gorgeous.
'Where can we buy this?', we asked.
He pointed across the rue de la République to a small shop, La Cave du Suisse d'Alger. 'Ma cave', he said.
He took us across the street and introduced us to his wife, Andrée, who was presiding over a wonderfully eclectic collection of wines and spirits. The frontage of the shop was narrow, but the depth was substantial. And so was the stock. There were local and Languedoc wines, of course, but they were from the then fledgling independent producers rather than the co-ops. What was unusual then - and is still today – was the plethora of wines from Bordeaux and Burgundy, from the Loire and Alsace, even from outside France! Not to mention several long-aged Cognacs and one of the largest collections of single malts I have seen outside Scotland.
What particularly impressed us was the enthusiasm with which the Bouvards discussed their wines and their selections, each punctuated by wonderfully told stories of the vignerons responsible for the wine. It was as if we were being shown round a private cellar by an amateur de vin rather than being sold to and it was, in no small measure, the reason why we decided that this part of the world would be the location for our second home.
Since then, La Cave du Suisse d'Alger has been our destination whenever we want a special bottle or two, an everyday bag-in-box, a new corkscrew or just a conversation about wine. The majority of our own cellar has been sourced from here or bought on a recommendation from here.
Jean-Louis and Andrée are retired now, but still make an appearance on jours feriés. Their Cave du Suisse d'Alger is under the aegis of Colette Arnaud who maintains the tradition of independent thinking about wine which Jean-Louis established a generation or more ago, talking with similar passion and erudition, and filling the shop with wines that she loves and that we, therefore, must taste.
There are now other caves and cavistes in Uzès and maybe half-a-dozen cafés which call themselves bars à vin. But 'the Suisse' was the first and – for us – still the best. We owe them a great deal. Santé.