The best indie writing competition has found its way to Paris, via homesick Australian Leah Ambler, to surely the only Parisian to be described as a 'carrier of coal to Newcastle'...
Soif d'ailleurs is the French expression for wanderlust. Or wine-derlust as the case may be for the caviste of the same name that opened its doors in Paris in June this year and sells exclusively foreign wine. Mathieu Wehrung is the man behind Soif d'ailleurs; seller of ice to eskimos and carrier of coal to Newcastle. His 'thirst for elsewhere' as the expression literally translates, led him to do what many people would consider impossible, illegal or insane: sell foreign wine to the French. A former corporate executive, he put away the white collar and now personally selects each one of the 331 wines from 39 countries that he has for sale in his revolutionary wine shop.
The old and new world bottles stand proudly behind their flags on the immaculate display wall inside number 38, rue Pastourelle in the third arrondissement of Paris. The décor is traditional exposed-beam Parisian apartment meets Japanese minimalism with sleek Scandinavian designs. What appears at first as a small shop in an unremarkable street on the outskirts of the buzzing Marais district opens onto a light, modern tasting room with wooden tables and a marble bar. This will be the setting for the wine club and weekly tastings planned for when the shop re-opens and the summer Paris exodus is over. In the meantime I wait patiently, thirsty.
Each bottle at Soif d'ailleurs has a story behind it and Mathieu is the raconteur. If you only have the time, he will introduce you personally to the Ambassadors in his United Nations of wine (minus France). First we are presented to the diplomates, the official sparkling wines of the White House and the Kremlin, arranged provocatively side-by-side. Then there are the anarchistes, Garage Wine Co.'s Carignan and Cabernet Franc, hard-core natural wines (right up to the hand-painted, recycled bottles and organic beeswax seals) from dry-farmed old vines grown by small producers in Chile.
There are the vedettes like Charles Smith's Kung Fu Girl Riesling, The Velvet Devil Merlot and Boom Boom Syrah, alongside Francis Ford Coppola's Diamond Collection Chardonnay. Then there are the artistes, like the William Downie Yarra Valley Pinot Noir adorned with its Reg Mombassa label. There are the Goliath national institutions (such as New Zealand's Cloudy Bay) alongside Dad and Dave producers. More than half the bottles come in at under 15 euros, including an impressive Brazilian sparkling – Miolo, a méthode traditionelle Chardonnay/Pinot Noir blend. That being said, there are high-end wines too, like Pingus and Gaja.
The selection at Soif d'ailleurs is accessible to all: wine nerds, debutantes, fashionistas, natural wine warriors and traditionalists. Most importantly, it is clear that Mathieu loves discovering new wine and sharing these discoveries with anyone who dares. It is possible to try before you buy and he is happy to make suggestions. I recently emailed him (despite the shop being closed for a few weeks over the summer) with a request for advice on wine for a friend's wedding. He managed to find a corner of the garden with airwaves in the blissful middle of nowhere in France, to call me with recommendations and even offered to deliver the bottles himself given the legendary unreliability of the French delivery companies.
Soif d'ailleurs is for me, an Australian wine-lover with a serious case of wanderlust, the MOST exciting and daring development on the Paris wine scene since I first unpacked my bags here five years ago. I now no longer need to leave France to taste non-French wine and can satisfy my soif d'ailleurs with a short metro ride. I wish Mathieu and his team tremendous success and look forward to their return from holidays next Monday!