There’s a worldwide revolution going on in wine, and Paris is its frontline. Over the past three decades, the city’s drinkers have increasingly rejected the old regional hierarchies of French wine—dominated by large producers of Burgundy, Bordeaux, and Champagne—in favor of what have come to be known as natural wines.
Natural wines—which are the product of additive-free vinification, zero to minimal sulfur use, and as little filtration as possible—represent a full-throated repudiation of contemporary oenology, a field which, natural winemakers argue, prioritizes stability over expressivity. So natural wines can sometimes be cloudy, fizzy, or reduced, relative to conventional wines; some bottles might develop a strange, tongue-lashing acidity due to the position of the moon, or an approaching storm. But the best bottles possess that ineffable quality that has convinced progressive sommeliers and restaurateurs worldwide to embrace natural wine: an intimate, undiluted experience of tradition and terroir.
Natural wine is produced in many countries, but nowhere in such variety as in France. And, as with much of France’s agricultural bounty, the best is consumed in Paris, where natural wines have become a signature feature of the city’s most progressive bars and restaurants. The majority are found in eastern Paris (the 10th, 11th, 12th, 19th, and 20th arrondissements). And while many restaurants across the city specialize in natural wines, natural wine bars, as a category, offer greater spontaneity, variety… and affordability. Many bars and caves-à-manger (wine shops that serve food) ask only a nominal corkage fee over retail prices.
Frédéric Belcamp’s cozy wine bar harkens back to that long-ago era when Montparnasse was the playground of the avant garde. Just blocks away from Le Dôme Café and the neighborhood’s other dinosaur brasseries, La Quincave’s stacked wooden shelves offer a comprehensive guide to contemporary French natural winemaking, with offerings from Domaine Lapierre, Catherine & Pierre Breton, and Château Sainte-Anne. There are simple plates of cheeses, cured sausage, and terrines to dine on while perched at the bar’s standing tables. 17 Rue Bréa | +33 9 67 02 80 14 | facebook.com/quincave
Café de la Nouvelle Mairie
Former owner Bernard Pontonnier began promoting natural wines here back in 1981, and Benjamin Fourty and Corentin Bucillat carry on the tradition ably. Tucked on a side street behind the tourist crush of the Panthéon, the cafe boasts a wide, discreet terrace and a menu of bistro classics in addition to its vast selection of cult-status natural wines. 19 Rue des Fossés-Saint-Jacques | +33 1 44 07 04 41 | facebook.com/Café-De-La-Nouvelle-Mairie
Aux Deux Amis
Former Châteaubriand server David Loyola opened this joyously chaotic wine bar in a nondescript café space six years ago, and it’s been a hit ever since, as witnessed by the broad mix of Parisians and internationals congregating beneath lighting which would make a dentist weep. Loyola’s winning good taste is evident in everything from the tap beers and refined small plates to the long wine list, which emphasizes the sulfur-free fringe of natural winemaking. (While all natural winemakers aim to minimize sulfur, which is typically added as a preservative, it’s only the most radical who forsake it entirely.) 45 Rue Oberkampf | +33 1 58 30 38 13 | facebook.com/Aux-Deux-Ami
Le Vin Au Vert
This deceptively simple, out-of-the-way establishment offers a vast selection of natural Champagne and an impressive array of wines from many of the country’s star vintners. Unfailingly kind co-owners Etienne Lucan and Sébastien Obert are masters of the art of unpretentiousness, serving a short menu of easily assembled bistro favorites (sausage, roast chicken) as accompaniment to their astute selections of Beaujolais, Jura, and Loire wines.70 Rue Dunkerque | +33 1 83 56 46 93 | facebook.com/levinauvertparis
Septime La Cave
This is the satellite wine bar of the perennially booked, one-Michelin-star restaurant Septime, situated catty-corner across Rue de Charonne. A few empty wine crates serve as both tables and chairs on one side of the burnished wooden interior; on the other, patrons jostle for one of the bar’s four seats while nibbling on ricotta and anchovies on toast and sipping sought-after wines from the likes of Eric Pfifferling (Southern Rhône) and François Rousset-Martin (Jura). 3 Rue Basfroi | +33 1 43 67 14 87 | www.septime-charonne.fr
La Cave à Michel
This narrow, marbled, standing-room-only bar is the brainchild of wine retailer Fabrice Mansouri, whose shop previously occupied the space, and Romain Tischenko, chef-owner of Le Galopin, the tasting-menu restaurant next door. The exuberant duo offer a varied, accessible natural wine selection heavy on the Loire, Beaujolais, and Burgundy. Tischenko, freed from the formal constraints of the tasting menu, produces small plates worthy of San Sebastian’s best pintxo bars from a kitchen the size of a castanet. 36 Rue Sainte-Marthe | +33 1 42 45 94 47 | facebook.com/lacaveamichel