Winter warmers (from This City Paris)
Genial bar-owner Tim Johnston recommends wines (and other tipples) to ward off the chill. Mark Tungate listens in.
In his wine bar a stone's throw away from the Palais Royale, Tim Johnston is holding court. The roguish Scotsman clearly loves good drink and good conversation, and he has strong opinions on everything - from Princess Diana (assassinated, for sure) to globalization (it's destroying the French lifestyle) to Bordeaux (it's nothing but a marketing gimmick).
The latter is the most appropriate subject, because we're here to talk about wine. Winter wine, specifically - and as Johnston has been running his popular restaurant/bar Juveniles for 16 years, he can speak on the subject with some authority.
"This is a Côtes du Rhône, a classic winter wine," he says, pouring me a glass of the ruby-hued liquid. "But it's a special version, a sort of junior Cornas."
It's like no other Côtes du Rhône I've tasted - rich and spicy, with a hefty kick of fruit. Then we move onto its big brother, the Cornas itself. Even my untrained palate rejoices at the mélange of ripe fruit flavors. "This is the 2000, a great vintage."
But Johnston does not only recommend French wines. In fact, he sees it as part of his job to turn customers on to great wines from abroad. He says: "Winter is all about mushrooms, truffles, neaps, parsnips, and dishes like beef cheek - chunky, earthy food. With that kind of stuff you want big, red, full-bodied wines. I'd go for Californian Zinfandel, Australian Shiraz, Montsant from Tarragona in Spain , and wines from Piedmont in Northern Italy ."
He does not hold with the French habit of drinking Sauternes with foie gras. "I don't want a sweet wine with something soft and delicate like foie gras. I'd go for a red - perhaps a ten-year-old Pessac-Léognan with soft tannins and subtle fruit. The only white wine you shouldn't avoid during the winter is Jurançon."
Johnston is at his most outspoken when it comes to Bordeaux , which he tends not to serve at Juveniles. "I don't like the pinot noir grape, and in any case most Bordeaux is terribly overpriced. A customer came in the other day asking for Bordeaux , and instead I gave him a Stellenbosch Cabernet Merlot from South Africa . He was delighted with it - and he was a Frenchman!"
Even so, Johnston forms close relationships with his French suppliers, and regularly visits vineyards. As if to prove his point, Jean Faillard, a wine-maker from Morgon, arrives at that moment with a delivery. Needless to say, after he has unloaded his crates, he sits at the table to sample the magnificent Cornas.
I ask them if they think 2003 will be a good year, following the freakishly hot summer? Johnston says: "It will be a good year, but perhaps not a great year. A lot of people got fièvre de vendanges - harvest fever - and picked too early because they feared the weather would break."
At the time of writing, Johnston had high hopes for his cuvée , a wine he releases on the third Thursday of every December under the brand name Purple. "My daughter designs the label," he says proudly.
Johnston will be staying in Paris for Christmas, but he doesn't mind missing the traditional British mince pies and port. "I think sherry is much more interesting. Why not go for Emilio Lustau's East India Solera instead?"
No doubt he'll see in the New Year with a glass of Champagne - but which one? "Egly Ouriet Blanc-de-Noirs, or Jacquesson 1995 Avizé Blanc-des-Blancs. The main thing to remember with Champagne is that you should never buy less than a magnum."
Juveniles, 47 rue de Richelieu , 75001 , Paris
+33 (0) 188.8.131.52.49