When American-born Juan Sanchez founded his Paris wine shop nearly twenty years ago, he named it La Dernière Goutte, a French name meaning “the last drop.” It proved ironic, indeed, because nearly twenty years later, this cozy establishment at 6 rue Bourbon-le-château in the Left Bank neighborhood of St-Germain-des-Prés continues pouring French wines and hosting popular introductory classes. Over the years Sanchez added a trio of popular dining spots nearby, and most recently he opened Freddy’s, a comfortable wine bar. At each stop, quality, convenience and fun prevail. To see for yourself, start by stopping in at La Dernière Goutte for a Saturday afternoon free wine tasting with an outstanding French winegrower on hand to answer questions and talk terroir.
Recently on the last Saturday in April, Sanchez’s engaging and knowledgeable colleague, Patty Lurie, poured samples and handled sales. Talented northern Rhône winegrower Guillaume Clusel chatted with customers. The tasting becomes hectic at times, but Lurie keeps the pace moving with a judiciously enforced semblance of order. Nobody seems to mind anyway because Clusel’s wines are so darn tasty and inspiring.
Which is one of Sanchez’s keys to success. He offers only estate grown wines–in French, vins de propriétaire–from relatively small production, artisan domaines. Each winegrower takes a personal interest in his or her vines. They work with mud on their hands and boots directly in the vineyards typically without chemicals in organic–and sometimes also biodynamic–fashion. As Clusel’s wines vividly illustrate, the resulting wines reflect distinct terroir while singing with lively fruit, personality and pure pleasure.
His wines come from the Côteaux du Lyonnais, a reclaimed terroir west of Lyon, as well as Côte-Rôtie and Condrieu with the family domane, Clusel-Roch. He helped spearhead the domaine’s conversion to biologique organic winegrowing without chemical herbicides, fertilizers, fungicides and pesticides. Grasses and flowers grow between rows in winter to promote robust life in the soils, a factor forcing vines to compete and become sturdy. Spring plowing helps reawaken vines and requires tremendous labor in the steep and rocky vineyards.
Yields come in at low levels to further enhance quality. After manual harvest and partial destemming, the grapes ferment as naturally as possible.
The Côteaux du Lyonnais, “Galet” red wine offers a real show stopper. This Gamay wine has real guts and breeding to deliver a terrific glassful of pleasure. Aromas of cherries and blackberries waft up with hints of newly plowed earth and smokiness. Pure red fruits and mouthwatering minerality open in the glass balanced by firm, but entirely elegant tannins. All in all, it is startlingly delicious, well made and reasonably priced.
The other Clusel wines were terrific, too. Which raises a dilemma for travelers from outside Europe. You love the wines and would like to buy a case, but how can you take them home without spending a small fortune on either shipping or a fancy travel case for checked baggage?
Sanchez offers the perfect solution as Patty Lurie demonstrates. She first individually wraps the bottles in reinforced, rigid cardboard holders. Then the holders go into a sturdy, rigid cardboard box. Packing tape closes the box and then comes the touch of magic.
Lurie firmly wraps heavy twine around the box from stem to stern. Then, in a stroke that would make Rube Goldberg smile ear to ear, she creates a sturdy twine handle for easy toting. You then check in the box at the airport as luggage.
“It works and we’ve never had a customer have a problem taking home wine with our carrier'” she notes. Which is great, because in addition to Clusel, La Dernière Goutte offers hundreds of wines including those from terrific Burgundy producers such as Domaine Bruno Clair, Domaine Geantet-Pansiot, Domaine Denis Mortet, and Domaine Simon Bize.
After purchasing your wine, you’re ready for a casual bite to eat, a good glass of wine and a comfy ambiance. Sanchez has you covered there, too.
Just around the corner from La Dernière Goutte on rue de Seine, he operates the excellent restaurants Semilla and Fish. But his new little gem, Freddy’s at 54 rue de Seine, 75006 Paris, is a sure bet. The super friendly staff has passion for and knowledge of fun, terroir-driven wines. Recently the Domaine des Huards Cour Cheverny Rouge, a red blend of Pinot Noir, Gamay and Cabernet Franc from an organic Loire grower, served as wine of the day. The Domaine de la Pépière, Muscadet “Clissons” made from from grapes grown organically in granite soils in the western Loire Valley also catches the eye.
The fun menu includes seasonal, tapas style vegetable plates such tempura asparagus spears. Creatively prepared main courses are also available.
So put it all together—La Dernière Goutte’s great selection of reasonably priced quality wines, the convenience of being able to take your wines home on the plane, and fun wine and food just around the corner—and the ingenious Mr. Sanchez and his teams are on a roll. And you won’t want to miss enjoying the experience.