Category Archives: Sommelier

Restaurants “Vantre” in Paris and “Le Terroir” in Burgundy Deliver Delicious, Memorable Food and Wine Moments.

Restaurants “Vantre” in Paris and “Le Terroir” in Burgundy Deliver Delicious, Memorable Food and Wine Moments.

When visiting Paris and Burgundy, two of France’s most popular destinations, we all share a burning question. Where can I eat and drink well and memorably without breaking the bank? In Paris, the relatively new Vantre offers an intriguing option, and in Burgundy, Restaurant Le Terroir in Santenay provides a reliably charming choice.

Vantre occupies a modest storefront in Paris’ edgy, high energy 11th arrondissement, whereas Le Terroir’s unassuming entrance lies behind a quiet terrace on a side of Santenay’s place du jet d’eau. Each location has its charms, but the engaging personalities and wine knowledge of Marco Pelletier at Vantre and Corinne Germain at Le Terroir provide the real allure. They are owners, but they also serve as sommeliers with genuine passion for pairing delicious wines with their respective chef’s inventive, well made dishes. Add professional, graceful service without pretense, and the essentials for pleasurable, memorable dining moments all come together.


In 2016, Marco Pelletier (pictured above) opened Vantre (19, rue de la Fontaine au Roi, Paris, 75011; Tel: +33 1 48 06 16 96; Subway: Goncourt) with the goal of “democratizing” fine French wines. If anybody can achieve this lofty goal, it’s Pelletier who has matchless, encyclopedic knowledge of contemporary French wines. Previously he served six years as a sommelier at Le Taillevent in Paris’ 8th arrondissement and then eight years as Chief Sommelier at Hôtel Le Bristol, also in the 8th arrondissement. As a primary buyer stocking the vast cellars at these highly rated Michelin-starred restaurants, Pelletier came to know France’s most accomplished producers as friends and colleagues.

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Yves Gangloff’s Condrieu offers bewitching floral aromas and stupendously delicious, fresh flavors.

Even so, the Quebec-born Pelletier has an unstuffy, infectious enthusiasm for enjoying and sharing wine. I first met him by chance nearly ten years ago after one of his long shifts at Hôtel Le Bristol. He was unwinding at a casual “watering hole,”  Gérard Pantanacce‘s old wine bar, Le Café du Passage on rue de Charonne not far from Place Bastille. Joined by Parma-based professor and sommelier, Paolo Tegoni, the four of us wiled away the evening into the wee hours. We ate Pantanacce’s signature rillettes, charcuterie, steak tartare and “Saucisse de Morteau” while tasting blind “mystery” wines.

First came a Tuscan red, then a light-bodied Bugey Pinot Noir. Then came a sensational white, the Domaine Eric Morgat’s Savennières “L’Enclos,” and then an older J. Vidal Fleury, Hermitage. Last, but not least, came the Domaine de Galouchey “Vin de Jardin,” a red blend produced by a partnership between Pelletier, Pantanacce and another friend who owned vineyards in the Libournais near Bordeaux. The food, wines and camaraderie all made for an instructive and memorable experience.

Pelletier brings the same enthusiasm for shared discovery, convivial fun and savoir-faire to Vantre’s wine program. The list offers over five hundred selections ranging from “grand vins” to more obscure wines from lesser known, but up and coming producers. Because Pelletier offers his own personal collection of wines accumulated over eighteen years as a top sommelier, many older vintages from Roulot, Comtes Lafon, Vieux Télégraphe and countless others are available. Hard to find gems also stud the list thanks to Pelletier’s direct access to great producers.

Gonet’s delicious dessert “Vin de Liqueur” made in Champagne.

For example, Vantre offers Yves Gangloff’s Condrieu, a wine with bewitching honeysuckle and peach perfumes, pure, ripe fruit and scintillating freshness. Gangloff produces maybe 6,000 bottles annually for the entire world, and Pelletier secures his allocation by going directly to the domaine to visit his friend. The wine pairs beautifully with talented Chef Iacopo Chomel’s Gnocchi with Sage Butter and Parmigiano Reggiano cheese.

Pelletier offers his “baby,” the Domaine de Galouchey “Vin de Jardin,” both by the glass and the bottle. Its enchanting red fruit aromas, ripe, succulent fruit and superb, exhilarating freshness carry through the natural, mouthwatering finish.

“The vines for Galouchey were planted in virgin soils that never saw chemicals,” says Pelletier, noting that his group tends the vines completely naturally. “We harvest by hand, berry by berry to use only perfectly ripe fruit. The juice ferments with natural yeast, and we add nothing ”

It pairs perfectly with tender Beef Cheeks with Braised Endive. The dish is another of example of the chef’s scrumptious, bistro-style cuisine du marché-—“market cuisine”—that guests enjoy at Vantre’s marble top tables and comfortable banquettes under high ceilings.

Ever the wine educator, with dessert Pelletier served a rarity—the Michel Gonet, Ratafia de la Champagne. For centuries, Champagne growers made Ratafia primarily for enjoyment in their own region. It’s a “Vin de Liqueur” where Gonet blends fresh, sweet juice from Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes in the current vintage with Eau de Vie distilled from the third and fourth pressings of Champagne grapes from prior vintages. The resulting drink which has about 18% alcohol by volume. Judicious aging in barrels mellows the wine’s fiery notes without hiding its marvelous fruit forward aromas and freshness. It placed a delicious cap on another memorable food and wine experience thanks to Pelletier’s exuberant, confident guidance.

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Sommelier and co-owner Ms. Corinne Germain at Le Terroir Restaurant in Santenay, Burgundy.

Restautant Le Terroir Restaurant:

Since opening Restaurant Le Terroir (19, place du jet d’eau 21590 Santenay; Tel.: 03 80 20 63 47) in 1989, Chef Fabrice Germain and his spouse Corinne, a native of Colmar in Alsace, have followed one telling philosophy: “Il n’est rien de plus sérieux pour nous que votre plaisir! There is nothing more serious for us than your pleasure.”

The hardworking couple now attracts a cadre of loyal return guests from France and around the world. It is always a pleasure to rediscover the comfortable, cheerfully decorated, white tablecloth dining room as  Ms. Germain warmly welcomes every guest through the door. At the table, visitors rely on enjoying the pleasures Chef Fabrice’s seasonal menus featuring Burgundy classics with creative touches. Corinne provides superb wine suggestions from the list with over 300 references including half bottles and magnums.

When it comes to Burgundy’s most iconic dish—piping hot snails in butter, garlic and parsley—nobody surpasses Chef Fabrice. He cooks the plump snails to perfection for optimal texture. He avoids overcooking the garlic to allow the flavor to shine.

The dish paired beautifully with Ms. Germain’s suggestion of the 2011 Domaine Hubert Lamy, Saint-Aubin 1er Cru “En Remilly.” As a hard-working vineyard perfectionist, Olivier Lamy consistently turns out scintillating whites like this delicious gem. The wine had just enough bottle age to bring together a lovely balance of ripe fruit and Lamy’s trademark crystalline freshness.

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Chef Fabrice Germain’s classic Escargots à la Bourguignonne.

Ms. Germain offers a range of Lamy’s other selections along with well-balanced whites from Alain Gras, Jean-Marc Vincent, Vincent Bachelet, Bernard Moreau, and many others.

Chef Germain’s main courses start with creative preparations of daily market seafood selections such as cod, salmon and turbot. Other courses include Burgundy classics with creative twists. For example, the fixed menu features Coq au Vin with deboned rooster, smoked bacon, fresh mushrooms, bell peppers, and  fresh pasta, served in a casserole. Braised lamb with garden rosemary comes with grilled confit potatoes, chopped bacon, and sweet garlic cream with lemon confit. A grilled Charolais beef tenderloin with red peppercorns has a red wine sauce, beets with gingerbread, potato croquettes, and brown mushrooms. Each dish pairs easily with the restaurant’s wide selection of fresh, immediately pleasurable red wines.

“I choose wines for the immediate pleasure they bring,” Ms. Germain notes. “They must be balanced and without excessive wood and dominant alcohol.”

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Domaine Chevrot et Fils’ terrific Marnages “Le Croix Moines” 1er Cru.

The list has a particularly strong selection of Santenay red wines from the likes of Domaine David Moreau, Domaine Françoise et Denis Clair, Domaine Roger Belland, and Domaine Bachey Legros. Highlights from the Côte de Nuits include Domaine Cécile Tremblay’s Vosne Romanée and Chambolle Musigny, Domaine du Vieux Collège’s Marsannay and Fixin, and Sylvain Pataille’s Marsannay.

Ms. Germain regularly participates in tastings with a Burgundy sommeliers club where she looks to discover producers focused on using healthy grapes grown with respect for each individual terroir. For example, brothers Pablo and Vincent Chevrot of Domaine Chevrot et Fils in nearby Maranges tend their vines with organic practices and take a natural, hands-off approach in the winery. Their 2014 Domaine Chevrot et Fils, Maranges “Le Croix Moines” 1er Cru offers pure red fruit, moderate concentration, terrific freshness and elegant tannins that match particularly well with Le Terroir’s cheese course.

The restaurant team presents a classic “chariot” giving guests the pleasure of surveying and making selections from a full array of top French fromages. Amidst the blue Roquefort, the firm Comté, the soft Camembert de Normandie and all the others, Burgundy’s Époisses de Bourgogne invariably stands out. Le Terroir always offers a perfectly ripe Époisses with intense, earthy aromas and a slightly coulant—“runny”—texture.

le terroir fountain
The fountain outside of Restaurant Le Terroir in Santenay’s central square.

Desserts include Parfait Glacé au Marc de Bourgogne et Son Coulis de Fruits—a firm ice cream parfait topped with Burgundy grape spirits and a purée of fresh fruit—and Croquant Spéculoos, mousse chocolat au lait cardamone et pamplemousse granité à la bière blanche et miel de Bourgogne–a spiced biscuit paired with a duo of chocolate mousse topped with cardamon cream and refreshing grapefruit granita ice with nuances of wheat beer and honey.

Outside of Le Terroir just across the street in Santenay’s central square, the jet d’eau—the public fountain—-offers a cheerful display. It serves as a reminder of another memorable Burgundy dining experience at Le Terroir.



La Pyramide Sommelier Baptiste Cavagna Focuses On Fun, Imaginative Wine Pairings With Dazzling Results

La Pyramide Sommelier Baptiste Cavagna Focuses On Fun, Imaginative Wine Pairings With Dazzling Results

At Restaurant La Pyramide in the northern Rhône city of Vienne, Chief Sommelier Baptiste Cavagna cuts a striking figure in a neat black suit, vest and tie. He walks the elegant, modern dining room with a smooth, highly professional air while confidently serving wines and talking affably with guests. But “off stage” outside of Chef Patrick Henriroux’s gastronomic Michelin two-star stop, Cavagna often uses days off to taste directly and casually with dynamic winegrowers such as Matthieu Barret, the biodynamc producer extraordinaire in Cornas.

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La Pyramide Chief Sommelier meeting with the winegrowing dynamo Matthieu Barret in Cornas.

Cavagna’s gracious ease both in the dining room and in domaine cellars flows from his professionalism and passion to discover new wines. In 2016 his refined communication skills and dedication to métier impressed industry peers who voted Cavagna “Sommelier of the Year” in an evaluation organized by the French trade magazine, Le Chef. And while recognition as an outstanding sommelier in his generation is a great honor, Cavagna’s primary focus remains on creating memorable moments for guests.

“I always try to enhance every guest’s culinary pleasure by pairing each course with beautiful wine discoveries,” Cavagna says. “With a close link between the kitchen and the cellar, at La Pyramide we always work to offer guests not just a meal but an experience.”

On a recent Sunday evening dinner, our party of seven experienced Cavagna’s skills and savoir-faire firsthand. His fun, imaginative wine selections paired perfectly with the kitchen’s deliciously inventive “Menu Pyramide.”

To add a little fun to festivities, Cavagna served the wines “blind” from decanters. We had to rely on our senses and imaginations rather than preconceived notions in trying to identify each wine.

For the first course, Chef Patrick Henriroux’s team served a delectable Suprême de Pintade Fermière-–boneless, skinless breast meat of a farm-raised guinea fowl wrapped with smoked duck breast. It came with a mix of foie gras and seasonal rhubarb served over a sablé shortbread made from torrefied flour. To complement the dish’s juicy, slightly earthy flavors and creamy, sweet accents, Cavagna served an aromatic, dry white wine with just the slightest hint of dusty pink. The wine’s marvelous floral, peach and citrus aromas and rich flavors balanced with a touch of creaminess and mouthwatering minerality.

la pyramide savoie 2“A Grand Cru Pinot Gris from Alsace,” I suggested. Not close, actually.

Cavagna revealed the 2015 Domaine Belluard, “Le Feu” Vin de Savoie produced from  Gringnet, an obscure grape variety native to the Savoie’s high altitude, Alpine vineyards. Winegrower Dominique Belluard calls it “Terroir de Mont-Blanc” since the vines grow near the famous mountain. “Le Feu” or “the fire” refers to the vineyard’s red clay soils rich in iron oxide.

Belluard’s biodynamic cultivation applies “dynamized” natural composts and teas in lieu of synthetic chemicals on the vines. Despite severe forty percent grades in some points in the vineyard, he performs all work manually. Harvest yields a modest 35 hl/h to concentrate fresh aromas and flavors. Fermentation occurs with indigenous yeasts in neutral concrete vats and results in only 12% A.B.V. Bottling occurs with minimal sulfites added. The meticulous work produces just the kind of fresh, hand-crafted bottle that Cavagna values: a terroir driven wine offering food-friendliness and sheer pleasure.

I am a person who likes good wines, if this one can be done in an organic way I am for it. But I do not tolerate a wine with defaults especially doubtful aromas,’ he notes. “I always favor beautifully made wines.”

le feu
Dominique Belluard’s “Le Feu” made from Gringnet vines growing near Mont-Blanc.

The “mountain” wines of the Jura and Savoie hold a special place with Cavagna who grew up nearby in the Ain partement. His hometown, Nantua, has only 3,900 inhabitants and is best known for tannery and shoemaking. Ain’s only vineyards fall in the low profile Bugey appellation, home of the Altesse white grape and increasingly popular sparkling wines. All of which makes Cavagna’s rise to the heights of his profession even more impressive.

He began studying restaurant management in Ain. Then at the Lycée des Métiers Hôtelier de l’Hermitage, he pursued the sommelier métier in the town of Tain Hermitage, an epicenter of northern Rhône winegrowing. After graduation, Cavagna’s big break came working for the Loisseau family’s restaurants in Burgundy and Paris.

At the Relais Bernard Loisseau, a gastronomic Michelin-starred restaurant with a 15,000 bottle cellar, Cavagna learned from Chief Sommelier Eric Goettelmann, a winner of the Le Chef magazine’s :Sommelier of the Year” in 2006.

“Eric was very professional and knowledgeable,” Cavagna recalls. Baptiste Gauthier, another Loisseau colleague and now sommelier at Restaurant Anne-Sophie Pic in Valence, also served as a mentor.

“He was my direct supervisor, and he helped me grow and make progress,” Cavagna recalls.

After stints in the bright lights of Paris at Tante Marguerite and Le Meurice, Cavagna came to La Pyramide as Chief Sommelier in September, 2013. He oversees wine purchases for Chef Henriroux’s retail boutique, the hotel and three restaurants. At the restaurants, seventy five percent of the wines sold come from northern Rhône appellations such as Condrieu and Côte Rôtie. Cavagna and his team also sell significant amounts of white and red Burgundies.

As one of La Pyramide’s leaders, Cavagna also mentors assistant sommeliers and young interns. But his primary role remains providing guests with wine advice and service, always with an eye towards creating fun experiences. Speaking of which, at our group’s recent “Menu Pyramide” Sunday dinner, the second course offered a Fricassée d’escargots du Rozay—sautéed and braised Rozay snails served with crisp, tiny new potatoes and peas over a savory base of finely minced and caramelized meat from pig’s feet and ears. As they say, “Tout est bon dans le cochon!

Cavala pyramide 6 chavegna’s next wine had a deep purple color with ripe dark fruit and tantalizing black peppers aromas. Concentrated, ripe fruit balanced with terrific freshness and prominent, yet smooth tannins. It was really delicious and a perfect paring with the Fricassée d’escargots du Rozay.

I guessed a Saint-Joseph red from a good producer and good vineyard. “Close,” Cavagna replied.

It was the 2014 Yann Chave, Crozes-Hermitage “Le Rouvre” made from select vines on the Rhône River’s “left bank” in the plains across from Saint-Joseph. The Syrah vines average around 50 years old and toil in soils rich in large, round galet stones. To enliven the soils and vines, talented veteran grower Yann Chave farms organically as certified with the green Agriculture Biologique mark on the bottle’s back label. The wine showed just how delicious and well-balanced Crozes-Hermitage can when a dedicated grower lavishes meticulous attention on the vines while working organically.

It was then on to third course which offered Selle d’Agneau Allaiton aux Herbes—a tender piece of lamb loin wrapped around fresh herbs and served with fennel bits, confit lemon pieces, and red beet juice. To complement the inventive dish, Cavagna served a red with glistening, dark ruby color offering intriguing aromas of ripe cherries and blackberries with subtle notes of earthy wild herbs and smokiness. Similar ripe flavors followed with a touch of spiciness balanced beautifully with fresh mineral notes and smooth tannins.

Placing the wine proved challenging. It resembled a well made Right Bank Bordeaux, yet had more exotic aromas and elegance. It lacked the overt ripeness of Grenache, yet it was richer than Pinot Noir. It certainly did not shout Syrah. This delicious wine turned out to be a revelation for me.

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La Pyramide Chief Sommelier Baptiste Cavagna exploring wine at biodynamic winegrower Matthieu Barret’s domaine in Cornas.
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Clos Saint-Vincent’s delicious red Bellet made primarily from Folle Noire vines growing overlooking Nice.

It was the 2014 Clos Saint-Vincent, “Cuvee Le Clos,” Vin de Bellet from winegrower G. Sergi and family. The wine uses Folle Noir (90%) and Grenache (10%) grapes from vines growing on the hills above the city of Nice along the Mediterranean Coast.

The vineyard benefits from both maritime breezes and winds blowing down from foothills of the Alpes. The vines are cultivated with biodynamie composts, teas, and plowing rather than synthetic chemicals. The domaine holds ECOCERT’s biodynamic certification and has been a member of Biodyvin since 2007. All the arduous, meticulous vineyard labor enables the vines to sink deep roots to take full advantage of Bellet’s complex soils of sands, clays, limestone and large, embedded galet stones.

Its another illustration of Cavagna’s strong preference for original, high quality vins de terroir providing both great pleasure and memorable moments of discovery. He consistently focuses on the wine and its pairing with food rather than drawing attention to himself. The results are simply dazzling.