Admin note: Wine Advisor's travel schedule
Because of my travel schedule, you are receiving this week's 30 Second Wine Advisor a bit early this week, and - for those of you who subscribe to the Wednesday and Friday editions and the Thursday FoodLetter - we'll be putting those editions on vacation this week. Next Monday's edition may also come out a few hours off schedule, after which we plan to resume normal publication on Wednesday, June 2. Thanks for your patience!
A wine shop worth a special trip
For many years, wine enthusiasts have happily traipsed around the world to visit the great wine regions, tramp through famous vineyards, meet wine makers and taste their wines. The world's top restaurants similarly serve as destinations for those sufficiently passionate about food and wine to travel long distances to experience these culinary temples.
But few retail wine shops have risen to this level of attraction for wine lovers, so interesting that it's worth going out of your way just to visit.
Lavinia, which opened the year before last in Paris's trendy La Madeleine section, surrounded by chic boutiques and bistros and just a few doors from the gourmet paradise Fouchon, has already gained such a reputation that wine-loving friends knowing you've been on a trip to France are just about as likely to ask if you went to Lavinia as to quiz you about where you ate or which wineries you saw.
Having run out of time to visit Lavinia last year and regretted it since, I didn't intend to make the same mistake again. So, within a few hours of our arrival after an overnight flight, without stopping to rest or to eat, we beat a path to its door.
I'm pleased to report that it's quite a spectacle, all right. Discreet and tastefully decorated, with wood and glass and frosted plexiglass illuminating bottles with warm but not glaring light, it houses some 6,000 bottles of potable fluids spread through three large commercial floors. The main floor displays wines from around the world - surprisingly, for France, where it has heretofore been difficult to find wines from any other part of the world, Lavinia claims some 2,000 international wines in its collection, with heavy representation from Italy, good choices from Spain, the U.S. and Australia, and a round-the-world excursion to just about every wine-producing country, with even a few bottles from such unexpected quarters as the Slovak Republic and Cuba. Below ground level, a "cave" kept at a constant, chilly cellar temperature (14C, 57F) houses collectibles.
Up a broad staircase you'll find 1,000 bottles of liquors ranging from Cognac and Armagnac to Scotch, Canadian whiskey, even a credible selection of Kentucky Bourbons, as well as museum-style glass cases displaying corkscrews, wine accessories, wine books and fancy wine glasses, up through and including Riedel's posh "Sommelier" line, up to 77 Euros per stem for the oversize Bordeaux or Burgundy glass.
Perhaps most interesting of all, a severely modern but welcoming wine bar and small (80-seat) restaurant offer the opportunity to taste hundreds of wines and liquors by the glass, and an even more attractive offer: Order a bottle of any wine in the store and have it served with your lunch or dinner for its retail price - no markup for restaurant service, no corkage.
Do I have to tell you that we stayed for lunch? It was a good one, too, a healthy portion of grilled vegetables and fresh mozzarella as a vegetarian main course; a good-size slab of seared, almost raw beef with a delicate Dijon sauce as a carnivorous option ... along with glasses of a decent Burgundy and a more-than-decent 14-year-old Chinon from the Loire, all totaling an affordable-for-Paris 62 Euros and change for two.
Speaking of price, while few wine enthusiasts disagree that Lavinia is a spectacular shop to visit, there's more controversy over its pricing. My analysis: It varies. At the high end, especially for wines difficult to find in France (or out of it), you must bring money. But many of the thousands of bottles in the store appeared to me to be priced competitively with the same wines at U.S. retail, French wines in particular being offered for significantly less than I would have to pay for them at home.
You'll find the big names here, of course. Angelo Gaia's Piemontese wines range from 139 Euros (for the 1994 Gaia) to 310 (for the 1990). Krug Brut Champagne is a fair 197 Euros; 1996 Dom Perignon is 109. Build a seven-bottle "vertical" collection of Lebanese Chateau Musar red from 45.55 Euros for the 1988 vintage up to a cool 472 for a well-preserved specimen of the 1959. The sought-after Cloudy Bay 2002 Sauvignon Blanc is 22 Euros. Collectors of Australian trophies will find five bottlings of Penfolds' Grange from 362 Euros for the 1993 vintage to 639 for the 1982; and American cult-seekers may entertain themselves with such goodies as Turley Hayne Vineyard 1995 Zinfandel (408 Euros), Shafer 1887 Hillside Select (327), 1995 Bryant Family (1,131) and 1997 Harlan Napa Cabernet (1,299!)
But much of Lavinia's 5,000-wine collection is made up of interesting, artisanal wines, many of them - particularly the French - available at prices that certainly improve on what I would have to pay for those same bottles back in the U.S. From Jamet 1998 Cote-Rotie for 75.50 Euros to 50.50 for 2000 Chateau de Beaucastel Chateauneuf-du-Pape, I heard one wine after another calling my name. (Fortunately, my wife followed along behind me and kept my wallet pocket securely buttoned.)
We had a great time, and came away full of good food and wine. If your travels take you to Paris, I recommend stopping by, particularly if you're sufficiently interested in wine to want to experience a new concept that may just be marking the way for similar high-end wine shops in other cities. (The same company also operates Lavinia shops in Spain, and reportedly is considering additional stores elsewhere.)
Lavinia is located at 3-5 boulevard de la Madeleine in Paris, just a few steps from the La Madeleine Metro station. Telephone 01.42.97.20.20; there's no Website than I can find, although it cries out for one. Store hours are midmorning until 8 p.m., daily except Sunday.
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Two wines sampled at Lavinia
We enjoyed these two wines by the glass with lunch at the Lavinia wine shop restaurant in Paris. The Chinon, remarkably, was offered as the wine-by-the-glass selection of the day, a rare thing for a well-cellared, 14-year-old red.Domaine Le Noir 1990 Chinon "Les Roches" (7 Euros/glass)
Clear, reddish-purple, showing pleasantly earthy leathery and subtle "barnyard" notes as signs of age over the typically herbaceous scents of Cabernet Franc, but "sweet" red fruit remains dominant on the palate in a tart, light-bodied wine that's drinking very well indeed in spite of its years. (May 22, 2004)
FOOD MATCH: Perfect with a vegetarian main dish good enough to make me forget about the meat: A selection of smoky grilled vegetables - red, green and yellow bell peppers, eggplant and zucchini, cherry tomatoes and artichoke hearts, all oozing fruity olive oil and topped with fresh arugula and thick rounds of creamy buffalo-milk mozzarella.
Dark ruby in color and very herbal, hints of oregano and dill dance with fresh red-berry fruit on the nose and palate. Lean, even tart, but clean and lingering. (May 22, 2004)
FOOD MATCH: Recommended by the server with pave de Rumsteack, an inch-thick piece of boneless beef (sirloin, possibly), barely seared on the outside and carpaccio-rare in the center, served with sauteed vegetables and a light Dijon mustard sauce.
The California Wine Club
From Insignia and Isosceles to Peju and ZD ... these are just the type of wines and wineries featured in The California Wine Club's Signature Series. This month's selection includes a 91-point rated Cabernet from the maker of Opus One, Genevieve Janssens. There were a mere 220 cases produced of Genevieve's 2000 Portfolio Limited Edition and The California Wine Club's Signature Series members are among the lucky few to add this wine to their tables.
Monthly Signature Series shipments include 2 to 4 bottles of California's most highly rated and sought-after wines. Each shipment also includes detailed tasting notes and winemaker comments. The average 2 to 4 bottle shipment is $150 and includes all shipping and handling. To join the Signature Series, visit
This week on WineLoversPage.com
Here are links to some of our recently published articles that I think you'll enjoy:
Words About Port: Six Decades of Vintage Port
Wine Lovers' Discussion Group: Organizing wine in a cellar. How do you do it?
Last Week's Wine Advisor Index
The Wine Advisor's daily edition is usually distributed on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays (and, for those who subscribe, the FoodLetter on Thursdays). Here's the index to last week's columns:
One.9, One.6, 2 thumbs up (May 21, 2004)
German labels, California Barbera (May 19, 2004)
Recalibrating for Germans (May 17, 2004)
Complete 30 Second Wine Advisor archive:
Wine Advisor FoodLetter: Seared scallops Australian (May 20, 2004)
Wine Advisor Foodletter archive:
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Monday, May 24, 2004