La vinotheque at O Chateau
On Saturday night a few weeks ago, my husband said he had a special Valentine’s Day surprise for me. When we arrived at 68, rue Jean-Jacques Rousseau in the 1st arrondissement, I immediately recognized the Ô Chateau emblem in the window and could hardly contain my excitement. Originally built in the middle of the 17th century as a private residence, this building once served as a haunt of the French aristocracy. Later, as Hôtel Dupin, it was frequented by literary figures including Georges Sand and Jean-Jacques Rousseau himself. Currently, Ô Château is one of the top wine tasting bars in Paris.
We walked past the sleek marble bar to the host who confirmed our reservation. He led us to a room in the back of the restaurant called La Vinotheque. Behind the heavy wooden door the host revealed what looked like an English library with wood paneling, soft spotlights and high leather seats arranged around a large wooden table in the center of the room. Except that instead of books, the shelves were filled with wine bottles of all shapes, colors and sizes. In fact, there happened to be a couple of wine books, as well as Ô Château creator Olivier Magny’s new book Stuff Parisians Like. This was my kind of library!
This happened to be a group dinner and wine pairing in English, so we met the other Americans and Canadians seated around us. The sommelier, Rémy, went around the table pouring everyone a generous glass of champagne. As he did this he introduced himself as the son of a vintner who studied wine in Burgundy and Bordeaux before heading to Australia to work at Kamberra Winery, where he met his Australian wife.
Wine regions in France
The first course was then brought out: potato chestnut bisque served with fresh farmer’s cheese and chives, accompanied by baskets of fresh baguette of course. The wine was a crisp Alsatian white, whose acidity cut the creaminess of the soup quite nicely.
The chef who came out to explain this to us was the energetic and extroverted Campbell Whitman, a female American chef who trained at Le Cordon Bleu culinary school. I was surprised that a French wine bar would have an American chef, but Rémy explained that Ô Château was looking for someone who would give traditional French food a modern edge. Indeed, she seemed to be just the person.
While we were waiting for our main course, our sommelier turned to a map of France with the wine regions clearly marked in different colors. Starting with the Champagne region, Rémy explained that “brut” was the driest champagne while “sec,” literally meaning “dry” actually designated a sweet champagne. That was news to me. He also mentioned that the borders of the Champagne region were going to be extended in order to fulfill the growing demand for champagne. I’m not sure what to think about this.
Next, we were served our main course: salmon filet with a strip of cream sauce accompanied by thin disks of sweet potato sandwiching a mushroom filling to create a sort of ravioli. Surprisingly, this was served with a light bodied red, but of course it went together perfectly as the chef and the sommelier knew exactly what they were doing.
Our wine tour
During the meal, we learned that light wines are generally made in the North while strong wines are typically produced in the South. I also was glad to find out which grapes grew in my favorite regions: Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot in Bordeaux, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir in Bourgogne (Burgundy), and Shiraz and Grenache in the Rhone Valley. Some of the best white is Sancerre from the Val de Loire and the best rosé from Provence.
Lastly, the group enjoyed a smooth Saint Emilion with a rich melting mi-cuit au chocolat topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and surrounded by crème anglaise. During the presentation of this luscious dessert, I had the feeling that Chef Whitman wanted us to jump up and down with joy. Although the experience had been heavenly, we were all too satiated to move more than our forks and our wine glasses.
For a birthday, an anniversary, or just because, Ô Château is a gastronomic treat any time of the year.
68, rue Jean-Jacques Rousseau
Metro: Louvre/Rivoli (1) or Etienne Marcel (4)
© 2012 Pasa’s Paris