Style secrets of the French by Casilda Grigg
Over cappuccinos in my local café I learn many things from Célian Ravel d’Estienne. The first is that the Champagne glass known as a coupe was modeled on Madame de Pompadour’s breast. The second is that it’s not unknown for French boys in London to meet their French wives in pubs. And the third is that red wine under £4 is only suitable for boeuf bourguignon.
At 34, Célian is the French wine industry’s new secret weapon. Bright, engaging and passionate, he’s a London-based Frenchman determined to tempt us away from Spain, Chile, Italy and Australia and make us fall in love with French wine again. ‘I’ve always been a huge fan of wine,’ says Célian, who gave up his job in banking to start an online wine shop after being disappointed by the French selection at Oddbins and Nicolas. ‘But I’m not from a wine family which makes me open to any French region.’
Today Célian looks like a happy man. He’s ditched the suits for jeans and Hackett rugby shirts and from his fashionably unshaven appearance it’s clear that his razor is enjoying regular three-day holidays.
His business, Your Sommelier, is barely six months old but already has 300 members, 60% of which are French. It’s a novel concept designed to reduce buying to its bare essentials. Instead of choosing from hundreds of wines, members are offered just one weekly French wine offer that comes direct from a producer handpicked by Célian.
‘We’re tipped off by friends in France,’ says Célian, who grew up in a moated château. ‘We spend a lot of time researching bargains and tasting the wines with our wives and friends. There are so many producers that are just too small to be noticed by UK buyers. But many of these small family estates do great wine which you can’t find easily in the UK.’
For the wine lover used to that last-minute trolley dash round Majestic patience is required. It takes 10 to 15 days for the wine to arrive after it’s ordered which means that buyers must find comfort in the fact that while their broom cupboards gather dust, all sorts of gems are at that very moment winging their way over from Bordeaux, Burgundy, Champagne, or the Rhône.
Célian’s favourite area is the Languedoc. To me the region is synonymous with the sweltering autoroutes of childhood family holidays but it’s probably time I shook off my prejudices. ‘You can get amazing wines from the Languedoc without the Burgundy/Bordeaux price tag,’ he says. ‘They’ve really upped the quality.’
Célian is an adventurous sort. Last night he had sushi for supper with Sauvignon Blanc from the Loire. I’m not a fan of Sauvignon, but then I rarely get to drink the good stuff. I’m guessing that Célian and his wife, Alexandra, were drinking Pouilly-Fumé, rather than the bog-standard Sauvignon served at my local pub.
This week’s Champagne offer is a cracker (see box, below) especially now the sun is shining. But you’ll need to hurry. The offer expires on Tuesday.
There is no minimum order for wines from Your Sommelier but the £10 delivery charge is waived if you order more than £100 worth of wine. Célian delivers the wine personally within west London and uses Parcelforce or DHL for orders in the rest of the UK. The expected delivery date for the current Champagne offer is 20-27 June
Is it time to pop a few corks?
The current offer at Your Sommelier consists of three champagnes from independent producer Michel Loriot, all of which strike me as very good value. There’s a brut for £21.40, a rosé for £23.50 and a vintage Champagne for £29.95.
Loriot is mad about classical music and regularly plays Brahms, Beethoven and Mozart to his vines in the belief that the vibrations have a positive impact on the grapes. (I’ve read about chicken farmers playing opera to their hens so this is perhaps not as dotty as it sounds).
Shallow creature that I am I like Champagne bottles to be as bling bling and gold-foiled as possible. Loriot’s are on the austere side but they have a sweet personal touch. If you look closely you’ll see they all have a music staff.
The Churchill Arms c’est quoi exactement?
The pub where Célian met his wife is not known for its romantic opportunities but it does have:
1. A staggering number of hanging baskets (the Churchill Arms regularly wins the London in Bloom competition)
2. Possibly the largest collection of chamber pots in Britain dangling from the ceiling
3. A no-frills Thai restaurant (1 hour sittings, bill arrives before you ask for it) tucked at the back of the pub that’s perfect for a pre/post cinema feed (the Coronet Cinema on Notting Hill, where Hugh Grant famously watched a movie with Julia Roberts while wearing a pair of swimming goggles, is just £3.50 on a Tuesday night)
The Churchill Arms, 119 Kensington Church Street, London W8, 020 7727 4242.
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