The Industry-Favourite Wine Bar That’s In London, NYC And Paris
Finding a low-key wine bar with a satisfying list and sultry ambiance is always a welcome treat. Experiencing that same vibe across three different locations? That’s our definition of a safe haven.
Next time your travels take you to New York, London, or Paris, know that the Experimental Group has you covered. Take a ride through the mystifying world of wine at Compagnie des Vins Surnaturels, Experimental Group’s answer to sexy yet sophisticated wine drinking.
Each neighborhood location brings the same overarching philosophy to the table, yet boasts its own regional twist on urban wine-drinking culture. We’ll raise a glass to that.
In New York, Compagnie des Vins Surnaturels is located in the city’s quaint and quiet Nolita neighborhood. The bar opened in April 2014 with a small team of ten, which has since more than doubled to a staff of 25. The team is spearheaded by fearless leader, wine director, and partner Caleb Ganzer, one of New York’s most beloved sommeliers.
Ganzer, along with his vibrant crew of young sommeliers, keep the vibe low-key, often showing up to work the floor in tracksuits or Hawaiian shirts– a far cry away from the stuffy stereotype of the New York sommelier.
“The ambiance in NYC is fun, lively, and convivial,” says Ganzer. “Most nights we have a little line of folks out front waiting to get in and get happy hour going, and then the space slowly fills up with walk-ins and reservations alike.”
Additionally, Ganzer hosts Wine Boot Camp classes in the back room, as well as late-night sommelier and/or winemaker-led tastings around the bar. “We like to keep people guessing and always have something fun going on,” he says.
Perhaps this low-key-meets-dynamic ambiance is what has made CdVS an industry staple for the majority of NYC’s wine industry. “We’re fortunate enough to have a diverse and varied clientele. We get somms and winemakers in regularly, but we also get folks in passing by who just want a glass of wine, a bite to eat, and even a beer,” says Ganzer, noting that the average crowd tends to range between 25 and 40 years old.
With regards to his list, Ganzer seeks to create something that is a direct reflection of the simple fact that New York is home to the greatest wine market in the world.
“Not only do we get the best of what the Old World offers, and pretty much all of what the New World offers, but we also get nearly first dibs on the wines of the Americas,” he says. “We feel it’s our duty to provide the most sought-after wines and some of the best prices, but also give younger, newer producers a platform to make introductions to our guests.”
Ganzer personally feels that CdVS’ New York location is the most dynamic of the three, both in terms of vibe and output, given that the bar hosts the most events and has the longest hours of all three locations. “Perhaps this is a reflection of the fact that this is the city that never sleeps,” he says.
Over in London, CdVS is headed by Roman Jaën and is located in Covent Garden, one of the city’s largest hubs for luxury fashion, shopping, and dining. The bar first opened in autumn of 2013 and is now operated by a team of ten people. “We focus on France, Northern Italy, Germany, Spain, Switzerland, and Madeira,” says Jaën, highlighting the list’s Old World focus.
“We have a long and frequently changing by the glass offer, and a focus on a different region/country every month.” Similar to the NYC location, Jaën describes his bar as both fun and dynamic, while also remaining warm and cozy.
“We have an easygoing approach to wine and try to make it as simple as possible to understand,” he explains, noting that every team member is trained and encouraged to share their own approach to wine with their guests, with the ultimate goal of making them feel comfortable and at home.
CdVS London has also become one of the city’s industry staples, thanks to its broad list, fair prices, and ultimately sexy location. “Our main clientele are returns and regulars, made up of wine enthusiasts, as well as people from the trade on weekends,” says Jaen, noting that the bar’s Covent Garden location also brings them a handful of tourists, as well.
“It can be a challenge to please all budgets in London, but we try to offer interesting wines for all budgets and make the list as accessible as possible, and have plenty of wines starting at £30/bottle on the list.”
Like many wine bars in major cities, Jaen’s list represents regional favorites from France, Italy, and other Old World countries. However, what sets London’s location apart from the other two CdVS spots is its emphasis on fortified wines. “Fortified wines such as Sherry, Madeira, and Port have a long tradition in British wine culture, and we like to maintain this by offering interesting examples by the glass,” he explains.
“Although the British palate is attached to its traditional favourites (like Bordeaux and Burgundy), there is a huge thirst for knowledge and an inquisitive interest in the new wave of wines from around the world, so our list is ever-evolving in line with our discoveries.”
Ultimately, Jaën seeks to set his bar apart from other wine bars in London simply by offering an array of wines, both classic and niche. “I hope that by focusing on this small but amazing wine country, we can offer our customers a unique wine experience in London.”
Tucked away on rue Lobineau in Paris’ chic 6th arrondissement, CdVS is almost too easy to pass by. The bar, which boasts no signage or distinguishing features, is simply hidden behind windowed curtains and two striped awnings– though all of these mysterious details are certainly placed on purpose.
Fabien Suquet, chef sommelier of Experimental Group Paris (which includes Compagnie des Vins Surnaturels, Balagan, Le Grand Pigalle, Experimental Cocktail Club, Prescription Cocktail Club, and L’hôtel des Grands Boulevards), creates a seductive wine-drinking oasis for regulars and tourists alike. Though this isn’t your classic Parisian watering hole.
Unsurprisingly, CdVS Paris boasts an undeniably sexy ambiance from the moment the front door swings open. The bar’s two front windows are often coated with a thick layer of steam, and the dimly lit room is lined by velvet couches, loveseats, and armchairs, all of which are accompanied by petite wooden tables. The bilingual staff frequently roams the room, eager to make recommendations based on the table’s general wine preferences.
Naturally, the list is French heavy– an unsurprising trait for a Parisian-based wine bar. However, unlike the many other French-focused lists that dominate the city’s wine spots, CdVS also boasts a solid selection of international bottles as well, including picks from Italy, Eastern Europe, and even the United States.
For Parisian locals and foreign visitors alike, CdVS provides a wine-soaked getaway from the hustle and bustle of Parisian nightlife.
“I think all outposts of CdVS aim to be the ‘neighborhood wine bar of the world,’ with each one being an honest interpretation of its host city,” says Ganzer. “Ultimately we just want to take care of our friends and neighbors, and of course, anyone visiting each of these iconic cities should be able to discover something unique to that location — from the guests to the wines to the foods on offer.”
(All images: Compagnie des Vins Surnaturels / supplied unless specified)
Published 01 November, 2019