En Vrac

En Vrac

I’ve been trying to tick off some of the places on the wad of post-its that are next to my front door, noting spots I’ve been meaning to visit in Paris but haven’t quite gotten around to. There are a few restaurants, some pastry shops that at some point piqued my interest, and a couple of Turkish sandwich places that really should be moved to the top of the heap.

Looking at them now, I see that some of the restaurants have already closed. (So it’s probably a good thing that I didn’t go there in the first place.)

En Vrac

One place that was on my radar was En Vrac. In French, that means “in bulk,” which is how the wine is available there. I’ve heard people snicker about le cube, or wine sold in quantity, especially in boxes. But for those who live near a winery, it’s much more economical and easier to get wine, saving a few bottles – and a few euros – in the process. It’s a perfectly acceptable way to handle wine that is meant to be drunk young. Which means more money for wine!

En Vrac

A while back I posted a picture of two giant pallets of plastic water bottles behind a supermarket with a note that I thought it was time to ban bottled water. It was a comment I made while walking away from seeing that and – of course – being the internet, it was up for a challenge. I’ll grant that bottled water has its place in emergencies, when traveling, etc, but when the tap water is perfectly safe to drink (and studies have shown that bottled water isn’t exactly as pure or safe as we are led to believe), I don’t think anyone could argue that the world would be a much better place with fewer of those plastic bottles left behind. (Although being the internet, I’m sure there is an argument out there arguing the opposite.)

En Vrac

(And I’m also hedging my bets by backtracking a little because I buy bottled water for my espresso machine because the high calcium content of the water in Paris will clog and ruin it. Been there, done that. And I know with all the sharp memories out there – which I’m insanely jealous of – at some point, I’m sure to get busted at the supermarket buying a bottle of water.)

For all the sophistication us city-dwellers think we have, the country-folk in France have it right. And people who live amongst the peace and quiet of the bucolic countryside bring empty bottles and bidons (large refillable jugs) to their local winemaker to get refilled.

En Vrac

The perimeter of En Vrac is lined with steel tanks containing wine. If you don’t bring your own bottles in a canvas bag on the hot, stuffy, and crowded bus with people jostling you and trying to get around you while people were trying to get on with strollers where there was barely any room to move or breath as it is, and as you were approaching your stop, you had to stand in close proximity to someone who you don’t think has had a shower in a few weeks and holy sweet Jesus you wonder when that car is going to move so that this bus can pull into the bus stop so you can get off because you don’t know how much longer you’re going to be able to breath only through your mouth, En Vrac has French limonade bottles with stoppers that they’ll fill up for you.

En Vrac

The natural wines (no sulfites) available en vrac start at just under €4 a bottle and the most expensive is €8. I brought two empty bottles and wasn’t really planning on eating anything. But I was with two friends and we decided that we wanted to taste some of the wines before buying them, and after a few sips, the idea of something to eat seemed like a good one, so we grabbed a table, ordered some food (and more wine), and set in for a spell.

En Vrac

The menu features a plat du jour (this day it was bœuf bourguignon), as well as plates of charcuterie and cheeses, and sandwiches the friendly staff will assemble for you from a list of fresh ingredients.

En Vrac

I loved the charcuterie, especially the meaty, fatty rillettes smeared on bread from Thierry Breton, and the excellent cheeses, served perfectly ripe. All but one of the wines that day were red, and since I’m a white wine drinker, my choice du jour was limited. But for €3 a glass if drunk in-house, there’s not much at stake if you get a clunker.

En Vrac

And from €3 to €8/bottle à emporter (to go), there’s little deterrent to taking a chance on something you don’t know. Or in the case of a Beaujolais Nouveau (still on tap a few months after the November celebrations ended), something you thought you did know. I took a sip and found it to be the most drinkable I’ve had, and priced at €7/bottle. When I said how surprised I was that I liked it so much, the clerk said, “That’s because it’s not the stuff they sell in the supermarché for €2.”

En Vrac

Fair enough. For those DIYers out there, En Vrac has classes where you can learn to make and blend your own wine. But if you’d rather someone else do it for you, they will rent one of their steel wine tanks, drop it off, install it, and pick it up the next day, for €49 – wine not included.

En Vrac Wine Shop_

I thought it was a pretty good deal, especially if you’d had a wine bar up in the 18th arrondissement on your list but aren’t able to make it there. But if you don’t think you’ll make it through a whole cuve en inox (steel tank) in twenty-four hours, well, start packing up those empty bottles and hop on the bus.



En Vrac
2, rue de l’Olive (18th)
Tél: 01 53 26 03 94
Métro: Marx Dormoy (or take the #65 bus)


43 comments

  • I’ve traveled to Italy more than any other country in Europe and absolutely love the bulk wine places! If you’re lucky, they sell bulk olive oil at the same shop. Decent wine at a killer price, what’s not to love? BTW, Oregon is now allowing growler sales of wine from wineries, the US might be coming around to this concept soon!

  • Great piece (as always) M. Lebovitz. The paragraph that starts “The perimeter of En Vrac is lined with steel tanks” has one of the best run-on sentences I’ve ever read! Sheer poetry.

  • Hello David,

    I stumbled upon your site yesterday at some list of best food blogs and I must say I was not disappointed reading this! I like your style very much, guess you’ve just won a new regular reader.

    Great article here, too bad I am not closer to Paris any time soon… Thank you very much for the post, looking forward to the next one!

  • As Gene mentions, there is no shortage of ‘sfuso’ or loose wine in Italy. It’s standard practice to go the cantinas (vineyard) and fill up your jugs. Our basic house wine is 1,8euro a liter. We bring it home and bottle it. On weekend excursions we throw some empty jugs into the car because you just never know where you might find some great wine.

    Last year these little water huts sprang up all over Italy. For 5 cents a liter you get cold, filtered still or sparkling water. Italy was the world’s highest consumer of bottled water, but recently the supermarkets are devoting less and less space to bottled water. So, there is a way to wean us from our bottled water dependency.

    And the US? Sadly out of touch. Refilling & reusing beats trying to recycle a whole load of plastic, or glass.

  • I found your blog via Smitten Kitchen. I really like your Kitchen Clean Up Tips. Thank you from Phoenix, Arizona, USA.

  • Dear David,
    My family occasionally hosts a young man from Saudi Arabia who is attending the local university. On his last visit with us, I was explaining to him how the phrase, “holy _____” was used, and that you could pretty much fill in the blank with anything you wanted. I will happily share your blog with him as an example: …”holy sweet Jesus…”
    On another note, my interest was piqued when I read that you were scoping out some Turkish sandwich places. My friend and I will be in Paris in March. We attending high school together in Turkey, so we would love the scoop on any doner kebab place, or other Turkish joint you recommend!
    Keep up the great posts! I love your writing and your stories. – L.

  • oh, you’re making me dream. great post – you covered so much here – yes, bring back those re-usable glass bottles!

  • This is fantastic! Thanks for sharing this gem. And what’s even better is that the 65 goes right by my apartment. It must be fate!

  • Oh, David! Us think we have sophistication? (“For all the sophistication us city-dwellers think we have…”) Us don’t seem to like “we”. Oui, it is “we”.

  • Only a matter of time…’til it catches on here in the US. That food is also right up my alley…I could dine this way everyday!

  • I’ve stopped at a few similar places in Italy and loved them! Wish we had them here in the states though!

  • For your coffee water, consider a water distiller, they make them for household use and you will have pure H2O from the tap at lesser cost and no plastic bottles, I considered getting one of these units when I was using a Sodastream, because the chlorine left in tapwater gave an off taste to the soda,but then I quit quit drinking soda! Also to clean your coffee machine just run vinegar through it occasionally.

  • We certainly did use a water filtration system made for household use when we lived in Paris. The ice cubes made with tap water left grit in the bottom of the glass! I thought it was due to the pipes in our 1970s apartment complex in the 11th, but last fall when we were staying in the 5th, newer building, the same thing happened. I think Paris water has a lot of minerals in it. My hair felt like straw unless I double-conditioned it.

    But Us don’t care if you use Us. Us loves your blog! It’s the information and humor we’re interested in, not the grammar.

    • It’s an affectation because certain people in the US use “us” when “we” is more correct. Like when people say “us folks”…

      And, I always wonder if they could be a way to decalcify the water in France. The amount of salt, Calgon (which ain’t, er, I mean “isn’t” so good for the environment) and so forth that goes down the drains can’t be a good thing, plus all the appliances that need to be decalcified and so forth – wonder if it’s possible to filter all that stuff out at the source?

  • i should know better the read your blog posting a l’heure de dejeuner.
    mon dieu!
    what I would give for une baguette, du fromage and un peu du vin!!

  • When I lived in Paris I used to drink the water perfectly happily most of the time, but whenever I returned from holiday, I had to drink bottled water for a few days and reserve what came out of the tap for cooking and hot drinks, or I got an unpleasant digestive reaction. Anyway, back in Paris in the 2010s and my husband of over 30 years says “Don’t be so silly”, so I drank water out of the tap all weekend – and, sure enough, my tummy went back on me! The following year, I firmly drank Evian!

  • Just saw this article and since the show will be in Paris, I thought I’d pass it along. http://www.npr.org/blogs/krulwich/2014/01/11/261435571/go-where-raisins-swell-into-grapes-and-lemons-light-the-sky

    A foodie like you will really enjoy I think.

  • I adore the wine in bulk strategy, and I’m envious of this place — I can’t even buy decent wine in “le cube” around here (around here being a medium-sized New Zealand city) — but I’m a bit surprised and alarmed at the idea of all of these wines being “sulfite free.” (I have to put “sulfite free” in quotes because I’m not sure if they/you mean no added sulfites, or no sulfites over 10 ppm.) Wine stored in large tanks is going to be super-prone to oxidation as the tank empties, even if the shopkeepers are meticulous about keeping them topped up and even if they are blanketed with nitrogen on the way down (which I hope they are). The turbulence of dispensing into a glass bottle will add more oxygen, as will (in smaller quantity) pouring out individual glasses for yourself over time at home (again, even if you’re wisely using some kind of simple home wine preservation system like a vacuvin). There’s probably a reason why they don’t offer many whites: no/low sulfite whites won’t withstand this kind of treatment. And even for the reds, I can’t help but wonder if they have a trick — or a system — to deal with oxygen management issues. Interesting.

  • The US has Pure Water stores where we can buy jugs and, even, crocks to dispense the purified water they sell. I am of the strength where one gallon bottles are my lift-limit, so I’ve purchased bottled water in the gallon sized plastic bottles and reuse those to refill at the store. Very handy and only twenty five cents a bottle! Too bad they don’t sell wine…

  • I love your posts; they always make me smile, or sometimes, guffaw. That said, when you mentioned a cheese plate, it took me back to the 80’s, when, thanks to airline miles, we took our then 17 and 11 y/o daughters to Europe. When the cheese course came, one of them said ‘here comes the stinky cheese’. My question is, have you found that the French like their cheese a lot riper than Americans, in general? When cheese smells of ammonia, it does not appeal to me.

    Keep ‘em coming!

  • re coffee machine …info may be of use
    in London we have to use a water softener on our italian [indusrial ] expresso machine otherwise we would spend million of lire on the engineer….I think it is a brita brand……very big and heavy and i think leased; blue in colour….it has gauge on it and regularly we read the number to someone over the phone who comes and replaces it….but 3 m [you know u s brand ]does small white ones that i think work via osmosis…..saw at a exhibition last year…..maybe available in france …also perhaps ask the manufacturer of your machine

    • When I was in the Middle East, I visited a company that makes in-home water purifiers. You buy it, then “subscribe” and someone comes and replaced the filters a few times a year for you. It seemed like a great idea (so much so, that Richard Branson partnered with them on a Virgin version for Great Britain.) I told them that they would be great in France and in the USA, but they said they did a lot of research and different countries/cultures, have diverse relationships to water. They said that Americans generally don’t like people fiddling with their plumbing, and the French were just attached to bottled water.

      A few summers ago I visited an island in Provence, in the Mediterranean, that doesn’t have potable drinking water, so everyone buys (and lugs home) 6-pack liter bottles that they buy at the little shop on the island. (You have to use it for washing vegetables, etc, as well.) And since it’s an island, they don’t recycle. So the bottles just get tossed. I suggested they partner with one of those companies that delivers those big 10-gallon bottles of water that rest on top of a dispenser or water cooler, since it’s be cheaper, easier, and more ecological. But the folks who lived there told me that they preferred buying the plastic bottles.

  • Agree with the bottled water opinion, whenever I go to Costco and see families that just buy hundreds of bottles of water on a weekly basis despite having perfectly fine if not exceptionally fine tap water compared to other countries….such a huge waste of resources and unnecessary trash.

  • Hello
    Reading your recent comment about standing next to a rather smelly person on the bus reminded me of the year I lived in France during the early 60’s. While in Paris I loved going to the neighborhood bath where for a small sum I got a towels and a white room with a large tub which a lady filled ~ careful to check the temperature of the water with a large thermometer. In the early days, before I felt comfortable with my French I walked to the bath for the first time practicing what I was going to say in order to let them know what I wanted. Once at the desk they told me what was available before I had a chance to say more than hello and all I needed to do was say yes and hand them some money. All transactions should have been so easy.

    Later while living at a Loire Valley chateau in something of a Quakers commune we discussed going to the local bath that night. A local man eating with us who tended the grounds was surprised that we would subject our bodies to the foul riggers of submersion in hot soapy water. Your bus companion may have held the same views.

    In so many ways that period of living and working in France was formative to the ways I have lived since then.

  • Hi, I rememeber being in St. Emilion many yrs. ago & saw a local bring in his huge jug to buy wine at a reasonable price, perhaps it will happen one day in the us.By the way in your previous article someone mentioned they didn’t know or hadn’t heard about St. James which is a rum from martinique. The st. James people make different styles of this rum & they have an interesting web site which explains the different rums they produce. Thanks, Milt

  • I loved this article ! I wish i could find something similiar in New England – or Maybe I need another trip to Paris

  • Hi
    David,

    Love your blog and Paris insights. However, as far as bottled water goes there is a possibility that someone might be purchasing it for health reasons. My son has a neuro muscular disease that needs as few chemicals as possible as they interact with his medication. The tap water here has chlorine and fluorides that are not good for him. So I stock up on large cases of water (clean spring water). On occasion I have received rather rude remarks from ignorant people who make my business their business.
    Other than that I agree that plastic water bottles are a scourge on the landscape.

    Marilon

  • What a great idea! Wish there was an en vrac in NYC!

  • Good caveat to fill the Espresso machines with bottled water. We bought a nice Bezzera Mitica and hoked it up to the water line only to find out that within 6 month the hard water of the Cognac region almost wrecked the machine. Bottled water from Lidl to the rescue

  • Just a tip for the coffee machine : the Brita filter are perfect for this purpose, if you replace the ‘cartouche” regularly there is no more calcium in my electric kettle, I never need to use white vinegar, so it should be Ok for a coffee machine, plus if you are a tea drinker, the tea is far better, especially delicate ones such as 1st flush darjeelings, or white pearls…

  • It is possible to decalcify the water from calcium right at the source, we do it here in Sweden. Apparently you also need much less powder when laundrying when there’s less calcium in the water so it’s a win-win situtation for the environment when they do it centrally.

  • For the longest time I thought the brown residu in the sink here was air pollution though I live in a cul-de-sac with no traffic. Finally I gave in and started using the Brita pitcher. No more bottles to schlep and clean water. As for Paris buses, New York tortoises take the cake with annual contests for the slowest bus, so I will never complain. 90% is showing up and Paris buses do.
    Looks like a terrific place.Thanks!

  • David,

    interesting. Considering how much wine Olivier drinks a day (usually not more than one bottle, which is more than enough as far as I am concerned) we might go there.

    Bisous

    Paule

  • Hi David,

    I somehow stumbled upon your blog recently and am so happy for it. We are food and wine lovers who reside full time in the Bay area and we are headed to Paris in the spring. Your recommendations will help shape our itinerary. Thank you!

  • Another great post–such fun and I love the range of comments.
    Re the comment: And the US? Sadly out of touch. Refilling & reusing beats trying to recycle a whole load of plastic, or glass.
    How true. I try to re-purpose all the bottles and containers that move through my kitchen and use bottled water only when traveling or camping but no bulk wine available. I live within sight of a winery/vineyard and really wish they would refill their bottles for me.

  • What a great idea! It would save so much on recycling!

  • We were in Mallorca earlier this year and our friends brought us to a “sifoneria”–a bulk wine store, with barrels lining the walls and crates to sit on if you wanted to stay and enjoy the wine (which it seemed most people were doing). I love this idea as a more communal, “regular” people kind of wine bar (the wine bars in my neighborhood serve wine starting at $11 per glass), and I would love to see this concept in the US.

    Also, I just wanted to say that I have been reading your blog for years and not only do I love your insights, but I always enjoy and learn from the comments of the other readers. Take care!

    • The bulk wine store is a great idea and places don’t need to lug bottles, recycle, etc and they can also just pour a sip for you to taste before you buy. (When I go back to the states, I’m always startled at how different wine by the glass prices are at restaurants, compared to France.) With all the DIY types in the US, this is probably starting up somewhere. But not sure people want to lug bottles around to refill, and there may be laws prohibiting liquor/wine being decanted and sold. Glad you like the blog! : )

  • I loved this post, having fond memories of grabbing Vin de Table in our red plastic jugs while in le sud ouest. We drank so much “blood red wines” of Cahors our lips were purple. I am envious that we don’t have access to en vrac wines in the states, and living in PA, our selection is gov’t controlled. chin, chin!

  • Sandwiched between the nearly edible photo of the blue cheese and that of the empty bottles on a rack lies a series of lines that had me weeping with laughter. A friend told me of an experience similar to yours, but after suffering through the mouth-breathing thing until-holy sweet Jesus-he was nearly uitgeplucked (just go w/ the phonetics), he discovered that the smell emanated from the bag he carried…of very ripe cheeses!

  • My wife and I are planning a trip to Paris this Summer. I am putting this one on my own “Post-it” notes for the trip!