Thursday, May 22, 2008

Aux Crieurs de Vin, Troyes

When thinking of Champagne, the cities that most often come to mind are Reims and Epernay, yet the city of Troyes must surely be counted as equally important. Troyes has a long and illustrious history, dating back at least to the 1st century BCE, when Pliny the Elder mentioned it by the name of Augustobona Tricassium. It flourished as a cultural and literary center during the Middle Ages, and in 1118 the Order of the Templars was founded here by Hugues de Payns. During the Renaissance, Troyes was renowned for its glassmaking, sculpture and painting, and also functioned as one of the most important trade centers of the region — the term “troy weight”, a measurement for silversmiths and jewelers, is derived from the standards implemented here at that time.

In terms of wine and gastronomy, Troyes is certainly important for its proximity to the Aube, an important production region of Champagne, and the city is also famous for its andouillette, protected by the Association Amicale des Amateurs d’Andouillette Authentique (AAAAA). Yet perhaps the greatest thing about Troyes, to my mind, is that it’s home to one of France’s most magnificent wine bars, Aux Crieurs de Vin.

There are many wine bars of this type today in France, which function as both retail shops and bistros with a focus on natural wines, and in fact, on authentic and artisanal products in general. (Think La Cremerie, Le Verre Volé, Le Baratin or Racines in Paris and you get the idea.) Aux Crieurs de Vin is larger than most, probably because they’re spared from having to pay Parisian real estate prices, and the array of wines is, if you’re a fan of natural winemaking, a veritable candy store of delights.

The champagne selection alone tells you what this place is about, with wines from Jacques Selosse, Vouette et Sorbée, Jérôme Prévost, Jacques Lassaigne, Ulysse Collin, Fleury and Larmandier-Bernier, among others. Among other wines of France the pickings are no less impressive, from Courtois and Breton to Derain and Pacalet; Lapierre and Métras to Puzelat and Le Briseau; Ostertag and Overnoy to Arena and Plageoles. Prices are kind as well, on average two or three euros less than what you might pay for the same wine in Paris.

Aux Crieurs de Vin serves food for lunch and dinner from Tuesdays to Saturdays, and while they have a superb selection of wines by the glass, you can also choose any bottle of wine from the shelves and open it for only a five-euro corkage fee. The cuisine is heavily influenced by Spain and the Mediterranean: I loved the paper-thin, lusciously creamy slices of lomo de bellota, pictured above, while another stand-out was the arugula salad with a soft Corsican cheese, topped by the most pungent, in-your-face, ridiculously porky bacon ever.

Troyes is a little over an hour away from Epernay, on the way to Chablis, and I don’t get there nearly as often as I would like. Aux Crieurs du Vin, however, is definitely a mandatory stop if you’re anywhere close to the city.

Aux Crieurs de Vin, 4 place Jean Jaurès, 10000 Troyes,