Paris Wine Bargains in Monastery Cellars

International Herald Tribune

Tuesday, June 3, 1969

Lucien Legrand's wine store is neither the biggest nor the best-known in Paris, but he sells at unbeatable prices some of the finest wines available in the capital.

No magic is involved, only a sure palate and the simple idea of bottling the wines he sells in his own cellars, the vaulted remnants of the 17th-century monastery of the Petits Pères, which was destroyed during the Revolution.

With the exception of champagnes and a few renowned Burgundies and château-bottled Bordeaux, all the 100-odd wines, some from growers and some from great shipping houses such as Paul Jaboulet Anié in the Rhône Valley, arrive in the barrel.

Although bottling all these wines requires the help of his son Jean-Claude and two young apprentice cavistes, he is still able to sell his wines about 20 percent cheaper than if he bought them already bottled.

The small cheap vins courants from the Touraine or Bordeaux are brought up in barrels or even tank trucks, stored temporarily in glass-lined cement vats and then bottled by machine.

But the really good V.D.Q.S. (vin délimité de qualité supérieure) and appellation contrôlée wines are bottled entirely by painstaking, old-fashioned hand methods to keep them at their best.

Despite a stock of 70,000 bottles, Mr. Legrand has few that are more than ten years old. This is partly because in a year he sells nearly twice as many bottles as his basic stock and partly because his labyrinthine cellars are already filled to bursting, although he hopes eventually to obtain more of the monastery's largely unused cellars under adjoining buildings.

Perhaps another reason is that his father, who bought the business in 1919, sold mostly small table wines and thus did not begin laying away a stock of great bottles. Mr. Legrand took over from his father in 1945, and began to sell really good wines.

He succeeded remarkably, for his Beaujolais growths, beginning at 4.30 francs (86 cents) are every bit as good as the famous ones served in the Lyonnais restaurants which are something of a standard for Paris.

He also has a number of little-known and thus still inexpensive wines, such as a 1965 Cahors at six francs ($1.20), a Pecharmant (red Bergerac) at 5.70 ($1.12) and a 1966 Bandol rosé from Provence at 5.20 ($1.04). The only region not represented is the Jura with its Arbois and Château Chalon.

Not all of them are at this price level, but at 15 francs ($3) his 1965 Les Caillerets, the best first growth of Volnay, is a bargain, for it is the epitome of a feminine wine, light and delicate, with the depth of character and firm grace of a great ballerina.

There are other fine bargains. Champagne begins at 16.50 francs ($3.30) and these bargains are all set off to great advantage by the 1880s atmosphere of the store they are sold in.

The name of the original proprietor, Beaugé, is still implanted in the floor tiles. Beaugé was the first Paris épicier to change his store from a sort of stockroom of cans, spices and dried fruits to an attractive shop with fine carved woodwork and brass display cases.

The only change made by Mr. Legrand was to replace the ceiling, which was falling down, with one of his own design, made of 40,000 corks that he glued into place himself, one by one. Such imaginative devotion says a lot about both the man and his work.

Lucien Legrand, 1 Rue de la Banque, Paris 2e.