In this VIP exclusive, Olivier Griset tells us what we should be drinking, and eating, this Thursday.
Olivier Griset’s career in wine began the way every oenophile dreams of: with a call from 32-Michelin star chef Joël Robuchon.
When “the chef of the century” calls asking for help with his wine cellar, you go running. And run Olivier did, right into an eleven-year career as a sommelier for Robuchon’s restaurant empire.
Sitting across from me at Univerre Paris (UP!), the wine shop and bar that he now manages, Olivier poured himself a red Burgundy. While I sipped my Champagne, Olivier reminisced about his time with Chef Robuchon, who he credits with teaching him everything he knows about wine, before dishing on what to drink, and eat – or rather, not eat – on the 14th.
Olivier didn’t start out in wine. He did his studies in math before turning to music. But Olivier’s diplomat father kept a belle cave and there was a steady stream of sommeliers at their Paris apartment. “I always had good wine on the table.”
It was the elder Griset who exposed Olivier to France’s haute gastronomie. Starting at five years old, Olivier and his parents visited the country’s luxe restaurants “once or twice per year.”
“My first grand restaurant was Bernard Loiseau’s,” the starred Burgundian chef whose suicide years later would shock the culinary world. But amongst the menu of truffled chicken and julienned vegetables, young Olivier didn’t find anything he liked. “So they made me fried chicken. At a three-star restaurant.”
It was around that time, during the first of many family dinners at three-Michelin star Jamin in Paris, that Olivier met Chef Robuchon. Years later, when Robuchon needed help setting up his Paris wine cellar, La Cave de Joël Robuchon, he called Olivier. “I just thought of it as helping out a friend.”
As a thank you, Robuchon treated Olivier to dinner, where he served him a 1995 white Saint-Emilion 1er Grand Cru Classé from Château Cheval Blanc. That’s a lot of words to say that he was served a damn fine wine. “That bottle was magnificent,” Olivier reminisced.
“I had the taste in my mouth for four days. And for 10 years, I could still taste it.” With a restaurant price of about $2000, one hopes so.
That’s when Olivier decided to make wine his career. “I wanted to have other wines like that one. So I dropped [Robuchon] a line and asked, ‘Can you help me?’ He called me back a week later . . . and told me, ‘Olivier, come work for me.'”
Working at La Cave Robuchon was a crash course in wine. “Everyday, vintners came and did tastings with us. We would choose the wines for all the [European, Asian, and North American] restaurants.”
So what was it like to work for arguably the world’s best chef?
“I was a bit privileged, because I heard he was tough. But with me, he took care of me like I was family. He was always kind to me. In a restaurant, he’s a chef. It’s military-style. But with the wine, it was different. He wasn’t as interested in the wines. He trusted us to make decisions. He relaxed with us. He laughed with us. He could be outside the pressure of the restaurant.”
“I was privileged, because I heard [Robuchon] was tough. But with me, he took care of me like I was family. He relaxed with us. He laughed with us.
Just then, the phone rang. It was one of Olivier’s regulars. She’d placed an order earlier and wanted him to be ready, because she was in a hurry. Minutes later, a taxi pulled up and Olivier hurried three cases into the back. The woman popped in to pay. “Mille deux cent, quarante-sept,” I heard Olivier say. That’s 1247 euros.
We got back to our interview and turned our attention to the matter at hand. While Olivier poured my second glass of Champagne, I asked what he would serve for Valentine’s Day, though I suspected I already knew the answer.
“Bah, Champagne, bien sûr! Rosé Champagne. Women like rosé Champagne, and I like women, so I like rosé Champagne.” He laughed at himself. “You’re going to quote me saying rubbish!”
But Olivier was dead serious that bubbles are the only way to go on Valentine’s Day and I won’t fault him there. So what would Olivier serve to impress his date?
“I’ve got two coups du coeur,” which is the poetically French way of saying two things he likes. First, a bottle of Moutard Père et Fils Brut Rosé, a balanced, salmon-colored Champagne that’s his choice for bang for your buck. This Pinot Noir bottle has tart, strawberry flavors that are pleasantly rounded out by delicate floral notes. Retailing between $30 and $40 in the U.S., I’d take this over a bouquet of roses any day, wouldn’t you?
Olivier’s other choice for Thursday is “one for les amoureux,” he says. It’s a lover’s bottle aptly called Fidèle, an Extra-Brut Blanc de Noirs from Vouette et Sorbée that sells for about $60 to $70 in the States. Although it’s a white champagne, the longer-than-average maceration of the juice with the skins gives this wine a pale peach hue perfect if you’re looking to lean into the whole hearts and chocolate-covered strawberries thing. This one has red fruit notes from the Pinot Noir, with complementary ginger-like spice and herbaceous notes.
Plus, it’s biodynamic, and what’s more romantic than protecting Mother Earth?
If you’re not one for Champagne, Olivier recommends a red or white Burgundy. Refined and elegant, these wines tell your date “that you think they’re worth it. They’re poetry.” Still, you can find good bottles at almost any price, from $25 to over $1000. And they pair with just about anything. “A red Burgundy can even go with fish. I like that chameleon-like character in a wine.”
And what food would Olivier serve to go along with all this, I ask.
In typical Parisian fashion, Olivier answers in the negative. “Avoid things that are too spicy, things in sauce, anything that’s messy or that you have to slurp. I don’t have a preference, but eat something small and light. Or just drink,” he jokes.
One last question. “What are you doing for Valentine’s Day?”
“Taking my friend Isabelle to l’Atelier,” Joël Robuchon’s two-Michelin starred Paris restaurant.
For more ideas about what to serve this week, checkout VIP’s guide to sparkling wines. Don’t forget, we also offer wine consultation. Whether you’re looking for advice on what to serve at your next important event, or you want hard-to-find-bottles to add to your cellar, we can help. Checkout our services page for more information.