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Voilà vé is a Marseillais interjection meaning “look here.” Look – and taste, Victor Million-Rousseau and his partner Alix Huguet might add. They are the owners of the Camas neighborhood’s organic wine bar Voilà Vé, which opened its doors just six months before the first Covid-19 lockdown and the ensuing rocketing upsurge in the organic market with new concern for nature and health during the pandemic. The bar has survived the last couple of tumultuous years, sustained by the quality of its selection and its democratic approach to wine-tasting.

Following a heatwave and cold beer summer, the splendid autumn weather in this capital of Provence invites new adventures in wine. At Voilà Vé, we can do this without ever leaving Marseille. This new wine bar is just off the vibrant square of La Plaine – a neighborhood that has diversified with the help of its outdoor market now opening twice a week (it had been closed for several years while the square was gutted and remodeled, amidst protests and charges that the neighborhood would be taken from its original inhabitants). The reopening of the market brings every kind of person back into the neighborhood, at least for the day, and some stay to wander through the area and discover its new offerings. An affordable wine bar like Voila Vé is a welcome alternative to the boisterous nightly scene of Cours Julien (the next neighborhood over).

The unusual color palette of this wine bar, first encountered from the street, is to be further examined by stepping inside. Outside, turquoise predominates, and the charcoal interior walls are also visible. Every evening, Victor and Alix hang two vibrant sea paintings in yellows, blues, and oranges – a gift from an artist friend in Lyon – in protected vitrines on either side of the floor to ceiling windows of the facade. The ensemble of colors is unique and solicits consideration and appreciation – as does, it occurs to us, the experience of tasting Voilà Vé’s wine. Inside the bar are comfortable antique armchairs and sofas from the ‘60s and ‘70s, in plush cranberry, light green, red, orange, yellow, and tan, and an attractive wooden bar counter, low ceiling lamps and garlands of lights. Towards the back is a large canvas (a gift from another artist friend), with hidden Marseille and regional references, like a langoustine. The wine bar’s décor is inspired by Victor’s parents – both are antiques collectors, and Victor grew up surrounded by paintings. He worked for a number of years in precious stones, and learned to “disassociate,” or break-up, typical color combinations in inventive ways. Victor and Alix also host art exhibits on the walls of Voilà Vé.

When it is warm out, people tend to sit either in the intimate courtyard out back, or on the terrasse out front, with trams flowing right next to the tables. The commuters are so close we could almost pass them a ballon of wine were it not for the protective transparent dividers. The atmosphere is serene, with groups of friends arriving straight from work. When we took a seat in the courtyard out back, two tables of friends were quietly discussing how to tackle a particular life challenge. The elegant minimalism of the service and tranquil setting in the courtyard seems to inspire intimate conversation.

Voilà Vé is carefully designed to welcome connoisseurs and novices alike, but Victor and Alix cater particularly to curious guests who have little or no knowledge of wine. This approach seems fitting for the increasingly diverse urban space that is Marseille. The house philosophy and approach are to democratize the wine experience without compromising variety and quality. As Victor points out, many restaurants in Marseille offer the same short selection of regional organic and natural wines from Cassis and Bandol that are, in his view, well, boff (a versatile French expression with attitude, here meaning not great, banal). Limiting himself to natural wine that is regional (a necessary catchword these days), he explains, would decidedly narrow guests’ wine-tasting adventures. Voilà Vé offers all natural and organic wines, mostly French, since the variety is vast and exciting, with occasional offerings from Spain or Italy.

The menu is indeed brilliantly democratic; accessible. It divides wines into white, a small selection of orange wines, and red, and again into three principal categories: les appetisants, les gourmands, and les exceptionelles, in a crescendo from light and subtle to strong and rich, depending on the season, the food accompaniment, the mood. There is a separate list of high-end bottles (and for this, restauranteurs from the neighborhood and beyond frequent Voila Vé). There are no meals here. It is really a place to stop by for un verre, but they do offer home-made tapas, like colorful vegetable chips, hummus, titzika, panisse all revisités, a truffle chèvre, as well as a careful selection of cheeses and charcouterie (hard sausages and cured meats). Because the tapas are designed to accompany the wine selection, all are tasty, nothing overpowering. The main course here is the wine itself.

We sampled a white chardonnay called L’optimiste, an elegant demi-sec (half-dry) from Laura David Vigneronne in the Loire; an orange wine with character, Les Volants, also from la Loire (orange wine is a hybrid, in this case half white chardonnay, and half made like red, macéré—a step in wine-making where the juice is left with the solid parts of the grape to retain their different flavor and ferment); and a deep, all-merlot red, Marius, from the Domaines les Blanquières near Saint Rémy in Provence. Victor described each in brief, allowing us to inquire further if we desire. He suggested we move from light to dark as a strong red will render lighter wines indistinguishable. He has a light touch in his instruction, a pleasure to receive, and Alix, who served the tapas, has an equally easy manner.

This is Victor’s first wine venture, parti de rien (“starting from nothing”). With a strong desire to explore natural, organic drinking and eating, Victor and Alix chose wine because they love it, and for the kind of open-ended exploration of natural wines that is possible in France. Wherever the couple travels, they visit vineyards, taste, bring back bottles. Alix is from the north, Victor from the south, so between visiting family and friends they cover a lot of ground. They are also now well-connected in the wine world, informed by a steady stream of recommendations from a select few who know what they like.

Victor’s second motivation was to bring wine out of its elite, inaccessible tradition in France, where one has to know the region, cépages (grape), the domaine (vineyard) – and that’s just the beginning. “But you do not actually need to know these details to enjoy and experiment with wine,” he says. He mischievously sometimes offers restauranteur friends, who categorically reject a certain cépage, a taste of what they reject – they often end up liking it, he says, without knowing what it is. And the bio and biodynamic (organic and natural) from Voila Vé’s selection tend to have playful names, like Les Anglaises (English girls), L’éffronte (the affront), L’insolente; or more mysterious ones, like Le sot de l’ange (a play on words referring at once to an athletic jump “saut” while spreading the arms, and the ‘imbecility of angels’), and even Les Obus 2018 (“artillery shells”).

The usual experience of wine drinking, perhaps, is that we initially notice if the wine is tasty, and then we go on enjoying it with our food. But Voila Vé’s selection solicits our attention until the last drop, often in different parts of the mouth, evolving as we drink – a real wine experience! They take risks here, and each wine we tasted seemed to say “voila vé!,” delicious, but also interesting. We left feeling like we should return soon for another new adventure.

Published on December 01, 2022

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