Last week, several customers asked Marc Smets whether he was definitely open on Sunday. “I thought that was bizarre,” he says. Until last Sunday dozens of customers suddenly showed up in front of his business. They wanted to surprise the manager for his twentieth anniversary. “I heard some commotion outside, but I didn’t see this coming at all. It was super cool,” he says. The wine merchant is not just anyone. Many customers of course know him from his shop in the Guldenstraat, but Marc also supplies to wholesalers as far away as West Flanders and to various Mechelen catering establishments.
Love for French wine
“I import at least 50% of the wines and spirits that I sell myself. There are bottles that you won’t find in most places,” says Marc, who still has a love for French wines. “In France they know something about making wine,” he says. For example, in his store you can find a Vin Cuit from Provence. “They drink it there with them treize desserts de Provence. The thirteen refers to Jesus and the twelve apostles. It is a dessert that is eaten on Christmas Eve with, among other things, walnuts, dried figs, candied fruit and nougat,” Marc explains.
The wine merchant is quite proud of the special wines and spirits he has had for almost twenty years. “Long before they were popular with a wider audience here,” he says. Then think of Madeira, a fortified, very long-lasting wine from the Portuguese island of the same name, or Vin jaune, a specialty from the French Jura. “But also absinthe, a spirit based on anise, or Pommeau,” Marc summarizes. In the French regions of Brittany and Normandy, they make Pommeau by mixing one-year-old calvados with thickened apple juice. “This is a case full of oddities.”
Everything started forty years ago. “I was seventeen. I’ve had a glass of red wine before, but I didn’t find it obvious. Until I drank a glass of red wine at the birthday party of a friend of my parents that I really liked. That was a Chateau Angélus and I found the taste surprising. That’s how I started reading about wines,” Marc explains. Later he started taking courses and further refined his knowledge.
This resulted in the first tastings that Marc organized. He opened his first store in the basement of the now closed craft shop Comtex on the IJzerenleen. “That was Marie-Louise’s shop, the lady with whom I drank my first nice glass of red wine. Many customers have bumped their heads there, but the location was nice,” he says.
Fifteen years ago, De Wijnwinkel moved to Guldenstraat. The store is located there in ‘t Overschotje, once a toll house that literally hangs over the Binnendijle. “This historic building used to house a praline shop by chocolatier Gauthier. After the restoration I was able to rent the building.”
Tasting this weekend
To further celebrate his anniversary, Marc Smets is organizing one of his famous wine tastings this coming weekend in ‘Huis den Inghel’, another historic building at Guldenstraat 27. “We have made a choice from the wide range of products that we even import directly. We invited the producers themselves to our tasting tables,” says Marc. They come especially for him from France, but also from other wine countries such as Germany, Italy, Austria and Spain.
Wine and spirits enthusiasts are welcome on Saturday, November 11 from 1 p.m. to 8 p.m. and Sunday, November 12 from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m.
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