Belleville wine Bar, Reno NV

written by Bill Kopp

Nico Gourdon pairs unique and delicious cuisine with hand-selected wine list

Nico Gourdon opened Belleville Wine Bar in 2023 with the goal of bringing something different and special to Reno. With an expertly-curated wine list and a superb menu designed by a top chef, Belleville Wine Bar has carved out a unique niche in the Reno area. I caught Nico in a rare quiet moment between conversations with patrons at the popular and elegant wine bar.

What inspired you to open Belleville Wine Bar?

The idea for Belleville came from many years of inspiration.

I worked for 38 years in four countries. At age 27 I was a maitre d' at the Gleneagles Hotel in Scotland, which at the time was one of the top ten hotels in the world. There you had the opportunity to pass an exam for five-star service. They awarded that to me, which basically gave me a passport to work anywhere.

When I was living in Los Angeles, I was working in Santa Monica in an Italian restaurant. Benoit Rablat from Paris was my roommate; he was working at Mozza -- Mario Batali's and Nancy Silverton's place -- in Los Angeles. One morning we were taking: "How cool would it would be, you and me doing something together? Pouring wine on a Saturday night with [people] five deep at the bar?" Some time after that, Benoit and his girlfriend Nancy Sanchez -- who was also working at Mozza, and is now his wife -- moved to Miami, opened two restaurants and a wine store.

I moved to Reno five years ago because my daughter lives here; and I was tired of being far away from her. Since moving here, I've been getting to know Reno, enjoying the experience of people with food and wine. And at Belleville we always love the pairing; it's very strong in France and all of Europe to push the experience to the next level, having wine and food together.

Chef Benoit designed the menu for Belleville, and Nancy designed the place. And I took care of the wine list! So Belleville is really a group effort of three people.

What part of the Southern California experience did you hope to bring to Reno with Belleville Wine Bar?

I believe that what Reno was missing is a place for women to go to drink wine: a place for them. A place that would feature wines that are not overpowering, not over-jammy, not over-sweet, not over-rich, not over-anything. And food portions that are not too big, but that can be shared.

I tell my customers, "You can come to Belleville after yoga with your yoga pants, you can show up with your girlfriend and wear Louboutin and have a party, and everything in between." And 80% of my clients are women!

How do you select the wines that you feature?

Really, I have no rules. It's all from the heart. When I choose a wine, I have to see myself talking about it, and I have to be able to enjoy it. It has to be something that makes sense, that fits the concept of Belleville. It must be a wine that is not found in the store, or anywhere else local. I take people on the journey for wine. And for myself: because as we go on that journey, I discover new things, too. That makes the whole experience exciting for me, and for the customer.

How extensive of a wine selection do you have?

We have about 20 wines by the glass, give or take, depending on availability. And we have about 70 to 75 wines by the bottle. That's not quite enough for me; that list will expand. But right now I have domestic, French, Italian wines; I have a couple from Germany, from Spain. For one of our events, we had some Chardonnay from South Africa. Soon we're going to bring some Mexican wine from Baja California. Eventually I want to get some Greek wine.

I have a Malbec from Argentina right now, by the glass. But it is not your typical Malbec from Argentina. It has a little bit more elegance and subtlety; it's a little more sophisticated. So anything goes, as long as it is not a palate killer.

How often do your wine selections change?

At Belleville, there's not a rule where I'm going to say, "Okay, every three months I need to change 20 wines," or anything like that. There is wine that the people love right away, like one from Languedoc-Roussillon; that's a wine that maybe 90% of the people didn't know about, but they fell in love with it. So when there is a huge interest in some wine, that wine will become a staple for Belleville's list, and I will keep it.

And I rotate selections, of course. I'm always going to be conscious about what works best during winter, in summer. And I keep selections for people who like wine with a little bit more body, a little bit more tannin.

We also have our own Belleville private-label wine. It's made in collaboration with the Couch Family Vineyard in Santa Clara, Central Coast California. The wine is a Cabernet Sauvignon/Cabernet Franc, an old world, Left Bank Bordeaux style. This wine can only be found at Belleville.

But we also put focus on making sure that all the wine that we have can be paired with the food in different combinations. You can come today to Belleville and you can ask me, "What would be the best wine with this dish?" And I'm going to tell you, "You should have that." But tomorrow I'm going to change my mind: it's going to be a different one!

Does the menu change as well?

Yes. Because we opened just ten months ago, there's a lot of trying different things right now. But all the dishes are having a huge success. Benoit designed the menu, but I've added a couple of things here and there because I love cooking as well.

For a food and drink event coming up in June, we're going to have a prix fixe menu. Benoit is coming up with a lettuce and fresh herb soup with hazelnut; we're going to pair that a Chardonnay from Mexico. And I'm making a heirloom tomato tart with a French puff pastry and goat cheese cream. We're going to pair that with a rosé from Provence, from a winery that's ten minutes from where I grew up.

I make my own apple tart; it's a recipe from my mom. I cook the apples in Pommeau de Normandie, which is a brandy of calvados. So things at Belleville have a personal touch; you can know that they're not going to be on the menu anywhere else in Reno. I know they're going to love that dish, and we can create an experience with the wine.

Also, I recently started seafood happy hour every other Sunday. And that has become the biggest thing now at Belleville. It's one to eight p.m., so it's a huge happy hour, just for seafood! I get Spanish sardines. We do smoked salmon tartine, we do crab deviled eggs. I make a French shrimp bisque from scratch; it's a three-day process. People who have lobster bisque at the casino, when they go to Belleville, they find very different things.

Birds are part of the motif of Belleville Wine Bar. What's the significance of that?

It's a tribute to oiseaux, birds. All over the place are the blue mountain birds from Lake Tahoe. And that's why we call it Belleville, which means "beautiful town" in French.

What's your favorite thing about owning the wine bar?

I can express myself, and I can share my experience. It's really so much fun to give to people!

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