A wine shop in the Marais.
Everyone knows that France is heaven for wine lovers. Many countries now produce award winning wines, but the history and heart of wine is, without a doubt, still centered in France. I imagine that there are more tours to the wine regions of France than to those of any other wine producing nation. Don't, however, assume for a second that there aren't mediocre and even some bad wines in France. There certainly are.
There are wine shops galore in Paris. The photo at left is the interior of one of my favorite cavist shops which is on Rue de Belleville in the 19th arrondissement of Paris.
It's great to build a relationship with your local cavist so you can have access to wines by the case when you have a party or want to stock a wine cellar. He is also indispensable as a source for new wines or special sales on your favorite type or vintage of wine. It's not unusual for your neighborhood cavist to hold an informal wine tasting (degustation) where you have access to some labels which you may have never tried. It's usually like a sardine can in the shop during a degustation. You will see many familiar faces from the neighborhood, a few people whom you may have seen in the shop on occasion and plenty of new shoppers, lured into the shop by the temptation to taste some different wines or grab a bottle or two on sale. You'll have the chance to deliberately shop for wine rather than grabbing a bottle in a rush while shopping for groceries. It's an opportunity to learn a little more about wine pairings or the nuances of different wines and the affect of the weather and soil on their flavors. The French have known for centuries that the soil of a region or even at a particular vineyard can determine the flavor and complexity of a wine. They give tremendous credit to Le Terroir , the geology, micro-climate and geography of an area on the type of wine grown. While you don't need to know so much to choose a wine, a really good cavist will know a lot about the terroir of the your favorite wine so he will be able to use that as a starting point for suggesting other wines which you are sure to love.
Now let's talk about the reality of wine shopping. In Paris, we are in the grocery store several times a week for one thing or another. It's the way of life in Europe, especially in large cities where kitchens are small, refrigerators are miniscule and green grocers or markets are readily available in every neighborhood. As a matter of fact, Paris is overloaded with produce sellers, grocery stores and open markets. People often shop for what they need as they need it. While in the grocery stores, you will find a pretty varied selection of wine. You will even find wines from other countries. The only difference is that you will be on your own and won't have the help of a highly informed cavist. Of course, the same can be said in the USA.
| || |
When I shop for wine in the grocery, I know there will be some basic wines, some pretty great wines and, believe it or not, some wines with screw caps and plastic bottles. That's a shocking evolution in the French market place. I suppose they finally learned from Americans and Germans that there is a segment of society that may buy generic and cost-saver products, whereas they would otherwise buy nothing at all. In an effort to reach the frugal, the cheap, and the local winos, the grocery stores carry a wide variety of wines, covering most price points. I would only consider the plastic bottle with the twist-off top if I were buying sangria. I'll be honest and admit that some of my French friends and I have a bit of a hobby in looking for inexpensive wines which may surprise us and be very good.
It wouldn't be fair if I didn't say that I have friends in Paris and in the USA that are a bit on the snobbish side and would never consider paying less than 8 dollars or 7 euros for a bottle of wine. They are convinced that any less would indicate a terribly unaccepaible wine. I would never grab a 2 euro bottle of wine for a dinner party, but when just my friends and I are at a casual gathering, we will grab a few different bottles, all below 6 euros each, and will take a risk. We have had some bottles that are unfit for pickling cucumbers, but we have also found some exceptional wines. Some have been so good that we rush to the grocery the next day to grab several more bottles while they are still available. You can never expect the same inexpensive wines to be available all the time. You can figure that other people will also rush back to buy them again if they taste good. There is also a limit to the number of bottles available in a certain production year. A wine that was great in one year may be horrible in other years. It's a game of chance, but worth the effort to discover a good wine at a bargain basement price. It's a nice way to add to a home wine collection. With the cost of living so high, and the exchange rate so poor, who can complain about finding a good value for such a necessary part of life in France? Plus, after the hunt, all I have to do is hop over to another aisle and there is the cheese and fois gras. I may not find a great price there, but who cares... I saved money on the wine.
Cheers - à votre santé,