Navigating Café Wine Lists in Paris (No Comments)
It’s 7:30 PM on an overcast Thursday in the Paris’ 11th arrondissement. You’ve been walking the grey streets of the Right Bank all day, ducking in and out of galleries and boutiques in the Marais, snacking on Nutella banana crepes and tall fizzy bottles of Badoit, taking in the architecture and monuments of a city which is a museum unto itself. Dinner plans aren’t until 10 (which jibes with the 10:30 PM sunset in summer,) and just when you make up your mind to take your book to the dazzlingly green Buttes-Chaumont park and throw down in the grass for the long, slow build toward evening, the sky opens. Torrents of fat, cold drops slam down as you fumble for your umbrella and desperately look around for rescue. Luckily, shelter is never far from sight in Paris. Relieved, you alight on the covered terrace of a capacious brasserie at Metro Oberkampf (see pic).
Rain and labile weather are charming to those travelers accustomed to Paris and these downpours always provide a bit of excitement and a chance at an unforseen break, to watch people, write an email, or notes in a journal, and have an apéro. Now – you must task yourself with the wine list, which at Parisian cafés is neither long nor complex, but bears a bit of explanation all the same.
The whole point of brasserie or café wine is to drink something inexpensive and local. For reds you’re generally looking at a list of about five selections. Up to three of those could easily be cru Beaujolais: chilled Brouilly or Cotes de Brouilly, St. Amour, and normally a Morgon, always the most recent vintage. Take the Brouilly if you like a lighter Gamay quaffer, and the St. Amour or Morgon if your palate commands darker fruit and heavier mineral character. The other star ‘rouge’ of the café list is red from the Loire; carafes of Chinon or Bourgueil (both made of Cabernet Franc) abound as they are inexpensive, refreshing, and pair with most all typical brasserie fare, from Salade de Chevre to Steak Frites. If your palate prefers a briary black cherry, eucalyptus, and light leathery/animal flavors, take the red Loire, and make sure to ask for it “au frais.”
As for whites, you’re always looking at a Muscadet, which is a bracingly DRY white wine from around Nantes on the Atlantic Coast in the Loire. Not to be confused with Muscat, which can be vinified either sweet or dry, Muscadet is vinified from the Melon de Borgogne grape and profides ideal accompaniment to oysters, other ‘fruits de mer,’ as well as potato chips, which are always a good apéro snack. You’ll also see Tariquet, a winery in the South West of France (Cotes de Gascogne) that makes 11 different wines, both white and rosé, of blends of various local grapes (Ugni Blanc aka Trebbiano, Colombard, Petit Manseng, Gros Manseng, Sauvignon, Grenache, etc.) Tariquet whites are always refreshing, round, and fruity, and sell for about 2€80 the glass (can’t beat that). Finally you’ll see Vinho Verde, Portugal’s answer to the call for a light-bodied summer quaffer. Bottled with just a little carbonation, Vinho Verde taps out at about 10% alcohol and is easy to guzzle without catching too much of a buzz.
If beer is your thing, there is always the tryptic: Kronenbourg ’1664′, a French lager, Stella, a Belgian lager, and Leffe. If your choice is between Leffe Blonde and Leffe Brune, decide simply if you prefer Hogaarden or Newcastle, and the choice will make itself. You may get lucky and find German selections like Franziskaner or Ayinger, but it’s a bit more rare. There are also lighter beer drinks like Panachés and Monacos which are made combining beer with lemonade (Panaché) or lager with lemonade and grenadine (Monaco). These can be are a refreshing and slightly sweet alternative to beer or wine.
Want to drink like a Parisian without the cost of airfare? Try these:
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