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:
And feel free to get in touch if you want to talk more about French wines of everyday – firstname.lastname@example.org
Summer solstice weekend was the only time of year I could bring myself to go to Chicago, a city widely known to have the worst weather in the country. With the exception of the tempest that kicked off just as I touched down, whipping winds and sideways rain for 20 violent minutes, the weather is soft, skies flooded with blue and buttery light, and deciduous greenery dancing on currants of cool air. After a shower in River North, we hop into a cab and speed to the spot Anthony Bourdain calls “the holy trinity of pork rinds, oysters, and beer” – The Publican on the Fulton St. Meat Market. The 2009 Michel Delhommeau Cuvee St. Vincent Muscadet Sur Lie satisfies the Fire River and Moon Shoal oysters we’re slurping, while NV Renardat-Fache Cerdon Rosé of Gamay and Poulsard gives wings to our crunchy handmade pork rinds dusted with powdered cheddar and cayenne. Flesh-lovers unite.
But we are still hungry. We stroll next door. To our delight, we find on the menu a burger, which turns out to be a dripping hunk of ground sirloin smothered in salty Fontina cheese and served between two slices of fried green tomato. The “Erotoburger” went seamlessly with a 2008 Seguret Cotes du Rhone. At once spicy, balanced, and indulgent.
Morning: Gooey French Toast and bellinis at Toast in Lincoln Park. Then we head on foot, through parks of orange daylilies and pines, through the zoo, to the cerulean, lapping, lake-like-an-ocean, where more friends meet us for a picnic. Out of the basket I’d been lugging I pull the 2010 Masianco Pinot Grigio/Verduzzo, a funky Veronese white that’s wicked inexpensive and guzzleable. Also, a crisp, limey screw topped 2010 Man Chenin Blanc (I LOVE screwtops,) and a pop top 2008 Winter dry Riesling liter bottle. The wines are cold. The sun nails us to the grass, lovingly. We watch people on bikes enjoying the rare perfection of the weather, pretty girls in bathing suits splashing, seagulls hovering. I don’t understand this lake. I lie back and watch light scatter through undulating maple leaves.
Up and at ‘em. Hotfoot it to Wicker Park to dive into the crowds at Big Star. Queso Fundito with Poblanos + pitchers of salty margarita and Schlitz + dirty jokes = joyful friends. A cab brings us back to the flat in River North to shower before late night dance party at Danny’s in Bucktown.
My final afternoon in Chicago yields the holy grail: the Chicago-Style hot dog. At a friend’s in Lakeview we steam the beef dogs and toast the poppy seed bun. Chop green tomatoes, pickle spears, and onion. From the fridge we take pickled sport peppers, piccalilli (neon green relish) and yellow mustard. Finish off with a dash of celery salt. Swallow in three bites washing it down with the 2010 Tablas Creek dry rosé which tastes like red chili pepper jam. Complete Chicago. I may not ever need to go back.