Ah Paris, a city of gourmet sights where baguettes walk through the streets in the hands, baskets and bags of almost every Parisian, where markets spill out onto the streets tempting those who walk by and pastry shops never put inches on your hips.
The French capital is awash with wine; wine that is sold in plenty at every grocery store, corner store and farmers market. Yes, unlabelled wine bottles stand naked at markets in baskets in the hot sun, their hand written tags flapping in the breeze. Wine can be found for 2 Euros in the grocery store and 8 Euros on wine lists. Wine in Paris is cheaper than water, gasoline and coke.
Restaurant wine lists are like endless lists of names; of chateaus and varietals. As I worked my way through Paris I asked everyone I was close to what kind of wine they drank, I wanted a starting point that didn’t make me stand out in the crowd. I needed a reference point from which to begin my vinous journey, something where I wouldn’t stand out, but nothing. It seems as if Parisians like to drink all wine. The only commonality was that it was all French.
Rue Suffren was my base camp. A beautiful two-bedroom apartment on the second floor of a 4-story building in a city with a sensible 6-story code. Rue Suffren runs parallel to the Eiffel Tower and is the street where the high ranking government officials and wealthy have their city homes – or so I’m told by the café on the corner where breakfast becomes a common occurrence.
Of course my apartment was advertised as having a view of the Eiffel Tower and yes if I leaned over the balcony I could see the top of it. What more could I ask for, the street alone was stunning and I was in Paris.
A walk across the Eiffel Tower grounds and I was in Rue Cler, the cobblestone pedestrian street filled with shops run by people who all have a love of good food. To Parisians, shopping for food is a daily occurrence, partly because their kitchens and refrigerators are so small and partly because of their obsession for fresh produce, but most of all because Parisians love to socialize over food. They love to kiss the cheeks of friends; twice is customary and three times for friends you haven’t seen in a while.
The shops on Rue Cler spill out onto the streets. They have all the essential gourmet ingredients available; wine cheese, chocolate, pastry and bread, all at individual shops. I’m amazed that shops can survive by selling only one item. There is a macaroon shop with nothing but brilliantly coloured, small, cream filled macaroons. The tiny shop is jam packed full of these tempting disks of deliciousness and customers wander in and come out with tiny boxes filled with them, so did I.
As usual, it’s best to go hungry and buy the wine last because the right wine is most important. I pick up some cheese, pate, bread and wine and head back to the park at the base of the Eiffel Tower for a beautiful picnic.
At any time of the day there are hundreds of people sprawled out on blankets, nibbling on food, sipping on wine or just lying together in love. I spread out my blanket and pull the food from my bag only to realize I had no corkscrew or glass. No problem, the couple next to me hold out a glass of wine to keep me going while they remove the cork from mine. They shared their charcuterie and I shared my cheese – life was good. How wonderful to be in a country where needing a corkscrew is cause for a rescue.
Two blocks behind the apartment, next to the metro station is the Grenelle Market. The sights and smells come alive on Saturday and Wednesday mornings in this narrow market that stretches four, maybe five city blocks long. Here you can get everything you can imagine from the very best and freshest produce to wine and gourmet foods, from hardware to shoes and stylish clothing. You can get anything at a Paris market. There is a frienzy around some of the vendor’s so I push my way to the front of the crowd to find the biggest pile of absolutely irresistible cherries. It’s cherry season and I’ve never seen a pile this big before, it makes you just want to lean into it and begin eating. Leo, as the farmer was called, scoped out a large bag of cherries for me and I began to eat as I shopped.
I picked up some escargot stuffed with garlic butter and a fresh baguette. I looked at the wine tired from the heat and remembered a little shop on the way back home that had a fine selection and thought perhaps that was the wisest course of action.
It took me a while to walk the entire market, it was almost closing time as I walked passed the pile of cherries again. The farmer was taking down his chalkboard sign and scratching a new price for the cherries. They were now half price – only 1.99 Euros per kilo.
Once back at the apartment I threw the wine in the refrigerator, the bread on the table and spilled the escargot into a baking pan. All I had to do was to make sure they were all facing upwards so I wouldn’t loose any of the sweet juices as they cooked.
Escargot are sold in their shells throughout Paris but they are already cooked. First they’re washed, then removed from their shells and cooked while the shells have another washing; then they’re stuffed back into their shells with a generous amount of garlic butter. It’s so easy to pop them in the oven for a few minutes.
The day was hot so I chose a sparkling rose from the shops cooler. The clerk knows his wine and recommends bottles based on what you’re going to eat. In fact, he recommends you call ahead with dinner plans and he’ll put a bottle in the refrigerator for you. Today was my choice and I choose a cremant de Loire from Langlois for the bargain price of 12 Euros. The clerk grunted his disapproval as I shoved the cold bottle into my bag. I don’t care, it’s what I wanted.
Dry, pink with a soft fruity character and the bitter edge of the bubbles worked well with the sweetness of the garlic butter. It was the perfect, most beautiful wine for the balcony of Rue Suffren overlooking the top of the Eiffel Tower.