Before I arrived in Paris, the owner of my rental apartment, Claude, emailed me to say that he had a couple of free tickets for a wine expo in Paris that he suggested I make use of, if I liked wine. If I like wine? I couldn’t grow up with a winemaker for a father and come away without loving wine! I was so excited by the thought of a Parisian wine tasting that as some of you know, I blasted it all over Facebook!
So on my second day in Paris, I headed out to the wine salon. Arriving at the Espace Champerret was a bit intimidating. Hundreds and hundreds of people were wandering around, I had to line up right away to get my free wineglass with ticket. That is your pass to the wine tasting – no security, no stopping people from entering, anyone could come in, but no glass, no taste, seemed to be the rule. You could not just rock up to a booth with any a beer mug and ask them to pour. I arrived and received my glass, walked into one of the three salons and stopped short. It was huge, it was full of people, and I had absolutely no idea where or how to start. It was like walking up to a huge room filled with all your favourite foods – where would you start? Claude suggested I choose a region and taste from that region only so I could get a good sense of the differences that could exist within one terroire. It was a good suggestion, but even just within one region there was an overwhelming amount of booths – this whole salon had 800 booths and over 2000 different wines. Only one particular region stuck out as having fewer booths and seemed a more manageable starting place, so I decided to taste the champagne region.
I started to taste from Champagne – yum – and wandered around the rooms to get a sense of what the whole space was like. A nice man at one of the booths struck up a conversation with me as I was taking pictures of the space. He told me I had to try the wine he was drinking, he said it was the best thing at the salon this year. I have to say it was really tasty, a series of sparkling rose’s that were really drinkable. We chatted a bit about
wine and about me, where I was from and what I was doing there, etc. His name was Olivier, and he wasn’t actually working at the sparkling wine booth, he was from another region. Olivier offered to show me around the salon to some of his favourite winemakers, as I was alone and he thought that it would be more fun for me if I had company. He was right! Olivier was with a winery from the Languedoc area so he took me to the winemakers he knew from that region as well as from the Alsace-Lorraine. It was really interesting to listen to the French version of wine-talk, I’m so used to English and I found I couldn’t really come up with the vocabulary to describe what I was tasting, but I understood what was being said to me, which was interesting. Finally Olivier had to go back to his own booth to work for a while, but offered to take me to one last one that he said would be really fun because the owner the winery was a real “character”. Was he ever.
Bruno was really your stereotypical old French man. He could have been wearing a beret, and holding a baguette. He was really friendly and welcoming when we arrived, and then started in on the compliments and the charm. He laid it on THICK. He and Olivier had a long discussion about how old I might be, and they had a lot of fun with double entendres about youth versus experience thinking I didn’t understand what they were saying. I let them have their fun for a bit and then let them know that I understood what they were saying about me, which only delighted them more! Along with my wine, I got a taste of French…charm? It was all in fun and I didn’t take it too seriously. Finally we had tasted all the wine, I believe Abelard (Bruno’s assistant) almost lost an eye from rolling them so hard at all of Bruno’s cheese come-ons, and Olivier seemed to have had enough of the jokes. I said goodbye to Olivier, thanked him for his guidance throughout the day, and headed out, after stopping at one last Champagne booth on my way, to top off my day.
The next day I went back, but this time with company. Justine is the daughter of a friend of my Mom’s, and although we’d never met her mother got us in touch with eachother when she found out I was going to be in Paris. Justine was interested in coming to the wine salon with me so we met up there on day 2, and had a grand time wandering around, eating brezels and sipping wine. Justine has been living in Paris for about 10 years and so had no problem making conversation with the winemakers about their wines, the process, clarifying the differences between cepages and appelation. The French wine regions and wine rules are very different to anything I’m used to, coming from wine tastings in the Okanagon. In France, the region you are in is the wine you grow. You can’t grow grapes from a different region, only from your own, or your wine won’t have any classification and basically you won’t be able to sell it. So if you are from the Burgundy region you must grow Pinot Noir, the Beaujelais must grow Gamay, etc. The differences in varietals of the grapes come from the different types of soil and air and water content and every other little thing that can influence the taste of the grapes and the wine, before the winemaking process comes into it. So on most of the bottles it is not the type of grape, but the varietal that was listed, which really confused me on my first day when I was trying to figure out what I was drinking. It would take a long time just to try to suss out all the different varietals of different grapes all through France, I understand there are at least three to four hundred different varietals. It is really an interesting system and I enjoyed getting to understand it better through Justine’s questions.
It was a very different day, the second day, and it was so much fun exploring with Justine. We walked into a wine-tasting class at the end of the day and I was able to learn how to taste wine in French! It was all the same process as I’ve learned in English, but the words are so much more charming. When you first sip the wine, you have the attack (the first taste), the demi-bouche (the middle-taste) and la fin (the finish) to describe how the wine works it’s way around your mouth. Then there’s the longeur en bouche, which is how long the after taste stays in your mouth, and what it is like. A cheap wine disappears right away, but a good wine will stay with you. What we call the “legs” of the wine (the long drips that appear on the sides of the glass, or not) the French call “les larmes”, the tears. And during the winemaking process, they call the percentage of alcohol that evaporates “the angel’s share”. How poetic is that? I could wine taste in France for a long time and not get bored. Drunk and stupid perhaps, but never bored.
But a day must end, and Justine and I drank our fair share of wine before heading home. In a day that was absolutely lovely, I think the nicest was getting to know Justine. We had surprisingly a lot in common and talked all day long, leaving with plans to meet up again in a day or two for drinks. I made a friend in Paris!
I headed home, but got side-tracked by a tempting looking side-street and a little bistro that had some delicious sounding duck on offer. I ate my duck, drank my wine and contemplated not for the first time, how lucky I was to be in Paris. Not even the rain dampened my spirits in that city.