One of the wonderful things about autumn in Paris is the Foire aux Vins. Not to be confused with the Salon du Vin, a large industrial wine expo that takes place in November, the Foire is organized by individual wine sellers around the city. Les caves, small privately owned wine stores, as well as Nicolas (the once privately owned – now franchised wine store) and the larger grocery stores all have a giant sale on wine each year at the beginning of September – the Foire aux Vins.
A foire means a fair. So we could call it an autumn wine fair, which would congure up ideas of great outdoor scenes with heated wine simmering in large vats under tents while children run around with spears of cotton candy. Instead, the foire takes place inside the inidivdual stores and lasts for two weeks. It’s a time when wine lovers, like my beau-père, can try new wines, collect cases of their favorites and stock up in bulk for the year ahead of wine consumption.
Sampling or la dégustation is a large part of this experience. At the smaller caves, the practice is a little more fun given that you can speak with the caviste one on one, ask questions and get a better sense of what you’re buying. But the larger stores offer a bit of this personal flavor too, from time to time. At our neighborhood Monoprix, they have a sommelier on hand all day Saturday during the foire to let you try their selections and talk to you about the various chateaux (wine houses).
Last Saturday, my husband and I enjoyed a very agreeable two hours in the company of a man named Regis who ended up selling us three cases of various wine and champagne. A few days before, at the beginning of the Foire, I had gone to try to pick a few bottles myself. My ratio of success in choosing a good one on my own, however, was a measly 1:3. Not so great! I made a very common mistake: I picked based on price. My father-in-law has told me I-don’t-know-how-many-times that you don’t base the value of French wine on its price. So many great wines cost less than 5€ a bottle. And I know this from my own experience too. In France, wine goes for about a third of the price it does back home. But that afternoon at the store, I didn’t heed my father-in-law’s advice. I went straight for two bottles that would have been about 17€ a bottle on sale at the Foire for less than 5€ (one for less than 2€). I just couldn’t resist. And it being a week day afternoon, I didn’t have a Regis character to help me decide – impulse shopping took over. In the end, we could only drink one of my bottles and the other two were left for a white wine and butter reduction sauce I made with chicken over the weekend. I will learn. Someday.
We are beginning our own cave. Much like my father-in-law, my husband is a fan of wine. As am I, especially since moving here. Beginning as a little boy, my husband has listened and absorbed all his father had to say about wine: how to drink it, how to appreciate it, how to buy it. Having begun his own cave in the late 1960s, you can imagine that it is now quite extensive. For generations, the wisdom of wine has passed from father to child in their family. My husband’s goal is to one day have a lovely collection of our own.
The problem in Paris, of course, especially when living in an apartment, is the storage or lack there of. Wine needs to be stored in a relatively cool environment preferably without much light. A basement is great, but we don’t have one. The ideal is a cave (un-refurbished basement) like the one my father-in-law has down at the country house. The building itself dates back to the 1500s, and the cave is one of the oldest parts of the house, a carved stone cellar with a secret entrance dug out under the great hall.
If, like me, you don’t have a fabulous wine cellar like that, a caviste recently gave me an easy city-life solution. Store your wine in an isolated freezer bag in a room away from windows. This maintains a constant temperature for the bottles inside. What you want to avoid, I learned, is the quick and major fluctuations in temperature. Slow, gradual ones aren’t so bad. Good to know.
One of the things I loved most about Canada when I moved there as a young teen was the change of season. Coming from the South by way of even more southern Florida, this was a whole new experience for me. I looked forward to the giant bouquet of autumn leaves and the crisp fresh fall air. Now that I call France my home, that same autumn air sweeping in from the north brings with it reminders of the grape harvest and the Foire aux Vins.
A few of the caves that have great degustations in Paris include:
La Taverne Henri IV 13, Place du Pont Neuf 75001 Paris – I love this place, on the bridge just at the tip of Ile St Louis.
Legrand Filles & Fils 1, rue de la Banque, 75002 Paris – open every day but Sunday.
Musée du Vin 5, Square Charles Dickens, 75016 Paris – offers great degustation lessons.
Dépôt Nicolas 64 rue Saint Louis en l’ile, 75004 Paris – one of the oldest Nicolas in the city, open daily.
Des mets et des vins 15, rue d’Auteuil, 75016 Paris – where we go most of the time to buy our wine.