2019 has been a year to remember. Last September, I had the privilege to be part of a especial birthday celebration in Paris, France. My esteemed Cheryl Denise Dudette, AKA Bruce Springsteen (The Boss), after witnessing Earth completing another orbit around the sun for the 50th time, decided to celebrate this feat in Paris! We celebrated fifty years by walking fifty kilometers and creating fifty memories mostly within the 1st through 8th arrondissements in Paris. In all fairness, I will recount in this blog only a selected few moments mostly related to wine. For additional context, over the last couple of years Denise Dudette has developed an intriguing condition related to wine tasting. At a glance, one could argue that her evolved taste correlates directly on proportion with higher prices, however after a deeper examination, I am convinced that the correlation is linked to higher quality rather than price. More on this later. For now, obviously, there are some exceptions to the price/quality ratio, but the exceptions are totally and utterly negligent of marketing as there are plenty of really affordable wines which are really good. More specifically about the condition, Dudette has developed a displeasure for wines with heavy mineral notes which largely come from European appellations ranging from Rioja to Bordeaux to Chianti. The displeasure stems from her experiencing physical side effects such as headaches. What a paradox, drinking great wines at reasonable prices in France without experiencing such an unpleasant side effects. Therein the challenge:how to find great wines at reasonable prices during our 50-kilometer walk. I’ll summarize.
The highlights of the first day and the first ten kilometers included what some may consider heresy: brining American wine to Paris! While still reeling with jet lag, we took a stroll through Jardin du Luxembourg, grabbed coffee at Cafe de la Mairie, ate lunch at Le Bistro de Gaspard near the Hotel des Invalides and climbed the Eiffel Tower before finally settling-in at the Hotel La Villa Madame. To wind down, I opened two bottles of wine, which brought me in the wine spectrum from Napa Valley to Châteauneuf-du-Pape and the oh so close heretical moment. You see, knowing that French wine could be the anathema for Denise Dudette during this trip, I brought to Paris a bottle of Napa Cab, her favorite wine region. Yes, I brought it for the ‘just in case’ scenario. But there’s always a catch. Well, on our way back to the Hotel, I stumbled upon the ubiquitous Nicolas, my now go-to wine store in Paris. There was a branch just a short scooter ride from our hotel. Here is where I found this 2015 Château Des Fines Roches.
Châteauneuf-Du–Pape, Chateau Des Fines Roches 2015 Red Wine. This wine was packed with inviting aromas of black cherry and strawberry, followed by sweet notes of strawberry and spice, saturating the palate with fruit, herbs, spices and just a touch of game, making it feel sexy and playful. It finished richly herbal and yet well balanced such that it never felt heavy. The “herbal” portion it’s un understatement. After a while, the wine benefited from oxidation such that evolving aromas, left the gaminess behind in favor of a very distinct bouquet of sage and rosemary. Typically, Chteauneuf-Du–Pape is an AOC, or Appellation d’origine contrôlée which guarantees a specific level of quality within a geographical indication. The most astounding fact to me is that there are no rules about specific percentages of the eighteen allowed grapes. In practical terms, the main grape for red wines is Grenache Noir and most wines from this region have a blend of Grenache Noir, Syrah and Mourvèdre. However, depending on the even more specific estate or commune, it could have varying amounts of remaining 15 grapes. And just to be precise, according to the Oxford Companion to Wine, the only estate to grow all the varieties and use them consistently is Château de Beaucastel. The best part, Dudette liked it quite a bit and there were no signs of headaches.
Earning Miles and Making “Pour” Decisions
Ok, after dealing with the jet lag, we walked another ten kilometers, mostly along the Seine toward the Louvre. Well, I’ll spare you the details of the new contact sport I discovered in Paris named “let’s go trying to see La Joconde” aka Monalisa. What I will share is that I was amazed at the amount of equal opportunity Beerman and Wineman abound around both the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre. Folks who cater beer and wine to passers-by taking a stroll or a break on the lawn adjacent to both attractions. I almost cave-in and got us a flute with champagne. Nonetheless, I was able to suppress my need for immediate gratification by way of Denise Dudette dragging me like a rag doll across the lawn. What a prophylactic way of exercising restraint! In either case, I waited until the end of the day, at last. We thoroughly enjoyed a stroll through the many parks and even stopped for Café et Croissant at local coffee shops along the way. Yes, admittedly, I also visited a Nicolas, my go-to wine store where I found our next victims: A bottle of Cornas and another from Pauillac.
Cornas. For the uninitiated, all wine from Cornas is 100% Syrah. This version from Cave de Tain was just what we needed at the end of the long walk. It opened up, no pun intended, with a peppery notes on the nose, giving way to ripe plum and chocolate flavors. Seriously delicious finish, with mouth coating flavors of persistent plum, chocolate and pepper. Again, the best part was the wine also had the approval from Denise Dudette as there were no signs of headaches.
Pauillac. With all the respect to the Mouton Cadet Estate and the Rothschild family, this was the weakest link in the lineup. And yet, I enjoyed its character. Robust, richly flavored Bordeaux loaded with mineral notes framed by dark plum, coffee and licorice. It finished very intriguing, even though the tannins were not soft at all, it had an interesting appeal. We washed it down with charcuterie from the local Carrefour store around the corner from our hotel and the proteins and fat of the Jambon helped break down the tannins making it a very pleasant experience.
Think Globally and Shop Locally
On the third day, we actually caught a break from walking, sort of, as we walked only six kilometers because started raining. On our way back to the hotel from our daily bread, coffee and stroll, we spent some time at a local outdoor market featuring local fare, arts and crafts. Little did we know I was about to experience a Parisienne afternoon in the middle of the day. Obviously, we stopped at the wine tent where we sampled exquisite wines from Burgundy, specifically from Chambolle-Musingy, Gevrey-Chambertin and Nuit St-Georges. I could not resist and picked up a bottle of from Jean Lecellier himself. I also bought charcuterie in the same market, along with cheese and bread. Straight up, that was our dinner, Picnic style. Although the same concept, Picnic style, which I referred earlier as Pariesienne, Denise Dudette simply say Pepe’s style.
The wine, was an excellent rendition of Bourgogne. Nothing surprising here, the expected bouquet unique of the Grevrey-Chambertin, heady, steely and yet very elegant, all classic trademark of the regal region. Let me elaborate, according to historians, Napoleon Bonaparte used to carry Chambertin everywhere he went even that fateful trip to Russia. This bottle pictured below, offered us a somewhat austere side of Burgundy at first. We let it air for almost one hour and were rewarded with the citrus-blossom aromas and just a touch of vanilla the wine expressed extremely subtle. On the pallet the wine was fine textured and it became harmoniously opulent and toasty, very royal. I sincerely or barely rather, could explain what happened to the bottle. I am willing to entertain the thought that the company made it taste like liquid poetry as I was right next to Denise Dudette. A memorable afternoon indeed. I have never seen this wine before and I have not seen it ever since. No matter, I am still in the lookout. I am curios to try it again.
Our last night was a memorable one, we walked a lot as expected, starting by visiting the Arc De Triomphe. Obviously we took a stroll along the Champs-Èlysées, despite a semi-cloudy evening and the threat of rain. After going up and down all 276 steps required to reach the top of the Arc, we stayed to learned about France’s history, well the building of the Arc more specifically at the permanent exhibit inside it. One of the most impressive views of the Paris for sure, is atop the Arc. As one walks around, you will learn that there are twelve different roads radiating from the Arc, or twelve roads intersecting at the Arc. In either case, the view at night is amazing to say the least.
After long walks, we rewarded ourselves with a trip to Au Père Louis, a wine bar, shocking I know! Since we were at a wine bar, we decided it to wing it and requested wine by the glass to try out different bottles. We started with a known face and order two glasses of Puech-Haut Prestige Rouge from St Drézéry. A blend of 60% Grenache and 40% Syrah, the wine is typical from Languedoc, where according to the Wine Bible, the Greeks first planted vineyard in the fifth century. Our glasses were filled from a bottle that that been opened for thirty minutes. I was delighted the our first glass as the wine showed structure, power and elegance, opening up with flavors of dark plum and black fruit layered with a touch of wood since the Syrah is aged in wood barrels that impart a touch of vanillin notes. Really yummy.
Our second glass derailed our plans to drink by the glass. We requested a Côte~Rôtie which was frankly the wine of the trip. I typically shy away from Côte~Rôtie wines based on price. However, this bottle was a gem, a true vinous transmutation if you consider its origin. Onto the wine then. Côte~Rôtie, literally means “Roasted Slope”, which is a famous appellation in the Northern Rhone wine region. If you wonder why it’s called the Roasted Slope, allow me to share that the vines in Northern Rhone Vally get roasted under the Provançe sun. This sun-baked vines give Syrah and all Côte~Rôtie wines a very particular constitution. Côte~Rôtie wines are for the most part Syrah-based, although the AOC allows small quantities of up to 20% of Viognier. “Our” wine from the 2017 vintage was made from 90% Syrah and 10% Viognier, aged for 13 months in mostly new Oak Barrels. The wine was super ripe and concentrated loaded with aromas of dark fruit, spices and espresso notes. On the palate, the wine explodes with blueberry and blackberry flavors which give way to notes of roasted coffee. The wine is definitely not for the faint of heart, its’ big, powerful, brooding and yet finishes with sweet tannings. Perhaps it was the wine, or likely the company. Maybe it was the food and especially the conversation, and for sure, the evening was nothing short of spectacular, perfectly matching the walk, the wine and the occasion, the most adequate was to culminate the evening. Au revoir!