Every night in Paris is pretty much perfect. Last night was no exception, although the spontaneity of it all gave an extra kick. Like finding a hidden piece of brain in a poached calf-head.
My long-time friend Francois Engel, a local crime-writer, hauled me to a wine bar other side Bastille way to celebrate his new novel. Entitled Boerland, it features Francois’s leading character Frankie Angelo, this time involved in a bit of international skulduggery within the borders of South Africa and a few other countries including the ubiquitous China. Being married to a Japanese lady, Francois enjoyed this part, that I can tell you.
Boerland also features a South African named Émile who, as far as my pigeon French could detect, spends a lot of time opening bottles of wine, enthusing graphically on his country’s politics, barbecuing huge pieces of meat and donning a gun. Apparently, he is fictitious.
In reality, we met-up at Baron Rouge, a popular place for wine-drinkers of all ages. This place is rustic in the true sense of the word with chalked wine offerings, stacks of bottles and a row of barrels from which you can directly source Merlot, Sancerre, Roussillon Rosé or Tourain. Six euro’s a litre, merci bucket.
Being Friday, the place rocked, and with locals. After slaking their thirst with a jug of stuff from the barrel, the chalked list would be perused for wines by the glass. In between this, platters of rillettes and charcuterie were passed around, wolfed and washed down with half a glass of wine.
Now, there are many, many loin-wrenchingly emotional sights to be had in Paris. But to see two seriously hot Parisian babes in their early 20s drinking purple St Joseph from a bottle sans label filled from a barrel in a crowded hazy wine bar – sorry Neil Young – brought a tear to my eye and a bump to my pocket. I wanted to haul them to South Africa to show the world what real wine-drinkers look like, but unfortunately the telephone number the one in the camel overcoat slipped me is missing two digits due to a wine stain. (Pinot Noir, if I remember correctly.)
Engel and I had tart Vouvray. Sancerre. Tourain. Givry. Finishing with a velvety St Emillion. Standing shoulder-to-shoulder with unknown French people enjoying wine in a place that smells of wine and looks like a dishevelled cellar – which it is – is really one of life’s greatest pleasures. No Platter ratings. No pretentious bullshit. No self-indulgent wine lingo. Just a love of wine, conversation, your world and of life.
Getting a bit peckish, as one does after a bottle of wine, we hot-footed it to a restaurant around the corner. Charolais. As in the white cow.
The offerings were limited but splendid. Fine de Claire oysters. Followed by a Côte du Bouef the size of an urban telephone directory. With fried potato cubes, green beans and the wonderful warm paste of mashed potato, cheese, cream and garlic known as aligot.
The wine was Carignan, and it was from the south.
The meat was bloody as in bleu and the wine was tainted with liquorice and herbs and berries. We washed it down and chatted to the owner and his pregnant wife about rugby and wine and the sun, which they were missing in the heart of the Paris winter.
It was then that I reminded Engel of what he told me 30 years ago. When I asked him back then about the best wine he had ever had – and being a rated man of letters, he has had some – he replied: “Probably a bottle of rosé that cost one franc a litre. I was young, picking grapes outside Montpellier and had the whole world ahead of me. At that time, that nondescript bottle of wine was the best thing I had ever tasted. Because of the memories accompanying that wine, it still haunts me to this day.”
Every glass of last night was my best ever. And for the life of me I can’t remember the name of a single one.
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