Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Days of Wine and Song (& chocolate!)

The Fantastique Four - Anne, Frank, Marc, and Michelle
Greetings from Paris!  The weather may be cold and wet, but nothing could stop us from enjoying this beautiful city -- especially since this time we are sharing it with our son and daughter-in-law, Marc and Michelle (aka M & M).  We rented a small studio apartment -- not nearly as nice or as big as last year's place but it's livable, and the location on the edge of the Marais next to the Pompidou Museum is excellent.  M & M are staying at a hotel just a few blocks away, so we are perfectly positioned for a great time here in the city of light.

At the champagne house of Moet & Chandon
in Epernay


On our first full day here, the four of us hopped a train for the hour or so trip northeast to the lovely rural town of Epernay in the heart of the champagne region.  We are all fans of the "bubbly," and Epernay's elegant Avenue de Champagne was lined with champagne houses just begging for us to visit.  We decide to tour one of the most famous of all, Moet & Chandon.

Ilanka standing in front of bottles of
Dom Perignon champagne

Our excellent guide, Ilanka, led us into an underground cellar with 17 miles of vaulted tunnels, holding all of the world's unsold Moet & Chandon champagne.  Ilanka described the champagne-making process in some detail as we walked past thousands of bottles, including the legendary champagne named for that famous monk, Dom Perignon.  Despite the popular myth, Dom Perignon did not discover champagne.  However, he was a good promoter of the frothy stuff and obviously enjoyed it, saying it was like "drinking stars" -- as good a PR description as we have ever heard! 

Of course, the best part of any wine tour is the tasting at the end,
and the Moet & Chandon was some of the best champagne we have ever tasted!

Our next stop was a wine bar called C. Comme where we stretched out on comfy sofas and drank a flight of 10 champagnes (from various small producers) while nibbling on local ham and cheese. What an incredible presentation!  Being able to try so many different champagnes has been a real revelation for us -- we knew we loved champagne but never realized how many different styles were available.

More pics of our Epernay adventure:

Champagnes encased in gold, known as the
Moet & Chandon "gold standard"

Frank & Marc contemplate taking home a man-sized bottle

Guess whose reflection
 is in the glass sign behind Marc?

All fizzed out!

The Wine Salon

The Wine Salon, sponsored by the independent winemakers of France, was just as good as we remembered it from last year with hundreds of vintners from all over France anxious to pour us some of their special wines, and chat about wine and their individual winery.  The way the salon works is that you are provided with a wineglass when you pay your entrance fee of 6 euros (about $8 American); you can then taste any of the wines all day long (in fact, if you return with your wine glass over the following few days, you can do tastings for the full 4 days of the salon!)

The sheer number of wines and wineries representing every region of France include the important and famous regions of Bordeaux, Burgundy, Provence, St. Emilion, Grave, and hundreds more etc. etc.  But the best part of attending the salon is having the chance to chat with the ever friendly vintners who are so happy to tell you all about their wine.  Almost all of the salon-goers are French, so we are somewhat of an anomaly (which makes the experience even more special). But, we know they enjoy practicing their English, and we certainly enjoy practicing our French, while listening to each other’s stories about wine and life in general, and tasting their superb wines.


Chansons at Le Vieux Belleville

Frank and son Marc belt out some serious French chansons
On Friday night, we dined at “Le Vieux Belleville”, a restaurant in Edith Piaf’s old neighborhood.  Music is as important as the food here, and well-worn song sheets are distributed so that everyone can sing along in French of course, with the accordion-playing Minelle, the restaurant’s enthusiastic chanteuse who leads the restaurant-goers in song.  Even tho quarters were a bit tight at the tiny tables, we had a blast singing chansons like “La Java Bleue”, “Padam Padam”,  and “La Vie en Rose.” 

Michelle sways arm in arm with new friends
 at Le Vieux Belleville
It was a fun night and a very “Midnight in Paris” experience, especially when the whole restaurant of shoulder-to-shoulder strangers joined arms as one and swayed back and forth singing to another Edith Piaf favorite!






Absinthe in Montmartre

M & M get ready to rub elbows with the Green Fairy
at Hotel Royal Fromentin
The next night, we ventured up to the famous Montmartre section of Paris, our old stomping ground from last year’s trip.  We returned to Hotel Royal Fromentin, one of the only places in Paris where you can imbibe absinthe the old-fashioned way.  (Absinthe was banned for many years in France. and recently there has been some discussion about reinstating the ban, so we wanted to drink up while we still could!).  When we arrived, the laidback guy at reception went behind the bar, gave us the classic “Gallic shrug,” and announced, “I have no absinthe!”  At first, we thought he was joking, and then we were speechless (especially since Anne had even emailed ahead of time to let them know we were coming). 
The guy did manage to round up two half glassfuls, so at least M & M could do an absinthe tasting: pouring ice cold water from the “absinthe fountain” over a sugar cube sitting on a special absinthe spoon that is positioned over a glass of the clear yellow liquid. When the sugar water hits the liquor, it precipitates out a cloudy green substance which is why they used to call absinthe “la fee verte,” the Green Fairy.

Rue Mouffetard

Local folks dance and sing along
 with favorite son Christian
On Sunday, we strolled down to the bottom of Rue Mouffetard, a lively shopping street on the Left Bank of the Seine, where “Christian” and his friends make music and dance every Sunday on a square aside of the main street. This is very much a neighborhood event; local people return week after week for the gentle camaraderie and songs of Christian.  Many of the same people we saw last year were there again, singing along and dancing in the chilly temps of the late morning. 

Anne with M & M and singer Christian
 (on the left in the background)
Christian plays the accordion and sings, and is often accompanied by various women singers (but it seems like anyone can grab the microphone and give it a go if they dare).  The atmosphere is sweet and fun-loving.  Once again, the songs are the music of old Paris and song sheets are available to sing along.  Just one more example that the Parisian spirit is still very much alive!




Chasing the Choco

M & M check out the fine handmade chocolates
 of Patrick Roger
We devoted our last M & M day to exploring the high quality chocolate shops of Paris.  Over 6 hours (and literally 6 miles on foot) later, we had tasted some of the finest, handmade choco Paris has to offer (it was probably some of the finest on the planet too!).  From the sleek, modern shop of Patrick Roger (currently Paris’s hottest chocolatier) to the elegant 200-year-old shop of Debauve & Gallais (Marie Antoinette’s personal favorite).  Debauve & Gallais still sells wafer-thin chocolate coins called "pistoles" that were developed specifically for Marie to help disguise the disgusting taste of her medicines.

We prepare to sample some expensive kickass wines
We also visited Lavinia on Place Madelaine, reportedly the largest wine store in all of Europe, where we succumbed to more winetasting.  (We thought we could avoid wine today, substituting one vice for another by switching to choco; but as it turns out, we just couldn’t stay clear of the wine LOL!) Marc very generously treated us to tastings of some absolutely incredible wines like Chateaux Margaux and Chateau Mouton Rothschild (wines that sell for $1000 or more per bottle).  What a special treat!
After six days of fun, we said goodbye to the “young Supsics,” and now we are on our own again for the remainder of the trip.  We already miss them, often looking at each other and saying, “Ou est M & M?”  (i.e. where is M&M?)