Sunday morning glory

IMG_1966Ah, Sundays in Paris. I’ve been here for nearly six years and I still haven’t worked out where everyone gets to. It’s like somebody pulled out the plug just under those large taps in that crazy fountain at Châtelet and sucked the residents into some sort of French Bermuda triangle for the daylight hours. Worse than that, my brain still hasn’t learned the trick of remembering to go to the supermarket a day before that laziest of weekend days, leaving my cupboard barer than Mother Hubbard’s and those overpriced corner shops the only available option if I want to eat something other than a pasta sandwich.

Kim respire 1But it’s not as desperate as all that, as I discovered when I lived in the southern part of the 18th arrondissement a few years ago and fell upon Rue des Martyrs, to this day one of my favourite roads in the capital. Here all the punters were, pushing their strollers, enjoying the view and stocking up on supplies from the many shops that were open. On a Sunday. Rarer than a Frenchman raving about English food. Not only were they having a fine old time, but they were brazenly wandering about in the middle of the road, the road seemingly closed to traffic, Paris’ cars terrorising pedestrians in another part of town.

IMG_1969Popping my eyes back into their sockets, I scooped up some bounty for lunch and headed back home to do some research. Had the local residents protested their hearts out until the shops were forced to open? Or was I in an alternative dream world in which Paris was actually behaving the way I wanted it to for once?

Well, neither of the above. This miraculous happening was also playing out in many other parts of the city, as part of an initiative known as Paris Respire, or ‘Paris Breathes’, in which certain roads and quarters are closed off to traffic, meaning that flâneurs, cyclists, dog walkers and rollerskaters can circulate in complete peace and tranquility, without losing the skin off their heels crossing a zebra crossing thanks to an impatient motorist. With hordes of potential customers passing their premises, many shops decided to open to take advantage of this stellar opportunity, and thus you’ve got until 13h to stock up on food, booze or even clothes; whatever is your retail poison.

IMG_1968There are 14 areas in total, sometimes a mere street as in this case, in other arrondissements you might find a whole neighbourhood throwing out the vehicles and welcoming your custom with open arms, with the Marais and Montmatre being two of the most popular. Down by the Seine you get to breathe properly for once too, with lengthy stretches of the banks proving to be a hotspot for leisurely joggers, afternoon strolls and intense marathon training.

Kim respire 2In the summer four more areas follow suit, including Rue de la Roquette and parts of the Canal Saint Martin, so when the sun’s turned up to full, your only Sunday challenge is to get round all of them before the colder weather kicks it in to touch. So whether you’ve been trying to work out how to sate that roasted rotisserie chicken addiction that plagues your post Saturday night recovery, or your feather brain has forgotten to buy a present for your afternoon birthday party host, then here’s your answer.

If anything, some of these parts of the city are the best places to find those darling independent shops you thought every man and his dog shopped at in France (no, supermarkets rule here too, just like everywhere else), and even if your wallet stays securely bolted together, the scenery if more than worth it. More than that sacred lie-in until noon perhaps?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The three Rs

Mesdames et messieurs, all hail Paris’ romantic reputation, for a wonderful thing has happened. Granny Flat has fallen in love. And with the boy next door no less. Well the boy dans le coin to be exact, but in a capital city, that’s practically in her lap.

Kim recyclerie 2But alas, as much as I would like to bring you a happy end to this saga of love, I hate to say it’s more of a tragic tale seeing as the object of her fervent affection is far too young for her and currently the focus of every bright young hipster thing in the neighbourhood. But if two souls could be forged from the same spirit, then Granny Flat and her lover from afar are two peas in a pod. The good news is however, that you are free to fall in love with him too, and whether you exist in boy, girl, child, animal or vegetable form, then you surely will.

Kim recyclerie 6If you know Granny Flat, you’ll know that she’s an advocate of reduce, reuse and recycle, meaning that she’s furnished with artefacts from decades of Paris past, rather than all of the latest mass-produced kit from Ikea. She’s not ashamed of her ancient bidet on wheels, mis-matched cutlery or vintage mustard carpet. She’s proud of her bygone feel, tiny balcony vegetable garden and by consequence, her reduced impact on the environment.

Kim recyclerie 1It’s exactly the same ethos that permeates La Recyclerie at Porte de Clignancourt, once former train station Gare Ornano. Happily the moniker doesn’t refer to a municipal waste centre, but a lively new cafe (well, nine months by Paris standards is still young), adorned from the roof to the rafters with recycled materials, vintage artefacts and an eco spirit.

Kim recyclerie 7Their all-you-can-eat brunch at weekends is a huge draw, and at 20 euros, one of the cheapest in town. From hot bacon and eggs to cold salads and bursting baskets of pastries, a few hours spent here, and you’ll be waddling home like one of their family of chickens kept outside in their tiny urban farm. You might even get an egg for dinner too as they offer them for free on the counter if the chooks have been a-laying plenty. Or if you fancy an especially mammoth feed, hop on one of the vintage exercise bikes dotted around and make room for some more.

Kim recyclerie 3If you’re here for a bite because your blender’s on the blink, then Rene the resident Monsieur Fix It will bring it back to life for you, or lend you the tools to do it yourself. Or if you have a craving for parsley and your fresh herbs have seen better days, bring them here and they’ll be magically reborn at the on-site plant hospital. Now that’s surely a Parisian first.

Kim recyclerie 5It’s still very much a work in progress, and there are plans for expansion of the outside area, running alongside the old train tracks of la Petite Ceinture (which we’ll discover another day). But for now, there are events sprinkled all over the calendar, from gardening classes for kids, to cooking demos for adults and even a takeaway window if you’re just after a coffee to warm your hands whilst perusing for bargains at the nearby flea market.

Kim recyclerie 4Thanks to my good friend Iain for the awesome find, it won’t be long before the whole world is in love with Parisian chickens and mis-matched cutlery too. You’ll have to get through Granny Flat first though…

http://www.larecyclerie.com

Post originally published 01/04/2015

 

 

 

101 ways with a baguette: #2

It’s that time of year again!

#2: The Don

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In life, there are the ones who make it, and the ones who don’t. Paris’ version of this unescapable rivalry of life revolves around the humble baguette. Don’t tell me you didn’t see that one coming…

Each year, a competition takes place that serves to separate the men from the boys, the wheat from the chaff if you prefer, and proclaims one lucky stick the best baguette in Paris. Not only does the winning bakery get to paste the title all over their premises and attract queues that could rival the Louvre, but they also get given the honour of supplying baguettes daily to the President for a whole year. If that’s not kudos, then I don’t know what is.

Baguette 2This year’s recently proclaimed winner is Le Grenier à Pain bakery nestled between Sacre Coeur and the Moulin Rouge in the 18e (my ‘hood, lucky me!) and the talented hands that created the magical bread wand belong to 38-year-old Djibril Bodian. Baking wizardry clearly isn’t a passing fluke either, Bodian won his first accolade in 2010 making him the first baker in the competition’s history to have ever won twice.

His baguettes were delivered to the top spot via their thin, crispy crust and light insides, and most importantly, a smell that makes you want to break with all decorum and devour the whole thing before you’ve even got out the door. Forget those anaemic efforts from the supermarket, the only way to get your daily bread in Paris is to head to a bakery who can rake in the prizes. And now you know exactly where to find it.

Le Grenier à Pain, 38 Rue des Abbesses, 75018

The market hall of fame: Aligre/Beauvau

Kim aligre 3Way back last summer, I filled my reusable canvas grocery bag full of veg and got my toes rolled over by many a granny shopping trolley (which by the way seems to be the height of fashion over here), all in the name of research. The goal was to cast your collective eyes towards the delightful produce on offer at one of Paris’ cheapest markets, nestled along the Boulevard Barbès. You know me, the budget drives the car (or should that be Autolib) in my Paris life, and food is the honorary passenger being chauffeured Miss Daisy-style in the back seat.

Kim aligre 6Today though I nudged the produce pandemonium at Barbès Rochechouart into second place, when I headed for a long overdue exploration of one of Paris’ equally vibrant and cheap markets, the jewel of the 12e, Marché Aligre (metro Ledru-Rollin). Situated so central you’d expect prices to make your eyes water, the market is in reality a twin endeavour, with the outdoor stalls nestled around a huge place bleeding into the side streets, and a covered hall (the Beauvau bit) dominating the middle.

Kim aligre 1Carnivores would do well to venture inside to make the most of many a meat merchant, whether it be fresh slabs of marbled beef you’re after, or a rock-hard saucisson as long as your arm. You can pick up some cheese and fish too if your incisors aren’t that keen, or even some horse if you’re determined to test the deepest, darkest corners of your Frenchness.

Outside is far more varied and livelier, with bric-a-brac competing with Levis for a tenner, second-hand clothing and vintage books. The colourful display of veg on offer really gets the cash flowing though, and let’s face it, Kim aligre 5out of everything, that’s the stuff we really need (put that replica Ming vase down). Unlike Barbés where price comparison is a futile exercise (and essentially impossible given the density of the crowds), at Aligre you have both ends of the spectrum, from bunches of herbs for 40 cents and assorted lots for a mere euro each, to seasonal greengrocery and the bio crowd, whose virtuous intentions push the prices further towards the heavens.

Kim aligre 7For the finest bargains, timing is the key; head there towards the final hour of the day and you’ll regret not bringing a horse and cart to wheel your own spoils home in. You’ll be able to fill your boots with cut price fruit and veg for mere cents, though be prepared for high spirits and loud voices trying to compete to sell you those two watermelons for a euro that they are adamant you can’t live without.

Open six days a week it’s also more accessible than most; for official details (hours, location and ‘ting), check here.

Crêpe expectations

How many French folk does it take to change a lightbulb? Well that question is completely irrelevant on February 2nd as any request for handy help will fall on deaf ears as the whole country will be far too busy eating crêpes.

Kim crepe 1Ah, those delicious golden discs of batter that require such deftness with a frying pan, and untold patience given that most of us only have one with which to manufacture an appropriate stack. Don’t the French eat them between every meal? Aren’t they the warming cold weather vehicle for Nutella in a carbohydrate yin-yang partnership with the fair weather baguette?

Not quite… Crêpes are indeed nestled within the gastronomic heart of France, wafting their goodness via many a batter-toting kiosk, though not something that is considered a daily treat. Once in a while, for sure, but it’s not like the French give a toss even weekly. But that doesn’t mean we’re not allowed to hold a party for our circular, pan-dwelling friends. If food is to be championed, then this is the country in which to champion it in.

Kim crepe 3Exactly 40 days after Christmas on 2nd February is when over here we celebrate La Chandeleur (Candlemas for the non-French speakers), when we do just that. It’s the one day of the year where crêpes are held aloft and idolised, though they can’t claim to be the belle of the ball as there’s a hell of a lot of traditional legend and religious symbolism tied up on the same date in the calendar.

Depending on which religion you subscribe to, the 2nd February is the day to celebrate the presentation of Christ at the temple, the feast of the purification of the Virgin, or the blessing of the church’s beeswax candles. Non-religious traditions dictate that in France, the UK and the USA the weather on 2nd February predicts the forecast for the rest of the year, in Scotland a big snake will appear from the ground (which promises not to ‘molest’ anyone), and if you’re a sailor, it’s a day to give a jaunt on the ship a miss.

Kim crepe 5In France, the ‘crêpe party’ element (as my friend Arthur likes to call it) means that superstition is expressed through the medium of food, i.e. the lowly pancake. It’s not about using up ingredients in time for Lent which underlies the Anglo tradition of Shrove Tuesday (this year 13th February), but more a celebration of light, and the transition between the last dark days of a cold and sombre winter and the fledgling days of the approaching spring. The crêpe is supposed to reflect the image of the round, golden disc of the sun.

As well as making sure your wrist action is on form to indulge in the obligatory tossing, tradition also states that the first pancake out of the rank needs to be folded up and placed in the wardrobe to encourage a plentiful and abundant harvest for the coming year. It sounds to me like that’s just a recipe for attracting an abundance of the neighbourhood mice, but hey, maybe enticing them from the fields and into the home is the whole point.

Kim crepe 6Let’s assume you’re a sensible, rational being and you’ve opted for crêpe worship above any other 2nd February signification. The only choice now is what to fill your spoils with. Banana and Nutella, classic sugar and lemon, or a sinful mountain of cheese and ham? Today I opted for (in practice for the big day) a savoury oven baked roll up of crêpes (made with beer instead of milk) filled with veg and a goat’s cheese sauce topped with parmesan, followed by a sweet duo of blueberry and honey, and good ol’ lemon and sugar. Now I can’t move (lucky for you my fingers still can).

This Friday residents of France can follow my stunning example, those in a country where pancakes are fashionably late will have to hop on the spot until it’s your turn later on in the month. Just look into the light whilst you’re at it.

Seasons eatings

IMG_1389Last year, as you devoted readers will surely remember, I used to write a monthly ‘in season’ post, detailing the fruit and veg on offer in France at different times of the year. But Paris is just such a fun-packed dame, there were just too many other cracking things to write about to keep the idea going.

But I still consider eating with the seasons to be an important practice, being good for the planet, superior in both nutrition and flavour, but more importantly in the context of the frugal nature of my mission, kinder to the wallet. It may be now a bit of a bobo (‘bourgeois bohème’, i.e. a bit hipster) trend, but back in Victor Hugo’s day, the peasants relied on seasonal and local produce out of sheer survival, whilst the super rich gorged themselves on pricey produce from far-flung lands. In the 21st century, that comes with a huge ecological sacrifice.

Instead of writing a monthly update as before, I’m going to deliver this essential info in one fell swoop for you to keep with you throughout the year, as a handy list to glance at before heading to the market. It’s by no means exhaustive or set in stone (every single table of seasonal produce I stumbled upon during my research was different, so I’ve tried to shoot straight down the middle), and I’ve tried to include the produce that’s most popular and usually found at French markets and supermarket shelves. Anything in italics is either coming in to or going out of season, meaning it’s usual available, but you might not get the best quality possible. Happy cooking!

Kim farm 4JANUARY Apples, beetroot, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrot, cauliflower, celeriac, clementine, endive, garlic, fennel, Jerusalem artichoke, kale (now available in French supermarkets!), kiwi, leeks, mandarin, mushrooms, onion, parsnip, pear, pomegranate, potatoes, pumpkin, spinach, swede

FEBRUARY Apples, beetroot, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrot, cauliflower, celeriac, endive, fennel, garlic, Jerusalem artichoke, kale, kiwi, leeks, mandarin, mushrooms, onion, parsnip, pear, pomegranate, potatoes, pumpkin, radish, spinach, swede

MARCH Apples, beetroot, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrot, cauliflower, celeriac, chard, endive, garlic, Jerusalem artichoke, kale, kiwi, leeks, mushrooms, onion, parsnippear, pomegranate, potatoes, pumpkin, radish, spinach, turnip

asparagus

APRIL Asparagus, broccoli, cabbage, carrot, cauliflower, chard, celeriac, endive, garlic, kiwi, leeks, lettuce, mushrooms, onions, potatoes, radish, rhubarb, spinach, spring onion, turnip, watercress

MAY Artichoke, asparagus, apricot, aubergine, broad beans, broccoli, cabbage, carrot, cauliflower, chard, cherry, cucumber, garlic, leeks, lettuce, mushrooms, onion, peas, potatoes, radish, raspberries, rhubarb, spinach, spring onion, strawberries, tomato, watercress

JUNE Artichoke, apricot, asparagus, aubergine, beetroot, broad beans, broccoli, cabbage, carrot, cauliflowercelery, chard, cherry, courgette, cucumber, fennel, French beans, garlic, kale, lettuce, melon, mushrooms, onion, peach, peas, pepper, plum, potatoes, radish, raspberries, rhubarb, spinach, spring onion, strawberries, tomato, turnip, watercress

IMG_1630JULY Artichoke, apricot, asparagus, aubergine, beetroot, broad beans, broccoli, cabbage, carrot, cauliflower, celery, chard, cherry, courgette, cucumber, fennel, French beans, garlic, kale, lettuce, melon, mushrooms, onion, peach, peas, pepper, plum, potatoes, radish, raspberries, rhubarb, spinach, spring onion, strawberries, tomato, turnip, watercress

AUGUST Apples, apricot, artichoke, aubergine, beetroot, blackberries, blueberries, broad beans, broccoli, cabbage, carrot, cauliflower, celeriac, celery, chard, cherry, courgette, cucumber, fennel, fig, French beans, garlic, grapes, kale, leeks, lettuce, melon, mirabelle, mushrooms, nectarine, onion, peach, pepper, plum, potatoes, radish, raspberries, rhubarb, spinach, spring onion, strawberries, sweetcorn, tomato, turnip, watercress

SEPTEMBER Apples, artichoke, aubergine, beetroot, blackberries, blueberries, broad beans, broccoli, cabbage, carrot, cauliflower, celeriac, celery, chard, courgette, cucumber, fennel, fig, French beans, garlic, grapes, kale, leeks, lettuce, melon, mirabelle, mushrooms, onion, parsnip, peach, pear, pepper, pomegranate, potatoes, pumpkin, radish, raspberries, rhubarb, spinach, spring onion, strawberries, sweetcorn, tomato, turnip, watercress

???????????????????????????????OCTOBER Apples, aubergine, beetroot, blackberries, blueberries, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage; carrot, cauliflower, celeriac, celery, chard, chestnuts, courgette, endive, fennel, fig, French beans, garlic, grapes, Jerusalem artichoke, kale, leeks, lettuce, mushrooms, onion, parsnip, pear, pomegranate, potatoes, pumpkin, radish, spinach, spring onion, swede, sweetcorn, tomato, turnip, watercress

NOVEMBER Apples, beetroot, broccoli, Brussels sproutscabbage, carrot, cauliflowerceleriac, celery, chestnuts, clementine, endive, fennel, garlic, grapes, Jerusalem artichoke, kale, leeks, mandarin, mushrooms, onion, parsnip, pear, pomegranate, potatoes, pumpkin, radish, spinach, swede, turnip, watercress

DECEMBER Apples, beetroot, broccoli, Brussels sproutscabbage, carrot, cauliflowerceleriac, chestnuts, clementine, endive, fennel, garlic, Jerusalem artichoke, kale, kiwi, leeks, mandarin, onion, parsnip, pear, pomegranate, potatoes, pumpkin, radish, rhubarb, spinach, swede

Deck ze ‘alls…

…wiz bows of ‘olly, oh la la la la la la la la (as the Franglais version might sound). Joyeuses Fêtes! is the sound currently resonating through the country, though I can’t hear it as I’m across the pond happily tucked up at Momma Bear’s house awaiting our big family day tomorrow (25th), where no sprout will be left uneaten and no wine bottle left unturned.

Kim deck 1Well, I use the word ‘resonating’, the sound is really more like a bored kind of whisper – according to a recent poll, the French care the least about the festive period in all of northern Europe, so it’s a wonder they put up tinsel at all. Whereas us anglos shop for presents like people possessed, shovel down dinner whilst wearing jovial paper crowns and play Christmas songs and festive films on loop, on the other side of the channel, it’s all a bit tamer. Here’s a bit of information if you fancy changing your celebratory style to be a little more French.

Kim deck 4A much more minimalist affair, there are far fewer traditions that need adhering to at this time of year in La Belle France. Christmas cards are out, as are crackers, carol singers, Christmas pud, Christmas cake, mince pies, brussels sprouts, the Queen’s speech (obviously) and the slap-your-thigh gender confusion that is pantomime. Walk around some streets in Paris, even in the very centre, and you might not realise what time of year it is at all.

In fact it has only been since the second world war that the winter festival has really taken off, and the modern day population are still slightly resistant to the new style of celebration. The French barely take much time off, don’t even have names for the reindeer yet (only Rudolph), and have only just got into the gift buying spirit. 40 years ago, you got an orange in a sock, and that was your lot. But thanks to the various cultures of Europe gradually bleeding into each other, and the increasing Americanisation of France, festive fever is finally taking hold.

Ol' Mum's nativity effort. Beat that France!

Ol’ Mum’s nativity effort. Beat that France!

You can forget circling the 25th on the calendar though, the Catholic majority French peak a day early on the 24th, traditionally having their big meal on the night of Christmas Eve (after Midnight Mass for the falling numbers that still go). If there are children to entertain, the presents are left until Christmas morning, but leaving carrots for the reindeer and a whiskey for Santa just isn’t the done thing. As home decorations go, the tree has arrived and is here to stay, and any family worth their salt have a nativity nestled in the corner somewhere (though they’ll never beat my Mum’s knitted version).

Kim deck 5In a country with a culinary reputation as sharpened as in France, food of course takes centre stage, and it’s traditionally enjoyed amongst the family. All the French delicacies are wheeled out, including foie gras and Champagne, and fruits of the sea. Imagine oysters, lobster, prawns and caviar – with no expense spared on the pleasures of the mouth. It varies a little from region to region though, with oysters top of the menu in Paris, whereas in the ‘provinces’ (i.e. anywhere other than the capital) turkey with chestnut stuffing might be preferred, or the delicious sounding ‘chapon’, or specially castrated cockerel. Yum.

Kim deck 3For dessert there are no fire safety issues for our Gallic cousins as the Christmas pudding is shunned in favour of a Bûche de Noël or Christmas log. In Provence you get 13 different desserts to honour Jesus and the apostles, though no cheesy Christmas feel-good films to veg in front of after the eating’s done. Parlour games ditto, the French are far to refined to reignite old family feuds over a few hours of Charades.

Just what you need at Christmas. A bikini.

Just what you need at Christmas. A bikini.

The folk up north know how to let loose a little more than the stuffy Parisians, but being raucous doesn’t mean being bad – those who overstep the line in the run up to Christmas are liable to get a beating from Père Fouettard or ‘Father Spanker’ (those saucy French), Père Noël’s nemesis who punishes the backsides of anyone naughty. It sounds an awful lot like a Carry On film to me, but despite the threat involved probably preferable to actually watching the real thing.

And that friends, is how it’s done. I wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year wherever in the world you are, and see you next week for my final post of the year!

Raclette it be…

IMG_2167When I was young, I was told repeatedly not to play with my food. But that didn’t stop me from constructing elaborate sculptures out of fish fingers, mashed potato and peas, that at the time I thought were worthy of inclusion in whatever was the culinary equivalent of the Louvre.

Whilst having dinner next to a Parisian mother and her child a few months back, it dawned on me that such dinner time creativity is much less tolerated on this side of the Channel, where meal times are a much more civilised affair. For the love of God, this six-year-old fledgling was eating steak tartare and slender fries (minus ketchup I might add) and making a rather organised job of it (i.e. the half-eaten remnants were all still on his plate and not mashed together in a big lump).

IMG_2166Imagine then my surprise when I encountered the DIY, dump-it-on, seemingly-invented-by-a-child melted cheese free-for-all that is raclette; an established French favourite when the weather gets chillier and thoughts turn to snow and skiing. Originally from Switzerland (and named after the cheese with which it’s made), it’s a dish about as far from sophisticated as you could get; a get-your-hands dirty culinary build-’em-up where the main aim is to get as much melted cheese over the assembled accompaniments on your plate as possible. If that’s not playing with your food, I don’t know what is.

IMG_2168Most of us anglophones are far more familiar with fondue, though those slender little fork things don’t insure against drips on the tablecloth or lost bread chunks sacrificed to the bottom of the pan. Raclette is a turbo version of the dish if you like, omitting the wine (which is for drinking, obviously) and the various seasonings, and concentrating on pure, unadulterated melted cheese.

IMG_2171To prove its heavyweight status, you’ll need a piece of special kit to make it happen, though in the olden days all you needed was a massive wadge of cheese, an open fire and something to scrape the melted bits off with (I’d just use my tongue, but etiquette dictates some kind of tool). These days you have an electric machine, akin to a kind of grill, under which you slide individual trays with a thick slice of cheese nestled inside, and wait for it to melt.

Some potatoes are happier than others to be part of the molten glory

Some potatoes are happier than others to be part of the molten glory

Whilst you’re trying to keep your mouth from watering all over the table as you watch the magic slowly happen, the idea is to stack your plate full of boiled potatoes (handily kept warm in the specially-designed place on top), assorted cured meats, gherkins and pickled onions, and pour over the melted cheese-lava as soon as it’s bubbling to your liking, submerging every morsel in its wake. Pop another slice of cheese in to get cooking whilst you’re tucking into the first lot, and repeat until skiing the following morning looks like a near impossibility due to sudden, dramatic weight gain.

The French may still be famed for their foie gras, Champagne and oysters, a holy trio of deliciousness that spells class like nothing else, but at this time of year, I’m living amongst a people who love nothing more than getting down and dirty with as much melted cheese as they can swallow. Now that’s my kind of sophistication.

A vine proposition

Kim wine fair 2Sick of the cold wind making your cheeks all rosy as you battle the elements to get to work? You’re giving rosy cheeks a bad rep. Yes, they spell the approach of winter, but they also spell ruddy-cheeked winemakers and a crimson glow caused by an afternoon tasting your way through a hangar full of their delicious produce. Yay! It’s wine fair time again!

If you’ve been a die-hard reader since the beginning, or your wine detection skills are so honed you hardly need my help, you’ll know that Paris plays host to two wine fairs a year where independent vintners gather together, fill an exhibition centre with wine, and invite thirsty laymen like us to taste it. And buy it, of course.

This Thursday (27th) marks the start of the second, this time being held at Porte de Versailles (bottom end of line 12), taking place for five days until Monday evening. For those who live here, you’d be a fool not to go. For those who don’t, you’d be a bigger one not to arrange your next Parisian stay around it (and make room in your suitcase).

So, as usual, it’ll cost you 6 euros to get in (or free if you’ve bought a bottle or two before and you’ve received your invitation), and you get a glass upon arrival to fill up and drain to your heart’s content. The whole gang is there to sample from classy whites through to rosés and reds, sticky sweet dessert wines and kick-you-in-the-throat Cognacs and Armagnacs. Plus chocolate and foie gras sandwiches to keep your strength up.

Kim wine fair 1It sounds like heaven, no? Well, aside from rapidly fading willpower the more glasses you drink leading you to make wildly ostentatious purchases designed to cripple your bank balance, tasting all of this good stuff might lead you into a wine habit that your wallet just can’t support. Instead of risking bankruptcy, treat it as an education into France’s lesser-known wines, and develop a knowledge of the simpler and cheaper delights that’ll save you hundreds in the process.

Don’t know where to start? Here’s a brief rundown on how to save cash whilst drinking grape juice like a king.

IF your cellar’s looking empty, buying direct from the producer is the most economical way to get it looking healthy again. If you’ve got the means, buying in bulk will reduce the price even more (either take a trolley for your booty, or you can pick one up at the event). Supermarkets also keep the wine cheap with their power to buy enormous quantities, and always have a huge selection. Or if you’re lucky enough to have a wine tour booked, buy straight from the winemaker’s hands.

GIVE the big dogs a miss. Bordeaux, Burgundy and Champagne may be the connoisseurs’ choice, but you’ll pay for the reputation of the famous names. Try lesser known and more unfashionable areas for some hidden gems. Languedoc Roussillon is one of the largest regions in France, and the former home of Vin de Table now produces an exciting array of different varieties and innovative styles. Personally I’m an avid fan of Cahors malbec based wine (what Argentinian wine dreams are made of, but not so well known here), and lighter reds Morgon and Brouilly. The fun is in the trying. And you can impress your French dinner hosts with a cracking bottle they’ve probably never heard of.

Kim wine fair 3BE label savvy. AOC (Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée) is the highest classification of wine, but strict laws mean that the second category Vin de Pays might be of a similar quality, though the wine will be labelled differently (often using the grape variety) and made using different techniques. The lowest category, Vin de Table is the cheapest, though you might end up with some barely palatable plonk.

KEEP an eye on the price. In general, the price tag dictates the quality, though if you find a cheap bottle of Margaux, it might just be the reflection of a bad year, and not worth the effort. But make sure your taste leads the way – if you spend 25 euros on a heavy oaky red when you prefer drinking a lighter Beaujolais, then you’ve spent badly my friend.

LOOK towards the edge. Often all that separates different appellations is a road, a river or a few metres of land. By looking at wines from areas that border the more prestigious AOCs, there’s treasure to be found for a fraction of the price compared to their posh siblings. Saint Émilion for example is much revered, but its satellite appellations Lussac, Montagne, Puisseguin and Saint-Georges offer some spectacular alternatives. The same goes for Pomerol’s poorer relative Lalande-de-Pomerol, and if you’re into Sauternes, give Barsac a go instead. Research rewards the curious.

Get those corks a-popping! (And don’t forget to invite me). Here’s all the info you need.

The Grapes of Math

Kim Beaujolais 2As marketing campaigns go, France is the king. This is the country in which a dreadlocked man (former tennis and music star Yannick Noah) is chosen to promote personal grooming products (it later turned out to be mostly shower gels, but gee, I was confused there for a while). Last year market leader Sushi Shop released a box of Kate Moss-inspired rolls. Presumably they wanted to give the impression they’d infused their raw fish with Champagne effervescence and a nicotine aftertaste.

But mismatched celebrity/product pairings aside, one of the major triumphs has to be the cult of wonder that shines out of the mist every November surrounding the release of Beaujolais nouveau. You take one of France’s shoddiest wines, create a festival around it, and every fool dashes out to taste the stuff as if it were the last drop of Dom Perignon in the world. As marketing strategies go, it’s quite frankly genius. Promoting a mediocre wine to the dizzy heights of fame (and increasing profits a million-fold in the process) is no mean feat. Pretty impressive if you think about it.

Kim Beaujolais 1At this time of year you can’t pass a café window without seeing the excited scrawl upon it ‘Le Beaujolais nouveau est arrivé!’ Beaujolais nouveau has arrived! In a nutshell, the tradition is this – a vineyard mouse’s whisker after the grape harvest (in wine terms at least), the bounty is speedily pressed, bottled and distributed to eager, salivating punters.

And it’s not just France either. Bottles are shipped all around the world every year, released at 12.01am on the dot on the third Thursday in November (so tomorrow the 20th) where they are met with welcoming arms by a global audience who afford it an almost cult-like status. The idea is to chug back on a glass and toast the wine gods (and producers of course), for letting us have another year’s worth of delicious produce to drink. What’s not to celebrate?

Well, the festival abstainers don’t see an awful lot of point in indulging in a drop that is considered by most to wildly inferior to the rest of the country’s offerings, dismissing it as a sneaky marketing ploy (which in truth it is). And they’d be partly right. Made from the Gamay grape, Beaujolais nouveau is the lightest red money can by, and the speed at which it hits the shelves means the finished product is juvenile and simplistic, hardly worth the glass it’s contained in.

Kim Beaujolais 3Sure it’s nowhere near a Grand Cru, but if you’re that picky, you’ve got the rest of the year to drink Margaux if you want. Beaujolais nouveau was always meant to be drunk young and drunk fast, and if you prefer a more aged version, you can wait for the later-released Beaujolais (that drops the ‘nouveau’), boasting a deeper complexity.

Personally, it’s one of my favourite French festivals, and I’ll be raising a glass in its honour. Not for the ‘delicious’ taste, but it marks the beginning of a new year of vintages, and it’s a chance to celebrate French wine on a more general level in absence of any other festivals championing any other type of wine the country could muster (get on to that please Monsieur Hollande). If it really is the sneaky marketing aspect that persuades many a nay-sayer to give it a wide berth, I’d say Christmas could be a pretty quiet one this year…