High on a hill stood a lonely vineyard

kim-vendanges-1Paris might be the bitchy queen bee of its country, pulling in the tourists like bears to honey with its luxurious superiority over its smaller French cousins, but there’s one notable chink in her armour. Exquisite architecture, yes, galleries galore, of course, and style in spades that looks down on almost everywhere else in the world – France’s capital seemingly has everything you could need for living the high life.

Well, almost everything. There’s an important trump card in the hands of many of the other regions in the country that Paris just can’t compete with. Oh, and it’s a big ‘un alright. Wine. Grape wizardry is what the ruddy-faced country folk lay claim to. But like a cunning madam with a trick up her sleeve, there is a oenophilic heritage to be found in the city, if you keep your nose close to the ground and look hard enough for it.

cimg7182Way, way up in the winding heights of the 18th, happily not far from Granny Flat HQ, is Clos Montmartre, a tiny vineyard that produces the only wine Paris can muster. Bordeaux it certainly isn’t given that fact that grape growing conditions in the inner city are hardly ideal, but it’s more of a gesture to the wine gods anyway, rather than a serious attempt to compete with the vinicultural juggernaughts in the rest of France.

In a nod to the wine-making past of Montmartre, where the industry flourished from the Roman era until the early 20th century when urbanisation and phylloxera soon stomped all over the practice, the vineyard was revived in 1933 by a group of locals led by artist Francis Poulbot, who wanted to preserve the viticultural heritage. Today it still stands, a minuscule parcel of vines of 1,556 sq m, tucked away in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it corner between Rue des Saules and Rue Saint Vincent.

You can only visit by appointment in groups of over 12, but the view from the road is good enough to be able to spy on the progress of the grapes. But who need a private tour anyway when at the start of October the vineyard comes into its own with the Fête des Vendanges, a celebration of the yearly harvest and a new Paris vintage (it’s always a red, but don’t be expecting Margaux or anything).

kim-wine-fair-3The fête officially kicks off on Wednesday 5th and continues until Sunday 9th, though pretty much all of the good stuff takes place at the weekend. There are masses of stalls selling wine and produce from all over France, so you’d be well advised to forgo meals in preparation from, well, now, to make sure you take full advantage. Sadly you can’t get your hands on the Paris vintage though, that’s only available via auction (with all of the proceeds going to charity), and anyway with the price tag punching far above its weight, you’re better off spending your hard-earned on Champagne and saucisson in the assembled tents.

Aside from fireworks on the Saturday night, the highlight of the festivities is a parade through the streets of the 18th from the mairie at Jules Joffrin (where the grapes are eventually pressed) to the foot of Sacré Coeur on the Sunday (3pm start), where producers from around the country don their jauntiest traditional garb and celebrate the joy of growing the good stuff. For once in a city where image is everything, it’s life’s most humble offerings that are the kings. And you can’t say more delightfully simple than that.

I’m forever drinking bubbles

Kim NYE2It’s a wonder my sausagey fingers have managed to write this blog post, given how many calories I’ve consumed over the holidays. I may be small, but when it comes to my sister’s finest turkey and sprouts, I assure you, I sure can put it away. And we’re not just talking about the solids either, I’m English, and therefore able to raise as many glasses as the next person.

And isn’t it just the time of year to be doing just that? That precarious bridge between one year and the next, when the slate is wiped clean and the shiny new list of objectives is framed and hung on the wall until at least, well, January 12th. New Year’s Eve might not have the same magic as Christmas (and they don’t even know Auld Lang Syne in France), but it’s important to send 2014 off with a fitting tribute.

Kim NYE 5Champagne is surely the way to do it, but after a few too many festive blowouts, your bank balance maybe looking as though it’s had a visit from Father Spanker (if you don’t know what I mean, do your homework and read last week’s post), and so expensive bubbles are but a distant dream. But those Frenchies aren’t just one-trick ponies you know, there are bubbles upon bubbles that you just don’t know about, for a fraction of the price of a bottle of their finest. Let your festive paunch rest awhile whilst I educate you.

France’s most famous sparkle is merely the tip of the iceberg, and rudely overshadows the other effervescent offerings the country has to offer. The name Champagne is just a matter of geography you understand; it’s a regional moniker, and many would argue that the pedestal of luxury it’s placed upon is a merely question of marketing. Blind tastings by wine experts that fail to put Champagne at the top of the pile are surprisingly common.

IMG_2313Using the same production methods, but usually different grapes varieties, are a group of eight AOC (appellation d’origine contrôlée) sparkling wines known as Crémants, from the regions of Alsace, Bordeaux, Burgundy, Die, Jura, Limoux, Loire and Savoie. They’re all slightly gentler in their fizz given a slightly lower bottle pressure to Champagne (a sign of the style rather than of lesser quality), but with all of the grapes harvested by hand and the wine aged for a minimum of one year, there’s as much love and care put into every bottle as the pricier stuff.

Keep your eyes peeled too for the word mousseux, literally meaning ‘sparkling’, which points to another category of sparkles made using different production methods AND different grapes, from regions such as Vouvray, Anjou, Saumur and Touraine. And don’t forget our European neighbours either, there are bubbles galore to be found elsewhere, like Prosecco from the Italians, Cava from Spain, and even sparkling wine from England (yes I have tried it and it’s pretty darn good). Looking further afield, America and Australia produce some super efforts, but finding them in Paris is more of a struggle.

Cheers!

Cheers!

Champagne has by no means had its day, but for New Year’s Eve this year, I’ll be spending less than ten euros on a bottle of bubbles to drink with my nearest and dearest. After all, those folks in that most famous of wine regions must be quaking in their grape-picking wellies at just how well other regions in the world have started producing bottles of fizz.

To toast in the new year, and to celebrate one whole year of Paris Small Capital (hooray!) I’ll be raising a glass to them, and to all of you loyal readers, and hope to see you all for a simple delight-filled 2015. Santé!