By Theadora Brack in Paris—
For the full-bodied love of the sparkling good life in Paris, don’t limit your vin blanc et vin rouge cravings and desires to the grocery store chains—it’s a misconception that specialty shops are always more expensive. In fact, they are more than happy to match any budget.
So step away from that door and embrace your friendly neighborhood wine shop and its caviste like there’s no tomorrow. Your taste buds and pocketbook will thank you!
Feeling intimidated by the whole wine cave scene? Cheapos, I have been there. Afraid to reveal my ignorance, I’d slink by to the nearest Franprix or Monoprix, or else feign full expertise in the aisles of the small shops, choosing whatever had the best-looking labels. That is, until the day the owner Philippe Ansot of the Ma Cave en Ville at 105 rue de Belleville shop (near Parc des Buttes-Chaumont in the 19th arrondissement) caught on to my little game of charades.
“Look,” Monsieur Ansot whispered in English, with a knowing look and wink as he handed me my change, “if this is tonight’s wine, be sure to open it twenty minutes before serving it. This other one, however, doesn’t need so much breathing, so it can be opened and served immediately.” Ever since then, I look, listen, and return often to Ma Cave.
Calling all pop culture enthusiasts!
Do ask; do tell!
Shyness is nice, but don’t let it stop you from trying all the things in life you’d like to, so let your inhibitions go. See, you don’t have to be a star, aficionada, connoisseur or a Rockefeller to shop at the caves. Not only are the cavistes your friends, Cheapos, but they’ve trained for years in order to be ready for any question.
So this is your big chance to bone up on the endless varieties of French cylindrical dandies, while letting them show off their expertise. The mind reels with the possibilities. Just ask away and do take notes.
Don’t let a little language barrier get between you and an inexpensive house favorite. Usually at least one person speaks English, and it’s perfectly acceptable to say, “I’m looking for something around five to ten euros to go with [fill in the blank with what you plan to eat].” Trust me, the vrais locals are asking the same questions.
Or, you can simply show them the cheese or sweet you’ve just purchased next door and ask for a recommendation. Oh, they will tell you with pleasure.
Tip: Keep your eyes peeled for cheap house picks. Caviste Pascal Fauvel at La Cave des Abbesses at 43 rue des Abbesses clearly marks his manager’s recommendations with little heart-shaped signs that read, “Coup de coeur maison.” Other wine shops follow suit with their own recommendations. Ooh, fa-la-la-la!
Again, calling all pop culture enthusiasts!
Edith Piaf stayed at the nearby at Hotel Clermont on 18 Rue Véron in the early thirties while performing on the streets of Pigalle and Montmartre. And speaking of Le Ballon Rouge, the fantastical “steps scene” was shot just around the corner at rue Chappe. Up, up and away!
Also, do keep in mind that shopping in France is almost always a social interaction. More often than not a smile and a friendly “bonjour” will break the ice. What’s more, your relationship with the vendors will really flourish if you give them repeat business. French merchants value fidelity and often reward their frequent customers with special deals and discounts.
Always, always pinching from Julia Child: “ The food should enhance the wine and the wine should complement the food. The only way to learn about wines is to drink them!” (Or failing that, just ask!)
Bon appétit et bonne année, Cheapos!