This is the end. Our seven month, thirteen country EU Austerity Drinking Tour finally, achingly, grinds to a halt. 188 days of tasting Europe’s best value wine, whiskey, and beer has trialed our sanity, budget, and marriage.
But today the SNCF takes us from Reims, Champagne to Paris:
We stay in Montmartre with a friendly, middle-aged singleton. His apartment overlooks a snow-draped graveyard, he likes his “quiet neighbors”:
Having been raised by Andrew Lloyd Webber, we book a tour of the Paris Opera House aka Palais Garnier. At dawn, we cross Paris via underground. A short ticket line sends us to a central couch deep beneath the theater. Here, we soak in endless decorative motifs that depict seasons and astrological signs.
At last, a black-sweatered column with glasses takes us to the grand staircase.
The terms “extravagant” and “fear of the void” come to mind. Parisian elite came here to see and be seen. This staircase provided their stage.
But truly amazing is the second story, where royalty like Napoleon III would banquet and dance beneath gold, chandeliered ceilings, while watching the staircase procession. One alcove in particular struck us with its bat-spangled night theme:
Eclecticism carried over to another niche with a wired bust of the muse of electricity:
We transition from the staircase to the theater itself, where we whisper while the staff set stage:
With that ceiling, Chagal follows us from Reims Cathedral to the Paris Opera.
Enthused but exhausted, we stock up on groceries and wine from a local shop. Our host likes red. So to prove that our half year of value-based EU drinking was not a waste, we needed to impress him with something, anything.
So we turn to gloriously sunny but inexpensive Languedoc, specifically Saint-Chinian AOC.
For a mere €6.70 we pick up Château de Veyran, from their single vineyard, Clos de l’Olivette, Saint-Chinian, France 2009.
So how does it fair?
APPEARANCE: it looks clear but a deep ruby, with an opaque rim: basically Mourvedre ink.
AROMAS: smell of dried black cherry, fig, and incense burner in a Catholic church, with snaps of flint.
PALATE: feels dry, with medium acids and tannins. Alcohol warms up winter with 13.5% abv making for a medium plus body.
FLAVORS: pounce with medium plus intense flavors of red and black cherry jam, dried tobacco, vanilla, chocolate coffee bean, followed by a medium plus length flinty stony finish.
CONCLUSIONS: We taste our host blind on it. He loves the Veyran and guesses it is Spanish (not shabby since Spain sits next door to Saint Chinian). We find it a bit lush though: not greatly structured. Yet it is complex. Very good regardless (4 of 5). Better, he guesses it is 20 EU.
But the night is young (and dinner half done). We up our game and risk a €12.50 wine. Smartly, we stay southern but shift to Eastern France in Saint-Joseph: home of Syrah:
Another 2009 from Cave de Saint-Désirat: a grower in hilly, cooler Saint-Joseph.
APPEARANCE: looks a leaner yet medium plus ruby, with a thin clear rim. AROMAS: smell tidy, developing, and richly of macerated black cherry, mint, blueberry, coconut macaroon…now cocoa…now pepper.
PALATE: feels dry, and notably acidic and tannic, with milder medium 12.5% abv, making for a medium body.
FLAVORS: taste of whipping tart red apple, black cherry, salt, baking cocoa, fall leaves (French oak), with a Syrah typical, medium plus white pepper finish.
CONCLUSIONS: Albeit more serious our host respected this even more. Saint-Désirat is balanced, complex, and precise. It is very, very good quality (4 of 5). I imagine that now, nearly three years after this note, it tastes amazingly.
We may not be French. But months in the country thinking nothing of wine and art has inculcated us with a respect and knowledge of the country’s great value wine niches.
Expect a special, New Years Eve Champagne and French bubbly review written during our last days in Paris.