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bbbbbbKaaren Palmer — Champagne Editor
Champagne in Paris
24th August to 2nd September 2011, and onwards…!

Sitting in the little bistro adjacent to the hotel where our luggage is safely stored while we wait to join the Orient Express, the bistro’s name is La Petite Périgourdine, not especially notable, on the Rue des Écoles near the Sorbonne. The salad is hydro, so I’m not eating (Kev has a magnificent plate of 5 cheeses and a bottomless basket of bread €7), but the Duval–Leroy rosé is only €6, about AUD 9. Or a glass of Bolly for €10. When I looked for the eiffel–V recently for a rosé strawberries–and–cream example of a saignée rosé at a tasting, it couldn’t be found in Australia. The boys have decided to join me in a glass, so the waiter has donated me the rest of the bottle. Ah…Paris!

Now this is just one’s typical neighborhood bistro, nowhere special. Everybody has a champagne or three at a very good price. The first day we drank de Gall from the wonderful co–op in Avize, gorgeous Côte des Blancs Chardonnay, €8. Never had it before, always searched for it. Had a bit of bottle age, too, but not too much – think tarte tatin, nougat, honey. More aah!

brasserie Flottes

More upmarket is the conveniently located Flottes 2 Pl Cambon just off the rue Rivoli near the well–stocked W.H. Smith English book shop which is just on the corner. Whether you can find it or not in your country of choice, one must admit that the Parisian restaurant prices for hard–to–find selections are wonderful. And so–called “ordinary” stuff is readily available, such as €90 Gosset rosé of magnificent length or old favourite Billecart rosé at €95.

So, we deduce after much exploration, that just about every bistro has some champagne, sometimes a village champagne which reeks of its terroir perhaps inelegantly so, otherwise a known brand. Always good value. Example: Café Constant, really excellent food, Taittinger NV €72 bottle or €10 by the glass. Nice that our dollar is ascending. Food is marvellous, too. Au Petit Marguery http://petitmarguery.com/ has Cristal 2000 €135 for an entire bottle. Dimanche à Paris have Bolly rosé €125, and an excellent 6 course degustation €75. Their point of difference is the soupçon of chocolatery with each course. Recommended for dining, as well as for the Bollinger.

Three star Michelin restaurants are another matter. Great champagne lists, and, considering the ambience, glassware, knowledge, and overall experience, the champagnes are definitely the best value fine wines on offer. At the wonderful Le Bristol, the Chef Sommelier, Marco Pelletier, has selected a grower–maker Champagne Vergnon from Le Mesnil in order to showcase the pure Grand Cru Chardonnay from its exceptional village. Indeed, he offers to arrange an appointment for me! The chandeliers aren’t bad here, either. The food is heavenly, faultless, AND healthy! At Alain Ducasse at the Plaza Athenée, they have a buyers’ own brand on their extensive list (photo of the complete champagne list available on request), a blend of no less than 15 Grands Crus 35% Chardonnay, 50% Pinot Noir and 15%Pinot Meunier, dosage 9 g/l. The Ritz falls into a similar category of opulence in its interior decoration style. Their Bar de Vendôme is recommended if you like snooty service and sommeliers who were born to a better station than you. €125 for house NV, claimed to be Chardonnay dominant, “from Reims”, heart of the Montagne de Reims, the home of great Pinot Noir. Hmmm…!

Train stations, too, have their share of brasseries with lovely champagnes by glasses (coupes), halves, bottles or magnum. You might care for a cuvée de prestige, Pommery Louise (€135), a Dom (€170) or a Cristal (€180) at the Brasserie Terminus du Nord, for example.

Louise Pommeryæjust one of the many women of Champagne.

image © copyright Kanako Kono — to see more of Kanako Kuno’s Illustrating ‘My Little Paris’ please CLICK HERE

With more time in Paris there are many great places to enjoy champagnes. But there are two MUSTS for any visitor in search of the divine libation. Flute Bar à Champagne is outstanding. 89 champagnes, 61 by the glass, and very reasonable prices – NV Brut, Extra” Brut and Rosé from €12, Blanc de Blancs NV from €15, Vintage from €15. If you feel thirsty, there are a few magnums on offer, too, as well as cuvées de prestige. We tried a tasting flight of three 70ml Marne Valley NV Brut champagnes in style order – Champagnes Charles Simon (no web site available) (delicate peach and smoky aromas, a light aperitif with delicious citric length and juicy acidity), Moutardier Rosé (lean and silky on the palate), and Ayala Brut Majeur (full bodied compared to the other two). €20!!!!! The lot! Also available were tasting flights of three rosé (€30) or three vintage (€40) champagnes. For us, the Charles Heidsieck NV is always wonderful with its rich reserves, unctuous texture, evolving complexity and glorious structure (€14). The dégorgement date led us to believe that we were drinking from around the warm, wet and flavoursome 2003 vintage, and, being Charles H., around six other years prior as well, the very long lees time imparting a biscuity creaminess and plentiful tiny, tiny bubbles. The manager, Michael Katane, really knows his stuff. New Yorkers should note the Flute Bars and Lounges in Gramercy and Motown. See www.flutebar.fr

The second MUST is probably the Bar à Bulles in the Galeries Lafayette on Boulevard Haussmann. Obviously sponsored by Moët Hennessy, it’s a great place to sip a generous glass of Moët NV (€13) or Dom (€34.50), Veuve NV (€14.50) through to La Grande Dame (€36.50), Ruinart NV (€15.50) and the Dom Ruinarts (rosé €40.50), Krug (€47.50), even the Krug vintage rosé (€67.50). Trend of the moment, Moèt Nectar on ice, is also available (€16). It’s after midday, the sun is over the yard arm, and we have a glass from the bottom end, Mercier €11, sharply aperitif in style, before a tipple from the top, a luxurious and sensually satisfying Dom Ruinart (€33.50). Savoury cheese pastries match well. Drinking here is infinitely better than shopping, although the nearest toilette was not available for us at that time.

Too soon, our week or so in Paris is finished, and we have not had time to try Dorkhan’s at the Trocadero in the 7th arrondissement, Bar à Bulles, L’Oenothèque, Bistro du Sommelier, Point Bulles, Call Me Bubbles, the champagne and piano bar at the Mini Palais, or the bar à champagne in the Eiffel Tower. I had a look at the lovely little bar at Hôtel Le Buci in rue de Buci in the 6th, and was reminded immediately of that epitome of quiet class in Melbourne, the Hotel Lyall’s champagne bar. But the Hôtel Le Buci, too, is On The List for next time, we regretfully conclude, as are all the champagne distractions from bistros and bars geographically in between those already mentioned, and which might be found just next door to wherever you might stay in this most beautiful of cities.

When the Orient Express makes its way along the Marne Valley, we see the vines of the villages of Champagne, sloping south to the sun, with corn growing on the flat land. It has been an abundant season, and there’s plenty of green. But it’s time to go to the piano bar to try the house champagne made by Union Champagne, Champagne Lechère Brut Premier Cru. They say on the list that it’s 100% Chardonnay Premier Cru, although the label does not state that it’s a Blanc de Blancs, and nor does it drink like one. Without obvious aldehydic style, it speaks of very mellow rounded fruits, which, coupled with its considerable freshness, makes it suitable for any occasion and most cuisine, especially the lobster which we devoured at lunch. The sommelier agrees with me, but says that in the early days it was indeed a Chardonnay. We don’t mind – it’s delicious, and besides, there’s 2002 Bollinger Grande Année to be had (€195) for a special goodbye.

 bientôt, Paris!
Kaaren Palmer

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