by Eric Gaudet

As wine is considered as a normal part of the daily diet in France, an old tradition is regaining ground since the last 25 years in Paris: wine bars. This goes back to the old days with the 'bougnats', and old slang nickname to designate the Auvergnats, inhabitants of Auvergne, a province in the center of France, whose people used to emigrate to the city and open 'Vins et Charbons' bars/shops to sell wines and coals. Wine bars, also called bistros, are now more sophisticated and some are really worth stopping by. They are now places where to celebrate the culture of the authentic, the love for typical country products, the joie de vivre and conviviality. Any wine lover staying in Paris should look for these bistros where wine is at least as important as cuisine, which is here to go with the wine.

You can find them in all the districts of Paris, whenever you want to have a drink, eat a snack or enjoy a real meal. They are run by passionate people, usually husband and wife with strong characters, whose greatest pleasure is to share their passion with their customers who become rapidly friends. If you are not sure of which kind of wine you want to drink, ask the owner, let him advise you. You will often discover a wine you would not have known of - suprising your palate with unknown flavors. If you are offered a blind-tasting, go for it, don't be ashamed not to be able to identify it, as it is a friendly trick from the owner to challenge his best customers with his latest unusual discovery. In these wine bars, the atmosphere is quite warm, as most of the patrons are frequenters and know each other. The chats go often between tables and by the end of the meal, you will not be surprised to know all the people seating next to you and to share a bottle with them!

The wine bars take their part in the city life, as they often organize special events to which you might be lucky enough to participate, like the tasting of a less known appellation, the promotional week of a region, the celebration of the harvest, or the election of the wine bar of the year. When acknow-ledged for their dedication to wine, the bistros are presented by their peers with a trophy. Another occasion for a big party which may last till the morning. The most popular one is organized each year in March by the association Tradition du Vin, which gathers 15 wine bars and the trophy is appropriately named the 'Golden Bottle'. (They intend to launch a branch in California later on this year to share these pleasures with America!)

Wine bars, usually offer a large selection of light wines, which are often called 'thirst wines', and are the most commonly served by the glass at the counter. Among them, all the generic Beaujolais, Beauolais Villages and some Valley wines. Besides these wines, you will be served most of the Beaujolais crus and many other appellations from the Loire Valley,

Burgundy whites or reds, Cotes du Rhone, or Bordeaux red wines, like Cotes de Blaye. To a lesser extent, you will also get wines from Alsace, Provence, Roussillon or Auvergne, depending on the origins or the tastes of the owner. Grands crus are not neglected either and you will be able to drink some of them with a famous pedigree at affordable prices. Anyway, the prices in these bistros are generally moderate and you can try most of the wines by the glass. In many cases, the wines come directly from the producers. They are carefully selected by the owner himself who goes each year and visit the producers to taste their wines and prepare the supplies for the year to come.

The food in wine bars is generally simple and robust - not really meant for people on a diet! You will always have the choice of a superb assortment of charcuterie (ham, sausages, pates) and real country cheese and some classical dishes andouillette (chitterlings sausage), tripes, herring fil- lets, sirloin steak, or a choice of various salads with ham, eggs, duck, chicken.

Then, each bistro has its specials which are typical of the region from which the owner comes. Staying in Paris, you can then make a gastronomic trip around France and enjoy region specialties. You may also want to try the specials of the day, which depend on the mood of the chef and on what he found on the days market. You will often find these dishes written on the 'ardoise' (blackboard) with a piece of chalk. Don't hesitate to take them as you will be surprised by the quality of this daily bistro cuisine with all kind of traditional dishes, including foie gras, sole fillet, monkfish fillet in red wine, cassoulet, choucroute, leg or rack of lamb, beef stew, head of veal with Cribiche sauce, leg or slivers of duckling, stuffed cabbage. If you are not hungry enough for a full meal you can have a tartine (slice of country bread) with home made pate, raw ham, or Roquefort cheese.

Should you like sweets, the traditional desserts are always present: various home made pies, caramelized custard cream, chocolate mousse, pear Belle Helene

To finish, you might be tempted by a 'digestif' (spirit). As for the rest, you will find some local specialties brought over to Paris from a local distiller, a friend of the owner. You will try plum from Souillac, mirabelle plum, pear or raspberry from Alsace, or of course Armagnac or Cognac.

In a far different style some abars of hotels can also be very nice places to consider when feeling like a snack and/or a glass of wine. The atmosphere and service are far more formal but the experienc is worth it.

You should be aware that these establishments are not always open for dinner nor during the weekends. If you know in advance where you want to go, it might be preferable to make reservations. Otherwise, try to arrive early, as these bistros are quite popular and can be often crowded. We wish you a good wine tasting experience in Paris!

List of Paris Wine Bars (click here)


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