Drinking wine in Paris. Any basic guidelines? "do's vs. dont's vs. don't miss"
I am going to Paris for a week.
Recently, I've become a "wine person".
In terms of wine, what can I expect there?
Should I focus on something vs another?
Will there be wines not available in the USA?
Is there an obvious "do's vs. dont's vs. don't miss" ?
I have had plenty of French wine in America, but will it be different there?
Burgundy, Bordeaux, Chablis, Pouilly Fume, Pouilly Fuse, etc.
Assuming you are staying in Paris and not going to wine country, I highly recommend that you walk in with LOW expectations. Especially if you are new to wine.
And no, there isn't much difference between USA and France unless you are willing to dig in and find an expert to help you. But one thing Paris is better at is simple value wines -- more of them and at better prices, especially when the euro is where it's at.
Most of the restaurants in the tourist areas have sub par wine in my opinion. Nice restaurants deliver, and will have a wine steward that speaks enough English to handle you.
Many wine shops have cheese and bread. Half my meals in Paris are a bottle for about 10 euros, plus a baguette and cheese to die for. Eat it in a park.
Grocery stores have amazing budget wine at times. Check out Cotes du Rhone and Bordeaux for great red values. Alsace and Loire for great whites.
At the local bistrots, or restos, just ask for a demi-pichet (500mL) or a glass of their "house" wines. They'll have appelation level Cotes du Rhone, Bordeaux, Bourgogne Rouge, Chinon, etc... Perfectly quaffable with your meal. The "low" end wines in France are better than the low end swill in the states.
It's only if you want to buy a bottle for $25+ euros at store like Nicolas, will you have to do your homework if you want to find a bottle you can't buy in the states. I wouldn't stress too much about what wines to buy unless you're a hardcore collector. Ask for help from the wine shop employee. Of course it always helps if you speak even a little French.
Well, don't be scared to go beyond the so-called simple, value wines, especially with the Euro softening against the USD.
I have been disappointed, in general, with so-called house wines at bistros and small restaurants in France. Especially the transparent red plonk that are served in carafes. More often than not, we end up ordering half-bottles or by-the-glass that are relatively more expensive than endure drinking the rest of the house wine.
During meals at good bistro or brasseries, I tend to peruse the wine list and at most times have found nuggets of, say, good Burgundies and/or Rhones that are still priced lower than what I would normally find them in restaurants here in NYC. You'd be plasantly surpised with some very good village-level or even 1er Cru Burgundies or some Rhones beyond the basic CdRs that are in some of these bistro's wine lists.
You will find a lot/most of wines from known regions but from tons of different producers that you might not find in the US, usually will be the same quality, so not really a big change from what you're used to.
Skip the chain wine merchants (like Nicolas) unless you know exactly what you want and can find it there.
Skip expensive wines unless you find a very good deal on something you really want (anyway, the price for top-of-the-line wines will not be very different form what you can get in the US), don't be frightened by "Vin de Table" or "Vin de Pays" there are _very_ good wines that do not have "appelation controlée" (AOC)
Locate smaller wine stores that specialized in "vins natures", it's where you will find wines from new small young producers that try to create something different from either the know regions or new "undiscovered" regions (stores like La Cremerie, Le Verre Volé, Racines, Papilles, la muse du vin, Willi's ...)
Some good comments here regarding wine at dining establishments. Adding to that...
If you purchase a bottle in a market to enjoy either in your hotel room or at a picnic in a park, do not expect to recognize many labels. The same could probably be said for wine lists in restaurants that aren't ultra high-end. So just look at this is an opportunity to expand your wine knowledge. :o)
Some gems from all of the above:
"... walk in with LOW expectations."
"Most of the restaurants in the tourist areas have sub par wine "
"I have been disappointed, in general, with so-called house wines at bistros and small restaurants in France. Especially the transparent red plonk that are served in carafes."
"do not expect to recognize many labels"
Over all, take it nonchalantly.
I remember going back to a Nicolas shopkeeper complaining the low-priced burgundy he sold me was undrinkable. His reply: "Pour un bon bourgogne il faut monter très haut, Monsieur!"
Or sitting at a bistrot in Avignon, I asked for a bottle of local wine.
The waiter's reply: "Appellation ou château?"
(Nice compact way to represent the two basic tiers)
I responded "chateau" (period). And that was it.