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What to buy in France?

Hi all,

I'm headed to Paris for a week in December, and one of the things I'd like to buy as a souvenir are some nice wines and liquors. Doesn't necessarily have to be something that I can't buy here - for example, I might stock up on Cointreau or good vermouth/aperitifs on the cheap.

I'm going to buy some padded wine bags for my checked luggage. I also have a direct flight back to the States, so I can buy a couple of bottles in the duty-free shops and carry it on. I'm aware that the duty-free exemption for alcohol is 1 liter and am fine with paying duties on the extra booze, which is only 3%.

So, if you were buying up to, say, 6 bottles of wine/liquor/liqueur in France, what would you get?

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  1. For me it would start with hard to find Chartreuse variants, boutique champagne producers and smaller cognac houses.

    1. Amer Picon, Giffard Abricot du Roussillon

      2 Replies
      1. re: barleywino

        Oooh, I didn't know about Amer Picon. That looks delicious. I'm definitely into bitter/herbal flavors - I usually drink G&Ts with bitters or Negronis at home.

      2. Even if you're in the capital, you can see if there are any interesting regional liqueurs. I'd second the suggestion for cognac or armagnac. Also, smaller makers of pastis.

        1. I would look for a good Marc de Bourgogne, and maybe some white alcohol eaux-de-vie (Framboise, Mirabelle, &c). Marc de Gewurtztraminer is quite distinctive and not often seen here in the USA. I would also recommend looking for a bottle of Vielle Prune -- an aged plum eau-de-vie from central France, not often imported here.

          If you are looking for liqueurs, I will second the recommendation for the rarer Chartreuse variants (and the highly sought after Elixir Vegetal, for which you will go to a pharmacy rather than a wine shop). Amer Picon, yes, and if you like bitter aperitifs, get yourself some Suze.

          3 Replies
          1. re: johncb

            I second the Vielle Prune (it's made in Souillac, which is in the Dordogen -- very definitely in the southwest)

            I'd also recommend a couple of unique liqueurs from Provence -- Farigoule, made from thyme flowers, and Genepi, which is related to both absinthe and Chartreuse.

            Both are very unusual, but quite tasty, and certainly not something you're likely to find in the states (neither are *overly* easy to find in France, although neither should be *hard* to find, either)

            1. re: sunshine842

              Genepi, I believe, is actually more alpine than provencal. I never have any trouble finding several different Genepis when I am in the Isere department (including a Genepi from the Peres Chartreuse). Is Farigoule regional? Where should I look for it? The Chartreuse monks make (BTW) cassis and other fruit liqueurs, a gentian bitter aperitif like Suze, as well as the more expected Chartreuse varities (and as I never tire of saying, the elixir vegetal).

              1. re: johncb

                Genepi is indeed produced in the Savoie -- however, there's no AOC, and Distilleries et Domaines de Provence produces a very nice one in the southern Alps.

                Here's their page: http://www.distilleries-provence.com/...

                and the page for Farigoule: http://www.distilleries-provence.com/...

                I've found it in a few small, independent wine merchants here in the Ile de France, so in Paris proper shouldn't be an enormous search -- these are the same folks who make Absente absinth-ish liqueurs.

          2. Maybe a Poire William? The real deal with the pear in the bottle...

            6 Replies
            1. re: Veggo

              Uh, yeah . . . the "real" stuff doesn't have the pear in the bottle. Most of those are Korte Palinka (poire william from Hungary), and those are decidedly inferior.

              Now, while there is certainly a difference between the Vielle Prune (aged plum brandy) and a "regular" mirabelle, as johncb has stated above, AND there is a difference between an aged poire and an unaged bottling, I've never found a poire from Producer X *with* the pear in the bottle that was as good as the same producer's poire *without* the pear . . . let alone better!


              In the FWIW Dept., actually my favorite Poire comes from Switzerland -- Etter. I prefer it to the Alsatian bottlings. You want a pear in the bottle? Personally, I prefer the pear on the right. Look here: http://www.preissimports.com/products...


              1. re: zin1953

                Perhaps I shouldn't have swum beyond the shallows into the riptide of 'Spirits' and 'France' in the CH whirlwind sea, where neophites are conveniently drowned to clear the lanes for those bursting with knowledge.

                Simply, a friend brought me a Poire William, from France, with a whole pear in a serially numbered, decanter-like crystal bottle, in a fancy wooden box, and it was from France, and I liked it. And I liked her.

                1. re: Veggo

                  there is two once fancy one with the pear and one without - i was checking that out earlier because that is called for in a golden negroni i had at Rules in London and a cake recipe i have (it is VERY expensive to get here in the states because of the shipping)

                  I have no idea the difference between the two other than the one with the pear is way more expensive and fancy

                  Also there is orange vermouth by cinz (something) that you cannot get in the states that is very good i would get a bottle of that as well

                  1. re: Veggo

                    Bottles in Baccarat, or crystal from another manufacturer, are a different story . . .

                2. re: Veggo

                  Anyone have any thoughts on the Clear Creek pear eau-de-vie? Not from France and off topic, but I'm curious about things that I can find pretty easily.

                  1. re: EvergreenDan

                    It's quite good, as is the one from St. George.

                3. IF IT WERE ME . . . and of course it's not . . . .

                  >>> Doesn't necessarily have to be something that I can't buy here <<<

                  Speaking strictly on a personal basis, it doesn't matter to me if I'm saving $3, $5, or even $10 a bottle -- I ***NEVER*** buy and bring anything home from Europe that I can buy here for a few extra pennies/dollars. It's not worth it . . . to me!

                  On the other hand, if I can find a bottling of _____________ that I can't find here in the US . . . well, I'm on that in a heartbeat!

                  Quazi has given you the best suggestions os far, IMHO. If you like Chartreuse, there are versions you can find in France that are either extremely difficult, or impossible to find here in the US. The same thing holds for smaller producers of Cognac, Armagnac, and Calvados.

                  That said, single grower Champagnes are now -- thanks to Terry Theise and others -- relatively easy to find.

                  Amer Picon is not that difficult to find here in the US.

                  As for Marc de Bourgogne: while a good one can indeed be delicious, a bad one is a complete waste of money, and marc of ANY kind is decidedly an acquired taste. I wouldn't waste my money on it without first trying it in a café, restaurant, or bar.

                  Various bottlings of eaux-de-vie -- brandies distilled from the fruit itself, rather than grape brandy that is *fruit-flavored* -- can also be exquisite. That said, any number are available here in the US. The most common here include brands like Trimbach and Massenez from Alsace, but Vedrenne comes from Burgundy and is much more difficult to find. It's here, but scarce.

                  Above all: ENJOY!

                  4 Replies
                  1. re: zin1953

                    where can you find Amer Picon in the US? i have never found it online or seen it in a shop here, although some bars will find private sources or have some leftover from before they stopped distributing it in the US. I have a few bottles from Japan. From http://www.drinkingmadeeasy.com/2011/... : "Amer Picon definitely still exists. It just lacks a U.S. distributor. Some of the more dedicated drinking establishments have brought cases of the real stuff back from Europe ... and I've still got a bottle in my fridge that I bought around 2001, when it was still being imported."

                    Torani Amer is not the same thing.

                    1. re: barleywino

                      MEA CULPA . . .

                      Yes, Torani Amer is not the same thing. I agree. but the last time I looked, Amer Picon WAS widely available. (Shows you how often I look.)


                      TO THE OP: Amer Picon WOULD be a good buy!

                    2. re: zin1953

                      I too would like to know a source of Amer Picon in the US.

                      BTW, Bittermens has just announced a new line of interesting "spirits" (their word), which contains what appears to be a Picon replica:

                      Amere Nouvelle: http://spirits.bittermens.com/product...

                      You can see from the link that they renamed it at some point. I think they are talking about a fall 2011 introduction. The rest of their line looks pretty interesting, too.

                      Now back to France...

                      www.kindredcocktails.com | Craft + Collect + Concoct + Categorize + Community

                      1. re: EvergreenDan

                        interesting-- might have to get some and do a taste comparison

                    3. There is a shop in Paris that sells a variety of absinthes: http://www.vertdabsinthe.com/

                      1. 150 year old Grand Marnier. Not difficult to find in the States, but maybe you can save some big bucks. $225 on the shelf in Florida, $100 in the Bahamas. The price in France was comparable to vintage Dom Perignon, but that was in the numbered bottles considered art work as they were designed by Salvadore Dali. Still have a couple of empties as bud vases.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: INDIANRIVERFL

                          The 150 runs right around 100 Euros a bottle, IIRC.

                          The Centenaire (25-year) runs around 50 Euros and is not too shabby.

                        2. My husband is a fanatic about Armagnac. Last time we were in Paris he spent an hour and a bunch of Euros ( for some vintage Armagnac) at Ryst-Dupeyron on rue du Bac. Another place for vintage Armagnac is Lavinia. On the second floor they have a wall of vintage Cognacs and Armagnac. We once ate at Helene Darroze in the 6th around the corner from the Hotel Letitia. Her family makes Armagnac and they had a number of vintages as well as kind of tester sets of 375ml bottles.
                          We haven't gotten there but in Patricia Well's Food of Paris she mentions that one can schedule tastings at Danflou if you are interested in their line of eau-de-vies.
                          If you choose to pick up a bottle of Cointreau do it at the duty free at the airport.

                          1. Thanks, everyone! I'm not really a fan of pastis or brandy/marc, so at this point I'm leaning towards Chartreuse Vert, Amer Picon, and a few bottles of wine and Champagne. I'll definitely seek out the Elixir Vegetal, since I'll be staying within spitting distance of a few pharmacies. Since that's so strong, I assume you'd just use it a few drops at a time like bitters?

                            Again, thanks for all the suggestions.