25 Nov 2010

How NOT to sell wine in a restaurant

A Paris bistrot to avoid if you like wine!

Paris is one of the world's main tourist destinations, and many people come here thinking that this, the capital of France, must have great wines of which the people are proud, and that it will be properly served and available at accessible prices in all restaurants and bistrots. This indeed sometimes happens, but not always, and rarely in those areas most frequented by tourists. Here is a word of caution, based on recent experience.



The other day I had an hour to kill in the Madeleine district of central Paris, near the Place de la Concorde. Armed with my favourite sports newspaper, the bi-weekly Midi-Olympique (see above: devoted solely to rugby and also distinguishable by its pages that are the colour of the now defunct yellow maize-paper cigarettes that used to make one of the national French cigarette brands, Gitanes, stand out in a crowd).

Walking down the Rue Duphot, I came upon this pleasantly ordinary-looking bistrot (see above) on an angle between two streets and decided to walk in, sit down, read my paper and order a glass of wine. One look at the short wine list told me that I was unlikely to enjoy myself much as none of the wines mentioned their producers' names, and few even had a vintage attached to them. Now it is sad to say that this is much-too-standard practice in French cafés, alongside the use of horrible little glasses made of thick glass, called "verres ballons". I saw a Fleurie on the list (at the very high price of 7,40 euros, but it was the cheapest wine on the short list) and asked the typically surly waiter who was the producer of the wine. He said he didn't know, so I asked him if he would mind at least showing me the bottle. He obvioously minded dreadfully, but plucked a bottle out of a line-up that was stored just above the coffee machine, in the hottest place in the bar. It turned out to be from an obscure cooperative winery, and, knowing that such a bottle would have cost them quite a bit less than the price they were asking for a small glass, I looked for something else. He suggested a Crozes Hermitage (selling for close on 9 euros). I again asked to know who the producer was and was told "Moulin something". A glance at the wine list told me that the "Moulin" in question was in fact a Médoc, so the guy didn't even know the 4 or 5 wines he was selling! I called it a day and left without ordering and found something marginally less evil and expensive across the road. At least they were friendly there!

If anyone wants a course on how not to sell wine, (and how to rip-off customers), this is a good place to start! The name of the bar is Les Trois Quartiers, Rue Duphot in the 8th arrondissement of Paris. Be warned! The saddest part of this miserable story is that this kind of blight on the wine scene in France is all too frequent.

Next time, to cheer you all up, I will tell you about a place in Paris that IS worth visiting.