30 Dec 2010

England vs France via Eurostar

I am sorry to disappoint rugby lovers who may land here by chance, but this is not a proposal to go and see the coming 6 Nations rugby game which will be played this year at Twickenham on February 26th, although I am personally hoping to be there. In fact this article may actually help them if they are travelling from Paris to London by Eurostar. As you can see, this entry is in the wine section, and is about the strangely different ways in which wine is treated in each of these two European nations, one of which is the world's largest producer of the stuff.

I recently went to England to spend Christmas holidays with part of my family, and, to do so, travelled by Eurostar via London. The British have, most diplomatically, finally taken mercy on the French and, instead of making them arrive in Waterloo station, have gone to the huge expense of digging a tunnel under the Thames so that the train now arrives in St. Pancras station, thereby sparing them unpleasant Napoleonic memories. St. Pancras is a huge Victorian brick pile with impressively high iron roof structures that has beeen very successfully renovated with smooth tropical wood floors, stainless-steel and glass fittings galore, and whose waiting area ressembles a shopping mall. But the main subject of this article is neither history not architecture, but wine.

Leaving the Gare du Nord, which is the Paris terminal for the Eurostar cross-channel train, one can, by trying a bit, find a very ordinary wine list in one of the cafés near the check-in zone on the first floor. The least one can say is that it lacks interest, and the wines are not stored or served with any particular care. Over in London, at the St.Pancras terminal, there is a wine bar called desVins (yes, the name is in French http://www.desvins.co.uk/) which serves 37 wines by the glass, not to mention a short but very tempting list of top level wines proposed by the bottle at reduced prices in a "bin-end" sale. The latter includes a 2005 Riesling from the top Alsace producer, Domaine Weinbach, at £40, Ducru-Beaucaillou 2001 at £110, or the excellent English sparkling Nyetimber Premiere Cuvée 1997 at £45. Now back to the by-the-glass list for a closer look. All wines are proposed in two quantities: 12,5cl and 17,5 cl. There is one sparkling, 4 rosés, 15 white and 17 reds. Prices ranges from £4 to £13,60 for a 12,5 cl glass, but the vast majority are under £6. For those in the money, there is also a Champagne list which includes Krug. And what is the wine selection like? Very eclectic in terms of the countries of origin, as well as the grape varieties. The producers, who are mentioned on the list, are mostly of good repute. For those uncertain of the styles that go with the names, both whites and reds are organised in sub-groups: dry, crisp and refreshing; richer and fuller-bodied, aromatic; or, for the reds: light and fruity; medium-bodied, juicy and supple; full-flavoured and intense. This is helpful and intelligent. The glassware is adequate and the temperature of the wine perfect, thanks to two Enomatic machines, plus cold cupboards. I tried an delicate, off-dry German Riesling and a Rioja Crianza from Saigoba. Both were excellent. The food is adequate although nothing special, but this wine selection alone is well worth getting to St. Pancras an hour or two early for your train and taking a seat at desVins.

When are we going to find something like this in a French railway station? Or, for that matter, something equivalent to the Frescobaldi wine bars in Rome's airport in a French airport? Is it too much to ask that a country which earns more money from its wine exports than from anything else except for planes and nuclear power stations should make an effort to showcase and sell decent wines by the glass to travellers? There are duty-free wine shops galore in Charles de Gaulle airport, but try and find a decent glass of wine served by the glass in pleasant surroundings! This is no problem in Copenhagen, for example. And, to get back to trains, who on earth wants to spend two hours waiting in the Gare du Nord?

And the score of this specific match? France 0 - England 14 (two converted tries)