Now this is my idea of a conference. No lammies, no brochures, no PowerPoint presentations. Just wine glasses and wine, plus a few luscious snacks.
Welcome to Paris's biannual Salon des Vins des Vignerons Indépendants, held at Espace Champerret in the 17th arrondissement. Every time I attend this event I am smitten by how great it is, and I'm also surprised that few foodies know about it. I consider letting them in on my secret, but then I take another sip of a nectar-like Saumur that's selling for less than €10 a bottle and think . . . maybe not. (*More on this reasoning later.)
I have often attended this salon with groups of friends (a fun but dangerous way to taste wine, as the outing quickly turns into a party), but yesterday, Sunday, March 25, it was just me and two partners in crime. Oh, and thousands of small winegrowers from all over France and their fans. The entry fee has gone up in recent years — it was €3 for two people, now it is €6 — but if you buy even one bottle from a winemaker and sign his or her mailing list, you will probably receive free tickets in the mail for the next salon.
The entry fee gets you an etched promotional wine glass (great for outdoor picnics) and the right to taste as much wine as you can handle. It is wise to eat before drinking, and fortunately there are food booths set up on the peripheries of each hall. And what food! Oysters; liver pâté spread liberally on traditional baguettes; fruit tarts of the season. It's enough to make you forget about the wine — almost.
Le Salon des Vins is so big, it is wise to decide what you wish to purchase before you arrive. This year I focused on the white wines of the Loire Valley — I had my mind set on a few bottles of crisp, easy-to-drink Touraine; a wonderful Saumur for sipping; and some sparkly Vouvray for summertime celebrations. Of course, you could just wander the halls and taste willy-nilly, moving from region to region and appellation to appellation. I have done that and ended up with a couple of mixed cases of fantastic reds, whites, rosés and sparkling wine. I also left with a throbbing headache.
But back to those foodies (and oenophiles). The absolute best thing about this salon, besides the wine itself, is that it is decidedly down-to-earth and un-trendy. The winegrowers are farmers, from small farms. The farmer himself, or his grandson, might fill your tasting glass and, if you're lucky, they may even show you photos of their farm, their vines and their dog. The customers, though Parisien, tend to be low-key. In all of the years I have attended this event, I have encountered only one wine snob — and he was from California.
Not that I have anything against Californians — hey, I used to live there. But if you've ever suffered through an unsolicited four-minute description of a menu or a wine list delivered by a haughty 26-year-old just out of culinary school, you'll know what I mean. At this celebration of wine (and food), there is none of that. No attitude, no sales pitch. Just ordinary folks who just happen to love growing and drinking wine.