Last week my sister was visiting the UK for the first time and I felt duty-bound to introduce her to all that these shores have to offer. And so I took her to Paris rather than expose her to the crumbling mess that is the British railway system.
Apart from the permanent cloud of second-hand smoke wafting through the air, the aloofness of the average waiter, the erratic opening hours, the stench of urine in the streets and the frankly homicidal drivers, Paris is a fairly ideal holiday destination.
No gourmand can be taken seriously if he or she has not made the pilgrimage to France to see what all the fuss is about. It’s why we use the French term ‘sous-vide’ for the cooking method rather than the simpler but much less elegant English translation of ‘under vacuum’. Similarly, no romantic can live life without having travelled to the top of the Eiffel Tower or walked over the Pont des Arts, which is heaving with so many padlocks that its railings are beginning to collapse.
For both of us, it was a journey of discovery. For my sister, it was a first visit to France and the European continent. For me, it was all about wine – and noticing just how much less the Parisians pay for it than we do.
Case in point: E Guigal Côte-Rôtie Brune et Blonde 2006.
Now, Côte-Rôtie does not come cheap. Today it is one of the most famous wines of the Rhône, but this was mostly the work of Guigal in the 1980s. For years, Hermitage was the leading appellation in the northern Rhône and Côte-Rôtie, thanks to devastation caused by phylloxera in the 1800s and dwindling vineyard area following the war, barely presented itself as a serious competitor. But revival came in the 1970s and this led to praise from critics (Mr Parker arguably being the main catalyst) along with greater attention from wine drinkers.
And so, if you want a bottle of E Guigal’s Côte-Rôtie in the UK, it will run you around £40 or more. That’s about four times more expensive than Guigal’s basic Rhône wines, such as their Crozes Hermitage or Côtes du Rhône bottlings.
Things are little bit different en France. While not everything is a bargain in France – you won’t find a discounted bottle of Haut-Brion at the LeClerc, for example – I can’t help but wince each time I visit a wine merchant.
Last week was no different. An initial trip to Monoprix, the upscale retailer whose apostrophe-shaped logo I constantly confuse with Vodafone’s served as a constant reminder that the Parisians pay a lot less for their wines than we do. I took little solace in knowing they are being fleeced every time they order a coffee.
I am not talking about an insignificant savings either. That E Guigal Côte-Rôtie Brune et Blonde 2006 at Monoprix? €32.35 or a little more than £25 at today’s exchange rate.
How about Miraval Rosé Côtes de Provence 2013? €14.90 at Julhe’s on Rue du Faubourg Saint-Denis, while here in the UK it runs nearer £20.
And then there were the bottles of water. During one trip to a Montpellier outlet of Lidl back in August, my girlfriend came back with a 1.5-litre bottle of spring water for which she paid just €0.09.
It appears no matter what they are drinking, the French are always getting a bargain. Well, except when it comes to the coffee. The price for the average cup is obscenely expensive.