As we landed in Paris, I saw the drizzle of rain streak across my window. Why is it that every time I land at Charles de Gaulle it’s grey and miserable? You’d think it might have (ahem) dampened my enthusiasm for making the trip, but no, especially not this time. My husband and I had a special anniversary to celebrate, and it was Christmas. I’d been to Paris many times but never at the most magical time of year.
Our story began late in life, after both of us had traveled other paths, pursued other things. Meeting each other was unlikely, to say the least, but we did, while I was on a business trip to New York City. It was a chance encounter at a French bistro in mid-town: I was at the bar sipping a glass of rosé when he came in for a client dinner. As his group waited for a table, he struck up a conversation – the most interesting chat I’d had in eight years, since I’d been single again.
We’ve been together ever since, a blatant refutation of my skepticism on two fronts: a) that there are still some nice people out there; and b) not all long-distance relationships are doomed from the start. Although I must admit it took me a while to get used to the idea.
So, back to Paris . . . .
We celebrated our fifth anniversary last December, and decided to honor it with a visit to the City of Light. I hadn’t been to Paris in almost 10 years, about the length of time I’d been divorced from my ex-husband, who grew up there. While we were married, I spent quite a bit of time in France and fell head-over-heels in love with it. I had mixed feelings about returning to a place familiar to my heart yet unknown to me now. But I looked at the trip as a way to reclaim the city for myself, to reshape the way I thought about it. In a sense, I was exorcising the ghosts of memories past, looking ahead to new ones on the horizon.
We decided to book an apartment through Airbnb rather than stay in a hotel. The idea of a little more space and privacy and the chance to blend into the neighborhood really appealed to us. Our place was a block away from the Notre Dame cathedral, on the Île de la Cité, right in the middle of the Seine. And it delivered everything we had wanted: classic Paris charm, creaky wood floors, funky décor, and a modern kitchen. It was a delight!
As I mentioned earlier, it was a drizzly, dismal day when we arrived. Not the best motivation for shaking off jet lag! Instead of heading out to visit a museum or historical site, we opted to stroll around the neighborhood, in our case, the Île de la Cité and Île Saint-Louis. We walked past Notre Dame but eschewed the long line; we window-shopped all the boutiques and markets. Then we looked at each other and agreed to call it a day. All we needed was a big bottle of water and some snacks to take back to the apartment.
We quickly realized our immediate quartier, a beacon for tourists visiting the cathedral, lacked a full grocery store or even a mini-market. Cranky and tired, the two of us considered plunking ourselves down for a quick bite at a busy cafe, when we saw Talêgo just ahead. Like an oasis in the desert, it lured us closer and tempted us to come in.
Talêgo Épicerie Fine
From the outside, Talêgo is quaint, with paned glass windows displaying brightly colored goodies of all kind – chocolate, tea, coffee, charcuterie, cheese, and wine. Wine! As we entered, Candida, the owner, welcomed us and gave us a quick tour of the inside. In addition to the tasty snacks there were creams and soaps, books and records, all brought to central Paris directly from Portugal.
Fado music played in the background as we meandered from shelves decked with honey and olive oil, to a table laden with thinly sliced sausages and cheese. Candida invited us to sample whatever struck our fancy, offering to bring additional items from the tiny kitchen in back. Our cold, dreary arrival in Paris had suddenly become a lot warmer.
Within minutes, we had picked out some charcuterie and cheese, a baguette, and a bottle of red wine. Our first dinner in Paris would be at home, on the couch, with a platter of Portuguese delicacies. No one could have predicted that!
2013 Alvaro Castro Dao Red Wine (13% abv; about $13 in the US)
This dark red-purple wine is a blend of Alfrocheiro (35%) Tinta Roriz (35%) and Touriga Nacional (30%). It comes from the sub-region of Beiras in the Dão appellation in the north of Portugal. Álvaro Castro, whose family has made wine here since the 16th century, now works with his daughter Maria to craft wines from three distinct parcels: Quinta da Pellada (source for this wine); Quinta da Saes; and Outeiro. Soils are predominantly granite, with layers of clay and sand running throughout.
Color: This wine is deep, dark purple, like a blackberry.
Nose: Pronounced aromas of black fruit (cherry and blackberry) mingle with earthier elements like forest floor and leather.
Taste: An even balance of primary fruit (black) and those earthy notes, with barely a hint of vanilla. Tannins are silky and the finish is long, with a peppery bite at the end.
Verdict: Super wine, especially with the sausage and cheese we bought. A lot of bang for the buck, which is just one reason to appreciate dry Portuguese wines.
Queijo da Serra da Estrela DOP Cheese
This cheese is a specialty of the Serra da Estrela region of Portugal. Made from local sheep’s milk, it can be produced between November and March, and must be coagulated with extract from the local thistle plant rather than rennet. It has a nutty, creamy flavor, with just a bit of sharpness, making it the perfect foil for the sausage.
Casa do Porco Preto Iberico Chouriço Sausage with Wine
According to the Casa do Porco Preto, there are four secrets to making delicious ham and sausage in the Alentejo region of Portugal:
- The Animal: The Alentejo Pig, descended from wild boars of Iberian or Roman lineage, has a unique capacity to produce intramuscular fat, resulting in even marbling and fine texture.
- Oak Trees: Portugal has thousands of acres of oak trees, which produce the acorns that serve as a staple of the pigs’ diets. The acorns are rich in oleic acid, which imparts a distinct nutty flavor to the meat.
- The Weather: The Mediterranean climate in this high-altitude region brings warm days followed by cool breezes, allowing the curing process to occur naturally, over time, rather than in smoke houses.
- Natural Curing Process: Meat rests on the upper floor of the drying room throughout the summer, encouraging it to “sweat”; this is when the oleic acid seeps into the muscle fibers. Total processing time varies, as it is “in the hands of nature.”
At the End of the Day
My husband and I couldn’t have dreamed of a better or warmer welcome to Paris. Nor could we have imagined it would come from the heart of a charming Portuguese shop. Thank you, Candida, for making our first meal in the City of Light one we’ll never forget. As for ghosts of Paris Past? They’ve vanished, replaced by a week’s worth of new memories and the anticipation of more to come.
Wine Pairing Weekend
My post is part of a larger effort by the bloggers in the Wine Pairing Weekend group (#WinePW) to explore the delights of Portugal. Each month we meet virtually to discuss a particular theme, share our discoveries, and learn something new about food and wine. If you’d like to join our chat this Saturday, September 9th, log into Twitter at 11 am ET and follow #WinePW. We’d love to see you there!
Curious? Take a look at what the rest of the group is contributing:
Lori Budd of Dracaena Wines takes us through how Portugal’s Political History Affects Its Culinary and Wine Culture.
Nicole Ruiz Hudson aka Nibbling Gypsy is Cooking to the Wine: Passagem Douro Reserva with Spiced Wine Braised Octopus.
And Gwendolyn and Sue at Wine Predator take us on a trip through Portugal: Castles, Cobbles, Coastline, Cuisine for #WinePW.
Next month, we at #WinePW say #MerlotMe! Anyone interested in wine pairing is welcome to join the chat!
David Crowley of Cooking Chat started this event in June of 2014, and every month since then we have had a great time! For more background, check out the original post announcing Wine Pairing Weekend.
New bloggers are welcome any time. Just let us know if you’re interested in participating!
Check out the Wine Pairing Weekend Calendar for a list of the upcoming and past events. The past event listing directs you to the host’s blog post which will have a link to all the other blogs from that month. Check them out to fuel some good wine pairing ideas!