I arrived at Chartier, a classic Parisian brasserie, before my companions. This was our second day in Paris, and my wife had just called to say that some of her co-workers wanted to join us, which suited me fine, because who was I to complain about being the only man dining with four women? Chartier does not take reservations, but they do move fast, so I got in the perpetual line outside the door. I hadn't been in the line ten minutes before the hostess asked me how many were in my party, but in the din of the six languages going on around me (and surely because of my Day 2 French ear), I reacted as though she had said "who" instead of "how many"--so I blurted out, «J'attends que mes femmes. Quatre des eux.»
I immediately realized that I had said, "I am waiting for my wives. Four of them."
The hostess certainly heard it this way, too. She clutched my forearm and doubled over laughing, like an American might. Since Parisians are usually more reserved, I'm hoping that she was seizing her chance to blow off some steam from a very busy evening....
Anyway, once my wives joined me (one of whom turned out to be male), we were seated in a flash, and we immediately ordered some wine. We initially ordered some Rosé and a Côtes-du-Rhône, but when I saw their wine special, a Cahors, I dumped the Rhône in favor of some French Malbec.
Malbec is one of the darlings of the wine world, thanks to its success in Argentina, though it's popularity isn't as robust among retailers as it was a couple of years ago. This is because it is easy to grow weary of a popular wine, and a common sentiment arises..."Oooh, another Argentine Malbec...." Enter Cahors, a region of southwestern France where Malbec is the required principal variety.
Cahors was widely treasured in the 19th Century, in part because of its longevity. The region fell on hard times when the phylloxera louse destroyed its vineyards, and it has taken nearly a century to recover its mojo. Cahors is literally awash in good wine these days, as was evidenced by the very good wine offered as a special at Chartier.
Chartier is a spectacularly ebullient restaurant with an atmosphere so infectious that even a morose teenager would be delighted. Shoehorned onto a table for four, we started off with the bottle of Rosé (despite the 30°F temperatures outside, it was like the sunshine we hadn't seen for a while), the name of which I couldn't tell you, and we continued with the Cahors, which was called Noir de Casteyrac (it is almost certainly unavailable in the U.S.). The Cahors was particularly satisfying, because it was really delicious and complex, and it cost the equivalent of $20! Find me a wine this good in a U.S. restaurant for this price and I'll show you someone who's losing money! It was a hearty, robust, slightly rustic wine that was a fabulous partner for the lamb and rumsteck that we ordered. It overwhelmed the other two dishes, free-range chicken and Choucroute, but no one complained, because the experience of the restaurant itself obscured this small weakness.
If you can't find any Cahors, then get your retailer to order some. Cahors has been on a upward trend in quality for a century, and since at least 1998, early-drinking wines have become commonplace, so really no one has any excuse for not stocking at least one (unless even their wholesalers are afraid to stock it...). It takes a little bit of imagination to sell it, I mean, who the heck has heard of Cahors? Oooh...there's the sales opening right there!
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