The recent rage for wine bars reflects a change in the way the French think—and drink.
I’ve been visiting Paris since the 1970’s. But on a recent trip, I noted something radically unfamiliar. At Verjus, a new hot spot by the Palais Royal, a roomful of people were sipping Chinon and Chenin Blanc by the glass, not a dinner plate in sight.
Wine bars have always seemed the antithesis of how the French experience wine. While Americans gravitate toward big-bodied creations with the kick of a cocktail, the French favor restraint, seeing it as a piece of a larger prandial puzzle. An aperitif in Paris has always meant a Lillet, a kir, maybe a beer. Wines by the glass were usually barely drinkable vin ordinaire.
This morning I’m listening to a traffic report from Chicago – huge backups on the Dan Ryan, slow going on the Eisenhower – yet I’m sitting at home in Colorado.
All day long, I dip into the culture of other places through Internet radio. This isn’t Sirius or XM; in fact, I’d call it the opposite. Instead of homogenized programming for national consumption, it’s relentlessly local. It’s Cajun music from Louisiana, jazz from Manhattan, sports talk from Boston, a chat show from Adelaide, classical music from Switzerland. You could do it all on your laptop (and I do when I travel.) But an Internet receiver gives you far better sound, and it looks like a radio. I use a handsome Sangean the size of a shoebox that lets me pre-set 12 stations, though I change the presets all the time.
Here are some stations that I have set right now:
*BBC London – Robert Elms, a friend of two decades, has a quirky show with literary guests and great music every weekday morning. I hear it over breakfast.
*KING, Seattle – The best classical station I’ve come across. I put it on as background music all day.
*Carstairs Kitchen Radio – Literally some guy in Carstairs, Alberta, Canada, who runs a radio station out of his kitchen. It’s a wonderfully eclectic mix of music, a lot of big-band stuff, and no talking between.
*WEEI, Boston – To hear the latest chatter and gossip about my beloved Red Sox.
*WBBM, Chicago – I alternate this all-news station with WCBS, New York, WBZ from Boston, and KNX, Los Angeles. I get the important national stories, but also local news so I feel like I’m traveling.
*WKCR, New York – The Columbia University station. Phil Schaap digs up scratchy old recordings I’ve never heard for his hours-long jazz extravaganzas.
*Minnesota Public Radio – Or sometimes Vermont Public Radio, or Nebraska Public Radio. Slightly different programming than my local NPR outlet. And I can avoid the pledge drives.
You can get even more exotic, and I have. But the novelty of grabbing a signal from the Ivory Coast or Iceland wears off after a while, especially if you can’t understand the language. Even if I set out to span the globe, I find myself returning to programming I actually want to hear. Fortunately, there’s no shortage of that.
Bruce Schoenfeld is Travel + Leisure's wine and spirits editor.