Stopping in Paris for a few days on my way to the wine regions of France has become a ritual. There's usually a trip to Willi's Wine Bar on the Right Bank. Willi's has always served exceptional wine, but the cuisine was somewhat rustic. It has recently upped its game in the kitchen, for which I am grateful.
Joel Robuchon's l'Atelier, on the Left Bank, is another ritual. It's a splurge because it's very expensive, but it's my favorite restaurant in Paris. And the selection of wines by the glass is superb.
I also frequent the Chez Papa Jazz Club in Saint-Germain, not far from l'Atelier, but I had never even considered dining there. My mistake, as I discovered this week on my way to Les Grands Jours de Bourgogne in Burgundy.
I had booked a hotel in Saint-Germain, Bel Amis, because it had recently become a Starwood partner and I am addicted to Starwood points. Bel Amis had the added advantage of being a few doors up from Chez Papa on Rue Saint-Benoit.
There are many fine restaurants in the area, and my typical play would be to enjoy dinner at one of my favorites and then pop into Chez Papa for the last couple of sets. For a change of pace, I decided to test Chez Papa's culinary chops.
The jazz show was sold out this wet and cold Friday evening, and I had to practically beg to get a table. They were very gracious and moved some tables around to squeeze me in. Others were turned away after I was seated. I considered myself lucky, and I was.
I was pleasantly surprised, too. I opened with a coup de Champagne from Nicolas Feuillatte as an aperitif. For a starter, I ordered a plate of jamon serrano. It was thinly sliced and served at room temperature. Perfect.
A bottle of Gigondas, fairly priced at 39 euros, worked well with the ham. But it was even better with the main course, a filet of veal in a cream sauce made with fresh ceps.
The food and wine were first-rate, the service exceptional and the music sublime.
I now have a new Paris ritual to add to my bulging list.
Wines are rated on a 100-point scale. Wines are chosen for review because they represent outstanding quality or value, and the scores are simply a measure of this reviewer's enthusiasm for the recommended wine.
Dry Creek Vineyard 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon, Dry Creek Valley ($28) -- A brilliant CAB from one of the Dry Creek Valley's finest producers, the 2015 exhibits rich black-fruit aromas, impressive depth and weight on the palate. It has notes of wood spice and a touch of graphite that is common in top-notch California cabernet and classified-growth Bordeaux. The wine will continue to evolve and improve over the next five to seven years. Rating: 93.
Dry Creek Vineyard 2013 Meritage, Dry Creek Valley ($30) -- Despite consistent acclaim, Dry Creek's Meritage red wine (a blend of merlot, cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, malbec and petit verdot) remains one of California's finest value reds. The 2013 is a beautiful example of the winery's previous successes with this wine, delivering lush, ripe layers of red and black fruits, a judicious amount of wood spice and smooth, supple tannins. It fits easily into the company of red blends selling for twice the price. Rating: 92.
Qupe 2014 Grenache, Sawyer Lindquist Vineyard, Edna Valley ($35) -- Long a standard-bearer for the Rhone grape varieties, Qupe never waivers in its devotion to the cause. This grenache is not only classic in its fruit profile of red berries and spice; it is exquisitely balanced, owing in no small part to the cool maritime breezes that wash over the Edna Valley every evening. Rating: 92.
Robert Mondavi 2014 Merlot, Napa Valley ($25) -- This vintage of merlot from Mondavi makes my ongoing point about Napa Valley red wines. Merlot from a top producer is consistently well-priced compared with cabernet sauvignon from the same source. The 2014 exhibits rich aromas of plum and dark cherry, a touch of wood spice and beautifully integrated tannins. The wine is well-balanced with impressive length and a lingering finish. It should improve over the next two to six years, though it's drinkable now. And it's a steal for the price. Rating: 91.
Rodney Strong 2015 'Upshot' Red Blend, Sonoma County ($28) -- Can we all agree wine should be fun? If you're on board, then Rodney Strong's 2015 Upshot should your next step. An eclectic blend of zinfandel, merlot, malbec, petit verdot and -- the surprise of surprises -- riesling, Upshot delivers a burst of ripe black fruits, a generous touch of spice and smooth, supple tannins. This is the perfect summer red for barbecues. On warm days, serve it slightly chilled. And don't think about it too hard; just have fun. Rating: 89.