Calais booze cruise
Does a strong Euro spell the end of that great British institution, the booze cruise to Calais? Not necessarily, reckon the cross-Channel wine experts. Time Out investigates whether there are still wine bargains in France
Nobody drinks like the British, or so they tell us. And not many places pay excise duty for their drink like the British either: we’re currently on about £1.50 per bottle of still wine, £2 for sparkling and 20p per 33cl of beer. And that’s before VAT. Just to put that in proportion, in France the rate per bottle of still wine is the equivalent of a mere 2p.
But that’s alright, because we have the booze cruise. Load the car on the ferry, scoot over to Calais, fill the boot with cases of vin de table, et voilà! So what are we going to do now that the Euro has become so mighty and we’re too poor to pay over the odds? Drown our sorrows in Babycham (a pear cider made in the UK, naturellement)? Get a job in a country with a sensible currency? Or just resign ourselves to unalleviated misery and embrace teetotalism?
Actually, none of the above. There are still plenty of bargains to be had in Calais, not least because the UK market is vital to its booze purveyors’ business, so a strong Euro hurts them nearly as much as it hurts us. ‘You can find wine for £2, £3 or £4 that’s perfectly delicious,’ says wine consultant Joe Wadsack firmly. ‘And if you’re buying in bulk they’ll probably chuck in a discount.’ You just have to be a bit clever about what you buy. ‘If you go to one of the grandes surfaces (big supermarkets), you’ll only get the tax benefit,’ says Wadsack. ‘The real bargains are the same place they are in Britain: in interesting, obscure stuff that comes from well-known countries.’
That’s great if you’re an expert; if you’re not, Madame Pernot, director of Calais Tourist Office, points out that there are small shops as well as grandes surfaces in Calais. ‘These are more intimate spaces, run by people in love with wine who can advise you according to your needs.’ Her office, naturally, is happy to help you find them.
Wadsack cites Calais des Vins and its sister shop Franglais, run by brothers-in-law Jerome Pont and Olivier Vermisse as the kind of place to look for. ‘If Calais is part of the English wine market then these are the best two wine shops in Britain,’ he maintains. It has a tasting bar, with 50 wines to try before you buy, and the kind of knowledge that means if you like Chateauneuf du Pape but can’t afford the good stuff even at discount rates, it will find you something similar that you’ve probably never heard of. It even makes its own beer using one of the best artisanal breweries in France.
And if you are braving the supermarkets, Wadsack advises arriving with a corkscrew, a glass and perhaps a spittoon – that way, you can buy one bottle that looks good value, try it in the car park and load up with a case if you like it. But whichever way you play it, there’s no reason to turn your back on France just yet. ‘Just remember, they’re struggling too,’ says Wadsack. ‘It’s a buyer’s market.’
Calais Tourist Office, www.calais-cotedopale.com
Calais Vins, www.calais-vins.com