There is something delicious about opening a bottle of really, really good Champagne in a foreign hotel room. And there is something delicious about dabbing a really, really great perfume on your wrist, behind your ear while in the selfsame foreign hotel room before opening that bottle of really, really good Champagne.
So this is what we did on a recent quick getaway to one our favorite cities: Montreal. We left early on a Tuesday morning so that we could arrive in time for a classic bistrot lunch at a favorite watering-hole: Chez Levesque on rue Laurier. We traveled with four friends, and we all tucked into lunch with the abandon of starting a long vacation even though we all knew we only had twenty-four hours. We drank Saumur Chenin Blanc from the Loire, and white Cote de Rhone with fresh oysters, and winter green salads. Sole Meuniere, sweet breads, slightly spicy steak and salmon tartars, pan-roasted Canadian colin. In the afternoon, we haunted favorite boutiques admiring daring fashions. I trekked to one of my favorite department stores in the city, Ogilvy, and bellied up to the comptoir at L’Artisan Parfumeurs. I was there to purchase my favorite scent, La Chasse aux Papillions, a white flower concoction with notes of white pepper that seems to satisfy my connection to the floral and the gourmand, and somehow sits well with my own chemistry.
As I always do at a perfume bar, I smell other things. It’s like a grand tasting at a bar à vin. There was the new harvest perfume Iris Pallida made from a rare iris found in Italy originating from the Dalmatian coast; there was the vintage and organic harvest scent Jatamansi made from the rare nard, or jatamansi root grown in the foothills of the Himalayas; there was La Haie Fleurie du Hameau extracted from jasmine, orange blossom, narcissus, and ylang-ylang; and there was Méchant Loup. I remembered having smelled Méchant Loup before but not being nearly as intrigued as at that moment on a bitter and damply cold mid-winter afternoon dressed in two sweaters and two coats and still feeling only barely warm enough even though I was inside a well-heated building. It was difficult to get out of the chill, but the Méchant Loup distracted me, beckoning with a compelling narrative on its notes of cedar, white pepper, sandalwood, hazelnut, and honey. Deep into the woods go I following these illusive yet magic scents that reveal themselves only as they choose, the sign of a good perfume—a perfume of place, just like the sign of a good wine.
I translate Méchant Loup as Naughty Wolf, but it might also mean Angry Wolf, or in the spirit of the parfumeur Bertrand Duchaufour’s thinking, The Big Bad Wolf. A scent often suggested to men, I take the sample thinking that even though this is more woodsy than most scents I wear, the thread of the white pepper and the hint of magnolia somewhere in the kernel of the perfume might suit me just right in this winter season. This is a gourmand scent made from spices that I might use to flavor roasting lamb. A spicy perfume, a sheep in wolf’s clothing.
We are staying in a new hotel down in the old city, Le Petit Hotel. We’ve been admiring it since it’s opening in late July. It is modern and small with great flair. Red, white, stone, wood. In our compact room, modern lamps light our way, and the bed is made in the European fashion: white sheets and eiderdown. We’ve brought a Gaston Chiquet Champagne from Dizy in France. It is mostly Chardonnay with a little Pinot Noir, and a little Pinot Meunier. We’ve brought six very thin glass flutes from Austria. The Chiquet brothers were on the front line of Champagne farmers who decided to stop selling to the big Champagne houses, and keep the grapes for their own wines. Our non vintage Champagne is full of toasty hazelnut and minerality precision at the finish. The mousse, or the bubbles are very fine and small like tiny exquisite pearls. It is both expansive and restrained. It is in balance, and accompanies the Méchant Loup perfectly.
We toast, we talk, and the room is illuminated with flashes of the yeasty Champagne, and the dark woods that I wear on my wrist. We create a new tale between the six of us: Little Red Riding Hood drinks Champagne.