What better place in the world to do a wine tasting than in France? My husband and I just spent a glorious week in Paris, and of course we wanted to try some of the local wines. Day trips to the Loire Valley seemed excessively pricey, so I did some research and came across Les Caves du Louvre, aka the French Wine Experience. It was a handy two-minute jaunt from the Louvre:
According to the website and brochure, Les Caves du Louvre is a sensory experience designed to educate the visitor about wine in a fun, interactive way. You get to touch, smell, see, and of course, taste some of the elements that make French wines world famous.
The concept reminded us a lot of the House of Bols in Amsterdam, which is one of our favourite places to frequent every time we’re in the city. Mostly because of the mirrored bar and amazing cocktails made with flair. (The museum section never changes, so we plow straight through it now. But we still stop to spritz the atomized scents along the way to see what new liqueurs they’ve put into production. But I digress.) So, with the “House of Bols” notion in mind, we set off to try the French Wine Experience.
When we walked in, my eyes were instantly drawn to the lighting overhead. A grape-leaf design on the ceiling! Cool!
The French Wine Experience had several options to choose from. The base price of entry was 11 Euros, which didn’t include any wine tastings at the end. The next option up included one wine tasting, and so on.
We chose the third tier, which included three wines. The most expensive option included the tastings as well as the option to “create” your own wine at the end, including a custom label uploaded with your photo. Kind of a fun little souvenir.
After we purchased our tickets, the hostess at the desk told us there was an optional phone app we could download to enhance the tour experience. We decided to give it a try, but initially had some issues getting the app to load properly. Just when the app seemed to finish downloading, the installation would crash. We spent about ten minutes in failed attempts before we asked the hostess for help. She suggested turning off Bluetooth, which did the trick. Once the app loaded, we proceeded on our way down the staircase to the wine caves.
The first room covered sight and touch. Displays of grape vines buried in various types of soil and rock illustrated the different wine-growing regions in France. Some of the screens behind the grapevines showed videos of grapes being planted and harvested. The lesson here was how the type of soil and relative geography of each region changes the flavours in the grapes; a little something wine lovers know as terroir.
The second room focused on your sense of smell. I loved the decor they used, it had an organic, yet futuristic feel:
Large “corks” lined the displays on either side. Your goal was to sniff each one to try to identify each fragrance and place them in the corresponding slot beside each scent description. If you guessed right, the display would light up in green; if you guessed wrong, it would light up in red.
This started out fun, but we quickly discovered that not all of the displays were working correctly. Some of the signs didn’t light up at all, so we weren’t sure if we were guessing right or not.
This defeated the entire purpose of the room. We soon grew tired of trying to make the display work properly, so we moved on to the next experience: taste. Another fabulously designed cellar:
The long table contained little ampoules of flavoured water to stimulate your sense of taste. The ampoules were filled with sweet, sour, bitter, woody and acidic liquid. The sixth ampoule contained a “mystery” flavour. But I’m sure you can guess what flavour it was just by process of elimination. Either way, I won’t spoil the surprise.
The tasting section went fairly quickly, so we went to the next room. Unfortunately, it really didn’t have any interactive elements. It was just nicely decorated with wine labels framed along the walls. Again, we explored this room pretty fast since there wasn’t much to see or do:
The final room was the bar, where we had our French wine tastings. We sampled one white and two reds. Luckily, our sommelier was quite knowledgeable about each wine and the regions each one came from.
This was the highlight of the self-guided tour, as the rest was sadly disappointing. It had very good reviews on TripAdvisor too, so I expected more from it.
To be fair, the phone app was kind of cool though. You could read additional information, click on videos, and there were quizzes to test your knowledge along the way. Unfortunately, when our hostess said the app was optional, it’s really not, at least not if you want to really immerse yourself in the detailed particulars of the experience. The exhibit relies heavily on the tech, and if you don’t have a phone or tablet with you, you lose out on a lot of the valuable information because there’s no other way to get it; information on the displays is minimal.
I loved the concept behind the idea, but the execution was lacking, especially with the bits that weren’t in proper working condition. And maybe we had our expectations set too high, as the House of Bols is a similar concept, but it’s a really hard act to follow. But, this exhibit is still fairly new, so hopefully there will be enhancements in the future to improve the overall experience.