What better place in the world to do a wine tasting than in France? My husband and I 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 on wine tastings in Paris. I discovered two unique wine tasting venues right in the heart of the city.
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Les Caves du Louvre
Les Caves du Louvre, aka the French Wine Experience is a handy two-minute jaunt from the Louvre.
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 they also had an optional phone app to 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 played videos of grape planting and harvesting. 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 it wasn’t long before we discovered that some of the displays were not 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 contained sweet, sour, bitter, woody and acidic liquids. 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 a nicely decorated room with framed wine labels lining the walls. Again, we explored this room pretty fast since it didn’t offer any activities:
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, even though our hostess said the app was optional, it’s really not. At least, it’s not optional if you want to really immerse yourself in the detailed particulars of the experience. The exhibit relies heavily on the tech. So 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 our expectations were set too high, as the House of Bols is a similar concept, but it’s also 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.
Address: 52 Rue de l’Arbre Sec, 75001 Paris, France
Hours of Operation: Monday to Saturday: 2pm-6pm, Sunday 2pm-5pm
Musée du Vin
What would Paris be without an entire museum dedicated to the manufacture and subsequent enjoyment of wine? Well, we finally paid a visit to the aptly-named Musée du Vin Paris on our last visit. And we were pleasantly surprised by all the viticulture-themed treasures displayed inside!
Now, I’ll be honest. The Museum of Wine doesn’t sound like it would be that interesting, even to an avid lover of wine like myself. I tend to prefer museums that cover a range of topics, time periods and interests. A museum dedicated to one very specific, narrow-niched theme has the potential to get dull fast. But I’m quite pleased to say that our initial hesitation was for naught.
This is a self-guided museum, but make sure to request an audio guide. It offers so much more information than they can capture on the interpretive signs on the displays.
They offer an additional tour option as well, beyond the standard entry price – one that includes wine tastings. You can purchase wine by the glass, or go for a wine tasting with a wine expert to guide you through your experience:
The Museum of Wine was a little tricky to find. It’s within walking distance of the Eiffel Tower, just on the other side of the Seine. But it’s tucked away at the end of a dead-end street, so it can be easy for you to miss. But we ended up finding it after a bit of poking around in the right general area.
The museum was the brainchild of the members of the Echansons Council of France. This council, dedicated to the promotion of fine French wines, established the museum in 1984 as part of their mandate. The museum, set in old limestone quarries dug between the 13th-18th centuries, now houses a collection of over 2200 pieces!
Items include a collection of corkscrews, bottles of different shapes and colors, decanters, artifacts depicting Bacchus, the god of wine, among many other pieces.
One of the more unusual pieces in the museum is Le Cordon de Saint Francois de Paule, which translates to the Cord of Saint Francis de Paule. Saint Francis was the founder of the Order of Minimes. Part of the habit worn by members of the order included a belt, or cord, knotted with five knots. This cord, belonged to the saint until his death in 1507, and the convent kept it safe until the Revolution. They then moved it to the church of Notre-Dame-la-Riche in Tours for safety.
It was returned in 1798 and authenticated twice, before going back to the church of Notre-Dame-la-Riche. Now, my French is a little bit rusty, but my understanding from the plaque next to the cord indicated that this relic is shared, and the fragment here will be offered to the Carmelite Convent in Tours.
Now, you may wonder what any of this has to do with wine. Well, the Brothers of the Order of Minimes of the Convent of Passy are the ones responsible for building three vaulted rooms in these quarries to store their wine.
The museum restaurant now occupies these vaulted rooms.
So, what other delights does the museum house? Well, a few rooms display tools used in growing and harvesting grapes. The room below focused mainly on storage and transport containers. I loved the intricate brand in the upper right hand corner of this photo.
While the vast collection was interesting, the numbering of the artifacts was a bit confusing as they weren’t sequential. This led to a lot of “hunting around” when the audio guide pointed to a specific numbered item. But this is a minor criticism, as they have a lot of pieces to display.
They also had an onion-shaped heater, used specifically in manufacturing cognac. Non-filtered wine was brought to the boiling point in two stages. The vapour would pass through a coil and condense. The first and last parts of the condensed steam were rejected. This left only the “heart,” or spirit of the wine in the middle of the process.
These models below are showing the champagne-making process. The bottles in the back of the room demonstrate “riddling”. Champagne bottles are stored upside down at a 75-degree angle. A “riddler” then comes and gives the bottles 1/8th of a turn – a mere flick of the wrist. This forces the dead yeast cells to settle into the neck of the bottle. This makes the dead yeast easier to remove later.
There are even a few famous faces at the museum. Such as Napoleon, who happened to love wine. His favourite was Chambertin from Burgundy. He even ordered it delivered to the battlefield.
Then there was Louis Pasteur, who probably had the biggest impact on French wines. In the 19th Century, various diseases that altered or destroyed the natural flavours of the wine damaged the wine industry’s reputation. French wine exports suffered greatly. Napoleon III commissioned Pasteur’s services to study the wines in the region to determine a course of action. Pasteur’s methods of applying heat and reducing exposure of the wines to bacteria in the atmosphere led to the solution: pasteurization.
By the end of the audio tour and walkabout, we realized we had actually learned more about wine than we expected to. The museum was low-key, at least when we were there (there was one other couple in the museum besides us) so we didn’t have high expectations. But we found the museum to be interesting, humorous, entertaining and educational. It was one of those “hidden gems” that not a lot of people seem to know about, but is worth making the time for.
Address: 5, square Charles Dickens, 75016 Paris
Metro: Passy – line 6
Bus: N°72 – Bir-Hakeim
RER C Train: Champ de Mars – Tour Eiffel
Hours of Operation: Tuesday to Saturday: 10: 00 am – 6: 00 pm
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