By Bryan Pirolli in Paris—
Few beverages seem as intimidating as wine. Images of blind tastings, snobbish conversations about vintages, and hefty price tags immediately come to mind. Coming to Paris, wine drinkers are like kids in a candy store. Affordable and delicious wine flows freely, but travelers can easily be duped.
Whether you’re looking for some rouge to go with your dinner or you want a bottle for a friendly picnic, here are some tips to keep in mind.
1. Don’t be thrown off by labels or price tags.
Higher prices and pretty labels are not indicative of how much you will like a wine. Bottles at restaurants can cost €20, €40, €60 and beyond.
While the wine will probably be good, less discerning pallets can opt for the much cheaper and equally tasty carafe or pichet of wine. This is a house wine that is served in a small pitcher or glass bottle that comes with none of the frills of a Saint-Emillon or Chateauneuf du Pape, but it will still be a tasty accompaniment to most French meals.
Don’t feel goofy asking for a pichet because even the locals will order up some house red, white, or rosé on a typical evening.
2. Don’t get too cheapo…
When purchasing a bottle of wine at the grocery store or wine store, even Cheapos have a limit. Any bottle under €3 is rarely something that you’d want to drink, more often reserved for cooking or wild student parties. Stick to the €4-10 range to ensure that the wine won’t make you wince.
3. “AOC”? A-OK!
Look for the AOC, or appellation d’origine contrôlée on any bottle you purchase. This indicates that the wine is a credible Bordeaux, Burgundy, or whatever other region (origine) it may claim. Without the AOC, there is no way to know if the wine was made by a professional or from some guy down the street in his bathtub.
Still, if you go to a wine bistrot like Le Verré Volé, many of their wines don’t have a AOC. However, you can be sure that the specialists in the store have visited the vineyards and know exactly where that wine is coming from.
4. Think inside the box, but outside the jug.
Box is OK, but plastic jugs might be pushing it. Box wine is not quite trendy, but is accepted with wine stores like Nicolas offering up affordable varieties.
The liter-sized plastic jugs at the supermarkets, however, are not to be trusted. Take a tip from someone who may or may not have been there – it’s not worth testing unless you want your wine to double as a paint-remover.
5. Know when to say “non.”
If you taste a wine and it doesn’t suit your tastes, hopefully you didn’t buy a whole bottle of it at a restaurant. That said, if a wine tastes particularly offensive, with smells and tastes that seem unfit for any mouth, it may be corked, which means the wine has been spoiled in the bottling or aging process.
While rare, receiving a corked glass or bottle of wine can happen, and if you are really unable to drink the wine, ask your bartender or server what they think and they will usually be honest with you.
6. Supermarket wine is not taboo.
With aisles devoted to all sorts of regional French wines, Parisian supermarkets like Monoprix and Franprix are acceptable places to buy a bottle for dinner or a picnic.
If you want to ask questions or are looking for something specific, however, head to a wine shop, or caviste. Nicolas or Le Repaire de Bacchus are two such chains found all over the city. Additionally, there are countless independent wine shops and bistros that will be happy to help you find what you’re seeking.
Your wine questions or advice?
What other questions do you have about wine in France? Have some advice to share with our readers? Join the conversation in our comments section!
Also in our guide: Heading to Paris soon and looking for advice on great affordable sleeps? Our editors have hunted down the best hotel deals, all visited, inspected and reviewed by EuroCheapo. Read more in our Paris guide.