Bordeaux, Burgundy, Champagne. These are the magical words that elicit dreams of corks popping and the aromatic scents of black cherry, vanilla and spice. Naturally, these are the regions that come to mind when planning a wine tasting trip to France. You might be surprised to know that you can combine a French wine tasting with a trip to the City of Light. And I don’t mean by just buying a bottle at a wine store and picnicking in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower (though that is a fabulous option). I’ve rounded up some of the city’s top wine experiences in this wine lover’s guide to Paris. After all, as the French say: “La vie est trop courte pour boire du mauvais vin.”
When a follower tweeted me about a secret vineyard in the heart of Paris, I just knew that I had to find it. It’s Clos Montmartre and it’s actually not hard to find at all. The vineyard just isn’t on the well-trodden path to Paris’ most famous attractions like the Eiffel Tower and The Louvre. It’s tucked away on a hillside in the shadow of Sacré-Coeur and just a few minutes walk from the infamous Moulin Rouge.
You might be surprised to know that long before Paris became the bustling City of Light, it was planted with grapevines. The Romans had built a temple here in Montmartre dedicated to Bacchus, the god of wine. Fast forward to the 12th century and a Benedictine monastery was built in this spot and the nuns operated its wine press. Unfortunately that monastery was destroyed in the French Revolution, but Clos Montmartre was spared.
It went on to become a church owned vineyard and supplied wine to the local cabarets of Pigalle, before it was nearly destroyed from the phylloxera outbreak and urbanization in the 20th century. A group of local artists couldn’t bear to have Paris’ vineyard disappear forever and petitioned the government to give them the land. They replanted the vineyard in 1933 and Clos Montmartre has been producing wine ever since. 1500 bottles annually, to be exact.
The wine isn’t particularly good, but “decent enough” by Parisian standards. It’s more of a collector’s item. Each year the labels are designed by local artists and the wine is auctioned off for €45 per bottle with the proceeds going to local children’s charities during the annual Fête des Vendanges, which has been celebrated every harvest (except during WWII) since the vineyard’s replanted grapes were harvested in 1934.
The best time to visit Clos Montmartre is in October during the annual Fête des Vendanges. The rest of the year it is difficult, though not impossible to visit. Visits with a tasting can be arranged by the Montmartre Tourist Office and is only available for groups of 20 or more.
Musée du Vin
The queue for the Louvre might snake practically to the Arc de Triomphe, but you’ll practically have Paris’ Musée du Vin to yourself. In fact, on my first there was only one other person there and it was so blissfully quiet that I nearly forgot that the Eiffel Tower was practically outside the door.
Much like how Clos Montmartre came in to existence, monks built an abbey on the hill above the banks of the Seine and cultivated vineyards here in the 15th century. The wine they produced was quite popular with King Louis XIII. The religious order and the abbey itself were destroyed during the French Revolution, but the old cellars remained. They were rediscovered in the 1950s and served as the wine cellars for the Eiffel Tower restaurants before becoming the Musée du Vin in 1984.
More than two thousand years of wine-making expertise lead to the development of France’s world-famous wines and those two thousand years come to life in the Musée du Vin‘s collection of tools and artifacts.
The museum also has a restaurant and this is no ordinary museum cafeteria style restaurant. Open for lunch, it has a menu of traditional French dishes and sommeliers can make the perfect pairing recommendations. With more than 200 wines on the wine list, you’ll definitely want the sommelier’s suggestions.
Wine tastings and other wine activities are also available and the museum has various wine courses including everything from beginner tastings to wine and chocolate pairings every Saturday.
Musée du Vin is located at 5 Square Charles Dickens on Rue des Eaux. The closest metro station is Passy. The museum is open Tuesday – Saturday from 10am – 6pm. General admission to the museum is €10 per person. Tastings are €5 per glass. The restaurant is open exclusively for lunch from 12pm – 3pm and reservations are required.
De Vinius Illustribus
There are no shortage of tasting rooms and wine bars in Paris, but De Vinius Illustribus is truly a special place. Owner and wine expert Lionel Michelin personally conducts all of the wine tastings at his quaint 17th century wine cellar in the heart of the 5th arrondissement, one of the oldest districts of the city.
Lionel, a lawyer and wine collector, started out by selling his private collection to a few discerning customers. He carefully selects all of the wines in his impressive collection and he proudly showed some of the most interesting wines he’s acquired. His cellar has everything from €15 bottles perfect for opening with dinner later that night to extraordinary vintages priced at €10,000 and meant for a truly special occasion.
De Vinius Illustribus offers private wine tastings by appointment only and Lionel and his wife, Dominique, work with their clients before hand to design a personalized experience. I left it to Lionel to select a variety of French wines for my tasting and I was glad his selections forced me out of my usual wine comfort zone. If only I’d had more room in my suitcase to bring home some of the bottles from my tasting!
De Vinius Illustribus is located at 48, rue de la Montagne-Sainte-Geneviève. Daytime and evening wine tasting appointments are available 7 days per week by appointment only.
Head to the rooftop terrace for a glass of wine at the L’Oiseau Blanc at The Peninsula Paris. Not only do you have a fantastic view of the Eiffel Tower, but you can see their life-size replica of L’Oiseau Blanc. The bi-plane disappeared in 1927 while attempting to make the first transatlantic flight from Paris to New York and compete for the Orteig Prize.
The menu has a nice selection of white, rosé and red wines and glasses are actually quite affordable ranging from €3.50 to €7.50. Of course, if you want the most coveted table in town, the now infamous Table 17, you’ll need to book it at least a month and advance and book it for a meal.
L’Oiseau Blanc is located at 19 Rue de Rome. The bar and terrace is open nightly from 6pm – 1am.
Located in the prestigious 8th arrondissement and steps away from the Arc de Triomphe, I can hardly leave out the lovely Hotel Napoleon in a wine lover’s guide to Paris. There’s no better way to start of a trip to Paris than by popping a bottle of bubbly and toasting the City of Light. The boutique Hotel Napoleon knows this and a chilled bucket of champagne will arrive to your room almost as quickly as you do.
Hotel Napoleon is located at 40 Avenue de Friedland and rooms start at around €300 per night.
My visit to Paris was in collaboration with Paris Info with the support of Hotel Napoleon, Musee du Vin and De Vinius Illustribus in order to bring you this story. However, Luxe Adventure Traveler maintains full editorial control of the content published on this site. As always, all thoughts, opinions, and enthusiasm for travel are entirely our own.