French Language Blog

Chez le caviste Posted by on Jun 15, 2015 in Culture, Uncategorized

My French husband sells wine for a living. Whenever we talk about moving to his hometown of Paris, he reminds me that he would have to find a new job or move to a city like Bordeaux. This is because wine sales work very differently in France as opposed to the United States, where fine wine from the old world needs to be imported. In France, les vignerons (vintners, or winemakers) sell directly to stores and restaurants in France, as well as for exportation. In The United States, there is a more complicated three-tier system where foreign wine is bought by importers, then distributed, and then sold for retail. Thus, my husband’s best chance for work would be directly through vineyards in France.

In France, wine is sold not only in wine stores (called les cavistes, which literally means “cellermen”), but also in grocery stores like Monoprix, Franprix, and Carrefour.  In larger grocery stores, there may even be an expert in wine who you can consult about what wines to purchase. However, if you really want specialized advice about wine, your best bet is to go to the caviste. In Paris, the most well-known chain of wine stores is Nicholas. You’ll see this store in most neighborhoods. There are also other, individually-owned wine stores that have excellent selections and fair prices. Check out this article to see some of the most well-regarded cavistes in Paris.

But, if you are selecting wine on your own, keep the following tips in mind:

1. You won’t find much foreign wine in France, but you will find wine from many French regions you’ve never heard of before. Explore French wine by focusing on a particular region (like Languedoc-Roussillion) and then trying different wines from that region to discover which you like the best. When looking at wine labels, keep in mind that “grand cru” is the highest-quality of vineyard or area in a particular region, followed by “premier cru.” A “grand vin” is the label each winemaker gives to its best wine.

2. Wine in France is much cheaper than in the United States because it does not go through the three-tier distribution system described above and because it is not as heavily taxed. You can find a decent bottle of wine for under 5 euros and a very good bottle of wine for 10 euros and under. Price does matter, however; if you want to get an enjoyable wine, spring for an 8 euro bottle of wine rather than one that costs 2 euros or less. Your palate will thank you.

3. If you are in a winemaking region, choose a bottle of wine made in that region. Normally, the wine stores and grocery stores stock more product from their own region and, thus, you will have a larger (and often times better) selection than if you choose wine from a different region.

4. Check out vintage wine charts (such as this one here) to get an idea of the best year (or millésime) in a region or country. For example, 2005, 2009, and 2010 were all excellent years for red wines in France. For an overview of the different winemaking regions in France, check out my previous post here.

À votre sante!


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About the Author: Elizabeth Schmermund

Bonjour tout le monde! I'm a freelance writer, doctoral student, mom, and Francophile. I'm excited to share some of my experiences living in France, as well as the cultural nuances that I've learned being married to a Frenchman, with all of you. To find out more about me, feel free to check out my website at A la prochaine!