Aside from the humble baguette, there is perhaps no other staple more common in French homes than the bottle of wine. Parisians have the luxury of choosing among hundreds of different varieties of wine on a daily basis, which took more than two thousand years of expertise to develop.
But how much do most of us know about the complex history and painstaking work behind the delicious reds, whites or sparkling wines we enjoy? Enter the Wine Museum in Paris (Musée du Vin): a small but intriguing collection that does its best to both educate and inspire.
Built within limestone quarries from the Middle Ages that once served as cellars for the Minims monastery, the museum’s underground collections hold more than 200 wines, as well as thousands of historical artifacts.
Informational panels within the collection illuminate how reds, whites, rosés, champagne and cognac were– and still are– produced.
They additionally highlight how generations of vintners, sommeliers, coopers and wine experts have refined their techniques to produce France’s most prestigious wines.
The exhibit pays tribute to their professions, while also displaying traditional and sometimes eclectic vintnering tools, many of which are no longer in use.
After viewing the collection, visitors can sample a glass of wine from the museum’s own vineyard, Chateau Labastidié, located in southwest France. The site is also equipped with three vaulted cellar rooms that serve as a restaurant where not only dinner, but wine and cheese tastings are offered.
Keep reading to learn why to pay a visit to this interesting and little-known site.
Highlights of the Permanent Exhibit
Walking into the museum, visitors are immediately overtaken by the density of the collection and its medieval caves (cellars). After winding through a portion of the impressive limestone tunnels, a massive set of machinery which was once used to produce cognac comes into view.
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The cognac was placed into an onion-shaped heater, where the non-filtered wine was brought to a boiling point. It then passed through a coil which led to a refrigerating bowl, where the liquid condensed and fruit juice was ultimately obtained.
The juice was next sent through the copper heater a second time, whereby the liquid began its early life as a raw, pure, and exceptionally flavored wine, containing 70 percent alcohol.
But before the alcohol could even reach this stage, the earth had to be broken and grapes had to be harvested.
Visitors are given an overview of the plantation process alongside antique shovels, hoes, and insect-guarding equipment from the 18th and 19th centuries.
Continuing through the tunnels, mannequins simulate the tedious process of making the perfect bottle of champagne.
When stored properly, the bottles holding the sparkling white wine have to have their corks turned by an eighth each day; this aids in circulating the accumulating sediment that is ultimately spurted out before the final cork is placed on it.
Further along, visitors are also treated to a wine chemist’s box from the court of Versailles, which measured the alcohol content and richness before serving French royalty.
There’s also a pajama-clad Balzac escaping from his creditors into the cellars from the second exit of his house, and a battlefield re-enactment depicting Napoleon’s love of the grand red wine, Chamertin of Nuits la Cote, which was cut with water for him as he brooded over the day’s battle.
The Modernization of the French Wine Industry
Continuing in chronological order, visitors are given an overview of the pasteurization of wine ordered by Napoleon III and conducted by the already famous Louis Pasteur. After numerous people became sick from drinking unpasteurized wine, Pasteur succeeded in making the pastime safe in 1857.
In the mid-20th century, the cellars of the museum were used to store wine for the nearby restaurant at the Eiffel Tower. An enclosed case here depicts the numerous glasses that were made in connection with the inauguration of the Tower in 1889.
As the tunnels bring you back to the entrance of the museum, you are treated to a video and additional information on how wine is made today. You may just be surprised by how much longer it takes for a red to be made in comparison to a white.
Concluding Your Visit
After winding through various displays of wine openers, mock cafe settings and an encasement of bottles from the 19th century, your palate is sure to be craving a taste of its own.
Visitors are treated to a dégustation (tasting) at one of the dark wooden tables underneath the arches of the tripartite cellars.
Offered with a choice between a glass of red, white or rose, I chose a red made with five different grapes (Merlot, Braucol, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Cabernet Franc). My companion chose the rosé, for which the grapes are immediately crushed for a crisper taste.
My glass was full of intoxicating flavors and I could taste each one of them followed by rich tannins. The knowledgeable and friendly staff also helped us decrypt and better appreciate each of the wines before offering us a three-cheese tasting plate– all for a reasonable price.
And how could we refuse? After all, nothing goes better with wine than a marvelous plate of cheese.
Wine-Tasting Classes at the Museum
If you’re interested in a more in-depth experience at the museum, you can consider taking a two-hour wine-tasting class that includes five wines and full guidance on how to appreciate them. See more information here.
Location & Practical Information
The museum is located in the upwardly mobile 16th arrondissement (district) tucked nearby Honoré de Balzac’s house and just a short walk away from the Eiffel Tower. It can make a good stop in the area when you’re looking for something a bit unusual to do.
- Address: 5, square Charles Dickens, 75016 Paris
- Tel: +33 (0) 145 25 63 26
- Metro: Passy (Line 6) or RER C (Champ de Mars-Tour Eiffel)
- Opening Hours: The museum is open Tuesday through Sunday, 10:00 am to 6:00 pm. Closed Mondays and certain French bank holidays (check ahead). Les Echansons restaurant is open Tuesday to Saturday, from noon until 5pm, upon reservation.
- Tickets: Check current admission prices at the official website. Admission is free for children under the age of 14. The ticket counter closes at 5:30 pm.
- You can book tickets & a complimentary tasting at the museum here (via Come to Paris)
Editor’s Note: This post contains some affiliate links. If you book tickets or tours through these, it comes at no additional cost to you, but does help to fund more in-depth, free features here at Paris Unlocked.