Buying wine a la francaise

As the top wine producing country with a population that drinks about 13 gallons a year for each person, you would think that it would be easy to buy wine in France. Well, you’d be right. And you’d be wrong.

Unlike America, where “blue laws” dominate the sale of wine in many states, it is unbelievably easy to buy wine in France. I’ve seen wine for sale in flower shops and in corner stores, direct from the producer at a farmer’s market and at big box retailers. But the real trouble can be something good–or at least finding the exact thing that you might want.

In the regions, regional wines dominate independent shops, or cavistes. This makes sense since wine has historically been consumed close to where it is grown. But if you want a Sancerre with your salad, then you can be out of luck if you are in Savoie.

There are hundreds if not thousands of these specialty stores in the country. Outside of Paris, based on my somewhat small sample, I found cavistes to have a wide selection of regional wines and little else. In Paris, not all cavistes have air conditioning though most have cooler, underground storage. I visited a shop a few days ago that was about 95 degrees inside and had an eclectic inventory of vintages (including a NZ sauvignon blanc from 2002–eegad!). But, hey, not all wine shops feel the love.

Shopping at a large supermarket (hypermarche) provides a lot more choice across regions. However, they often lack depth in vintages, sometimes overly emphasize private labels and have scant staffing–it’s a supermarket after all. The top few chains account for the lion’s share of French wine sales. There are occasionally interesting producers there–even some top Bordeaux wines sell through big retailers. At one huge Casino store I bought wines from Jean-Luc Colombo and Clos la Coutale in Cahors. But I had to pass over a lot of pretty uninspiring wines to get to find those.

French wine making may be on the cusp of radical change. French wine retailing should keep up with trends in retailing more generally as well as wine retailing. Over the next week or so, I will write up some worthwhile shops–and even some wine bars–in Paris. Who knows, maybe better stores would help slow or reverse the declines in French wine consumption? Or at least make this iconic product more accessible to the country’s 75 million tourists?

feedchklt See my map of Paris wine shops

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5 Responses to “Buying wine a la francaise”


  1. In France most wine is, indeed, purchased at the supermarket. What may not be at first apparent is that most of that purchasing is done during the wine releases in the fall.

    The supermarkets have special promotions and people go to the supermarkets in droves and fill shopping carts full of wine that they then place into their cellars. If you miss these, you can still get good wine, but all the best will be gone. But the best is purchased while visiting wine regions anyway.


  2. E. LeClerc has a nice wine selection and knowledgeble staff which is wonderful for a hypermart. A nice cheese selection as well!


  3. Thanks for that info Dan. It’s interesting that there’s a seasonality too big box buying in France.

    And Bman, I noticed E. Leclerc also had the cheapest gas around too!


  4. Not everyone in France lives in Paris, even tho’ it seems like it sometimes!
    Typical French, Parée or non, drink cheaply. Especially wine. If you dine away from the rarified tourismo style, you quickly see this.
    Not everyone there hankers for the first tranche of Margaux or Lafite. Actually almost no one does! Much like here! — But unlike here, where 65% of our population doesn’t use the word “wine” in polite conversation, in France, wine is a part of their everday life.
    So, what makes up that great divide — 13 gallons compared to our ±2 gallons consumed — is a lot of day-by-day “plonk” or jug wine. Something we have screwed up our noses about.
    Sure, almost everyone there has wine in their cellars, but they are constantly buying “everyday” wines at the stores. That’s why you see so much wine everywhere, and so much on sale is the cheaper stuff, it’s what sells day in and day out. Plus, the government there isn’t so bananas about licensing as we have become!

    Lighter note:
    Really now! What self-respecting Savoyarde [sp] would really drink Sancerre with a salad? With cabbages and cardoons as the veggies of choice there, salads are maybe a bit boring.
    [internet insert]
    The white wines of Savoie are light and fruity and are perfect as an apéritif or as an accompaniment to fish, seafood and hors d’œuvre, as well to cheese and fondue.
    No mention of salad.


  5. [...] wine at stores Buying wine a la francaise La Derniere Goutte, Paris Lavinia, French for wine convenience Bernard Magrez, the brand, the [...]


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