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?
See my map of Paris wine shops