There is perhaps no other staple more solid in French homes than the bottle of wine. Parisians have the luxury of choosing among thousands of different varieties of wine on a daily basis, which took more than two thousand years of expertise to develop. But how much is known by each person who takes a glass with dinner of the process in which the flavorful and rich liquid was made? It is here that the Musee du Vin (Paris Wine Museum) tries to fill in the gaps.
Settled within limestone quarries from the Middle Ages that once served as cellars for a monastery, the museum's collection includes more than 200 artifacts as well as informational panels on how your favorite red, white, rose, champagne and cognac were and still are brought to fruition. Generations of vintners, winery masters, coopers and wine experts have continued to refine their techniques to produce the most prestigious wines. This site pays tribute to their professions, while also displaying traditional and sometimes eclectic tools, many of which are no longer used today.
After viewing the collection, visitors are given a glass of wine from the museum's own vineyard, Chateau Labastiaie, located in southwest France. The museum is also equipped with three vaulted cellar rooms that serve as a restaurant where not only dinner, but wine and cheese tastings are offered.
Location and Contact Information:
5, square Charles Dickens, Rue des Eaux
Metro: Passy (Line 6) or RER C (Champ de Mars-Tour Eiffel)
Tel : +33 (0)1 45 25 63 26
Opening Hours and Tickets:
The museum is open Tuesday through Sunday, 10am to 6pm. 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. Ticket counter closes at 5:30 pm.
Sights and Attractions Nearby the Museum:
- Champs-Elysees Neighborhood
- Musee de Balzac (Honore de Balzac's House)
- The Village-Like Charms of the Passy Neighborhood
- Eiffel Tower
Highlights of the Collection:
Walking into the museum, visitors are immediately overtaken by the density of the underground medieval cave. After winding through a portion of the impressive limestone tunnel, a massive set of machinery which was once used to produce cognac comes into view. 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 then sent through the copper heater a second time, whereby the liquid began its early life as a raw, pure, and exceptionally flavored wine, containing a 70 percent alcohol content.
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 stimulate the tedious process of making the perfect bottle of champagne, which, when stored properly, has to have the cork turned by an eighth each day in order to circulate the building sentiment that is ultimately spurted out before the final cork is placed on it.
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, a pajama-clad Balzac escaping from his creditors into the cellars from the second exit of his house, and a battlefield reenactment 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.
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The Modernization of the 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 at one of the dark wooden tables underneath the cellar's arches. Offered with a taste of a red, white or rose, I chose the red which featured five different grapes (Merlot, Braucol, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Cabernet Franc), while 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 provided an explanation of each of the wines before offering us a three-cheese tasting plate for eight euros. And how could we refuse? Nothing goes better with wine than a marvelous plate of cheese.
If so, check out our complete guide to Paris for wine lovers (and amateurs): it includes plenty of great tips on where to taste and enjoy fantastic wines in the city of light.