France holds a special place in the hearts of most wine lovers. It’s where five of the six noble grapes were born, varieties which are beloved by many wine drinkers. Chardonnay and Pinot Noir reach their pinnacle in Burgundy. Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot blends from Bordeaux are so iconic winemakers around the world can call their wine a ‘Bordeaux Blend’ and you know what to expect. Riesling, though born in Germany, is revered in the Alsace. Sauvignon Blanc, the sixth noble grape, earned its reputation on its own in regions like Sancerre and as a component in Bordeaux’s white blends. It’s a natural that a lover of French wine would want to visit France, but we’re here to say that whether or not French wines are your favorites, if you enjoy drinking wine, these 16 places in France should be on your bucket list.
1. Travel The Route des Grands Crus In Burgundy
This 60 kilometer tourist route runs from Dijon to Santenay, passing through many of Burgundy’s most famous appellations including Gevrey-Chambertin, Morey-Saint-Denis, Vosne-Romanée, Nuits-Saint-Georges and Meursault. The route also passes through Beaune; unlike the other villages, famous for the vineyards that bear their name, Beaune is the center of wine production in Burgundy, and is considered its wine capital. You’ll be stopping there for a meal which we’ll reveal later…
2. Visit The Famed Cross In The Romanée-Conti Vineyards
While a tasting of Burgundy at or even just a visit to Domaine de la Romanée-Conti’s vineyards (who make the most expensive and celebrated wine in the world) is extremely unlikely to happen for the average wine lover (or pretty much anyone on this planet), you can walk right up to the famed cross, which sits atop a wall protecting the vineyard from the street. Chances are you won’t be alone. Google Street View’s car caught a pair of tourists visiting the site.
Head back to the small village on Rue du Temps Perdu, turn onto Rue derrière le Four and you’ll find Domaine de la Romanée-Conti’s humble home beyond a gate bearing its initials. While we wish you good luck making it past the gate, as this image from Google Street View shows, you will be treated to a unique view of some of the world’s most famous and expensive vineyards.
3. Eat And Drink At Ma Cuisine In Beaune
Ma Cuisine is a bistro in Beaune famous for its wine list. While Pierre and Fabienne Escoffier’s restaurant’s food certainly deserves praise, the wine list is what brought you here (the same goes for the constant stream of winemakers, importers and other wine industry folks). The list offers over 700 choices, mostly local, including page-after-page of impossible to find bottles, at prices which will surprise you (in a good way!).
4. Tour And Taste At Bordeaux’s Most Famous Châteaux On The Left And Right Bank
Whether you love the Cabernet-driven wines produced by the five first growths and the other chateaux of the Left Bank, the Merlot-driven wines from the grand crus classés of St. Emilion or Yquem’s Sauternes (or all of them!), your chances of getting through the door on your own at any of these wineries are highly improbable, but a number of tour operators can gain you entry. Just expect mortgage-payment-level-prices if you want to do any wine tastings, but this is a bucket list after all, and that’s what it takes to meet the winemakers at Bordeaux’s top tier châteaux and taste through their wines.
If going through a tour operator doesn’t suit you, Château Pichon Longueville Baron, featured in the image below, has one of the most accommodative tour policies of the classified chateaux. While a 12-euro reservation is required, they are easy to come by, and the château is open nearly every day of the year. If you’d like to do a tasting that will, of course, cost quite a bit more.
5. Eat Oysters At Le Petit Commerce In Bordeaux
Many wine drinkers forget that a Bordeaux owes a good bit of its success to the fact that it has been an important shipping port, particularly in terms of trade to England, going all the way back to Roman times. The best way to honor the city’s nautical ties is to knock back a plate oysters at Le Petit Commerce, a seafood bistro favored by the locals (the Bordelais). You’ll pair your oysters with bottles of dry white Bordeaux, another often overlooked facet of the region’s wine culture.
6. Explore The Underground Cellars Of The Great Champagne Houses In Reims And Epernay
Beneath the city of Reims (which itself was largely destroyed during WWI), exists a sprawling maze of chalk caves, some dating back to Roman times. These cool, subterranean cellars are home to millions of bottles of Champagne, which lie in wait as they age and ferment. To truly understand the scale of the caves and tunnels you need to step into one of them yourself. The good news is that you can, though you’ll need an appointment at most of the famous Champagne houses. If you can’t swing an appointment at the Champagne house of your dreams, you’re not completely out of luck. Well known houses who take visitors without an appointment in Reims include Mumm, Piper-Heidsieck, Pommery and Taittinger. In Epernay you can even tour Moët & Chandon’s massive 17-mile network of tunnels.
7. Visit Lyon’s Famous Indoor Food Market, Halles de Lyon
While you travel around Burgundy you should of course make a visit to Lyon, France’s culinary capital. In Lyon make sure to visit the city’s famous indoor food market, Les Halles de Lyon. Take your pick of gourmet specialties including cheeses, dried meats, fresh breads, vegetables and chocolates. While there you can put together a picnic basket you’ll never forget, which you’ll enjoy with a bottle or two of the incredible Burgundy you’ve been buying as you wander the region.
8. Have An Absolutely Decadent Dinner At La Tour d’Argent In Paris
This famous centuries-old restaurant is home to one of the largest wine lists in the world, with hundreds of thousands of bottles in its cellar. When you sit down for dinner you’ll choose your wine from a 400-page list, which features around 15,000 bottles at any given time. While the restaurant may have lost two of its three Michelin stars over the past two decades, the food is still spectacular, as is the dining room view of the Seine and Notre Dame. The restaurant’s pressed duck — raised on a farm the restaurant owns — is worthy of its reputation. Yes, it’s a bit much that your duck comes with a postcard bearing the bird’s serial number, but you’re paying…a lot, so eat what you like.
9. Pick From The Incredible List Of Bordeaux & Burgundy At Tan Dinh, Paris’ Famed Vietnamese Restaurant
Since 1978, brothers Robert and Freddy Vifian have been dishing up amazing Vietnamese food at Tan Dinh, their restaurant in the 7th arrondissement. They’ve also spent the last 30-plus years building up a cellar of rare wines from Bordeaux and Burgundy that most people drool over. Some hardcore wine geeks might tell you that the list’s gems and deals were all drank up over a decade ago, but dinner, with the wine pairings left in the restaurant’s good hands, is still an incredible experience.
10. Have An Absolutely Decadent (And Historical!) Dinner At Le Grand Véfour
Le Grand Véfour opened in 1784 in the Palais-Royal arcades. Centuries later it remains, both a monument to French history, and a restaurant that stands on its own as one of the city’s best (two Michelin stars, down from the three it used to have). When you dine at Le Grand Véfour you’re dining at a restaurant that has served a clientele that looks like it belongs in a textbook of French history: Napoléon Bonaparte and Joséphine, Victor Hugo, Jean Cocteau, Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir just to list a few names.
For the rest of must-visit places in France for wine lovers go to Vinepair.com.