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The 8 Best Places to Drink Wine in Paris, According to a Top Sommelier

Aug 07, 2023

By Victoria James

As a wine buyer for Gracious Hospitality Management, the restaurant group behind the Michelin-starred Korean steakhouses COTE with locations in New York and Miami, plus a wine club, I’m fortunate that I make my way over to France at least a few times a year. My job is to lead and empower our incredible team of sommeliers, buy millions of dollars worth of wine for our restaurants, and visit wineries to negotiate the best deals for our guests. Sometimes I even get to bring others along for it—like this coming autumn, I’ll be leading a tour in Champagne with Bon Appétit.

I always find myself flying in and out of Paris, and I often tack on a day or two to check out what my French counterparts are up to. Over the past decade I’ve compiled a running list of hundreds of wine bars but have whittled that down to just a few quintessential spots. They aren’t necessarily the fanciest places or the ones with the longest lists, just where I feel a sommelier—or any wine lover—would want to drink.

I regretted telling a sommelier friend about this place in the 14th arrondissement after he told me that he had “drank all of their cheap Raveneau”—as in Domaine François Raveneau, one of the most strictly allocated producers in the world. I can attest to the fact, however, that La Cagouille still has a solid wine list focused on incredible white Burgundy. I’ve turned into one of those people that pretty much exclusively drinks Chardonnay—in the form of Burgundy and Champagne—so this is my dream list. La Cagouille also seems to be low key consistently peppered with celebrities. I once pretended I had to go to the bathroom seven times during a meal just so I could walk by Wes Anderson and Adrien Brody’s table over and over again.

Many sommeliers say they hate Sauvignon Blanc, categorizing it as too “basic,” and to that, I argue: Well then, you’ve never been in love in Paris and ordered a cold glass of Sancerre and a warm goat cheese salad at this Saint-Germain-des-Prés wine bar. Yes, there are a plethora of hipper and grodier natty wine bars in Paris these days, but this is a bite-size version of what I imagine it would be like to drink wine in the city a hundred years ago. No producers are listed on the Loire-Valley-focused wine menu and the food consists mostly of simple casse-croûtes—the little sandwiches or cold food items that vignerons, or French winemakers and farmers, give their harvest workers in the vines. What makes these dishes so special is that they’re served on the best bread in the world (Poilâne) with cheese from my favorite fromagerie (Barthélemy). Both shops are blocks away, which is really a problem, since after a few glasses of Loire wine, you’re likely to find yourself as I did on a recent trip—loading up on an irresponsible amount of provisions for the weekend.

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This is sort of one of those pilgrimage spots that every sommelier must go to when in Paris. No, you can’t find the wine list online, so you just have to visit this 11th arrondissement spot and ask sommelier Marco Pelletier and his team very nicely to pull some cool bottles for you. (Their cellar has a ridiculous number of labels that hovers around 4,000 selections, and most of them aren’t listed anyway.) My advice is to buy a really nice bottle for a couple hundred euros from producers like Ganevat, Mark Angeli, or Mugneret-Gibourg—so they know you mean business—and then ask what else they might have squirreled away. I’ve been lucky enough to score some rare and classic Burgundy from Leroy and DRC (Domaine de la Romanée-Conti), alongside off-the-beaten path gems like Domaine du Prieuré Saint-Christophe Mondeuse from the Savoie. For a digestif, Vantre has some dusty bottles of Chartreuse and Campari that gives one a naughty thrill akin to raiding your grandmère’s liquor cabinet.

I am begrudgingly sharing this 2nd arrondissement spot because, as much as I would love to keep it to myself, my sister reminded me on a recent visit that wine is meant to be shared. There is no way not to enjoy sommelier Arnaud Tronche’s remarkable wine program featuring producers that are usually hard to find (or extremely pricey) in the U.S.: Bérêche! Boudignon! Dujac! Dauvissat! The prices skew closer to retail than restaurant pricing, which is typically two to three times higher. How does Caves Legrand make money? I have no idea, but I am happy to support them—with a perfectly chilled Tempier Bandol rosé by the glass.

Snagging a table at this 11th arrondissement bistro isn’t easy. First, it requires calling about a dozen times before someone even answers. Then, if you don’t speak French, they’ll hang up. So start practicing your français now—it is worth the effort. I like to go with at least four people so you can take down a few bottles of wine. Start with some grower Champagne, like 10-year-old Vouette et Sorbée or Selosse V.O., then move into some white Loire or Burgundy with your first course, like Dagueneau Blanc Fumé de Pouilly (dream situation is 12 years of age here) or any easy-drinking Bourgogne-Vézelay from La Soeur Cadette. I often find people try to go too fancy on red wine at bistros in France, which to me directly contradicts the charm of the experience. So chill out: When you order your bottle of white, ask them to also make a bottle of red—preferably cru Beaujolais—“plus fraîche,” which means they give it a quick ice bath so it is cellar temperature. A chilled Beaujolais like Métras Fleurie or Jean Foillard Cuvée Eponym with their signature steak au poivre will make you feel like a true Parisian.

In the mid-2010s, it seemed like every sommelier owned a poster from this 2nd arrondissement wine bar. At first I thought it was just because they were super cute (a new limited release every year!), but on my first visit in 2015 I discovered why. Its old Rhône wine list is catnip for sommeliers, and in a very Syrah-induced haze, I couldn’t say no to bringing a piece of this experience home. (Which is to say, seven pieces: I bought no fewer than seven posters). Mark Williamson opened this spot in the ‘80s—before wine bars were even hip in Paris—and named it after his dog, who is now buried below an old gas meter next to the front door. The vibe, to me, is kind of like you’re hanging out with a bunch of your dad’s friends (that is, if your dad was super rock and roll and into vintages of old Jamet Côte Rôtie).

When I tell people I go to Lapérouse for the wine, they usually laugh and say, “Sure, the wine!” It was once known as “Europe’s Brothel”: About a hundred years ago, the former second-floor servants’ quarters were transformed into salons privés, tiny rooms that hosted illicit dinners à deux between rich gentlemen and women they weren’t married to. Now the dining room is full of people wearing berets and speaking English, thanks to Emily in Paris. But the wine cellar at this 6th arrondissement institution is truly full of gems: One can easily spend a few thousand dollars on bottles here, but there are some steals to be found, namely on the outer crusts of Burgundy in the Mâconnais, with Trousseau from the Jura, and Bandol rouge from the south of France. And to bask in the dim lighting where Serge Gainsbourg met Jane Birkin, where Baudelaire and Proust dined, and where three Michelin stars were first awarded to a restaurant in Paris—come on!

To me, this is the definitive neighborhood wine bar. This is where I go if I don’t want to think too hard and simply enjoy a room full of very gorgeous young people, wines with a little funk, and someone spinning cool records by the window. It’s a hub for all the hippest locals in Paris, smoking cigarettes outside or packed inside like a tin of sardines. Stéphane Rozey, the owner, has kept a touch of the old inside (his partner, Dora, professionally sources antiques for designers around the world) with vintage wallpaper and ancestral portraits. A sign reading “Marchandises D’Occasions”—which literally translates to “Second Hand Goods,” a nod to the history of the space as a used goods shop—is the only marker of this Montmartre bar. What to order here? Leave it in the hands of Rozey and his team. Ask them for the wines they’re loving now—they always have something fun behind the bar.

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La Belle Hortense:Bonvivant:Stéréo:Aux Deux Amis:Le Bon Georges:Le Baron Rouge:Le Mary Celeste: