Lifestyle & Culture

Wine not? How to stock your cellar with great French bargains

My French neighbors do this thing called a “groupage.” It’s where they round up like-minded folks who all have a common interest to buy something in bulk and have it delivered (fuel, wood, wine). They get a cheaper price by buying in bulk and dividing transport costs. 

The most interesting dispatch by far is the wine. 

Neighbors start by passing around a prospectus. It’s like back in the 70’s when folks ordered stuff from the Sears & Roebuck catalog (as kids we wore those pages out planning for the holidays). Little kids grow up to be big kids.

Now I dog-ear and circle the French wine inventory just the same.

Wine fairs, catalogs and click & collect

The distribution of fall wine lists typically coincide with the seasonal foire aux vins, or wine fair, starting in September continuing throughout the winter. 

To get on the mailing list, search online for “wine fairs.”

Some are like music concerts held in an arena in a major city (October/Dijon, November/Marseille, February/Paris).  Others are simply held at a grocery store.

Surprisingly, the fairs at the supermarkets have gained a huge following due to their buying power and ability to reach everyday customers easily. The supermarket concept, started by the E. Leclerc chain in the 1970s, has become so popular in France that most competitors have followed suit.

For example: Carrefour has more than 1,000 bottles that you can click and collect, shop in-store, or order and have delivered to your home. Most grocery stores offer a similar format: bio (organic) wines, grand crus and special promotions. Prices start around 6 euros per bottle and go up from there. 

(Author’s tip: Carrefour is my personal favorite, since the Halley family is obviously really into wine. They bought Château Marsannay in 2016.)

Here are the links to major French supermarket chains with wine catalogues online:

E.Leclerc

Carrefour

Intermarché

Auchan

Clients who live driving distance from the border may be able to simply order their collection online and cross the border to fetch it. If you are crossing the “frontière” (French border). There is a legal limit to how many bottles one may bring back. A quick Google search says that within the European Union, one is allowed 90 liters of wine (with a maximum of 60 liters of sparkling wine). 

Be aware that the border control police douane checks. 

Want to save yourself the hassle of crossing the French border? For customers living in the Netherlands, Germany, Belgium and other nearby countries, consider shopping for French wine in Luxembourg. Many French vignerons attend the wine fair in Luxembourg City (held in February). And, while you are attending, double up by making a pit-stop at the larger French supermarket chains that have stores in Luxembourg.

Some wine fairs have limited time offers (that start in September and end in October), so if you miss the window of opportunity, do not fret, the wine fair in Paris happens in February as well as other large arena style fairs in countries like Luxembourg (which typically feature a healthy selection of French wines).

Here is a list to get you started in finding a wine fair near you:

Vinexposium, Paris, 13 to 15 February, 2023

Vinexpo, Paris, 13 to 15 February, 2023

Expovin, Luxembourg City, 13 to 17 May, 2023

• 2023 Wine and Spirits trade shows in France.

How much to buy

Tip, for parties:

Plan for a half bottle for each guest (three glasses per person). Each bottle contains six (4 ounce) servings. I know, in the USA, they say five, but their glasses got bigger. Smile.

Considerations when stocking your cellar:

Amounts will depend on how much entertaining you do, how often you get invited to dinner, how often and to whom you gift bottles and how often you have wine with meals.

• Holiday: winter wine you plan drink now (or save for the following years to celebrate). Look for Pinot Noir, Sauternes, Grand Vins de Bordeaux, Champagne: 6 euros and up.
• Special occasion: to celebrate family birthdays, weddings, births such as Champagne or dessert wine: 12 euros and up
• “Chez Amis” when you are invited to dinner and want to bring some wine to the host: Organic (bio), whatever you know your friends like: 6 euros and up.
• Everyday wine – when you need a rosé for BBQ, a red for simple meals at home, inexpensive whites for summertime. Go for something under 6 euros.

Keep:

Cellar (wine with long cork, high alcohol or sugar content that can be kept for 15 years): Pinot Noir, Sauternes, Grand Vins de Bordeaux, 12 euros and up. Oftentimes, wine fairs will have tastings. These are the wines you want to examine and try before investing in cases of them.

Insider tip: Look for the wines with a green topper on the foil.

And when it’s time to toast to your new wine collection. Remember the words of F. Scott Fitzgerald: “Here’s to alcohol, the rose colored glasses of life.”

If that fails to impress your friends, then quote his rival, Ernest Hemingway: “I drink to make other people more interesting.”

For a few wine laughs, check out the 1976 French comedy “The Wing or the Thigh” (L’aile ou la Cuisse) starring Louis de Funès.

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Read more about Alice’s expat life here.

Read more about wine here from Alice and other Dispatches constributors.

Have a great day,

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Alice Verberne is a contributing writer for Dispatches Europe. She has worked in print journalism and magazine production in the United States and Europe throughout her career. She currently resides in France where she enjoys visiting former French speaking colonies and discussing history with the locals.

 

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