Carin Olsson

I have a friend who goes to the supermarket with a set budget and sensible shopping list.

Not me. I’m a marketers dream. Bright packets of budget biscuits jump into my basket; heavily reduced items beseech me to take them home.

Carin Olsson

You can’t even imagine what I’m like in the wine section. In Paris, the shelves are lined with pretty, shockingly cheap bottles of vin. I stumble between reds from Bordeaux, sweet whites from Alsace, and row upon row of cerise coloured rosés from Provence.

Play See Feel Live & Chatirygirl & Scpgt

There is an overwhelming selection of cheap wines to choose from. My schoolgirl French does not serve me well in decoding their sexy, enticing  labels. I lunge at the looming wall of indistinguishable wines and pick a bottle based on its price-bracket and whether or not the label features a château. On the way home, I wonder if my wine will double as a paint-thinner.

Carin Olsson

There are a few tricks I’ve learned since arriving here to avoid choosing wine that only a termite could love. I start with the general rule of thumb that a wine under €3 is likely to be crap; in the €4–10 range you could very well do just fine, and from €20 up, you are drinking a rarefied wine of which I have little experience.

Nico Paix

Since the €4-10 range is the most abundant (and its marketing seemingly directed directly at novices such as myself), here are five tips to help you become an intrepid supermarket wine shopper in next to no time:

Carin Olsson

1. The terms château and clos can connote any wine brand, vintner or estate, and do not actually mean that your wine was made in a fancy castle or closed vineyard. It is my sad duty to inform you that the link between the clip-art château and your enjoyment of the wine is not necessarily related.

2. A terroir relates to the taste personality of a wine, derived from its specific location and history, not to the vineyard’s small, yappy dog (this is not as obvious as it may seem when you’re shopping in a foreign supermarket and have a talent for taking things too literally).

Vilpponen & Carin Olsson

3. Vin de Pamplemousse is a table wine that is flavoured with citrus and typically served ice cold in an elegant aperitif glass after a heavy meal. It’s a fortified grapefruit juice, really, and it’s fun to drink but funner still if you didn’t buy it because you thought it was a rosé.

4. Cask wine is incredibly affordable, but just because it’s French doesn’t mean it won’t give you a hangover. The litre-sized plastic jugs at the supermarkets are not to be trusted.

ale.arangog & clint

5. Wine can only be labelled champagne if is made in the champagne region of northeastern France. Grand Cru and Premier Cru wines develop their bubbles by undergoing a fermentation process twice: once in barrels and again in bottles. This is the ‘real’ champagne that people speak of, and as synonymous with Paris as pastry whatnots.

So there you have it. A rookie’s guide to incomprehensible supermarket wine selections. Santé!

Carin Olsson

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Written by Hilary Simmons for the HiP Paris Blog. Looking for a fabulous vacation rental in Paris, London, Provence, or Tuscany? Check out Haven in Paris.


Hilary Simmons

Hilary Simmons is an Australian writer, editor and copywriter. She has written theatre reviews, film critiques, restaurant recommendations, news articles, fashion blogs and daily horoscopes. She is currently living and writing in Paris.


  1. The Rosés from Navarre, Basque Country, Spain are excellent and can be had for under 2€ a bottle . For example Olite.
    I have converted many …but we are lucky here in the Basque Country as the culture is the same on either side of the political boundary 🙂

  2. Hi Hilary,

    Thanks for your post. 🙂

    Your advice about the 4-10€ is really great as wine in France is seen as a “normal” thing. So don’t put too much each time, definitely.

    Maybe a good idea for your readers would be to taste “one of each” during their stay in France.

    I’m no expert in whine but your article made me smile as it reminded me of this one:

    As we don’t see alcohol as Americans do. For example, you would never drink a glass of wine without food, as we see in American shows.


  3. Well, at least you say right up front that you are a rookie! 😉

    A sure fire helpful hint is to buy wines that have won a prize in the AOC competition or the Maçon competition (there will be an extra little label on the bottle). Check the alcohol content (some of our wines here in the South can regularly reach over 14%, ouch) and “bio” or organic, while not always a winner, can be a safer bet in that price range.
    Best bet of all is to go to a local caviste. I avoid chaines like Nicolas because they have certain wines to “push” each week but a smaller wine shop will have plenty of options in the under 10 range and should never poo-poo you for having a lower budget.

  4. Hilary; this post made me laugh out loud…. in so many ways you’re right and although I live now in the Paris region for more than four years, I have never come across your Vin de Pamplemousse….
    And sadly, I know a thing about CHAMPAGNE too as we have a wine making village in Switzerland, name is CHAMPAGNE and the French have actually FORBIDDEN them to name their wine (mostly RED!) to call Champagne because it doesn’t come from Champagne France…
    The first photo surely shows tourists, you’d never find Parisians with two open bottles of wine along the quais. We just spoke about the fact that you now need to have two ethylotests in your car (alcohol testers for drivers) but that in all this time we haven’t seen one single drunk in the streets! What does THAT tell us about the French? They certainly have control over their wine consumption even if their driving in Paris suggests differently…
    Dear friend; your post made me laugh so much because you really shouldn’t write about wines but then, your tips ARE surely helpful to many. I am a sucker for good wines but appreciate a less than expensive one easily if it pleases me. My advice is to follow closely the special offers of your preferred shopping mall. In my case it’s AUCHAN; for good and not cheap wines it makes a difference if you get 6 for the price of 4 or even 3+3; they do exist and after a while you know what you like. In Paris intra-muros it’s difficult though…
    A ta santé
    Kiki xoxoxoxo

  5. Love this post! I have a really hard time picking out decent wine in France. So now I go to a wine shop like Nicolas and ask for a recommendation. One time, Monsieur recommended an amazing organic rose (I was in Nice). It was so good that I went back and bought several bottles as gifts for friends. Another tip – the house wine in any restaurant is always good. No self-respecting resto in France would serve bad wine!

  6. I love rose wines especially in the summer time here in Texas. I’ve never been to Paris, but this will be very helpful when I go.. someday!

  7. Oh, the vin de pamplemousse almost got me. They had it mixed in with the rosés at my local monoprix so I was thinking it was just a fun label. On second glance, I realized what it was and backed away. Do. Not. Want. It sounds really bad.

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