How to enjoy French wine using tech

Mar 8, 2012
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When I went back to NYC over Christmas, the greatest source of reverse culture shock was the wine. We kept finding ourselves at restaurants paying at least $50 for uninspiring bottles. You see, living in France has spoiled us.

But let’s be honest: I, and even most native French, don’t come anywhere close to taking full advantage of the wealth of wine in this country. I’ve found a couple cheap bottles (Bordeaux, of course) at the local Franprix that taste fine and cost around 4 Euros. Sure, I’ve tried some other wines while traveling or at a couple of tastings, but for the most part I haven’t ventured outside my comfort zone.

Because I know I’m not the only person here who would like to increase his or her knowledge and enjoyment of French wines, I set out to discover what sorts of tech tools, such as websites, apps, and services, French companies have created that might help me in this endeavor. I’ll share what I found in two groups: what currently exists here, and what currently exists elsewhere but I’d love to see here. The lists are by no means comprehensive, so please feel free to add other suggestions below in the comments section.

Use these tools to enjoy French wine better now:

  1. Google. OK, I’ve cheated at the very beginning, because Google wasn’t created in France, but according to Julie Coutton, the entrepreneur behind the wine website La Feuille de Vigne, “you should buy your wine from a caviste [wine shop], because you’ll have somebody there who knows wine and will be able to give you good suggestions.” Coutton says too many people buy their wine at supermarkets, and simply by talking to the owner or employee of a cave could get them a much better experience. It’s not really more expensive, either, with most shops I’ve looked in offering bottles beginning at 4 or 5 Euros. So, the first step is to use Google and find a better place to buy wine.
  2. Flash buying sites. These sites are to wine what Vente-Privee is to fashion. For a limited period, they give you a discount on certain hand-picked wines. David Bizer, Talent Geek at HackFwd and a great resource on all things wine- and food-related, recommends 1Jour1Vin. “I actually buy most of my wine from this site,” he said. He also mentioned Vins Etonnants, a site with a stronger emphasis on organic wines. And France also has its own branch of Lot18, the New York-based online wine retailer which just raised $30M last fall, through its December acquisition of the French site, Vinobest. (Interestingly, vinobest.com does not redirect to the French Lot18 site.)
  3. Online wine clubs. These are clubs that you subscribe to online, pay a certain amount every month, and receive a certain number of “curated” wines at your house.  If you like what you taste, the company will give you the chance to buy more bottles at a good price. I recently signed up for Trois Fois Vin, and my plan will send me two wines chosen by sommelier Marie-Dominique Bradford for 19.90 Euros per month. Trois Fois Vin also gives Paris residents the option of saving on shipping by picking up their orders in person. Another option in this space is Le Petit Ballon, which we mentioned here in the Rude Baguette earlier this year. And I’ve recently been bombarded with Facebook ads for Republique du Vin, a club that also hosts monthly tastings in Paris. The next one is tonight.
  4. Online wine content. Most impressive is the aforementioned  La Feuille de Vigne, which combines fantastic design with original content every day of the week. You’ll also find relatively new sites from big publications, like Le Figaro‘s L’Avis du Vin. However, we found the content on L’Avis du Vin and other sites to be infrequently updated and not all that interesting.
  5. Tasting apps. As hard as we searched, we didn’t find any mobile tasting apps worth recommending. It’s worth pointing out that we’re limited in this case (but in NONE OTHER) by owning an Android phone, so please, if you know of some good tasting apps, please let us know.
    This is the stupidest photo ever.

What we wish we had here in France:

  1. Etsy for winemakers. The best thing about the wine flash sale services is that they bring you one step closer to the vineyard. But why not go farther? Why not let us get to know the stories of the people making our wines? Why not set up a platform to let them sell directly to us? I know, I’ve heard plenty of people tell me how resistant the wine industry is to any sort of technological change, but from what I can tell, Naked Wines in the UK is doing something very similar to what I described.
  2. The CellarTracker of France. Eric LeVine, a former manager at Microsoft, set up CellarTracker, an online wine database in Seattle, and it now has over a million bottles with user-generated tasting notes and other information. But the site is dominated by American and other New World wines and the tastes of the people that love them. The great, small-batch, budget French wines are often listed with little information, or they’re left off the list altogether.

And with this, feel free to commence your weekend a bit early. Santé!