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In the 17th-century stone cellar of a small wine shop tucked into one of the oldest quarters on the left bank of Paris, small groups of friends, family and colleagues can sit down at a long table set with white linens, crystal wine glasses, small plates and silver.
Lionel Michelin, the owner and wine connoisseur at De Vinis Illustribus, guides guests through wine tastings in impeccable English. His gentle, friendly manner encourages questions, and if slightly prodded, he will share decades-old stories of tasting great wines and visiting wineries. His wife, Dominique, takes charge of the food pairings, choosing charcuterie, cheeses, foie gras and pastries from the city’s finest artisans.
Michelin stores his most precious collection of old vintages — ranging over a century — in the cellar, two floors below the street level shop on Rue de la Montagne-Sainte-Genevieve, one of the original Gallo-Roman roads in Paris. Tasting guests sit surrounded by historic wine bottles that show the patina of time.
On the next level up, the visitor will find a selection of classic wines, and on the street floor are everyday wines and wines for a special occasion. All have been personally tasted and selected by Michelin himself. The prices range from a modest $20 a bottle to more than $560. But, regardless of price, all wines are treated with respect.
You can arrange a tasting of anything you want, but there is also the possibility of choosing predesigned tastings, though the vintages used will vary. One of the most popular wine tastings, “Discovering French Regions,” provides guests with a white Burgundy, a red Bordeaux and a red Cotes de Rhone, paired with aged Comte cheese, at about $63 per person for groups of eight to 25 people.
The tasting I participated in was “Tour de France of Vineyards,” offered to two to 20 people at about $167 each, which is served with lunch or an early dinner. We were introduced to four wines, one each from Burgundy, Bordeaux, Cotes de Rhone and the Loire Valley. The pairings included foie gras, smoked salmon, jambon cru (France’s version of prosciutto) and an assortment of select cheeses and pastries. Nearly two hours of wine and food indulgence were spent in good company with a most enjoyable and knowledgeable host and hostess.
The wine shop is open for 2 p.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday. Daytime and evening wine tastings are available by appointment only, seven days a week.