Tucked practically underneath Paris’s Pantheon is the 17th c. cellar and mythical wine shop, De Vinis Illustribus. When current owners, husband and wife Lionel and Dominique Michelin, took over the cellars in 1994 from the legendary Jean-Baptiste Besse, a wine lover and connoisseur who welcomed the likes of Papa Hemingway to his shop back in the day, it looked nothing like it does now.
From the street entrance you are greeted with a light and airy, water-blasted original stone interior that dates to the 17th c. This is the shop and the welcoming area where the Michelins have forged an impeccable reputation for advising clients on birthday and special occasion wine purchases. For example, if your son or daughter was born in 1972 they will tell you that a “Bourgogne is more appropriate than a Bordeaux.” And if you were married in 2009, they can advise you on the best Côte du Rhônes to buy and cellar now so you can enjoy for your 10 or even 15 and 20 year anniversaries.
De Viris Illustribus Urbis Romae was a book written in 1779 by abbot Lhomond to teach about famous men from Rome. De Vinis Illustribus is a play on words and means Famous or Great Wines.
The real treasures are downstairs in the truly ancient cellar. Pictures of what it looked like when Besse was still the owner can only be described as a cobwebbed and dusty Ali Baba’s cave. Today it is still a treasure trove of legendary wines – though much more organized and well-lit – that we rarely get to see physically: 1955 Chateau d’Yquem, 1929 Corton “Clos du Roy”, an 1811 Fine Champagne Imperiale Cognac. The list is quite extensive.
Mr. Michelin has an impressive collection of Sauternes, an AOC he particularly enjoys. Their cellar is dominated by French wines and mostly of the regions Bordeaux, Bourgogne, Rhône, Loire and Alsace. Though Champagne is also represented and you can find a few bottles from Porto, too. Prices range from 13€ to into the thousands.
L-R: Lionel Michelin, Michel Dovaz, Dominique Michelin, Mathieu Michelin
L-R: Paige, Keiko Sumino, Michel Dovaz, Dominique Michelin
Another specialty of De Vinis Illustribus is their wine tastings. You can join in on a wine tasting or book your own group. You can read more about these by Keiko, a fellow blogger who also attended a recent wine tasting there along with her good friend, the notable French wine writer Michel Dovaz. Keiko’s blog is in both Japanese and French. These are some of the popular choices:
Discovering French Regions: 3 wines, 1 White Burgundy, 1 Red Bordeaux, and 1 Red Côtes du Rhône. Accompanied by aged Comté cheese. 50€ pp
Tour de France of the Vineyards: Tasting Lunch. 4 Wines, 1 Burgundy, 1 Bordeaux, 1 Côtes du Rhône, and 1 Loire. Served with fine cooked meats, cheese and pastries. 105€pp.
Great French Wines Over Time: Tasting Dinner. 5 great wines including 1 old vintage with hot meal courses. From 255€ pp.