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May 5, 2014 03:09 PM

Is it ever right to order the house wine?

Was wondering if it is ever desirable to order the house wine rather than a bottle. I will be traveling with my wife and just college graduated daughter to Paris and was curious to know if the collected wisdom of this board ever buys a carafe.

I am coming from California and belong to a few wineries in the Paso Robles area where they make "Rhone style" GSMs. My wife in summer loves a nice French rose´. My daughter like her petit syrah, but I don't think that is grape that is commonly grown in France (could be wrong about that) Thanks for any help or advice.

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  1. In Lyon, we often order the house "pot du vin" and have never been disappointed. I don't keep tabs on the locals, but it seems to me that they do this too.

    1. Petite sirah (durif) is originally a French variety, a crosspollination of syrah and peloursin. But it is not widely grown anymore in France.

      6 Replies
      1. re: Ptipois

        I know that here in California we are lucky to have access to varietals such as Zinfandels and Petit Syrah. I am looking forward to enjoying french wines that are harder to find here at home.

        1. re: steveburstein

          I almost couldn't believe my eyes when I belatedly saw your citing Petite Sirah as meritous. I wrote this grape off in the 80's as good for blending (then with Zinfandel) but too coarse to be the title act.
          But I see that my friends in Calif are right. They conquered this beast and are making outstanding Petite Sirahs today.

          1. re: collioure

            As you French have told us for years, it's not the grape but the terroir and the winemaker that define the wine, ergo so many faces of chardoney in France.

            1. re: mangeur

              But I'm not French. I'm an American living in France.

              But, yes, dialing in terroir makes wine very interesting, the reason I love Sancerre rouge a wine many sneer at. Santenay too.

              Nevertheless I'm not going to demand that France increase production of Durif.

            2. re: collioure

              Not just Petit Sirah but also Petit Verdot and the occasional Tannat. I should pack some up to trade for a personal guide to all things Paris. Perhaps some Zinfandels as well.

              1. re: steveburstein

                We have Tannat here in France. It's the principal grape in Madiran and in Irouléguy rouge. Also blended into Cahors.

        2. Why not order whatever you're comfortable ordering?

          I imagine if there's a "house wine," then the people running the restaurant figure it's okay for a customer to order it.

          4 Replies
          1. re: mitchleeny

            When it comes to having wine with a meal I am never uncomfortable. I found that when we traveled to Rome the house wines were much better than if you try the same thing here in the States.

            1. re: steveburstein

              Agree - both in Italy and France, the house wine is infinitely better than in the US. To me, it doesn't make sense, to me, not to order the house wine. Unless it is some very special meal that needs a pairing.

              1. re: rudeboy

                My experience in Italy is entirely in line with what rude boy says. Not only is the house wine better, and way cheaper, but it has been vetted by the house and is certainly a good match with the cuisine. The times I ordered "famous labels" in Italy were not the most delicious experiences.

              2. re: steveburstein

                Well, if Rome is your basis of comparison, I think you'll be pleasantly surprised in Paris/ France.

            2. Sure, more & more places now, since the Loi Evin, have wine by the glass, 25 cl, 46 (pot) or 50 cl, etc; 2 places I know even pour from a magnum.
              And some of us stoop so low as to have box wine at home (it's higher end stuff than in the US).

              4 Replies
              1. re: John Talbott

                doing my research I am not surprised to hear that. There is nothing like having some nice wine to enhance a meal. I was just curious to know if the house wines are usually of a good quality or if it was better to go with a bottle with the meal.

                1. re: steveburstein

                  In my experience house wines are drinkable and rarely anything more. Unless a restaurant is known for a house wine they procure from a good local producer (e.g. the Chateauneuf-du-Pape at Hiely in Avignon), you will get better wine by ordering a bottle.

                2. re: John Talbott

                  Actually I've drunk decent box wine in CT, MA and NY. Not so much otherwise.

                  1. re: John Talbott

                    I've had perfectly good box wines in France and in Italy. And even in the Netherlands. Obviously it isn't Dutch wine - either from more southerly European countries or South Africa - the Netherlands seems to have maintained a lot of trade ties with Zuid Afrika.

                  2. I'm surprised by some of the comments. My mentor taught me, and therefore all my reports, that a "house wine" was a point of pride, not "slop of the day." Are most of you all telling us that Paris restaurants will serve "slop of the day" if we ask for vin de maison?

                    6 Replies
                    1. re: hychka

                      absolutely not -- some are better than others, but I've never had a bad glass of house wine anywhere in France -- always at least drinkable.

                      As opposed to the US custom of offering the cheapest plonk available as the "house wine", French restaurateurs tend to offer something that will pair well with most of their menu. It's not uncommon for them to buy from a winemaker friend in one of the winemaking regions.

                      Unless we're just in the mood for a particular wine, or the special of the day is particularly tempting, we almost always order the house.

                      1. re: sunshine842

                        "As opposed to the US custom of offering the cheapest plonk available as the "house wine", French restaurateurs tend to offer something that will pair well with most of their menu."
                        One lunch long ago I ordered the least expensive wine at the Elysee Vernet and joked to the sommelier that I had made a discovery: quite seriously he said "I take pride in all the wines on the list and you have indeed discovered one of my favorites."

                        1. re: John Talbott

                          some are better than others, but we've had quite a few that were just plain very nice wine.

                          If you ask, they'll almost always tell you the name of the producer....it's fun to set off the next day to see if you can find them.

                          1. re: John Talbott

                            LOL This must be a line they are taught in som school since I, too, always seem to pick their favorites!

                        2. re: hychka

                          not I! I find most house wines just fine. And in Avignon, it seems everyone pours young Mont Redon CduP. :)

                          1. re: hychka

                            Paris may be the exception to the rule.........there ARE places that will slough off the slop..others who still take pride. Anywhere else, you can be assured of getting something admirable