Tipsy Pilgrim recently attended the Salon des Vins des Vignerons Indépendants — The Independent Winemakers’ Expo in Paris. This cannot be more highly recommended.

First, it’s free, or pretty much free. Officially, it will run you €6 (worth it), and that goes down to €3 for students or if you arrive in a group of ten. But really, free invites seem to rain down on friends and friends of friends (those with connetions to restaurants or winemakers, or those who have bought wine at the expo in previous years).

At the entrance, you’re handed a tasting glass, which serves as your ticket. You then go around to the stands and “sample” wines and brandies from all over France. If you want to stay sober, you can use the spit buckets at your feet at every stand.

It helps to go in with an objective, as you’ll never have time to visit even a tiny fraction of the stands. Do you want to learn about Burgundy reds? Cognacs? Alsacian whites? Picking one area and trying everything you can find from that region or type can be a wonderful education, and the proprietors are only too eager to explain their wares and their methods.

This is also, of course, a great opportunity to stock up on wine directly from producers, and to carefully taste your way through it, rather than relying on fickle reviewers, wine store recommendations, or more limited tastings. Fine wine is an elaborate fiction — there’s an enormous variety out there, sure, but finding what you personally like has nothing to do with price or with the fashionability of the terroir or producer. And rather than taking a ridiculous and expensive wine tour of France, attending this expo allows producers from all over the country to come market their wares to you, in one expo hall, in one afternoon.

Check back with the Salon’s website for their next event in Paris or the provinces, or check out this elaborate listing of wine expos all over the country (both sites are in French — use Google translate if necessary).