France’s Elysée Palace is to open the doors to its vast wine cellar to the public for the first time this weekend as part of a bid by President Emmanuel Macron to promote national heritage.
Some 350 members of the public who booked first via the internet will be taken around the cavernous cellar housing 14,000 bottles, from all the wine growing regions of France, that are served to foreign dignitaries and the presidential couple alike.
“This is the first time we’ve opened the cellar to the public,” Virginie Routis, the Elysée’s sommelier for the past 11 years, told Europe 1 radio.
The three-metre high vaulted cellar is two floors below ground level and keeps a plethora of fine wines and spirits, from cognac to top champagnes, at an ideal temperature of 13 degrees Celsius.
“The wine is chosen according to the menu. I make a selection…Madame and Monsieur Macron also get to approve the choice. We really have to represent French gastronomy so you have to choose wines that speak to a given foreign delegation,” she said.
Half of the bottles are Bordeaux and a quarter Burgundy, but all regions are represented. The cellar contains prestigious vintages such as Cheval Blanc, Latour and Puligny-Montrachet. Its oldest bottle is a 1906 Sauternes.
This weekend’s guests will be shown a gold-engraved 2000 vintage of Mouton Rothschild and a 2004 Chateau Margaux.
The cellar was created in 1947. During Jacques Chirac’s presidency in 2013, some 1,200 bottles were auctioned off as the quantities were too small to serve at official dinners.
Unlike his teetotal predecessor Nicolas Sarkozy, Mr Macron is a wine buff who confesses to drinking a glass at lunch and dinner and fared well in a recent blind wine tasting challenge.
He chose to open the cellars as part of France’s annual Heritage Days, where numerous state and listed buildings are exceptionally opened to the public.
He will reportedly make a brief appearance at the Elysée where around 20,000 people are expected to visit the palace above ground.
A special Elysée shop will sell a range of presidential gifts, including colouring books of the Macrons and their dog, as well as red, white and blue macaroons, presidential mugs and €29 (£26) key rings – which one commentator quipped was unlikely to help him shed his "president of the rich" tag. The proceeds will go to helping renovate the palace.
Mr Macron has also launched a heritage lottery to help save ailing monuments around the country, which has already been dubbed a success after selling 2.5 million tickets in a fortnight at €15 (£13) apiece.