Wine in France
Have you ever been shopping for Wine in France? I bet quite a few of you have, especially if you live in England. And if, instead of flying you took a ferry, you will probably have been to stock up in one of those massive supermarkets that seem to have been purpose built for UK shoppers.
I will have to admit that I have never been to one of those. Even though I tend to take the ferry and I certainly do bring back a lot of wine; one thing I do know about buying wine in France is that it’s not often in the big supermarkets that you will find the best organic wines! But this time, I am going to have to try and visit one on my way back to check whether what I have found this time whilst shopping for wine in France is also true in those places.
If you have read my previous blog entries, you will know that I am currently studying for the WSET Level 3 qualification and that, as part of the course, I have to write tasting notes about a lot of wines from all kinds of styles and wine producing areas. There are actually a few other French people on my course including a wine producer and a sommelier from a renowned restaurant in London. When asked about why they were taking this qualification, they said the same as me: we need to broaden our horizons.
We did, of course, spend a few weeks on French wine areas. Wine in France has long been part of the culture and a lot of international grape varieties found in the “New World “come from France. The range of wines produced in France is huge, it can cater for all tastes. Or can it? I brought a bottle of Amarone della Valpolicella to a family dinner last week. My dad and my brother know a good bottle of wine when they taste one. They could not work out what this one was ( we do quite a bit of blind tasting in my family) and they could not think of a French equivalent but they really liked it. I wasn’t surprised they could not identify it. I don’t think I have ever seen a bottle of Italian wine in my dad’s cellar. My dad is very much a Côtes-du-Rhône fan but occasionally indulges in other styles but, as he always bought them in France, quite often from the producers themselves) he only has French wine. Which is not at all unusual here.
At the moment, we are studying wines from the USA and next week it will be South America. So this week we are supposed to go and find some Californian Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc and next week some South American reds. They don’t have to be organic so, had I been in the UK, it would not have been too much of a problem. I did not realise it would be so difficult here!
According to an article from this month’ Gault and Millau magazine, 85% of French people regularly buy wine. 90% of wine purchases are done in supermarkets (which I found quite incredible in a country where you can just drive to the producers.) So I went and checked what the supermarket selection was in all the supermarkets around where I am staying. I would guestimate that only 3 % is non-French. You can often find the odd bottle of Rioja, and some Chilean Merlot. In one supermarket I found a Vinho Verde and some Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon.
At my parents’ local “caviste”, the percentage is slightly higher: maybe 7% of bottles are foreign. Quite a lot of sherry available, again, a bit of Rioja. But I still have not found the Rias Baixas I needed to write notes about 2 weeks ago.
I went back to my Gault and Millau magazine and noticed that there was actually one section about Mediterranean wines (something I wrote a little about last month too), ah… progress.
I also checked La Revue du Vin de France , with the special Foire Aux Vins edition. It goes through their selection of all the best wines from each big supermarkets. For each of them, there are about 20 to 25 in their top list and only about 2 to 4 foreign wines. Their lists for online shops is similar ( as far as the proportion of foreign wines are concerned)
They do however have a few sections in the magazine about far away terroirs:
One page 201, Italian, Portuguese and Lebanese Rosés are mentioned. Page 202 gives examples of Bordeaux blends from around the world. Page 203 is only a short page on Italian wines and agritourism but I do like the fact that they explain that Italian producers are embracing organic and biodynamic practices. Then, on page 20 there is an article on Red Mountain wine ( from Burma!). It does state that French restaurants are always on the look out for “crus exotiques”.
And this is possibly a sign that things are starting to change. Restaurants and the specialized press are definitely hinting that France is not the only wine producing area in the world.
I think the fact that some of our traditional exports are (in proportion) declining (Prosecco has now overtaken Champagne in England !) has already started to make producers react and rethink either quality or style ( or both!) for their export market and if the normally loyal French market starts eyeing up foreign wines, they might have to reconquer it too. If they reinvent themselves, I hope wine producers will do like a lot of Italians do and go organic and biodynamic. Chateau Pontet Canet now makes an organic Grand Cru. In Pauillac! If that’s not a sign of change then I don’t know what is.
In the meantime, I will make sure that before I leave France, I include some Californian and South African wines at the next blind tasting.
I currently have some Spanish Rioja, some Italian Dolcetto d’Alba and Italian Merlot in my store. I will be adding some lines in a few weeks time., I am not telling you just yet from which countries but please let me know if there are some particular organic non-French wines that you would be interested in, I am a very open-minded wine lover , who just happens to be French…