Top n’ Bottom of the Barrel
French wine is the worst in the World. And the best. And the most mediocre. Just like California wine. Just like Australian wine. Just like anything where “taste” is concerned. The operative word here, dear reader, is “subjective.” Is it not?
We each decide what wine, food, person, place, house, car is good/bad/better/best. And, bien sur, each genre has it’s critics. Those “experts” whose (supposedly) superior knowledge/experience should guide us to the perfect choice. Separate the wheat from the chaff. The winners from the losers. A good concept in our “information overload” age. For the nuts n’ bolts stuff. Cars. Appliances. Music systems. Everything mechanical/electronic. Where size/power/performance/cost can be analyzed and compared.
Ah – but Wine! Clearly more than fermented grape juice in a bottle. Definitely not mechanical. Yes, it’s alcohol content can be measured. Yes, it is a beverage. But equal parts (if not more) – a passion-a ritual -an ideal,and here in France, a religion. Absolutement! In short – more of an idea than a product. More of a poem than an instruction manual.
It is here, dear reader, in the tasting room, that, for obvious reasons, the critics fail us most perfectly. And here, that I must hip you to “The Wine Waffle.” Contrary to the image it may conjure, it is not a breakfast treat marinated in wine, smothered in heavy cream and dripping with chocolate, but a wine vendor’s sales tool.
Picture, if you will, Bob, the wine salesperson, on the ‘phone to Jack, the potential buyer. After Bob shovels out the usual b.s. – limited availability -critics raving, etc, Jack asks: “How would you describe it?” This, dear reader, is when Bob moves in for the kill. After a short, dramatic pause, Bob glances down to his “Wine Waffle”… a 4 column list of ephemeral adjectives/synomyns that can be applied, in any order, to any wine. (“Wine Smoke”) “Jack,… this wine is truly an elegantly expressive, yet exquisitely structured Chardonnay, that caresses the palette with the heady aroma of ripe Apricots… cradled in a lavish mantle of spicy oak.” Does Jack buy? Are politicians for sale? Does the Pope send cheques to the victims of pedophile priests?
French Wine has long been synonomous with quality. For three main reasons. French wine occupied the pole position. Leading the pack,long before there was one. Due(and this be reason two) in no small part to the reverence, respect, general adulation and snob appeal of “French Cuisine.” And dontyabethinkin’ this is old news. Whenever I visit my pals in Holland, their idea of a “special meal” is a French one. Thirdly, as the Bible demonstrates endlessly – “History is written by the winners.” Thus winophiles/critics, etc. applaud with awe, even while drooling, a first growth Bordeaux, because the losers never got any press. Who knew? And more to the point – Why advertise your failures?
Bottom Line: Every country has it’s loooooser wines. That said, French Wine is unique in two respects: One, the French philosophy of “terrior” – respect for the land – little/no chemicals – hand harvesting – limited quantity – increased quality, has influenced vignernons Worldwide. Two – in France, unlike those “excited states” or “great” Britian – the only EEC member still clinging to it’s own money (not clear on the concept!) – You can buy wine by the litre. In your own container. One, three, five and ten litres. At the local “Cave Cooperative.” The price range-roughly 1.25 to 1.75 euro/litre. In strengths from 11% to 13.5%.(Can be up to 16% in the south, where the grapes get more sun, and thus more natural sugar.) In all three flavors. Red, White and Rosé.
Although on World markets French Wine faces stiff competition (and isn’t that the worst kind?) it has a unique advantage. A.O.C. “Origine Appellation Controlé.” The French government system of regulating/certifying the origin of Wines. Equal parts bureaucracy, tradition and history.
A.O.C. is official confirmation that a wine which claims to have been produced in a certain region actually was. Each region is restricted to honouring it’s “historical cepage.” ie – if your Father, and his Father, and all the Fathers before grew Pinot, you cannot grow Merlot. (Conversely, this is the advantage of New Zealand “wining.” No history. No restrictions.)
Thus you are assured that this pinot is a unique and true reflection of the quality of the soil, the climate, and all the other, often extremely subtle variations in that eco-system that are ultimately responsible for the taste of that wine.
The French vignerons, in every region, are the custodians of a particular cepage. (variety of grape(s)) A heritage that is honoured with pride. This combined with the enormous variables of soil, climate, pruning, harvesting, etc. is what makes French wine, for me, the ultimate liquid “treasure.” And, now that ya mention it… I am feelin’ a little dry. best willamette valley wine tours