I love wine. As far as I’m concerned there’s no better way to relax in the evening than with a nice big glass of red wine, a good book, and a roaring log fire. There’s no better way to guarantee that you’re not going to get up until past 10am the next morning than polishing off a bottle or two with some good friends, either. Youngy & Emma, I’m looking at you.
When I decided to leave Edinburgh behind and go travelling, it was obvious that I was going to choose France. The land of gooey cheeses, crisp baguettes, and wine by the bucket load. As far as I was concerned, Australian and Californian wines could wait. I may have been underwhelmed by French wine while I was in Edinburgh, but I figured that’s because those clever froggies were keeping all the good shit for themselves.
Here’s what I’ve learned about wine in France… so far.
Don’t spend less than €5 if you want a good bottle. When we arrived here and saw the price of a bottle of wine, it was all we could do not to jump for joy. As a couple of poor freelancers who were spending upwards of £7 a bottle in the UK, we were chuffed to bits when we saw the average price of a bottle of wine here is €3.
After tasting a few of those wines, we understood why they were so cheap.
Hey, people say Scots are tightfisted but I’m finding it very difficult to get my Irish boyfriend to spend more than a fiver. Usually we compromise and buy a box. Benefits of which, we’ll come to later.
Avoid the Spanish wine. Aside from a robust Argentinian Malbec, there is nothing in this world that gets my heart and tastebuds all a flutter like a good Spanish Rioja. White, red, whatever; just get it in my belly! Despite being an hour’s drive from the border, the Spanish wine here is just plain nasty. I wouldn’t even use it for cooking, unless I was making dinner for my worst enemy. I reckon it’s those naughty French only importing the bad wine so that their citizens say “Sacre Bleu! French wine is obviously the best!”
Forget New World wines. We’ve been in France for about six months now, and aside from the nasty Spanish stuff, we’ve noticed that you’re only going to find French wine in your local supermarket or cave. There are exceptions that prove the rule, however; we found a huge supermarket just outside of Pau that had a Vin de Monde section. Yep, five rather thin shelves with all sorts of goodies. Chilean Syrah, New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, and yes; an Argentinian Malbec. Bear in mind however that this was a tiny section in a huge supermarket. Hardly encouraging, but it did get us excited.
Don’t expect regional wine to be cheaper. We’re currently staying in the Madiran wine region. You’d think that the wine would be flowing like water here and therefore cheaper, but sadly not. In fact, the bottles and boxes of Madiran wine are slightly more expensive in our local supermarket than their contemporaries which have been shipped all over France. Go figure.
If you’re house isn’t heated, buy boxes instead of bottles of red. Robust red wine should be served between 14-18°C, roughly. If the thermometer in your kitchen reads a constant 10°C, and you have to wrap up in four layers of clothes plus a Snuggie to keep warm at night, then your lovely bottle of Bordeaux is never going to taste good even if you do spend more than €7 on it. Boxes seem to heat up quicker, so keep a box of rouge in the living room and let all those lovely flavours come out to play.
How I learned to stop worrying and love rosé. I’ve been a bit mean about French wine so far, so I’m going to say something nice. In the UK I hate rosé wine, but in France I adore it. My tastes run towards sour, dry, tropical whites and deep foreboding reds. Not saccharine sweet, summer berry rosé. In the South of France at least, rosé wine is lush. It’s tart, fruity, and lovely. On the other hand, the whites here are more desserty; sweet, cloying, to be enjoyed after a meal. Not to be taken in the bath with a trashy paperback.
There are cheaper versions of popular wines that the French actually prefer. In the UK we all tend to think of Cava and Prosecco as Champagne alternatives, but they have their own unique tastes which are very different from champers. If you love Champagne, you won’t have to break the bank once you come to France. Other French wine regions have their own sparkling wine, which has the same dry biscuity taste as a fine Champagne at a far friendlier price tag. We particularly like the Cremant de Bordeaux.
French people don’t care about accompaniments. If you have a particularly nice bottle of wine you might go to some effort to create tasty canapes to enjoy it with. Well, when we were drinking with Maubourguet’s local policeman, he pulled out a stunning bottle of Beaujolais; and to go with it, a few cartons of Super-U own brand Pringles.
So that’s what I’ve learned during my first half a year of French living. If I’m wrong and you can get a lovely South American Shiraz somewhere near Tarbes, please let me know in the comments!