WineLine No. 28
Written and © copyright by Dave McIntyre
Feb. 15, 2003

"Code Rosé"
Fear (of terrorism) and Loathing (of France) in Our Nation's Capital

Dear Friends:

There I was the other day, taping plastic sheeting on the walls of my wine cellar, when the man on the battery-operated radio told me the latest advice from our fearless government leaders for what to do in case of a chemical or biological attack: Wash your hands.

So Osama's gonna attack us with the common cold virus?

The same news report said pacifist Japan was threatening to attack North Korea if Kim Jong-il so much as hiccupped at Tokyo. And Denny Hastert, the Drew Carey doppelganger who became Speaker of the House because he hadn't cheated on his wife, was trying to whip his Republican colleagues into a xenophobic frenzy in order to punish France for having the gall (Gaul?) to disagree with the United States on Iraq and the diplomatic savvy to throw roadblocks in our way.

Hastert's proposal? Ban imports of French wine and water. His spokesman said something ridiculous about informing Americans about the dried bull's blood used to clarify those muddy French wines.

Now that's what I call an effective foreign policy.

Our world is turning upside down. (Quick! Turn all your wine bottles upright so the corks won't dry!) Code Orange has us seeing red. Here in the Washington area, where we've lived as targets ever since 9/11 and last year's sniper attacks, people spent Valentines Day emptying Home Depot of duct tape, batteries and plastic sheeting. On the way home they made a detour for toilet paper because the radio said it was going to snow.

In such an atmosphere, it is impossible to act rationally because "rational" has no meaning. So bien sûr it makes perfect sense to bash the French, non?

Our enlightened leaders have tried to slap tariffs on French wine before, of course, usually as retaliation for France's unwillingness to eat our hormone-pumped beef or mutant corn. In one inspired instance, the sanctions were targeted at a specific appellation because the French trade minister owned a vineyard there. But anti-French sentiment is running virulently high in Washington this week after Paris seemed willing to scuttle the NATO alliance just to stick a Gallic thumb in George W. Bush's eye. This cannot be good news for foodies and oenogeeks.

Forgive me if I sound cynical, but The Washington Post also reported that the budget deal Congress finally agreed upon for the fiscal year that is now nearly half over includes $250,000 for the University of California at Davis "to perfect its wine research." No doubt there's funding there for a study of the health effects of dried ox blood as a clarifier.*

The anti-French sentiment has already reached the Internet, where a supposed letter home from a Marine colonel stationed with the multinational force in Bosnia is making the e-mail rounds. The letter relates a French officer's derision at the "cowboy" U.S. policy on Iraq. After opening a serious can of Yankee whup-ass, complete with the familiar recitation of all the times in the last century we saved the French from having to speak German and threatening to kick the insolent Frenchman's derrière outside the base's Burger King, the letter ends, "Your loving daughter ..."

Why do Americans love to hate the French? Sure we saved them in two world wars and the Cold War, but we also wouldn't be a country without the help of Lafayette and others. Our capital city, designed by a Frenchman and modeled after Paris, cannot hold a candle to the City of Light. And don't get me started on food.

Maybe we're angry because a lot of us agree with the French but we're unhappy that our government is coming off the bully on this issue.

Will we oenogeeks need to shun French wines to demonstrate our patriotism in the midst of this hysteria? Will John Ashcroft and Donald Rumsfeld lock us up in Guantanamo for displaying undue francophilia? Will the National Gallery of Art mothball its Renoirs, Monets and Gaugins until the political climate changes lest some fanatic spraypaint "USA" on the canvases? Will McDonald's exchange "French fries" for "chips"?

The other day my 2-year-old daughter, a Madeline fanatic who knows the monuments of Paris better than those of her home town, proudly showed off three nearly identical stacks of letter blocks she had arranged. "That's Notre Dame!" she said, pointing to the first pile. "There's Sacre Coeur, and that's l'Arc de Triomphe!"

"Don't tell the neighbors," I whispered to my wife.

I am more worried about what America will do to itself than about any threat from Osama bin Laden or Saddam Hussein. But I will take precautions. At the grocery store I found the shelves of bottled water had been ravaged by anxious shoppers. Only Evian and Volvic were left. (Fine with me!) I also stocked up on Camembert, Morbier, Brin d'Amour and Brie in case the Republicans in Congress discover that France makes cheese.

And I'll take my wife and kid and our beloved Tippecanoe the Cockapoo (yes, he's part poodle!) and hunker down in our "safe room," surrounded by cases of Côte du Rhone, a cooler full of cheese and our vast library of Madeline and cooking-show videos. We'll come out when our country is sane again. Or when the snow stops.

Now, where did I put my tire bouchon?

* The use of dried ox blood as a clarifier in wines was already rare when it was banned in the late-1990s during the mad cow scare. A coop in southern France was caught using it a year or so ago, but the resulting scandal was minor because the coop's wine was considered third-rate plonk and none of it was exported. For more on this topic, Robin Garr covered the same general issue back in 1999 in The 30 Second Wine Advisor article "Mad cows and French wine,"

Dave McIntyre

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