What's up with French wine?
France's grape farmers are protesting again, reportedly parading through at least one wine-country village last month in a mock funeral cortege surrounding a coffin marked "Here lies the last wine maker."
You may have seen headlines in the past few days about controversy surrounding a French proposal to convert a substantial quantity of last year's wine production into industrial alcohol. This arrangement provides the wine industry a guaranteed income from surplus wine that otherwise might not be sold. The practice has been going on for many years, but it took on a new twist this year because for the first time, higher-quality wines from the country's better wine regions (designated "Controlled Appellation" or "AOC"), are destined for the distillation vats.
The French government announced today that it will apply for European Union permission to follow through with this plan, and also unveiled a package of wine-industry aid including 70 million Euros in grants and tax breaks for producers, subsidized early retirement for 500 vine growers, and permission to dig up some vineyards in wine regions that have consistently produced more wine than they can sell.
What's going on in France? Its top tier of producers still makes great wine, and few expert observers - even the most pessimistic - see any real threat to this niche. But its wine industry, overall, is in trouble. Modern France hasn't marketed its wines with anything resembling the skill with which it makes its wines. Aggressive Australian, North and South American producers have knocked France out of its traditional lead in world wine exports; and even at home, the younger French are drinking far less wine than their parents did - per capita consumption, 13.2 gallons per year, although still well ahead of the U.S. and Great Britain, is only half of French consumption in 1961.
Ripping out vines, distilling bulk wine into alcohol, and encouraging growers to retire are all part of a strategy to balance the supply and demand equation by reducing the supply. Meanwhile, a variety of other efforts are under way.
For one, the French government recently somewhat eased the country's startingly puritanical restrictions on wine advertising.
In a broader initiative, the government is also taking a fresh look at traditional French wine labeling, questioning whether the "appellation" system, with separate label requirements and agricultural and vinification rules for each of nearly 450 wine-growing regions, makes French wine too extraordinarily complicated for the average consumer to bear.
Seeking to "clarify and simplify the way French wines are marketed internationally," Agricultural Minister Hervé Gaymard said last summer, regulations now encourage French "vins de pays" ("country wines," the relatively modest and affordable everyday table wines) to highlight the wine-grape variety on the label, as is commonplace among wines of the Americas and Australia.
Although this measure doesn't cover the higher-quality AOC wines, some enthusiasts fear that the urge to "simplify" in pursuit of market share could lead to an eventual "dumbing down" of even the country's greatest wines. Is this likely? I hope not. But stranger things have happened in the name of marketing.
To highlight today's discussion, I opened a Provence vin de pays from Louis Latour. Its full moniker is a Francophone tongue-twister - Domaine de Valmoissine Vin de Pays des Coteaux du Verdon - but its simple, new-style label highlights only the producer and the grape ... Pinot Noir.
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Louis Latour 2001 "Domaine de Valmoissine" Pinot Noir Vin de Pays des Coteaux du Verdon ($12.99)
This clear, light-ruby wine from the hills of Var in Provence is a Burgundian-style red made in the style of the ancient "Vin Vermeil," light and fresh and not much darker than a rosé. There's more substance on the nose and palate than the light color suggests: Good Pinot aromas focus on red fruit, with distinct nuances of smoke and meat. Fresh and bright flavors, light-bodied but crisp red fruit and earthy notes that follow the nose. There's a wisp of tannins along with clean fruit in the finish. U.S. importer: Louis Latour Inc., San Francisco. (Jan. 30, 2005)
FOOD MATCH: Nicely matched with a simple roast pork loin.
VALUE: Very good value for the price, its vin de pays status holding its price well below what you'd expect for generic Pinot Noir from more sought-after Burgundy. Shop around if you can, as some Web merchants list the 2002 vintage for $10.
WHEN TO DRINK: Made for current enjoyment, but there's no reason it shouldn't hold up and even evolve for a couple of years on the wine rack or five in the cellar.
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The California Wine Club: Treat Yourself!
Why not start the new year with a gift just for you? Since 1990 The California Wine Club has been introducing wine enthusiasts to California's best "micro-wineries." In fact, The California Wine Club is America's only wine service featuring real, working, smaller, family-owned wineries. Club owners Bruce and Pam Boring hand select every wine featured and every wine is 100 percent guaranteed.
Each month includes two bottles of award-winning wine and informative 12-page magazine, Uncorked. Uncorked offers an up-close and personal look at the family behind the wines, wine luminary interviews, recipes, fun facts and much more. There are no joining fees and you can cancel anytime! Just $32.95/month plus shipping.
First Month Free! Mention The 30 Second Wine Advisor, and The California Wine Club will give you the first month on them!
Call 1-800-777-4443 or visit
Wine Lovers' Voting Booth:
What wine goes best with chocolate?
Valentine's Day is coming up soon, and if you're a conscientious planner-ahead, you may already be ordering gifts of chocolate to treat your sweetie.
But here's an intriguing nuance: Is it feasible to join the joys of two favorite treats by enjoying a few decadent chocolates with a glass of wine? You're invited to tell us your opinion as this week's Wine Lovers' Voting Booth asks, "What drink goes best with chocolate?"
To cast your ballot, click to
French Wine Explorers:
Join Robin Garr in the Rhone in June!
As we move through winter, the countdown continues: It's just four short months before our Northern and Southern Rhone tour with French Wine Explorers on June 6-12. This seven-day, six-night tour will take us on an in-depth exploration of the region's beautiful scenery, delicious Provençal cuisine, and rich, expressive wines.
We'll be enjoying luxury accommodations and meals at some of the Rhône's top tables, plus tastings at top estates in Côte-Rôtie, Hermitage, Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Tavel and more. Visits to Roman ruins, gourmet meals on outdoor patios, and a gala dinner dance with the winemakers of Chateauneuf-du-Pape will make this a vacation you'll always remember.
For more information, visit French Wine Exporers' Northern and Southern Rhône tour page,
This week on WineLoversPage.com
Here are links to some of our recently published articles that I think you'll enjoy:
Dave McIntyre's WineLine: A Pinch of Spice, a Dash of Oak
Randy's World of Wine: Big Chardonnays and food
Wine Lovers' Discussion Group: Preserving wine with inert gas
Last Week's Wine Advisor Index
The Wine Advisor's daily edition is usually distributed on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays (and, for those who subscribe, the FoodLetter on Thursdays). Here's the index to last week's columns:
When rosé gets serious (Jan. 28, 2004)
The Rhone's not always red (Jan. 26, 2004)
Bad first impressions (Jan. 24, 2004)
Complete 30 Second Wine Advisor archive:
Wine Advisor FoodLetter: Creole Nouvelle (Jan. 27, 2004)
Wine Advisor Foodletter archive:
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Monday, Jan. 31, 2005