France and It’s Association with Wine
Making In some years France produces more wine than Italy, in others Italy more: but no other country surpasses these two in quantity and wine is a very important part of the French economy. Sometimes people express the view that too much attention is paid to French wines, but there are several reasons why they must always be considered by the wine lover, the serious drinker and the compiler of any wine list. Firstly, the tradition of winegrowing in France is very old and the wide range of both red and white wines made in the country has given experience and authority to French winemakers. Secondly, wines often described as ‘classic’ tend to be predominantly French, simply because they are the wines on which drinkers have formed their standards. Finally the detailed pleasure and fascination provided by the finest of the quality wines has been a source of discussion among serious wine lovers for generations.
The bulk of wine produced in France is wine for everyday consumption, not the sort of wine that will improve by maturation in bottle. This is known as VIM de consommation courante. The branded wines are known as vins de marque. The regional wines are often in the V.D.Q.S. Category, the finer wines are A.O.C. And, in more recent times, the categories of vins de pays and V.Q.P.R.D. Have been added. Unless a drinker is a prejudiced and chauvinistic person, he will admit that the two finest red table wines in the world are claret and Burgundy, and that the finest sparkling wine is Champagne. Anyone pro-French will assert further that the dry white wines of Burgundy and the Loire are supreme examples of this type of table wine and that the Sauternes are great among any of the sweet wines of the world. The latter claim could admittedly be argued, especially by a German! But not only are such French wines at least among the finest of their kind, but their world fame has enabled many to form judgments about wines from even a slight knowledge of them.
Just as many of the finest table wines are French, so are the two great brandies of the world – Cognac and Armagnac. France also produces a huge variety of liqueurs. The range of drinks available within nearly all the provinces of France is therefore great and it would be possible, from France alone, to pick wines and spirits appropriate for virtually any occasion and to be served with any dish, even exotic, and unlike any French dishes as could be imagined. This is why, in restaurants of more than strictly regional scope and in wine merchants of any pretensions to a comprehensive list, French wines and spirits will be prominently featured. Huge books have been written on even the smaller wine regions of France. References to the main wine regions should be made – see Alsace, Bordeaux. Burgundy, Champagne, Languedoc, Loire, Rhone, – and the numerous subdivisions within them, etc. The most famous of the classic wines have separate entries under their names, and those who wish to know more details should consult the Bibliography for further reading.
Recent improvements in both vine growing and wine making. As well as the care of wines that have to travel, have made it possible to market wines from many regions that previously could, at best, only be thought of as holiday wines and for local consumption. At the same time, no amount of money will make a great wine in an unsuitable vineyard – although it can make a pleasant one in many vineyards. Nor is the respect in which the great French classic wines are rightly held something that can justify anybody considering any French wine to be ‘better’ than any other in the medium and inexpensive price ranges. This is where the wine snob does harm to himself and his guests on many occasions, such as when a ‘great’ or demandingly interesting wine is not required – as on a picnic, or with wholly casual food – and when something that is not French may offer better value and provide more enjoyment.
It is often very difficult to persuade hesitant winebuyers that, in spite of the wonders provided by French wines, the mere fact of a wine’s being French cannot guarantee that its drinking qualities will be superior to all others! The south of France wines, for example, can be very good small-scale drinks these days but, when the international currency situation puts them into the high medium or expensive price range, the British drinker cannot expect them to taste better than their own potential allows – however much they may cost. At the same time, within France itself there can be remarkable value – often bypassed when people ‘drink the label’: for example, many people will often buy even a very ordinary German wine rather than an Alsace – which Germans themselves buy simply because it is such good value and high quality – or they will opt for a white Burgundy of a doubtful year and possibly dubious provenance rather than choose a good white Loire.