Exploring my wine database

It’s been a more than month since I arrived in Paris and I’m now a week away from flying home to Boston.  “Back in good old Boston, home of the bean and the cod. Where the Lowells only talk to Cabots, and the Cabots only talk to God.” I apologize for this moment of pretentious culture; I do love my Boston Brahmin lore.

But, as I often do, I digress. Even though I’m more than ready to go back, I had a great time in France. Family-wise, friends-wise and of course, wine-wise, everything went well. I use an app called Vivino to track what I drink, it’s pretty convenient and it helps structure and document my wine journey. I decided to do a little analysis of my Vivino log for the last 30 days. I had more than 45 different wines over that 30 days period. Granted, it covered the holidays period when it is more socially acceptable. I’m not concerned about this overall number.

What is interesting is the fact that, except for one bottle from Lebanon, one from South Africa, and one from the Priorat, 42 wines out of 45 were French. It is not a bad thing but it illustrates a point I made a few months ago, French people, and people in France tend to drink French wine. The offer in foreign wines in basic wine shops remains minimal, with the notable exception of Italian (Chianti) and Spanish (cava, Rioja) wines.

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It’s not particularly surprising. It’s also not just an elitist or snobby thing, it might be simple economics. France is either the first or second producer of wine in the world depending on the year (Italy being the other biggest producer). And even though we export a fair amount of wine, roughly a third of our yearly production, we still consume most of it domestically. At this point it’s demographics combined with economics: We produce 20% of the wine in the world and we consume two thirds of this production which means 13% of the wine produced in the world is drunk in France.

By comparison, Australia’s wine industry is geared towards exportation. Only 40% of the wine produced in Australia is sold locally, the remaining 60% are exported (mainly to the UK where Australian wines lead all other countries in terms of sales).

Considering that drinking locally is easier because you avoid transport and importations taxes, it’s often a better bargain to drink local in France. And of course, there is the protectionist and patriotic reflex. Lack of choice however is a real thing.

That’s one of the many reasons I’m ready to go home. I want to drink some Australian Shiraz I read about, I want to try more Napa Cabernet; I want to compare them to French wines from similar varieties. I want variety, I want new things, I want to wake up in a city that doesn’t sleep. Eh, no, scratch the last one, I got carried away in my own rambling. I don’t like New-York that much. Give me an non-rhotic accent over a nasal one, it’s easier on the ears.

Anyway, more wine this weekend, I have a bottle of Hermitage I have to get into. I told you, there is nothing wrong with French wine.

So annoyingly French

Some days I think of my choice to live in Boston as self-imposed political exile. French politics have a real knack for causing gloom and despair and I’m such a fragile and sensitive little thing… Recently things have been worse as a new legislation project has been brewing with the destruction of France’s wine tradition as its explicit goal.

Five measures are put forward in this project:

–          Interdiction to write about wine on the Internet

–          Interdiction to have any positive media coverage about wine

–          Increased taxes on wine for the consumer

–          The health warnings on bottles will change from “Abusing wine is a health hazard” to “wine is a health hazard”, the “drink with moderation” message will be forbidden

–          Alcohol units, health warning and all that sort of things will have to take up more than half the label space on bottles

Points 1 and 3 have been put on the shelf for now so the law focuses on the “health” side with a message arguing that wine is bad for you from the first drop and not just when you get plastered.

Obviously, I disagree with that project, I love wine, I even write about it on the Internet (which would make me not only an exile, but a refugee). But even if I didn’t, I just do not understand the rationale behind the project:

–          Wine is one of France’s calling card, a major part of our image abroad and one of the only positive aspects of this image (it almost balances our reputation for rudeness). Why would you want to attack part of your own image?

–          More importantly, wine sales represent the second highest exportation revenue of the country behind aeronautics. Some regions only survive economically through it. At a time when we struggle with unemployment and loss of income, why on Earth would you want to shoot down one of your major economic sectors?

So there you have it. At first I was angry, now I’m mostly confused. I just do not understand the logic behind such a project. Most people mention the precautionary principle but I can’t believe it’s a valid rationale to launch such an initiative.

Travel Plans

I’ve been very busy at work and I’m flying out to Paris tonight with a last minute change of plans. My 2 weeks vacation in Paris turned into a full month work trip with some vacation time.

I’m not complaining, it will mean more time to see friends and family, more occasions to drink french wine, and more Parisian restaurants ! I hope the work schedule allows me to keep posting as often as I want…

And with that, it’s now time to wish you all a very merry Christmas ! I’ll post Parisian season greetings from Paris next week. Drink and be merry !

New Year’s Eve wine and food ramblings

I’ll be flying home for the holidays on Friday, a couple weeks in Paris to see family and friends, celebrate Christmas and send 2013 off in style. I know that NYE is overrated but I’ll just have a few good friends with me and we’ll have a good dinner with good wines, no big production.

That leaves me with a task, dinner for ten people or so to plan. What will I make and what will we drink with it? What should I ask guests to bring and what will we drink with it? It seems a daunting task, not so much the cooking but the battle plan preparation. Once I know what, the rest is just logistics and execution. But right now, I’m staring at an almost blank canvas.

Almost blank because, thankfully, I know a few variables already

– There will be champagne with snacks because we are civilized people. And civilized people have champagne with snacks, let’s not be vulgar. I think I still have a few bottles of Cattier hidden in the cellar.

Cattier

–  There will be foie gras because we are savages and we eat fattened duck or goose liver. Also because a guest has South-western France connections and that’s where foie gras comes from. Also because I love foie gras. The accompanying wine is a sweet white, Sauternes is the common choice, I tend to prefer Jurancon but they will both do.

–  There will be cheese because I live in the US and while I visit France I need to have as much delicious unpasteurized fermented milk with as many living organisms in them as possible. I’d like to serve white with cheese because I often feel it’s a better match. Ideally I’d like to find a white from the Jura region in Eastern France.

szrzU_plateau_fromage_11

And… that’s all I have so far. I still need to choose a main dish that I’ll make, I really don’t know what to make. I like to cook New-Orleans inspired dishes but I’m not sure it’ll work. I might end up going super-French and make blanquette de veau or something like that. Or I’ll just ask my guest what they want to eat.

Guests will also bring dessert and I’ll have to find something that matches, I’m not worried about that one (to be fair, I’m not worried about any of it, I just made this a bigger deal than it is because I needed to stretch it into a blog post…)

I’m not sure if we’ll have port and cigars and discuss stocks afterwards. We’re in our early thirties and might not be at this point yet, we’ll play it by ear, it will be fun, it always is. And if I do my job right and get the right wines, everybody should be in a good mood when 2014 rolls in.

Gangsta, Burgundy style

Burgundy is old-school. I’m not only talking about the wine styles, it’s an old-school region of France, very rural and quite attached to its traditions and its way of life. And obviously, as wine is a huge part of the Burgundian culture, there are old-school wine traditions.

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Take the Confrerie du Tastevin for example (roughly translates as Brotherhood of the Knights of the Wine-Tasting Cup), it’s a knightly order which dates back to the 1700s and was rejuvenated in 1943. Yes, a knightly order, like the Templars, I’ll let that sink for a second. They have ranks and everything, my grandfather was a Commander for instance. Of course they focus on tasting and promoting burgundy wine, not on smiting the infidel which makes them somewhat more suited to modern life (and infinitely better dinner guests). They organize tasting and rankings every year at the Chateau de Vougeot. They also dress up as extras in a Harry Potter movie but let’s not dwell too much on the details.

800px-IMG_Chevaliers_du_Tastevin

The Tastevin hosts dinner events and these are the perfect setting for singing Burgundian drinking songs, of which there are many. In the interest of full disclosure, we sing these songs at dinner whenever we have a family event. Among favorites you will find “ Joyeux Enfants de la Bourgogne” (Happy children of Burgundy) with this immortal line “ when my face flushes red from drinking, I am proud to be Burgundian”. Another common song is Fanchon, about a peasant girl who likes to drink, laugh and sing (just like us), and it’s all good fun.

And finally, the most Burgundian thing I can think of, the “Ban Bourguignon” (Burgundian cheer). It’s well,… to be honest, I’m not sure what this is. Basically it’s a song with accompanying hand gestures that is meant to cheer, celebrate or loudly manifest some kind of approbation. My family does it at weddings or birthdays, or baptisms, or just when we get together. Apparently, they do it after concerts, sporting and shows in Burgundy too. To tell you the truth, I actually can’t wait to visit my family over Christmas and let out a ban bourguignon or two. Please don’t judge me. It’s just like a Burgundian Harlem Shake.

You stay classified Burgundy

One of the first things you learn when taking a wine class is how to read. Really, that’s the first thing you learn, how to read a label. You’d think it would be easy enough, I mean, you’ve been reading for years, right? The problem is, as it always is, the French. Like many aspects of French life, wine production is heavily regulated in France and the information on a label must obey specific rules. The confusing part is that these rules vary from region to region based on the way their wine production works. For instance, for terroir-focused Burgundy, wine labeling is structured by a system of territorial appellations.

Basically, every vineyard in Burgundy has an appellation based on its location. The acronym you’ll see on the bottles is AOC which stands for Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (controlled designation of origin). There are around 150 AOCs used in Burgundy, some are very wide, some cover very small areas but luckily, they are organized in levels to make a little more sense.

There are four levels of appellations, the smaller the covered area, the higher the quality (and the higher the price…). To be able to put the name of an appellation on the label, all the grapes used to make the wine must come from within the same appellation, if not you will have to use a wider (and thus supposedly not as good) appellation level on your label.

At the bottom you have the regional appellations that cover wide areas. The basic appellation is Bourgogne Rouge (Red Burgundy) for which the grapes can come from all over Burgundy, and there are sub-regional appellations like Hautes-Cotes de Beaune or Hautes-Cotes de Nuits.

Bourgogne Rouge

The second level is Village appellation. Grapes for a Village appellation wine must come from a variety of vineyards within the village territory, or a single unclassified vineyard from this village. The label will carry the name of the village (Pommard, Ladoix…) and sometimes the name of the individual parcel the wine came from. Village wines account for 36% of the production withing Burgundy.

bourgogne village

Above Village is the Premier Cru appelation (1st growth), they are produced from specified vineyards within a village that are supposed to be of greater quality than those used for the Village appellation. The label will show the name of the village, the Premier Cru status and, if applicable, the name of the individual vineyard: Ladoix, Premier Cru, Les Joyeuses. Premier Cru wines account for 12% of the production in Burgundy.

bourgogne 1er cru

Finally, the top-most level for Burgundy wines, the Grand Cru appellation (Great Growth). To label a wine a Grand Cru, all the grapes must come from a single Grand Cru vineyard. These vineyards are recognized as the best in Burgundy and there are only 43 Grand Crus accounting for 2% of the surface of Burgundy and 1.3% of its production. The label will show the name of the vineyard and the Grand Cru status, not the Village name: La Romanée Grand Cru (from the Vosne-Romanée Village).

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Basically, the higher the appellation level, the rarer the wine, and the more expensive too. Aging potential also usually goes up for Premier Crus and especially Grand Crus. It can make for incredibly pricey bottles but I managed to sneak in a Grand Cru tasting once and it was life changing. I think I briefly saw God. If God was a wine, he’d be a Grand Cru.

Did you know : Holy See indeed

Did you know…that the country that consumes the most wine is also the smallest country in the world?

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Vatican City consumes 365 glasses of wine per person per year. That accounts for first place with Luxembourg second at 350 glasses per person and year and France a distant third at 305 glasses. The US is 55th with 63 glasses per person and year. Priest, lawyers and bankers must like wine I guess, not all of it can be communion wine, right?