Just as I imagine of Justin Bieber’s parents, French wine is hurting on the inside. Domestic sales in the country that taught the world to drink in style continue to plummet even as thirst grows in other nations.
Consumption dropped 4.84 per cent to 263.3-million nine-litre cases between 2009 and 2013, according to research commissioned by VineExpo, the French trade-show organization. Meanwhile, Italy and Germany were slightly up and the United States barrelled along to a 10-per-cent gain in the same period.
The latest statistics merely punctuate France’s sad, decades-old decline. Prompted by the country’s militant, anti-alcohol medical lobby (talk about a French paradox) and an aggressive crackdown on drunk driving, regular drinkers are turning into sometime sippers. The younger generation, convinced that wine has all the hipness factor of ham radio, is turning instead to vodka and spiced rum – when they drink at all.
In 1980, 51 per cent of French adults drank wine each day or nearly every day. By 2010 the figure had dropped to 17 per cent, according to FranceAgriMer, a national association of agricultural- and marine-products producers.
The other week also delivered a morale blow. China, whose consumption has been soaring, overtook France as the world’s biggest red-wine market, according to VinExpo. (The biggest market for white and red together is the United States.)
But all is not dismal in the land of terroir and châteaux. A courageous group called Vin et Société has been promoting moderate consumption and fighting a ban on Internet wine advertising and other anti-alcohol measures. The society’s president, Joël Forgeau, and associate director, Audrey Bourolleau, recently were named man and woman of the year by the leading wine publication La Revue du Vin de France.
And of course France can still sell wine, such as the fine examples below, to the rest of us. As long as we promise, I suppose, to keep it away from the under-age Bieber while he’s driving his Lamborghini.
Château Malartic-Lagravière 2010 (France)
SCORE : 92 PRICE : $94.85
A premier cru from Bordeaux’s Pessac-Léognan district, this was produced on an estate that received the Midas touch of consultant Michel Rolland in the 1990s. At 14.5-per-cent alcohol, it shows Rolland’s taste and the ripeness of the great 2010 season, with flavours of blackberry jam and plum that hint (not so flatteringly) at prune around the edges. Many American palates and critics will no doubt enjoy it more than I, but it is blessed with sufficient mineral backbone to hold my interest if not claim my money. It should evolve well for 15 years or more, but it’s easy to drink now. $129 in Newfoundland.
Jacques Girardin Santenay Les Terrasses de Bievaux 2010 (France)
SCORE : 92 PRICE : $28.95
The Girardin family traces its winemaking roots in Burgundy back to the early 19th century. Jacques is the brother of Vincent, a man with an arguably better-known label. This is an excellent, small-producer white Burgundy – a splendid, silky chardonnay with notes of tangerine and pineapple lifted by that classic nuttytang Burgundian quality I adore. It’s alive! Available only by the case, direct from Ontario importer Le Caviste (firstname.lastname@example.org, 647-975-2553). The same importer’s Château de Béru Chablis 2011 is splendid, too.
Cave de Roquebrun La Grange des Combes 2011 (France)
SCORE : 91 PRICE : $15.95
You can strongly sense the classic southern-French hotel-soap herbs of lavender, rosemary and thyme – known collectively as garrigue – in this delectably soft, fragrant red from Saint-Chinian. (I’d bathe in it if it wouldn’t stain my rump purple.) It’s like a stroll through a Provençal garden as you munch on a plum. $19.65 in Quebec. Cave de Roquebrun’s similarly styled Chemin des Olivettes is also nice and available in B.C. ($18.90) and Quebec. ($17.80).
Cave de Rasteau Ortas Prestige Rastau 2009 (France)
SCORE : 91 PRICE : $19.95
The big brother to Cave de Rasteau’s more widely available “Tradition” bottling, this Prestige, from a great year in the Côtes du Rhône, offers up concentrated ripe berries against a firm backbone, with chalky tannins for grip and a soupçon of old wood. Hearty stews would be nice with it. $23.99 in Manitoba, $22.85 in Quebec.
Clos du Calvaire Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2011 (France)
SCORE : 91 PRICE : $29.95
One must travel far to find a better Châteauneuf-du-Pape value, possibly even farther than a U.S. discount-liquor warehouse. Ripe, succulent and silky, this red is showing well now, with unintimidating tannins, and should cellar well for seven years. It would be lovely with leg of lamb.
Les Vignerons du Castelas Vieilles Vignes Signargues Côtes du Rhône-Villages 2010 (France)
SCORE : 90 PRICE : $16.95
Another superb growing season in the Côtes du Rhône yielded a fine red here. It’s smooth and succulent, with a satisfying dusting of chalky tannins. Imagine – as I do almost daily – a chocolate truffle stuffed with a cherry and dusted with bitter cocoa powder. Available in Ontario.
Syrousse 2011 (France)
SCORE : 90 PRICE : $16.95
One might smile at the little icon on the back label. The sketch depicts a barrel within a red circle with a line running through it. Meaning: “no oak.” It captures a growing obsession among consumers for wines without heavy lumber. But southern France, including the Roussillon, was never that big on using newoak barrels to obscure their wines with vanilla. Here’s a full-bodied, smooth blend of syrah, grenache and mourvèdre, brimming with berry jam, chocolate and spice. Serve it with roast leg of lamb. Available in Ontario.
Château Haut Methée 2009 (France)
SCORE : 87 PRICE : $15.95
This is a medium-bodied, pretty Bordeaux for the dough, with cigar and currant flavours. Quibble: A tad green. Available in Ontario.
Township 7 Reserve 7 2011 (British Columbia)
SCORE : 90 PRICE : $34.99
A Bordeaux-inspired red blend, it’s composed of cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet franc, malbec and petit verdot. From a tough, late-start vintage, it pulled through to a fine finish, with whispers of leather and mint joining the cassis. Available at www.township7.com
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The Flavour Principle by Lucy Waverman and Beppi Crosariol has been awarded best Canadian Food & Drinks Book at the 2014 Gourmand World Cookbook Awards. It’s published by HarperCollins.