This is my first real vacation in two years, so I was planning to make the best beach vacation out of this. In my hotel room, with a little jet lag, I went ahead and ordered a 24 EU bottle of wine because I was exhausted and had no desire to venture out into the Cannes heat. I flipped on some whacky French television show as room service arrived with my bottle. I looked at the bill to calculate the tip but quickly remembered I was in France and there was no need (service fees are included in your bill). I cracked open the bottle and poured myself a glass. Shook my head and said “this is a pretty good bottle of wine. Nothing amazing, nothing astonishing, but pretty good”. Two glasses later, I was asleep.
The next day Blanca and I ventured out to explore Cannes. We decided to picnic on the beach and figured we should pick up a bottle. (NOTE: various beaches in cannes have bottle and food service to your reserved beach chairs, it’s not too hard to Sneak Your Own). We walked away from the strip and entered a shop run by a French North Algerian fellow. Blanca asked him (in Daily French pod trained French – thanks Louis) to suggest a bottle. The young man smiled at us and said “Here in France it comes in three colors” and handed us a bottle of rose for 4.90 EU (that’s $6.49 as of today). Being guests in his country of residence, we figured we’d be polite and take this bottle that we thought must be not too great at this price point.
Sitting on the beach, we opened the bottle and poured two glasses. I don’t know who spoke first and said “Damn, this is good wine”. Usually this is the result of vacationing, things just taste better when you are relaxed and away from the stress of the everyday. Can’t say it about every country (U.K or Germany – sorry). Sure the beer is better there, but food and wine is nothing special (German whites being an exception of course).
Our salmon colored rose perfectly matched the day. Our mission was now clear: go to every little shop and purchase a bottle (or two or three) all under 5 Euros. Every day we were astonished at the value we got. It did not make a difference if we bought in a fancy wine shop or a bodega. All the wines were substantial. All the wines were from Provence and priced for the locals. This is an example of the “slow food” movement in France. On every table in France there is usually a carafe of table wine a.k.a. vin de pays. In NYC those bottles will probably cost you around $19.
What is the reason for this?
- No shipping costs.
- Small local growers who create small distribution from select grapes who sell direct to local merchants.
- It’s a Cultural thing. Food and wine here is quality wine…NO WOOD CHIPS OR WOOD DUST HERE FOLKS.
- The French love their wine (Quelle surprise….the Wine Marketing Council states that the French drink 280 glasses of wine per year as opposed to our measly 68…and that is in avid American wine drinkers.)
The first solution that we usually think of is industry. We immediately think of purchasing systems (such as Walmart, Costco and Sams Club) who purchase from a simple distributor to bring down the cost…this is economies of scale. I buy a million and you give me 10% off, if I buy 2 million, then you give me 20% off. The value trickles down to the consumer, everyone is happy. Sounds like great logic. Problem is when you start focusing on price alone, quality and diversity plummet.
Here are some examples:
- Quality Shortcuts such as wood dust and wood chips to fake age and tannins in wines.
- Import grapes from other countries where the labor is cheaper (Argentina, Mexico).
- Blending white and red wines to make the pink instead of good old maceration.
I am not saying that the audience shopping at Costco has insipid palates, but what is happening is that we are taking away the chance for the next generation to truly experience the diversity and beauty of wine.
If not industry, then what is the solution?
I suggest that we look back at the growing regions of France. Buy from small, boutique wineries in your area. This does not mean fancy, it means small and special. Right now in most states there are local wineries. When you walk into your local wine shop don’t buy the usual staples. I know that bottle of Cavit PG is quite alluring since you saw it at your Aunt Ginnie’s barbecue. Look around and pick something new. This will allow smaller suppliers to grow their business and in turn help every other local grower.
Now, I am not suggesting that you buy local all the time. This would defeat the purpose of diversity in wine. I am suggesting that you try different things, local and imported. Instead of picking up two bottles of that good old trustworthy bottle, make the second one something different. Don’t be afraid to ask for assistance at your wine shop. Tell the person in charge of wine what you have liked in the past and they will help you find a bottle suited to your taste.
I have a lot of faith in the food and wine culture of today. France may have the gastronomic heritage and history, but the rest of the world is not far behind. With tools such as the internet and the growing foodie movement, people have begun to ask “What is the quality in the things that I put into my body?” Yuppies and bankers do not monopolize quality because they have big pockets. Take a few minutes, walk into your local shop and try a bottle of something new.