Vive la France

So Californian wines are

still the best, say the experts. That’s good news for those of us on budgets.

As Mike Steinberger notes,

This new Judgment of Paris comes at a time when a large segment of the French

wine industry is mired in crisis—a crisis that might have been mitigated

had the French not ignored the message of the first Judgment of Paris. France

is currently sitting on an ocean of unsold wine, a glut that has led to a

collapse in prices at the cheaper end of the spectrum.

When I started buying wine on a regular basis, 15 years ago, it almost never

occurred to me to buy anything French. Australia, of course. Italy, Spain, perhaps.

Argentina, South Africa, New Zealand? No problem. But French was overpriced

and fuddy-duddy and basically only good for Champagne.

When I moved to America in 1997, nothing really changed, although writing about

Latin America for a living was partly responsible for a large uptick in the

amount of Argentine and Chilean wine I bought, and occasional visits to northern

California only served to reinforce my opinion that the wines there are insanely

overpriced and that the average $8 Chilean cabernet will easily beat the average

$24 Napa cabernet.

Evidently, I was not alone in ignoring France: the French share of the American

market for imported wines fell from 26% in 1994 to 14% in 2004, according to


But over the past year or so, I’ve been discovering more and more excellent,

cheap French wines. While the New World wines have slowly been creeping up in

price, French wines have got much cheaper, to the point at which they’re actually

now better value than many of their austral competitors. Not long ago I bought

a case of Les Grès de la Baronne 2001, a Vin de Pays de Hauterives, whatever

that might be. I can’t recall exactly what I paid for it, but I know it was

less than $50. Yes, for the case. And it’s delicious. I have no idea where it

comes from (except for that it’s in France somewhere), or what grape varieties

might be in it. All I know is that it’s a table wine which is probably ever

so slightly past its prime, and if I didn’t pay $4 a bottle for it then it would

probably end up with 100 million liters of other French wine, being converted

to ethanol.

Basically, there’s an enormous sale on, with wines being sold below cost, and

we consumers are the beneficiaries. So next time you’re in your local wine merchant’s,

take another look at the France section, and try something new and different.

You’ll probably be shocked at how much bang you get for your buck.

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