petite anglaise

October 26, 2004

no connoisseur

Filed under: miam — petiteanglaiseparis @ 11:24 am

A decade of living in France has sadly taught me little about wine.

The Frog and I tend to drink mostly Bordeaux, which according to Father In Law is the only red worth drinking. However, I haven’t got a clue which years are supposed to have been good years. Or which bottles are supposed to be kept for a while, as opposed to the ones which are suitable for drinking now. I once bought a book about French wine (now gathering dust on my bookshelf) with the intention of starting a cave so that we would always have a plentiful supply on hand. However there is nowhere suitably dark and cool in our apartment. I did put a couple of bottles in our cellar when we moved in, but the fact that I’m scared to go down there on my own (it’s very badly lit, a torch is required and there are several dark corridors where I can all too easily imagine things to be lurking), and that we live on the fifth floor tends to prevent us from uncorking a bottle from the cellar on a whim. It’s less hassle to go the corner shop.

When I have to buy some wine because we have guests, there is much crossing of fingers and I tend to play safe and buy a bottle with (grand) cru classé or cru bourgeois written on it. Or just throw sufficient money at the problem. If it costs over € 15, I consider it should good enough to take around to someone’s house for dinner. If the label proudly boasts that the wine won a médaille d’argent in 1996, I am just confused. Does this mean that what they produced in 2004 is any good? Or are they just trading on their former glory? If I really want to make a good impression, I ask an assistant in the wine shop to recommend something. But this inevitably leads to questions like ‘what will you be eating?’. What am I supposed to do, phone the host and ask?

The English tend to like a bit of Côtes du Rhône (to my FIL’s horror), and pay well over the odds in the UK for bottles which would be relegated to the bottom shelf in any French supermarket. In a gastro-pub in Yorkshire where I recently had a gorgeous meal with my family, the wine, costing about a tenner, turned out to be a vin de table made from ‘a blend of French wines’. The kind of bottle that should have had a screw top and that would be fit only for outdoor consumption by alcoholic clochards in France. Now when in England, I tend to stick to New World wines, because they seem to be far better value for money.

The French, chauvinistic as they can be, do not acknowledge that wine is produced anywhere else in the world but in France. Go into any Nicolas wine shop and have a look around. All the French regions are represented, but you’ll be unlikely to find any Australian, Californian or South African vintages on offer. The only place you might find these would be in a restaurant specialising in food from those countries. I would very much like to perform a ‘pepsi challenge’ type test on the FIL to see whether he can actually tell the difference between an Australian red and a similar French wine. I have my doubts.

Of course, I may be an oenological philistine, but at least I have the excuse of hailing from working-class, ale-swilling Yorkshire stock. The Frog has no such excuse. On a rare occasion where I deigned to cook for some French friends and actually impressed them with my warm goats cheese and pear salad followed by roasted salmon with wild rice (I think they were half expecting boiled meat and baked beans), Frog was dispatched off to get some white wine. As he reached for the corkscrew, our guests caught sight of the label and cried out in horror.

The Frog had bought dessert wine. I don’t think he will ever live that down.


Chameleon wanted to add the following comment on 20 January 2005 (!), but sadly my anti-spam thingy turns off comments so thoroughly that even I can’t re-activate them again! So here it is:

Perhaps Roland Barthes’ essay Milk and Wine (from the brilliant Mythologies,
originally published in 1957, quotes taken from the 1972 translation) can
shed some light on the phenomenon: “But what is characteristic of France is
that the converting power of wine is never openly presented as an end.
Other countries drink to get drunk, and this is accepted by everyone; in
France, drunkenness is a consequence, never an intention. A drink is felt
as the spinning out of a pleasure, not as the necessary cause of an effect
which is sought: wine is not only a philtre, it is also the leisurely act of
drinking. The gesture has here a decorative value, and the power of wine is
never separated from its modes of existence”.
And: “(…) an award of good integration is given to whoever is a practicing
wine-drinker: knowing how to drink is a national technique which serves to
qualify the Frenchman, to demonstrate at once his performance, his control
and his sociability. Wine thus gives a foundation for a collective
morality, within which everything is redeemed: true, excesses, misfortunes
and crimes are possible with wine, but never viciousness, treachery or
baseness; the evil it can generate is in the nature of fate and therefore
escapes penalization, it evokes the theatre rather than a basic temperament.
Wine is a part of society because it provides a basis not only for a
morality but also for an environment; it is an ornament in the slightest
ceremonials of French daily life, from the snack (plonk and camembert) to
the feast, from the conversation at the local café to the speech at a formal
dinner. It exalts all climates, of whatever kind: in cold weather, it is
associated with all the images of shade, with all things cool and sparkling.
There is no situation involving some physical constraint (temperature,
hunger, boredom, compulsion, disorientation) which does not give rise to
dreams of wine”.


  1. All sadly true. I gave up buying much wine in England (apart from English wine itself, which I truly believe are the best light dry whites around at present) and go over to France and bring back a dozen cases or so twice a year. However if the world is divided into Claret men and Burgundy men (and I see no reason why not) I am definitely one of the former and I don’t like Cote de Rhone either.
    And as the under 2 Euro clarets in French supermarches outperform the £5 stuff in supermarkets over here…

    Comment by David K — October 26, 2004 @ 12:12 pm

  2. ha hah!

    That’ll learn the Frog!

    Comment by PPQ — October 26, 2004 @ 1:26 pm

  3. hahahaha…. too.. re frog..hahaha. men.

    we have some fantastic wines here too, which is damned lucky since it’s nigh impossible to find wine from anywhere else, even from frogland.

    Comment by vitriolica — October 26, 2004 @ 2:40 pm

  4. I’ll never buy a bottle of French wine in the UK. A good bottle sees its price multiplied by 2 or 3 as soon as it leaves the French territory. Difficile à avaler!
    Luckily, I’m from Burgundy, so I can bring back plenty of good bottles.

    Comment by Chninkel — October 26, 2004 @ 2:47 pm

  5. I lived in the Rhône region, where Côtes du Rhône was quaffed happily by the Lyonnais that I encountered…

    I detest wine snobbery – I think people should be able to drink whatever they like. A friend of mine really likes German “medium” wine, the like of which is frowned upon by many, much to my annoyance. As far as I’m concerned, no-one should tell you what you should and shouldn’t enjoy drinking…

    Comment by witho — October 26, 2004 @ 4:50 pm

  6. Many Cotes du Rhône are very pleasant (Gigondas, Vacqueyras) and even highly recommanded (Côte Rotie, Hermitage, Condrieu) in my opinion. But so many frogs think only Bordeaux and Bourgogne exist. I tend to buy “small names”, like wines from the south west of France, or Coteaux du Languedoc, where there are people making wine like others do in Australia or California. Very nice !

    For medals, be careful. Genrally, a wine goes into a “concours” some years after it has been produced (like a 1994 wine will do into the “concours général” in 1996-98). There is not one single trio (bronze/silver/gold) winning the competition, but a lot of them. If you see a medal from the concours général (Paris), concours des vins d’aquitaine, or concours de Macon, it can be a mention of quality.

    If you want to be sure, always bring a bottle of Bordeaux (Médoc : Pauillac, Margaux, … or Saint-Emilion), from a good cru bourgeois around 15€.

    I don’t agree with you when you say you can’t find a bottle of Australian of californian wine : go to any Monoprix, Carrefour or Nicolas, ou will find some now ! But do you really like =a “turning leaf” from Gallo, in a country where you can find so many intersting wines ?

    By the way, I discovered your blog rencently. A pleasure to read.

    Comment by versac — October 26, 2004 @ 5:40 pm

  7. Our local Nicolas stocks Australian, South African and Californian wine – but I think that’s only because the owner is English ;)
    Coming from a country which produces good quality wine, I often find myself unwillingly drawn into debates about wine. I’ve found that French people who don’t know much about wine here will say, “oh but you must only drink French wine”, yet the connaisseurs will admit that it is on par with their own production. But I’m pretty sure that as soon as my back is turned they whisper amongst themselves, “boff”.
    Anyway, I totally rely on my FILs cave. He has several thousand bottles of wine, and it is impossible for him to get through them all. Each time we visit, he declares, “there is too much for us to drink and it must be drunk now otherwise it will go bad! take a case! here, take another!”
    Who am I to argue?

    Comment by Katia — October 26, 2004 @ 6:17 pm

  8. bienvenue to Katia and Varsac and JoeyCoco and anyone else I’ve missed.

    It’s particularly fun to have more French commenters so that we can disagree and you can react/stand up for yourselves when you feel my attacks gentle criticisms are unjustified. Or just slag off the rosbifs

    Comment by petite — October 26, 2004 @ 7:47 pm

  9. Oh, well at least you can ask the person at the wine store for some recommendations. I have attempted that, but with my limited French, it turned into quite an akward situation.

    We have an excellent wine store down the street from us called Ets. Vinicoles de France at 82 rue Vaneau, but they always want to know exactly what you will be eating with said wine. Can’t I just get something good to drink?

    Against my friends pleading and begging to not do it, I have been known to pick up a 2 euro bottle of swill at Ed and I have to say that I enjoyed it. But, I am from an area in the United States best known for “trailer parks” so my judgement isn’t to be trusted.

    Comment by Jason Stone — October 26, 2004 @ 9:39 pm

  10. i tend to dislike côtes de rhône as well as i find them too fruity and light. the stuff i usually buy costs no more than €4 (and then i get the vidange back) and is very good stuff.

    there are several nicholas wine shops around and also another french wine shop (baronesse de … ?) which has a much wider choice of wines. it was via this shop that i was taught that you can replace a much cheaper, sweet chilean wine with a ridiculously-priced sauterne when eating foie gras …

    you live and learn :)

    Comment by zed — October 27, 2004 @ 6:57 am

  11. Oh, and something you said made me think – it’s definitely acceptable to ring the host and ask what they’re serving. If they’ve asked you to bring a bottle of wine, they’ll be happy to tell you what to bring – red, white, whatever.

    Comment by Katia — October 27, 2004 @ 8:17 am

  12. My sister’s French husband gave me the same advice… always buy Bordeaux and you can’t go wrong. It’s worked for us. I always buy Chablis if I need a white. They have a bad (cheap) reputation in the US, but I’ve found some wonderful ones here.

    Comment by mraparis — October 27, 2004 @ 8:38 am

  13. From her repeated comments one can only assume that our dear Zoe has been enthusiastically refreshing her memory of what wine tastes like …

    Comment by David K — October 27, 2004 @ 9:11 am

  14. … and now I am doing it, and I’ve only had orange juice so far today.

    Comment by David K — October 27, 2004 @ 9:13 am

  15. sorry folks about the comments repeating… I added a plug in to close older posts to comments to avoid the dreaded comments span phenomenon and it seems to have done something scary to my database. It should be sorted now.

    Comment by petite — October 27, 2004 @ 10:08 am

  16. hey “petite anglaise” …. Okay, we’ve all understood you HATE France, but still it’s not a reason not telling the truth … French people are very proud of their little red wine, as you can see, but there’re not as you say ! You can find Australian or Italian (or whatever you like) in any first supermarket you want! “Nicolas Shop” is a FRENCH wine shop … that’s why you won’t find any others in there..If I go into an english “I-don’t-know-what” shop, I won’t find spanish ones, that’s OBVIOUS. Please stop telling stupidities, okay? thanx. I live in Paris and I’m in London for 6 months..I don’t know…you say french people are chauvinist but look at you! Look on my website (even if you won’t understand as it’s all in french) , but I talk about London in a very different way…I guess you just don’t like discovering different cultures. I hope all english people are not like you, it would be so sad. “A bon entendeur…Salut”

    Comment by FrenchGirl — October 31, 2004 @ 9:07 am

  17. The last comment confirms to me that the French have no sense of humour. And, bonjour! the blogger is LIVING IN SIN with one of your countrymen! As the French say ‘you are not logical!’

    Comment by heath — October 31, 2004 @ 5:02 pm

  18. You’re right! Last night I was just fucking tired and my sense of humour had disapeared. Today I’ve read that blog from beginning to end and … I couldn’t refrain from laughing … :S Some entries are really good, what can I say..This one just appeared to me as ‘too much’ as it was untrue. And hey! talking about the sense of humour, do you know what they think about yours, in Europe ? ;) HAHAHA. Well, anglaise, loads of little frogs with him. Bonsoir.

    Comment by FrenchGirl — October 31, 2004 @ 9:11 pm

  19. French girl – désolée si ce post t’a un peu froissé.. Je veux bien croire que le Nicolas en face de chez moi ne réprésente pas forcément la France entière et j’ai une tendance à faire des généralisations lorsque ça sert à mes fins…

    Dans mon entourage, il y a pas mal de Français qui ne sont pas très convaincus que les vins non-français peuvent être de bonne qualité. Je ne parle sur ce site que de mes propres expériences et je ne prétends pas avoir fait des recherches minitueuses avant de cliquer sur ‘publish’…

    Comment by petite — November 2, 2004 @ 12:35 am

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