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Goodbye French wine

                                  August 2009


Goodbye French wine

vineyardAnyone over 50 probably spent their youth in the belief that French wines were superior. This was certainly the view of our parents and it has taken time for wine from other regions to come of age.

Italian wine has been a long rival to French wine, but during the last two decades there have been enormous changes, with excellent wines coming in not just from Australia, South Africa and California but also from other regions around the world. Now the gallop is really on with serious wines being developed in the widest range of areas, from the Vale du Sao Francisco in Brazil and New York to right here in the UK.

There are many reasons for the change of course. High prices for French wine has been a big negative, but the complicated system of naming and describing French wines hasn’t helped their market either. France has to be credited for inventing the Appellation Controlee system, a set of rules and regulations for winemakers and grape growers to help guarantee quality and names that the public can trust. But this complex system has also worked against the French, with many people preferring the simple names and labelling of wines from the so called New World (the name given to more recent regions that have started producing good wine).

The general reputation of New World wine covered a few key aspects; the overall image was of easy to drink wine of reasonable quality; ideal for people who enjoy wine but are not experts; available at reasonable prices and easy to understand. It was mainly wines from the New World that started putting additional information on labels such as “ideal with red meat” which helped British wine drinkers feel in control of what they were buying.

The French are now fighting back by changing their marketing, some of their descriptions, and providing clearer information about how their system works and what you are getting for your money.
But they may have left this too late – there are now some exceptional new wines coming in at very affordable prices from a range of new regions. Areas to look out for include Waitaki in New Zealand, Limari in Chili, The Santa Rita Hills in California, Queensland in Australia and Philadelphia in South Africa.

Excellent vineyards are now being developed in Switzerland and in unlikely regions such as Texas and Maryland in America. And we are not looking at small local wine makers. In the Hill Country in Texas, for instance, there are already about 30 very successful wineries in full production and more are already under development.

But if competition is steadily eroding France’s domination in the market, there is one French wine that still dominates – and that is champagne.

Despite a host of excellent wines made from the “Champenoise method” that are now available (Spanish Caca or Italian Franciacorta, for instance), traditional French champagne is still the drink of choice at a range of special events.

Names such as Krug, Veuve Clicquot, Bollinger, Pol Roger and Louis Roeder are still in huge demand and these French wines lord it over the alternative sparkling wines made by traditional methods but from regions outside France.

Despite the recession, sales of wine remain strong across the country – it will be interesting to see if France can reclaim its market share or whether New World wines will continue their march into our homes, our glasses – and our hearts.



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