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sexta-feira, 5 de março de 2010

Gallic wine: The French resistance



http://www.telegraph.co.uk


Gallic wine is all about value over volume. And who cares if we are losing out at the cheapest level?


By Jonathan Ray
Published: 6:07PM GMT 04 Mar 2010


Slim pickings? French wines are falling behind in terms of sales volumes in Britain Photo: ALAMY

Pity the poor French. Their wine sales are in freefall (down 12-16 per cent on last year, depending on which figures you believe) and only this week they suffered the further ignominy of being overtaken by South Africa in terms of volume of sales in Britain. And, as we all know, the French have lagged similarly behind Australia for years. Oh, and California and Italy. Mon Dieu, qu’est-ce qu’il se passe?

Chris, my wine-loving neighbour, isn’t surprised. He gave up drinking French a year ago and hasn’t looked back.


“I felt I was being continually ripped off,” he says. “The wines seem overpriced compared to others and the French continue to be wilfully obtuse by refusing to put grape varieties on the label. I’m far happier with New World wines and the occasional Rioja or Barolo.”

His wife, Sally, though, would rather drink nothing but French wine – they are the Mr and Mrs Jack Spratt of wine lovers.

“There is just so much variety,” she explains. “From Alsace to the Languedoc, the Rhône to Bordeaux, with hundreds of different grape varieties and styles. They have centuries of expertise and I never tire of them. I think Chris is a mug.”

Well, since Chris has got me tickets to the rugby, I won’t hear a word against him. But he’s a mug. I couldn’t be as extreme as Sally and stick solely to French wine, but nor could I ever give it up completely. What, no more champagne? Cru classé claret, Alsace riesling or Loire chenin? And what about the treasures of the Rhône and the Languedoc?

As with food, a healthy diet is a varied diet and I will continue to intersperse the former with my New Zealand sauvignons, California zinfandels and swanky Tuscans.

Besides, the figures currently bandied about are misleading, for France still sells more wine in Britain by value than anyone else – some £728 million worth last year – and Britain remains its biggest export market, ahead of the United States by a nose.

Bear in mind that where the French have lost volume of sales is in the entry-level category (under £5 a bottle). If this is what we’re losing out on, who cares? There is little profit for the producers here and very little value to be had for the consumer. In the £5-£10 bracket, however, France is doing well and catching up with Australia.

France continues to make great wine – just wait until you taste some of the 2009 clarets – but fails miserably to market them well. Unlike South Africa, say, or Chile, Australia or New Zealand, all of whom have well‑funded generic bodies in Britain promoting their wines, France doesn’t. Each region wants to be master of its own destiny rather than band with others to promote France as a whole. The very diversity that makes France so attractive to wine lovers makes it impossible to market in an orderly fashion.

And times are changing. New regulations come in to force on August 1 which will create a new category – Vin de France. This will allow greater flexibility as to which grape varieties might be used where and – Chris will be happy – will permit whichever variety to be spelt out on the label. A positive step, this, which can only help France compete better against the New World.

Allez les Bleus!

jonathan.ray@telegraph.co.uk

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