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How to Buy French Wine

For some, purchasing French wine can be daunting and intimidating. This is understandable because there is the perception of a complex process. One, there are numerous varietal to choose from. Two, it is difficult to make heads or tails about French labels. Not only are they in French but they also are confusing, with markedly different labeling systems from those adopted elsewhere. Three, French wine is always equated with snobbery and expense, which immediately keep people away. In truth many of these variables and related concerns are actually myths and trivial issues that should never keep you from experiencing perhaps the best wine ever on the face of this earth.

I have compiled several things that would make it easier for you to pick French wine with confidence.

First, it will not hurt to research a bit about French wine terms such as varietal, terroir and appellation. A few of would be enough. You don’t need to be a wine geek to survive the entire affair. Sometimes these terms imply different meanings than their equivalent in English, so it helps to understand them. I have posted a related article about these terms so it will help to begin with it.

Next, pay attention to labels. French wines are labeled according to appellations and not according to grape varietal.

It also helps to know that French wine as in the case of most in the Old World are less fruity and less alcoholic. This factor is important if you are partial to the sweeter or more alcoholic varieties.

There is a good chance that the French wine you would chance upon would be cheaper than a wine produced in America. Vineyards in this part of the world are taxed less by the government.

Okay, so far so good. But what if you had the good fortune of being in France and you could buy stuffs from its own supermarkets, its vineyards and maison des vins? That prospect would be even better because you will have access to a wide selection of wines in addition to saving a considerable amount of money. Wines are radically cheaper in the country: it is a staple there, after all. The best possible approach is to rent a car, secure a wine-buying guide/map and find the vineyards. Not only will you get good bargains but you will also get to sample different bottles from their cellars. In this case, here are some tips:

Focus on small vineyards that are producing 200–300 cases a year. According to Berry & Brothers, a popular UK wine merchant, these producers are fantastic because their production “are concentrating on the idea that the intrinsic value of the wine comes from specific soil and climate characteristics.” If you heed this advice, I would like to direct you to the lesser-known wine regions of Languedoc-Roussillon, Alsace and Provence. They would provide the best possible value for your money and effort. Make sure, however, that you visit those vineyards that have secured an AC status.

You can also opt to deal with maison des vins. This is the best recourse if you have less time to dash about the country hunting for your precious bottle. A maison des vins is an entity representing the wine growers in an area.  And the value proposition for this approach is that you get to try different wines produced by different wine producers all in one visit. For instance, the Maison des Vins de Loire represents wineries from Nantes, Angers, Saumur and Tours or the one the represent the 800+ producers in Provence. Like vineyards, they will also allow you to sample wines. In addition, you are allowed to take home an assortment from different producers with less time and effort spent.

Finally, if you can afford to plan, set aside September as the time to go. This is when France holds Foire aux Vins. It is like a festival of sorts where all supermarkets and wine merchants slash wine prices, hold free wine tasting events or even dole out free bottles for promotional purposes. Many rare bottles are sold during this time in ridiculously affordable prices.

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This entry was posted on February 28, 2014 by in Uncategorized and tagged , , .
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