Before I start on a subject close to my heart, I want to check if my subscribers are having problems getting either to my blog in general or to specific posts. One reader has had a problem which I hope I have sorted out. But please do tell me if you’re having difficulties – I would hate to go on in blissful ignorance of them.
It’s that time of year again. The time that the SF awaits with bated breath – okay, I have a certain interest in it too. The French supermarket chains organise wine fairs – foires aux vins – every September. Then they all set up marquees on the car park filled with boxes of the red, white, pink or fizzy nectar.
A good thing or not?
The idea of wine fairs goes back a long way. They were the moment for celebrating the vendange – grape picking season – and the current vintage. The first ones appear to have taken place in Colmar to celebrate Alsace wines – then part of Germany – in the 1890s.
Supermarket wine fairs took off at the end of the 1980s and were supposed to be an opportunity to pick up decent wines at bargain prices. They were greatly criticised for this. People felt this was to the detriment of small, independent cavistes who couldn’t match them on range or price. There was a lot of muttering about sharp practice, false labelling and poor quality.
Today, people accept supermarket wine fairs as part of the rentrée landscape, although it’s questionable whether there are real bargains to be had. People have less money to spend in these belt-tightening times, too.
Our taste in wine has certainly gone up-market since we moved to France. This is not a good thing budget-wise. We don’t pretend to be connoisseurs, but we know what we like and every year we scour the wine fairs in search of it.
A tried and tested formula
It all starts in early September with the Figaro Magazine rundown of when the fairs are on and which wines are worth looking for at each one. The SF scours the lists of wines, carefully marking the favourites and noting which supermarket stocks them.
Next come the private dégustations. If you hold a supermarket’s storecard you receive an invitation to their pre-fair preview. We have both Leclerc and Hyper-U storecards, so we get an invite to both. I’ve never managed to get to one, being either away or otherwise engaged. The SF, never one to turn down a dégustation, has managed to go to several. Then he sheepishly comes home with a car boot full of stuff which I wasn’t on-hand to veto.
The serious stuff, though, starts with the official fair. You go and select your wines – either in boxes of six or 12 or singly. You always choose more than you bargained for. It’s a bit like going to IKEA, where you always see things you didn’t know you needed but can’t resist. They add it up at the till and then you realise that you should have taken out a second mortgage before setting foot in the marquee.
Never mind. There’s a great deal of satisfaction in prising open the wooden boxes and listing the contents on our computerised cave book. Then we realise that we bought the same wine a couple of years ago for several euros less per bottle.
Our little corner of Paradise
The greatest satisfaction, though, comes when we replenish the racks in our little wine cave that have been depleted throughout the year. We love our little cave. It wasn’t listed on the particulars when we bought the house so we didn’t know it was there. It’s a tiny room squashed in underneath the bolet – covered balcony. We had lighting installed and put down sand over the earth floor – it should probably be gravel, but tant pis. The ceiling is always swathed with primeval cobwebs so you have to bend double to avoid being festooned with them.
The temperature is remarkably stable but if it gets very cold in the winter we put in an electric heater to stop the wine getting too cold. The mice have free rein in there: we can’t keep them out. One year, we found they had eaten the capsules off the tops of the wine bottles but at least they weren’t clever enough to get at the wine itself.
What are our favourite wines? How long have you got? Here’s a selection, anyway – à consommer avec modération, naturally:
For day-to-day glugging:
Château d’Escabes L’Orangerie (Gaillac) – red
Chateau Baudare (Fronton) – red
For more up-market occasions:
Château de la Rivière 2008 (Fronsac) – red
L’Abeille de Fieuzal 2006 (Pessac-Léognan) – red
Sancerre Les Caractères 2008 (Loire) – white
Pouilly Fuissé Château Vitalis 2005 (Bourgogne) – white
For special occasions:
Nuits-Saint-Georges Vieilles Vignes 2006 (Bourgogne) – red. Still a bit young but will probably be fine around Christmas 2011.
Chateau Latour Carnet 1998 (Haut Médoc, Grand Cru Classé) – red. This vintage sadly no longer available.
A votre santé.
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