Today was cold, damp, miserable and unpleasant. So let’s forget the weather and le ras-le-bol fiscal (discontent about taxes). Instead, let’s warm ourselves in front of the fire with a glass – or two – of one of France’s best-loved products: wine.
Supply and demand
International bank Morgan Stanley recently put the chat parmi les pigeons by predicting a worldwide shortage of wine – Heaven forbid! It put this down to poor harvests and fewer vineyards and said that demand exceeded supply by 300 million cases in 2012. This would get worse as consumption continued to exceed production. Experts leapt to debunk the findings and controversy now reigns. An article here puts the different points of view. In fact, the French grape harvests were better than expected in 2013, despite the wet spring.
The number of hectares under vines has certainly decreased in France. Our neighbour, now in his 80s, tells us that this whole area was formerly planted with vines. However, most of this was for the farmers’ own consumption. This is not an ideal wine growing area – we are between the Cahors and Gaillac vignobles – and the production was probably un petit vin, or ‘veng’ as they say here, with a low alcohol content. We have sampled wine from a small, private vineyard in a nearby commune. Not exactly Château Lafitte.
Wine consumption has decreased in France too, even if the country is said to be the premier wine consumer in the world. In 1965, consumption was 160 litres per head per year. In 2012, it had reduced to a third of that – 53.2 litres/head. Fewer people are drinking wine with meals on a regular basis. There’s a generation factor, too. Young people are less likely to drink wine than their parents.
A degenerate civilisation?
People disagree about whether the reduction in consumption is a good thing. Some say that it symbolises the degeneration of French civilisation and the decline of conviviality and respect for tradition. I think that’s going a little far. It’s clearly better for your health not to drink too much – and other people’s, if the decrease in deaths on the roads is anything to go by. The SF says that, when he lived in Limoges in the 70s, the workmen on the scaffolding outside his top-floor flat consumed a litre of red wine – each – before 11am.
Apparently, the only country in the world that is planting more vines is China. I hope they have learned a few things about winemaking since we last tasted Chinese wine. In the days before the euro, the SF and I bought – for 10 francs – a bottle of Chinese white from Leclerc, out of curiosity. We took one sip; it was like paint stripper. We poured it down the sink. Only afterwards did we realise that we might have killed the fosse septique. Thankfully, we didn’t.
Facts – and fantasy
To end, a few facts from a short feature in last weekend’s Le Figaro magazine:
- 17 out of 22 French regions produce wine.
- France is the 2nd biggest wine producer (44 million hectolitres) after Italy (45 million hectolitres).
- Wine is France’s second biggest export, after the aeronautics industry.
- Red wine remains the most popular (60% by volume); second is rosé (23%); white is last (17%).
The most expensive bottle of wine ever sold? A Cheval Blanc 1947 for 224,000 € in 2010. It was a 6-litre bottle and thus very rare. I’m not sure that counts. I’d rather go for the Château Yquem 1811 sold for 85,000 € in 2011. We’ll have two.
Copyright © 2013 Life on La Lune, all rights reserved
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