Monday, August 20, 2007

Selections

The horrible summer weather, with its overcast sky, brusque winds, and unpredictable rains continues apace, as do indoor and outdoor maintenance activities at the farm, broken by trips to Paris and back. Yet there is one pleasurable summertime task which doesn't depend on the weather: slowly going through the stock of wines, reverentially rotating a couple of bottles - and carefully choosing the ones to be consumed during the year.

Amerloque has a collection of wines which in France is summarized by the word cave (wine cellar): there are well over three hundred bottles of reds and whites, along with a smattering of rosés. Starting up and sustaining a serious cave over the long term implies a level of enthusiasm and interest in the subject that sometimes borders on fanaticism, and Amerloque is not a fanatic wine drinker by any means. His cellar is simple in the extreme, literally a dark basement with a constant temperature. In keeping with French mores, Amerloque simply feels that wine is not just a beverage: it is a food, with its own well-defined place in the scheme of things. He and the Amerloque nuclear family don't drink wine every day but only with meals that might be termed special: those that require lengthy or complex preparation, or those in honor of a memorable occasion, such as passing an exam, receiving a promotion, celebrating a birthday, or observing an anniversary. Inviting guests over for lunch or dinner implies serving wine, too; during the holiday season offering a crate of wine as a year-end gift to the concierge or to the chef d'atelier at one's garage is rarely taken amiss.




Since the French consider wine to be food, one of the advantages of living in France is that there are literally thousands upon thousands of different, reasonably priced French wines to choose from – almost at arm's length. Practically speaking, one does not have to spend $40 or $50 per bottle (€25 to €30) to obtain a high quality wine or a perfectly respectable vintage. For under $10 (roughly €6) one can usually find a truly decent VDQS (or even an AOC) wine for the day's lunch or dinner - and for about $25 (€15, say) one can purchase a top quality bottle which can be put away and drunk in several years' time, if not in a decade or more.

It is when one lives in France and starts purchasing and putting wines aside for future consumption that one realizes exactly how much a wine's price to the consumer is determined by transport costs and various middlemen along the way. One also realizes how high the quality of life in France can be ! Just as many French people do, Amerloque buys his wines in different venues - always with a view to obtaining the best price/quality ratio possible.




Amerloque learned years ago, during the 1970s, that one excellent place to purchase was chez le vigneron (at the winemaker's). Driving through the wine regions, one was able to stop and to taste various offerings chez le producteur and discuss them with the winemaker himself; one would usually go away several hours later with one or more six-bottle crates of the vintner's best, to be respectfully consumed in the fullness of time … while simultaneously offering an excellent topic for dinnertime conversation. (Ah, oui … ce vin, nous l'avons déniché chez un certain Monsieur …). 'Way back then there were fewer winemakers offering sales on their premises than there are today, of course: addresses of allegedly reliable winemakers could sometimes be found in various gourmet and other special interest magazines. The names of winemakers and their domaines were exchanged among friends and business acquaintances, religiously updated – or thrown away – as the years passed, or replaced by others when the circumstances warranted: it was not unusual to find out that a given vineyard had been sold off or been closed down because the owner had encountered hard economic times, or because the heirs were uninterested in carrying on the family tradition.

Today there are many, many vignerons all over France who have arranged facilities for on-site tasting and direct purchase - without reaching the proportions of wine tourism as practiced in the Napa Valley region of California, with its frenetic sales of baseball caps, tee-shirts, knapsacks and wine tasting paraphernalia emblazoned with the name and logo of the winery. With the improvements in road infrastructures, one can now easily drive from Paris to Burgundy or down to the Val de Loire and back in the same day - during which one can discover the wines at one or two vineyards with similar but not precisely identical terroirs. The French have a saying: Le vin est le reflet de la terre et d'un climat. L'homme n'existe pas. ("Wine is the reflection of the earth and of the climate. Man does not exist.")




There are also many local wine cooperatives throughout France, which make wines (usually VDQS or vin de pays, but sometimes AOC) from the production of many winegrowers, bottle them and sell them. A visit to such a well-run cooperative frequently enables one to stock up on top-notch table wines: excellent for drinking on a daily basis, although perhaps not quite memorable enough for that very, very special occasion. The price/quality ratio can't be beat, though: usually one can purchase ten-liter or twenty-liter jugs of wine, which must subsequently be rebottled at home using a corking machine. As one peels vegetables or grinds meat, so can one bottle wine …

In Paris, buying directly from the producer is actually quite easy, if one is willing to wait for one of the regular wine shows (Salon des Vins des Vignerons Indépendants) to come around. There are two major ones in Paris, in the Spring and in the Autumn, at which independent winemakers run stands displaying their wares. The atmosphere is generally far less relaxed than at a vineyard, of course: Amerloque finds the noise level is staggeringly high, and, as the day wears on, it increases to an almost unbearable cacophony. There are definite bargains to be had: one is not buying blindly: tasting is de rigueur. Frequently the price/quality ratio is astounding. One of the better times to taste and buy can be the end of the show, when winemakers might be somewhat reluctant to pack up all their bottles and crates and haul them back home. There won't be huge reductions in price, though one can reasonably expect a reduction of something like 10% if one buys in quantity.




Alternatively, one can attend a salon simply to taste and buy a few bottles – and make a fistful of worthwhile contacts for a subsequent trip to the winemaker's domaine. Calling up and visiting a winemaker after meeting him (or her – there are more and more vignernonnes) on a stand at a Salon means the initial ice has been broken, and that one is not just another customer, but genuinely interested in what the winemaker is offering: what goes into the wine – including the degree of personal commitment - and exactly how it is produced. In Amerloque's experience, winemakers usually make an extra effort for such customers, perhaps by granting an extra discount or by throwing in a few free bottles (le treize pour douze), or even inviting the customer to share the family meal. Usually a customer purchases at least a case of twelve bottles: four different vintages, from different parts of the domaine, is a common choice.

Another excellent place to purchase wines is at the Foires aux Vins (Wine Fairs) held by the hypermarket chainstores every autumn (2007 dates). The range and number of wines presented is staggering, the prices are keenly competitive, and the crowds are fairly heavy, at least on the initial days. Several weeks before the fairs, a printed catalog is distributed: the wines are photographed and listed: the prices displayed. If a wine has won an award at a show, the fact is prominently indicated: Medaille d'or Macon 2005, for example, or Medaille d'or Concours Mondial Bruxelles 2006. If a wine has received a favorable mention in one of the numerous annual guidebooks, that is stated, too: something like *** La Revue du Vin de France or ** Hachette Vins 2004 might be seen. There is also information as to whether a given wine can be drunk immediately or be kept a number of years before consumption.

Amerloque has found that the trick – at least to his way of thinking – for making the most of a given Wine Fair is: preselect several wines that appear attractive because of producer, vintage, terroir, or price; hustle over to the Fair on the very first day; purchase one or two bottles of each preselected wine; at home, look over the labels and bottles to see if there are any surprises (bottling by a négociant rather than a producer as expected might be one of them, as might having a screw-top cap rather than the traditional cork); open the bottles and taste them carefully, even though one or more wines might be "too young"; choose which wine(s) one is prepared to buy; return to the Fair and pick up one's chosen wine(s) – if there are any left, since other consumers are doing precisely the same thing ! Unless one is willing to "buy the labels and not the wine", as the old saying goes, there is really no other way to proceed at a Wine Fair, in Amerloque's view, especially if one intends to put the wines aside for a number of years. Amerloque has found that there is rarely anything more disappointing than to open a bottle of wine some years after purchase - only to find that the wine inside is not very good.




From time to time, Amerloque enters a wine merchant's shop (of which there are fewer and fewer, alas) to see what is on offer. Sometimes he even purchases several bottles on the recommendation of the person behind the counter. Amerloque has found that independent winemakers are turning increasingly to the internet individually to make their products known, and that initial contacts can be made quite easily. He also visits major websites on line, not necessarily to buy but more to see which vignerons and negociants are being featured, which terroirs are fashionable, and how prices to the consumer are faring. Nevertheless, he would be lying outright if he said that he hasn't been bitterly disappointed at times by some bottles recommended by the wine merchants. Yet he never loses sight of his goal: finding good wines with best price/quality ratio possible.

Of course, "buying the labels" is an easy way to purchase wines – millions of people seriously interested in wine do it every day of the year ! There frequently is no other way to judge just how good a wine is or will be: one pays attention to the winemaker's name and label as a criterion of quality. The same for recommendations: from a specialized publication such as The Wine Spectator to general interest newspapers, wine critics share their tasting notes and selected winemakers with readers. Wine connoisseurs (and social poseurs, of course) pay attention to – and sometimes act on - what is written as though it were Gospel. At a particularly chic dinner en ville one might hear "Oh, yes, the wine you're drinking was mentioned in the Wall Street Journal recently …" or "Oui, GaultMillau en a parlé …". However, the degrees of one upmanship, their desires to keep up with the Joneses, among many of these same wine connoisseurs (the same desires are found in, say, the realm of exotic cars or of vacation rentals) can be a bit offputting at times … especially when the meal is not up to the standard of the wine !




Amerloque appreciates wine hobbyists and connoisseurs tremendously, for they, like all enthusiasts in whatever field of endeavor, tend to pull the market upward for everyone. He also admires those who come to France to "do a wine tour", who seek their Holy Grails in Burgundy or Bordeaux: the French offer the whole gamut of wine touring products, from short trips to the Champagne country to luxurious sojourns aboard a barge. Under the enormous pressures of globalization - driven in some respects by these very same wine enthusiasts - some French wine producers have been modifying their labels, adding varietal information so as to be plus lisible (more readable) for the foreign consumer (it was illegal before the year 2000, by the way). Some have deemphasized the traditional terroir, while still others have even gone so far as to industrialize their production by calling on a consultant to "improve" the taste. The traditional French wine industry is suffering: there is no doubt about that. The recent (2004) award winning film Mondovino describes the crisis forthrightly; Amerloque advises those interested in France and the French not to stop with the film, but move on to the DVD television series, which admirably fleshes out the issues.

Amerloque - living in France and being interested in wine as food, and not as a measure of social status or peer interaction – invariably finds that his usual summertime task of gently turning a few wine bottles and selecting those to be drunk in the forthcoming year is a real pleasure, not a chore. Rain or shine.



L'Amerloque



Disclaimer: Amerloque is not involved in the wine trade in any way whatsoever. This post should not be considered as an encouragement or recommendation to purchase or to sell wine in Paris or anywhere else. Readers are advised to seek independent and competent professional advice before acting on anything concerning wine contained herein. Caveat emptor. "L'abus d'alcool est dangereux pour la santé. A consommer avec moderation."



Text © Copyright 2007 by L'Amerloque
Images © Copyright reserved to copyright holders, including Amerloque

14 Comments:

Anonymous Ms. Glaze said...

Great Post! Couldn't agree with you more about buying bottles of wine on the first day at the wine fairs and tasting them at home. I made the mistake of buying a few cases last year and I tasted them this year and they were all bad.

I'm a big fan of the Anjou area for wine tasting. Lots of small, family owned, friendly Domaines with great deals to be had.

Also, Beaune is always fun for the November wine auction. Lots of festivities!

10:19 AM  
Blogger L'Amerloque said...

Hi Ms. Glaze !

Amerloque is very happy indeed to see that Ms Glaze is back in Paris ! (wide grin)

/*/ …/… I tasted them this year and they were all bad. …/… /*/

Yes. Even after taking many precautions, Amerloque has had unfortunate surprises from some of the older Wine Fair wines but, on balance, things have been working out far better during the past few years. Ouf !, as the French say !

By the way, Ms Glaze's chicken today sure looks good … and as Ms Glaze points out, it would have been a sin to use a poulet de Bresse !

/*/ …/… Also, Beaune is always fun for the November wine auction. Lots of festivities! …/… /*/

… and a world away from all the hoopla surrounding the Beaujolais Nouveau (wide smile)

Thanks for stopping by et à bientôt !


Best,
L'Amerloque

11:56 AM  
Anonymous Denise said...

I see you like Alsacian wine. There is this little wine shop in Turckheim, Alsace, called L'Abreuvoir (8 Place Turenne) that sells wine by the bottle (or glass). They own vineyards in Turckheim and are a local producer. I knew them before they became a fancy winstub and B&B. You just go up to the bar and they will pour anything you desire for a tasting. You can then buy your wine by the bottle or case. The winstub/B&B is for the tourists :-)

Whenever I'm in Turckheim I go here. My cousins are lifelong friends of the owners. You'll never go wrong with a bottle from this producer.

10:12 AM  
Blogger L'Amerloque said...

Hello Denise !

/*/ …/… I see you like Alsacian wine. …/… /*/

Yes,. It's almost a case of famille oblige One of Mme Amerloque's parents is 100% Alsace (… back to the Protestant Reformation, something like 1570 or so … ) … (grin)

/*/ …/… The winstub/B&B is for the tourists :-) ../…. /*/

Like so many of the overly twee win$tub$ on the Route des Vins … (grin)

/*/ …/… You'll never go wrong with a bottle from this producer. …/… /*/

Amerloque is grateful for the tip and will certainly stop in next time he is in Alsace !

Thanks for sharing and stopping by !

Best,
L'Amerloque

10:42 AM  
Anonymous denise said...

I almost forgot, at this producer, the best wine is called Louis Gruener (spelling?) or something almost identical. The vendages tardives gewerstraminer is heavenly! :-)

So you're part Alsacian? Hello there, brother! My mother is 100% Alsacian. She is 91 and still remembers the Alsacian language here in the USA. Unfortunately, all I ever learned in Alsacian from her were the bad words LOL :-)

3:47 PM  
Blogger L'Amerloque said...

Hello Denise !

/*/ .../... So you're part Alsacian? Hello there, brother! My mother is 100% Alsacian. She is 91 .../... /*/

No, no: it's Mme Amerloque who has a 100% Alsatian parent ! (grin) The whole family is long-lived, like Denise's mom ... (grin) ...

Best,
L'Amerloque

11:48 PM  
Blogger LASunsett said...

Hi Amerloque,

It would appear that you buy wine, a little like I bought beer in Germany many moons ago. I never went to breweries, but just outside the kaserne (in Aschaffenburg where I was stationed), there was a place called Getranke Herrmann. They featured many different beers from all over the country.

What I liked about that place was, on a Saturday, I could get there early and the proprietor would try to explain in his best English where each beer was brewed and the other unique intricacies of the beer. We could get a case and put different brands that we liked and purchase them. We'd bring the case back next week and repeat the process.

One time, when the friendly owner was not there, I bought a malt flavored beer that really sounded good. Had I had the sense to read the label, closer, I would have ascertained that the beer was alkoholfrei (alcohol-free). It was not the beer I would have chosen, the lack of alcohol certainly figured into the lousy taste. I never bought it again.

As for wine, I like reds. Whites and blushes sour on my stomach, for some reason. Some years ago I ran across a very inexpensive French red in a local liquor store. I figured that in France, it was to French wine, what Pabst Blue Ribbon was to American Beer. But I was very pleased and bought it regularly, until they quit carrying it. But for the life of me, I cannot remember the name of it. Like I said, it was a good while ago, and I have certainly slept since then.

4:07 PM  
Blogger L'Amerloque said...

Hello LASunsett !

/*/ .../... It would appear that you buy wine, a little like I bought beer in Germany many moons ago. .../... /*/


Amerloque thanks LAS for sharing his experiences in (what as then West) Germany !

/*/ .../... They featured many different beers from all over the country. .../... /*/

The market has really split. Beck's now belongs to a multinational, sadly. So there are the small brewers making huge numbers of tasty traditional beers, and the multinationals producing schlock. Needless to say, Amerloque, like LAS, favors the former ! (grin)

/*/ .../... Some years ago I ran across a very inexpensive French red in a local liquor store. I figured that in France, it was to French wine, what Pabst Blue Ribbon was to American Beer. .../... /*/

Amerloque sees that "Stella Artois" beer is being positioned in the USA as an exclusive, top rank beer. Actually, it isn't: in Belgium it's just a run of the mill industrial beer. (smile)

/*/ .../... Like I said, it was a good while ago, and I have certainly slept since then. .../... /*/

A lot of good products have disappeared ... and this sounds like one of them, alas.

German white wines are really and truly good, but one has to drive to Germany to pick them up. Every time Mme Amerloque and Amerloque do go for shopping, wines are on the list ... (grin) ...

Really pleased to see that Mrs LAS is doing better !

Best,
L'Amerloque

4:38 AM  
Blogger LASunsett said...

Amerloque,

//Amerloque sees that "Stella Artois" beer is being positioned in the USA as an exclusive, top rank beer. Actually, it isn't: in Belgium it's just a run of the mill industrial beer.//

I have seen Stella Artois, maybe I'll try some. Any European beer beats Budweiser, Miller, etc., no matter how it's produced. Italy isn't well known for its beer, but I was pleasantly surprised at how good Peroni was, when I first had the courage to try it.

The problem here is beer must be pasteurized. In Germany (and I assume other countries) this is not the case. It would seem pasteurization takes much of the flavor out. Not enough for a non-beer lover to notice, mind you. But for those of us that love it, it's definitely noticeable. One of the best beers I had in Germany was from a little village in Bavaria called Zwiefalter Klosterbrau
(Zwiefalten)

//Really pleased to see that Mrs LAS is doing better !//

Thank you. She is still not quite up to snuff, but she did return to work today. We may have to face the fact that she may not be 100% for awhile. This aging thing, as surfers used to say on the beach, is a bummer.

6:41 AM  
Blogger LASunsett said...

I guess this aging thing is worse than I thought. Upon further review, I have discovered that Zwiefalten is not in Bavaria, although it's close. It is actually in Baden-Wurttemburg.

As an addendum to the beer comments, I would say that the southern part of Germany has better beers than the rest of the country, although the other beers are not that shabby.

Micro-breweries have sprung up all around the States in the past several years. They try, but they cannot come close to beers from Europe. It's not even close. It's like being 20 games out of first place, in September. (Speaking of baseball, I don't know if you are a fan or not, but the Angels and Dodgers both have a chance to get to the playoffs this year.)

7:03 AM  
Anonymous maitresse said...

I saw a ghost at the Hospices de Beaune. (It didn't have a glass of wine in its hand)

I had a Chassagne Montrachet earlier this year at Le Carré des Feuillants that was orgasmic. I need to call them once they reopen to find out what it was. Do you have any thoughts on the subject?

6:55 PM  
Blogger L'Amerloque said...

Hello LASunsett !


/*/ …/… As an addendum to the beer comments, I would say that the southern part of Germany has better beers than the rest of the country, although the other beers are not that shabby. …/… /*/


Yes, Amerloque has found the same. There is always a good argument for hopping the border to the east and drinking the beers in the Czech Republic, too. (grin)


/*/ …/… Micro-breweries have sprung up all around the States in the past several years. They try, but they cannot come close to beers from Europe. It's not even close. It's like being 20 games out of first place, in September. (Speaking of baseball, I don't know if you are a fan or not, but the Angels and Dodgers both have a chance to get to the playoffs this year.) …/… /*/


MLB audio can be received on the internet here, with a subscription. The World Series is broadcast on Sport+, a French cable TV channel. Otherwise … yeah, it's one thing Amerloque misses, sometimes, although he has quite a bit of trouble identifying with the creatinized cretins who seem to be playing these days. (sigh)


Amerloque used to follow the Dodgers in the paper every day … but since the O'Malley heir $old out to big busine$$ (Rupert Murdoch, yet …), it just ain't the same. (sigh)


Best,
L'Amerloque

12:51 AM  
Blogger L'Amerloque said...

Hello Maitresse !


/*/ …/… I saw a ghost at the Hospices de Beaune. (It didn't have a glass of wine in its hand) …/… /*/


Yes … but did Maitresse ?! (smile)


/*/ …/… I had a Chassagne Montrachet earlier this year at Le Carré des Feuillants that was orgasmic. I need to call them once they reopen to find out what it was. Do you have any thoughts on the subject? …/… /*/


Since the place has something like 3000 different wines, Amerloque would be presumptuous indeed ! (grin)


A wine catalog connected with LEF can be found on line at: http://www.carredesfeuillants.fr/pdf/catalogue.pdf


Perhaps the info is in there ? White, or red, for example ? There are three domaines listed for whites, but only one for reds …


For reds, Amerloque is a fan of Nuits-St-Georges and, for whites, he recommends wines from Alsace …


Thanks for stopping by !


Best,
L'Amerloque

1:08 AM  
Blogger L'Amerloque said...

(reposted here from "Maintenance")

Hi Linda !

/*/ Do you think screwtops matter any more? I really don't taste a difference and I think it protect the wine just as well. /*/

Insofar as Amerloque is concerned, it seems to be very much an affair of "De gustibus non est disputandum" - there's no accounting for taste. (smile)

Yet using a cork is part and parcel of the winemaking tradition and, in Amerloque's view, should be respected as such. For example, he certainly wouldn't pay many dollars for any wine with a screw top, no matter the producer or the vintage.

He has noted that many more white wines then red seem to be appearing with screw tops. Finally … if one decants and serves the wine in a carafe … who's to know ? (grin) …

There was an article about this in the International Herald Tribune a while back. IT looks like that one of the keywords is 'reduction".

http://www.iht.com/articles/2007/09/26/arts/trwine.php

Thanks for stopping by !

Best,
L'Amerloque

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