Shocking Facts About French Wine

Last night I attended the Wine Tasting Tour of France at O’ Chateau along with about 50 other Americans from Chicago, Colorado, California along with Canadians and Australians.  Our sommelier Olivier Magny toured us around the Champagne, Loire, Burgundy, South West, Bordeaux and Rhone areas in France all from the comfort of a wine cellar near the Louvre.  We learned about the concept of “terroir”—or how the soil contributes to the final grape and how that is one way that America is deficient in grape growing.  In France, grape vines may grow down into the ground 30 meters to obtain nutrients and creating a complex flavor in a grape.  In the US, many vineyards use drip irrigation which causes the vine roots to grown horizontally along the surface instead of vertically into the earth so the flavors are not as complex.

We learned about identifying the many flavors found in wine, like fruit, berries, citrus, or sometimes stranger flavors like dirt, mushroom, or as one woman yelled, “cheese!”

“Um, I think it would be better to say buttery, not cheese,” our French sommelier said gravely.

The French use a much lighter touch when it comes to oak in Chardonnay. As Olivier pointed out:  “Eet keels everything, because eet  is too much.”

Facts that I found amazing:

  • 97 percent of wine purchased in the US is consumed within 24 hours
  • 3.61 Euros is the average price of a bottle of wine in France
  • Since 1980 French wine production has been divided by two—Olivier blames this on French women who do not drink enough wine because they want to be skinny (not that wine would make one fat, but French women just don’t care about wine!)
  • Only 45 percent of French women drink wine on a regular basis
  • France has 150,000 wineries that produce about 15,000 bottles per year; Gallo however makes 4 million bottles PER DAY.
  • 5 percent of all wine is corked, developed from a bacteria in the cork (this is the wine that when the waiter pours it in the glass, you sample and spit on the floor — not really!  You would simply send the bottle back.)
  • There are so many wineries in France that it has hard to find the same bottle twice—you could buy a bottle you like in one shop but when you tried to buy the same bottle across town it would be impossible.
  • Rosé is the popular choice of wines from May-September in France.  The best rosés are from the Côtes de Provence.
  • Yellowtail (Australia) sells 22 percent of the world’s wine, more than all French wines together
  • Hangovers are usually caused from dehydration, not the wine itself

Olivier is writing a book about Terroir and he has a blog called Stuff Parisians Like.

His book called “Stuff Parisians Like” will be published in November – as Olivier points out, an excellent Christmas present.

Olivier also points out that we should support the people who produce wines independently.  They are true artists who produce wine because of the tradition and the desire to produce the best wine in the world. I left the wine tasting wondering why anyone would ever buy anything other than French wine!

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