Fearing French Wine

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I will admit that French wine scares me. Even after all the wine classes I have taken, France remains the great unknown and it seems unknowable. But I also realize that if I am going to be remotely close to becoming a wine goddess, I will need to know France. I will have to embrace France.

It is this realization that spurs me to take two actions. First, I need to figure out my issues with French wine are and confront them. Second, I need to buy some French wine.

I start pondering why I avoid French wine like the plague. Is it the French I don’t like? No. Am I being a patriot and not drinking French wine for political reasons (like some of our politicians who will only eat Freedom Fries)? No, that isn’t the issue either. So, what is it that makes me avoid French wine? After a long while, I finally pinpoint three main issues.

First, I feel like I have no control over what I am drinking. I am lost without the label identifying the grape variety that makes the wine. I look at the aisles of French wine and my mind grows blank. My breath quickens and my hands grow slightly sweaty. And, I think to myself, what am I buying, what is the grape variety, the style of wine, do I even like this?

After identifying this issue, I start thinking about how I can address it and I come up with a few ways. One, I know the grape varieties that go into the major regions of France (Burgundy, Bordeaux, Rhone and the Loire—the others I will freely admit that I need to think about and even then am sometimes lost). When I go to the wine store, I need to quell my panic, look at the label and talk myself through it. Second, I have resources. I can bring a book with me in order to assist me in identifying not only the grapes in the wine but the style of wine. Third, find a good wine shop that specializes in French wine (or has a significant French wine section). If you shop at reputable wine stores, the staff is generally very knowledgeable and helpful. If you are like me, you will allow paranoia to overcome common sense and you will think that they think your questions are dumb and you are paralyzed to ask for help. But, I can almost guarantee that this is not the case. Generally, they are happy to help you (and impart some of their knowledge) and want you to purchase a bottle or of wine.

Second, I am scared of the price of French wine. I have convinced myself that all good French wine is expensive. I have also convinced myself that it will cost me a fortune to get to know French wine. I am also afraid that I will spend a considerable sum of money and not get a very good bottle of wine or something that I hate.

Again, I ponder my issue and come to the conclusion that I am being silly. I don’t seem to have these issues with American or Italian wine (which can be just as confusing, if not more than, French wine). I am willing to spend a pretty penny on these wines and have gotten some pretty bad wine for the money. But, I feel like I know the style of at least American wines and can know what to expect and Italian wines seem more affordable than French wines to me.

I further examine my fears. It is true that some French wines can be very expensive (the classified wines in Bordeaux, particularly the first growths, and the Premier and Grand Crus of Burgundy). But, I have also had a number of French wines that have been amazing and decently priced. I take a deep breath and think about what I can do to address these fears. One, I can research the wine to find out what I should buy within my price range. Two, I can take a chance on some of the lower priced French wines (and luckily for me, my husband will drink most wines that I don’t like) to see what I like. Three, I can start in some of the lower priced regions, such as the Loire or Languedoc, and work my way up to the more expensive regions as I become more familiar with France.

Third, I realize that I don’t drink French wine because everyone else in the world makes French wine or what I think of as French wine (Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Syrah, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc). I jokingly refer to the wine world outside of Europe as “New France”. Because of this, I think of French wine as boring and overpriced (why should I pay $50 for a bottle of French wine when I can get the same varietal for $20 from the US or Australia). And, if I want to try something new, I look to Italy or Spain.

Again, I ponder my prejudice against French wine. Why do I hold a grudge against France? Is French wine really boring? I know that French wine isn’t boring. In fact, I don’t find any wine boring. I also know that all wines are created differently (as they are affected by the winemaker and “terroir” – the sense of place where the grapes grow). So, I know that a Cabernet Sauvignon from the United States or Australia is not going to taste exactly the same as a Cabernet Sauvignon from Bordeaux.

To address this issue, I realize that I must do a few things. One, I need to make a conscious effort to buy French wine. Instead of immediately gravitating to the United States or Australia, I need to look through the French wine aisle and research French wines. Two, I need to get over my perception that French wine is overpriced (see above for further discussion). Three, I need to remember that all wines are different. While wines may have similarities based on grape variety or growing region, they all have differences as well thanks to the winemakers and “terroir”. I need to embrace these differences and give all wines a try.

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