France is the second largest wine producing country in the world, but don’t tell it that. Because its natural chauvinism and pride puts it in first place thanks to the quality, diversity, and spirit of the wines it produces.
The French are leaders in wine; they have much history to back them up as the Romans were their mentors, discovering terrains and planting grapes that were perfectly adapted. Little and much has changed in the 2,000+ years since they tilled the soil in what is now France. Vines have been replaced and improved; wines have adapted to contemporary tastes. But the roots of grape growing and wine making run deep in France.
French Savoir Faire
Which is just part of what lends such savoir faire, such know-how to French wine making. What they lack in liters produced they make up for in expertise so that the world over looks to France for vine-growing, wine making leadership. Bringing it to the wine drinker’s level France is paradise, for wine shops owned by knowledgeable and passionate “caviste’s” dot the landscape of cities, villages, and even country towns, making the enormous diversity of French wines widely available.
Here, for instance, you might walk into a shop like Vino Sapiens, in Paris’ 7th arrondissement without knowing a thing about wine or food, wine and food marriages, or even what grape goes into what. You’d walk out not only more educated, but most likely with your palate tickled by passion; your heart lost to the pure variety of wines made in France. And you’d walk out with a hearty handshake from Thierry Guemas, “caviste” and owner of Vino Sapiens. He is also blinded by passion, but such blindness as his allows him to choose only the finest – and not always the most expensive – wines in the land, all for his customers.
He knows each producer of each wine in his shop, and it is this personal connection that is so vital to the French wine industry, and most likely what sets it apart from any other. For a “caviste” like Thierry is constantly searching for the next best wine maker, while remaining loyal to those he already knows. Weekends, he’s on the road to visit wineries, vacations too. And we his customers are the beneficiaries.
As in so many things in France, getting to know what wines you love is an intellectual, gustatory exchange. For you don’t just walk into a shop like Vino Sapiens and say, “I want a red” or ask, “What should I serve with a roast leg of lamb?” There won’t be an easy answer. Instead, expect something like, “What is your favorite wine?” And if you stumble, more questions will come your way until together you’ve found the ideal wine for the dish. For, as a good “caviste” is likely to say, “Your favorite wine, no matter what it is, will go perfectly with your favorite dish because you’re already in love with both.”
And the minute you find a wine you love your “caviste” is likely to rub his or her hands and say, “You love it? Good, now you never have to drink it again for there are thousands yet to try…” and off you’ll go on another rollicking adventure to find another treasure-in-a-bottle.
Grapes Do – and Don’t – Make the Wine
Do not, when you are in France, count on being instructed about what grapes make what wines, but rather what soul made which wine. For it is the soul of the wine maker that makes the wine…yes, there are grapes with characteristics which change depending on the “terroir” or landscape, but the French wine industry is based on spirit and romance; you’ll see when you’re here, and you’ll become very, very accustomed. Such an attitude opens up a huge, wide world of flavor. And, of course, if you must re-enjoy, no one stops you!
Never Ignore the Supermarket
In some countries, supermarkets are the local “caviste” and often there are very knowledgeable people there. If not, as Thierry counsels, look at the bottles and when you find your mouth watering, stop! The bottle whose label made you react is the one to try. Just as it isn’t science that makes a good wine, it isn’t science that helps you choose one. It’s what the French call “feeling,” which is born out in great flavor!
Whichever wine you choose, we at Dancing Tomatoes wish you a Bonne Année/Happy New Year!