The same but a bit more French

by tkos on August 14, 2012

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French wine has always been a little bit of a mystery. I can never tell what the grape is. That’s kind of my level I suppose. The reason being, nobody tells you from the bottle. It is one of those things I guess you’re just supposed to know. Thats the arrogance of the French that we all know and love. Sometimes, if I’d not hold it up to the light, I can’t even tell if it’s red or white. As much as I love wine and have a passion for it, I’m a long way from being a sommelier.

So, so far, I have learnt that the guys in Alsace are nice enough to tell you what the grape is, because it’s either Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Riesling or Gewürztraminer. If its red, its pinot noir, but its not traditional and the wine maker is a little bored of white wine.

Down the road in Burgundy, it’s all Pinot Noir or Chardonnay, but rarely from the same place. They don’t mess about. No experimentation, nothing else, just Pinot noir. I asked one of the wine makers if they would ever consider planting a different grape just to see how it would turn out. He looked at me like I pissed on his dog.

A little further down the road and we hit Lyon. That’s where the Cote de Rhone region starts. They call it Syrah, but most of the world call it Shiraz. This is my favourite grape. Just loads of flavour. Heavy. Rich. Heaps of attitude. It’s the Sean Connery of grapes. It just needs to be respected.

Just a little out of reach…

After wine tasting in Hermitage, the world is a better place. I learnt that these guys believe the soil is everything. When I would ask what the difference was between different wines, the standard answer was the soil. Same grape, same method, same wine maker, grape plot is a little further down the road. Completely different price. In essence, there is a governing body that dictates how good the soil is for growing grapes. It’s either Grand Cru, Premier Cru, Village or Regional. And that is how it is labelled, depending on the plot that the grapes are grown in. I bought a magnum of  Ferraton Pere and Fils Hermitage Grand Cru. It is from a small wine maker who has access to two plots in the official Hermitage region. This wine is a blend from both Grand Cru authorised plots. If it was from the same plot, they decide to call it Ermitage and double the price. Mine cost me €90 as it was. It has been sent home to drink another day. And it’s 100% Shiraz.

Wine is not wine here in this part of the world. Wine to the French is like the Quran to Islam. It is their life and their deepest belief as to what the world is all about. It is the centre of the universe. Yet not so holy as to not find a price tag to slap on it. I have never spent €90 or anyone close to that on a bunch of fermented grapes. And all because somebody somewhere said that the soil in that particular patch of dirt was ‘better’.

I remember speaking to a wine maker in the Barossa Valley and asked him the fundamental question as to how a wine maker matches the price to a bottle of wine if the production costs are the same? How does a winemaker justify doubling the price of wine based on older grapes? Where does the initial price come from?

He said quite simply, “it’s not what the wine is worth or how much it costs to produce, it is simply what somebody is willing to pay for it!”

I remembered this as I walked out of the vineyard with my bottle and a tasty €90 price tag.


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