Monday, Oct 06, 2003
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By Vaiju Naravane
"When we were younger, we would drive across Bordeaux spending four days in the wine region, visiting different Chateaux, tasting wine. That is how we learnt. Wine cannot be understood from reading books. It has to be tasted, rolled on the tongue. We're a bit over the hill for that kind of travelling now. Also, we know the wines we like. Every year we buy a dozen crates or so. Some expensive single bottles for special occasions. But each year we like to try a couple of new Chateaux depending on what the wine guides say," explains Michel, a former aeronautics engineer, displaying his well-thumbed, dog-eared copy of the popular wine guide Bettane & Desseauve.
Faced with stiff competition from foreign wines, mainly Australian, Chilean, American, Romanian or Hungarian, French producers are making an all-out effort to seduce and keep the home market. For two to three weeks, a wide range of wines, including some of the most expensive Bordeaux, are sold at competitive prices.
"Consumer spending might be down in other sectors, the economy might be in the doldrums, but with wine, we've done fantastic business," said Corine Desforges, the marketing director of a supermarket chain. "We have seen lots of people from Britain, Germany, Belgium coming over specially to buy wine. The sales have been incredible. A German restaurant-owner and his wife bought 60,000 euros worth of really good Bordeaux for his special clients. Even individuals have begun investing in wine and many people have started private cellars. However, wine consumption in this country is going down each year, not up," she said. Though France is the highest per capita consumer of wine in the world, consumption has dropped from 72 litres per capita in 1990 to 47.5 litres in 2002.
Although wine marketers try to pitch wine from other regions of France such as the Jura, Languedoc Roussillon or Alsace, Bordeaux or Claret, as the British call it, remains the hot favourite with the slightly heavier Burgundy wines coming a close second. "The Bordeaux have everything magic, mystery and mystique, as well as colour, fragrance, taste and durability. Bordeaux is an enduring fashion statement. Its like pearls never out of fashion. Bordeaux is as much an act of the imagination as it is of the palate," says a wine expert, Nicolas Duhelme. September is also the month when publishing houses bring out their annual guides to French wines, and the magazines come out with yearly special issues on wine. Each year, the wine guides beat their record of the previous year on the number of wines tasted and the number of producers selected.
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