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Check out these French wines!
Alok Chandra
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August 13, 2005

Before you conclude that I have a fixation about New World wines (not difficult to do!) it's only fair to take a look at French wines -- which, after all, have tended to define wine for most of the past 100 years.

France produces the most wine of any country -- at last count some 5.9 billion litres. While wine consumption in France itself has been falling for several years, they still put away about 56 litres per capita -- which, if one was to exclude children and non-drinkers, works out to at least two bottles per head per week!

In 2004, France exported about 1.6 billion litres of wine valued at $6.9 billion -- which is almost equal (in value) to that of the next three largest wine exporting countries (Italy, Australia and Spain) put together.

The best French wines are just fantastic -- both in quality as well as price. A magazine recently listed the "10 greatest wines ever produced", and nine were French: Chateau Petrus 1961, Ch Cheval Blanc 1947, Ch D'Yquem 1921, Ch Margaux 1900, Romanee Conti Montrachet 1937, Ch Mouton-Rothschild 1945, Ch Haut-Brion 1929, Ch Latour 1990 and Ch Lafleur 1982.

While wines from these estates would range from at least Rs 10,000 to several lakhs per bottle, there is poetry and prestige in sampling the heavenly nectar of any one of them! And who hasn't heard the story of the six young investment bankers (including two Indians) who celebrated a deal by splashing out a record �44,000 (Rs 35 lakh) on just three bottles of wine (all from Ch Petrus) at a London restaurant! (They all were fired later, but that's another story).

In India, French wines are generally found at five-star hotels and better restaurants, most of which list a high-priced range of champagnes and wines from Bordeaux, Burgundy, and the Rhone and Loire valleys.

The Imperial (New Delhi) was offering Dom Perignon 1995 at Rs 9,000 and Bordeaux for Chateau Lagrange at between Rs 5,000-9,000 per bottle; The Grand Maratha (Mumbai) has a Chateau Lafite Rothschild 1997 at Rs 30,000 and a Cheval Blanc 1993 at Rs 35,000. Prices at most of these establishments tend to be high because, even though they get their wines duty free, their mark-ups vary from 200-500 per cent.

The French wine the most commonly available at retail shops seem to be the table wines from Georges Duboeuf (Rs 550-650) as well as the varietals from Michel Laroche (Rs 650-750); Sula markets a very decent range from Fortant de France at Rs 900-1,000, as well as the Michel Lynch Bordeaux at Rs 1,200-1,300, while the Tallian Bordeaux rouge from Indage (a 'bottled in India' wine) at Rs 450-600 is value for money.

Some years back Delhi-ites were freaking out on table wines from Barton & Gustier -- then available at Rs 350 per bottle in the grey market -- but that source seems to have now dried up.

However, the range of French wines available on retail shelves is overshadowed by offerings from the New World (principally Australia and Chile). The problem with French wines is that they tend to be either very good (and very expensive) or not so good (but still expensive, in relation to wines from elsewhere).

There are fewer large French vintners or wine companies than their counterparts from the US or Australia, and these have shied away from entering the complex and still small Indian market except through importers or traders. It is telling that even Moet Hennessy (which has the definitive range of champagnes in Krug, Moet & Chandon, Veuve Cliquot and Dom Perignon) markets only one French still wine here.

For now, one looks forward to better French wines being available at more approachable prices - till then, � votre sant�

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