I’m going to build a bit on what I discussed last week.
Here’s a fact: French wine is not inherently better than wine from any other country. Does France have more better wines than other countries? Perhaps, but that’s a meaningless argument to make as it’s impossible to empirically prove.
What French wine does have, however, is a very long head start as the bench mark for premium wine in the American market. Since the dawn of American fine dining restaurants, French wine was the only wine available. There are many reason for this: early American Francophilia, a lack of domestic wine production in the eastern US due to phylloxera, a largely French restaurateur class, and a love for Claret inherited from the British no doubt all contributed.
And while shifting immigrant demographics in the 19th and 20th centuries brought many new Americans from wine-producing countries, the popularity of their wines remained largely restricted to those immigrant communities, with the obvious exception of wine (and cuisine) from Italy. But as French cuisine remained virtually synonymous with fine dining in America into the 1970s, French wine retained its primacy.
What we have now, however, is a wine market where wines from the very best producers and very best vineyards from every corner of the world are available at wine shops in major cities throughout America. And these wines aren’t new, they’re just new to us. Portugal, Hungary, Greece, Croatia, Austria, et al have wine making traditions as ancient as those of France and, in some obvious cases, even more so.
I am perfectly content to acknowledge that there is great French wine and that France produces some of the best wines I’ve ever had. I can also say that Portugal and Hungary have produced some of the best wines I’ve ever had as well.
To say that French wine (and, to a lesser extent, California wine made from French grapes) is inherently superior, as certain critics seem to think, is foolish. As I mentioned last week, it’s popular inertia.
So you can either keep sticking your Bordeaux bottles in the mud while a river of wine rushes around you, or you can keep adding bottles and building on your experiences. The greatness of French wine is not in question, but merely its primacy. It’s getting to be a crowded first place podium.