From Too Many Chefs -

September 15, 2005
The French Revolution

pink_wine.jpgDoes anyone else remember when lead wrappings disappeared from wine bottles? Or am I showing how old I am (and how long I've been drinking wine)? In the eighties I remember first running into the aluminum foil and how much less satisfying it was to peel back than the thick lead-based one. But someone somewhere finally woke up to the fact that maybe lead foil on something you consume might not be such a great idea. I was sad, as I always am when something traditional disappears. (I'm kind of sentimental that way, but what do you expect from someone who grew up listening to James Taylor, Carole King and copious amounts of folk music?) Eventually, though, the foil came to seem normal. The only time you'll see the heavy lead seal nowadays is on a very old bottle of wine. We don't see those very often, here in the Casa Cutts.

That change was pretty minor, though, compared to the revolution I see happening in France today. Study the wine in my photo. Do you see what has replaced the soft aluminum foil? And the cork? Yes, it's a screw-top. A screw-top. Wine professionals from Australian and the US assure us that they are even more effective than corks at keeping air from the precious wine and of course they are never corked. But really. They are a bit tacky.

And the next sign of the revolution? The wine comes from a mountainous region not actually known for its wine production: les CÚvennes. "That interesting," I said delicately to the wine salesman in the Nicholas store. "I wasn't aware that the CÚvennes was known for its wine." There was a slight pause before he said "Yes, it's rather unusual. Some of our customers really like it." I suspect what they really like is the price-tag: less than four euros.

These cheap wines are starting to flood the French market lately. In addition to the wine-from-odd-regions trend there is also the bowing-to-stupid-Americans trend. A lot of the cheaper wines are now marketed not by their region but - gasp - by the kind of grape used to make them. Our local Monoprix now stocks a line of low-priced bottles that are labelled "Sauvignon" and "Merlot" and "Viognier". Mme Clicquot and the founders of Mouton-Cadet must be spinning in their graves.

And the wine itself? Well, it's as patchy as you would expect extremely cheap wine to be. The CÚvennes rosÚ was thin and almost metallic tasting. It was drinkable, especially ice cold, but I'm not sure I'd go back to it in a hurry. However the Sauvignon and Viognier wines from the Monoprix, coming in at less than four euros a bottle, are a very good deal. I wouldn't buy them if I was having a wine snob or French person over for dinner. But for the Critic and myself on a weekday night with a nice dinner they go down just fine. But then we are not difficult.

Posted by Meg in Sussex at September 15, 2005 1:09 PM | TrackBack

Screw-top wine and folk music went together I thought? Nothing like a blue grass festival and a gallon of Red Mountain Goofy.
Inherited some albums last week and unearthed a 1950 copy of some Woody Guthrie, crazy.


Posted by Dr. Biggles on September 15, 2005 at 3:37 PM

Even the French must join the global wine revolution. I like it. It means more different types of wine will make it to market and we won't be ruled by a wine elite (well, except for Robert Parker, of course).

Posted by barrett on September 15, 2005 at 3:44 PM

No, No, NO!!!! Just say NO! Who thought that I would ever be quoting Nancy Reagan. Screw tops are just wrong. I might be one of those wine snobs.
I listened to those albums, and still own most, too!

Posted by Alisa on September 15, 2005 at 4:25 PM

Alisa, I tend to agree on the screw top issue. Also, I forgot to mention that the corks on the other cheap wines are made of plastic, which is somewhat disturbing and rather hard on the corkscrew.

Barrett, it's still next to impossible to get wine from outside France at a reasonable price. Even Gallo wine is expensive!!

Posted by Meg in Paris on September 16, 2005 at 1:59 AM

I listened to those albums too. But with wine from bottles that had straw wrapped around them - and the room was lit with candles in the empty straw - wrapped bottles.

I too love the satisfying feel of pullling away the lead wrappings. The foil alternative is not too bad. Plastic wrapping is very unsatisfying. Our every day Cabernet Sauvignon from Bulgaria (Cdn$7 - pretty darn good wine) has plastic wrapping and a softish synthetic cork that doesn't seem to be damaging the corkscrew at all. I gather that the synthetic is no good though for wine that is to be stored for a long time.

Screwtop... yes, it's hard to fathom. But I have to say I really do like the idea of no more corked bottles.


Posted by ejm on September 16, 2005 at 8:57 AM

Hi Meg,
I must be a wine snob too but I can't stand these screw tops.

Posted by pascale on September 16, 2005 at 9:08 AM

Actually, I forgot to mention that I bought the wine because I was intrigued by the CÚvennes aspect and only noticed the screw-top once I got home. Of course it didn't stop us from drinking it though... ; )

Posted by Meg in Paris on September 16, 2005 at 3:54 PM

I was skeptical about the screwtops, but when my favorite wine (Bonny Doon's Pacific Rim Riesling) switched from artificial cork to screwtop, I was converted. Now, not finishing a bottle is no longer cause for concern. Twist the top back on, and finish it tomorrow!

Posted by Matt on September 21, 2005 at 10:16 AM

Matt, I'm afraid that "not finishing the bottle" is not a cause for concern in our home either, for other reasons...! : )

Posted by Meg in Paris on September 21, 2005 at 2:54 PM