No country has a greater love affair with the art of winemaking than France. The passion with which the French enjoy a perfect food and wine pairing is an absolutely unparalleled experience. The average American can’t possibly understand the rooted history of this obsession, or the extent to which the French have gone to preserve their winemaking heritage. These folks are serious about many things, but none play second fiddle to the fermentation of the all-mighty grape.
Swoop into any world-famous or mom and pop restaurant in France, and you’ll likely spy the volumes of bottles way before you lay eyes on the food. Chef superstars like Alain Ducasse and Joel Robuchon wouldn’t dream of a prix fixe extravaganza without the ideal wine accompaniments for each and every dish.
Likewise, the French people insist on keeping their homes stocked with select bottles too. When the construction for the TGV super-trains commenced, the natives made an uproar. They weren’t protesting environmental or noise pollution concerns, however; the residents of the proposed regions only feared for their wines. Trains rattle wine cellars, and rattled wines lose their elegance and balance. Care was taken to give ample distance between tracks and cellars, thereby protecting their housed liquid gold.
Unlike American customs, where only a handful of elite residents have actual wine cellars, in France, it’s barely considered an amenity. A wine cellar in French city or country life is a borderline necessity. Even apartment rentals often come equipped with a few slots in the building’s cellar. Having a handful of heavenly bottles on hand for every conceivable occasion is a way of life for the French. Dinner just isn’t a proper meal without the poetic enhancement of wine.
Is it their love of wine itself or the passionate pursuit of a perfect pairing? For many cultures, wine represents a delicious finish for a hustling, bustling day; a great way to unwind with a movie or a book and enjoy an escape. For the French, it often means the perfect enhancement for a deliciously decadent meal. Famous French wines like a Beaujolais or Bordeaux are normally not crafted to enjoy solo, but with a fabulous food pairing. At its essence, wine is meant to delicately draw out the beautiful layers and flavors of food, and vice versa. Seared foie gras with a cinnamon-scented plum sauce may be delightful on it’s own; add an amazing Sauternes to the mix, and you’ve just found heaven.
It’s true that Australia has trumped France in wine sales on a global level, but no one has touched the overall quality and passion of French winemaking. The niche for these magnificent creations may be narrowing, but France will never be out of the wine game entirely. Real aficionados know that small volumes can mean astronomically superior wines, and France is the motherland for perfect grape production. It isn’t just their soil, or their amazingly fragrant barrels, it’s the love and passion French winemakers infuse into every corked gem. In France, winemaking isn’t just a way of life, it’s a bona fide religion. Uncork a Cabernet Franc tonight, and let me hear an “amen.”