French wine commands respect: President Hollande

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Unlike his predecessor, France's new president enjoys his country's wine - a spark of hope for the struggling industry.

In a country with such a rich wine culture as France, it seemed bizarre that it had a teetotaller at its helm and one regarded by many as unsympathetic to the nation's struggling wine industry. Now Nicolas Sarkozy has been supplanted by Francois Hollande, who is partial to glass of wine or two, there are hopes that his appointment ushers in an era of greater support from the Elysee Palace.

Unlike Sarkozy, who allegedly preferred Coca Cola, Hollande is a man who has obviously had a healthy relationship with wine. In an interview with Johan Gesrel for the French website malolacti[K] website, Hollande recalled the revelation he experienced in tasting his first wine, a Burgundy given to him to try by parents who he said always served good wines at the family table. "My parents educated me that wine was a product to be respected, that it was a quality product," Hollande recounted.

"Like many French, I am seduced by the excellence of the wines of our country," he told the Revue de Vin de France in an interview before he was voted into office. "I appreciate tasting wines with friends and family. For me these are always moments of conviviality, sharing discovery. Sometimes I'll open a good bottle to celebrate a major event, such as a political victory. If I'm elected, I'll celebrate this with my family over a good French wine."

Comments like this have been encouraging for an industry that's seen dramatic decreases in its per capita consumption in its important home market. It's a situation that has been assisted by the country's powerful anti-alcohol lobby and draconian law Loi Evin, which prohibits alcohol advertisements on the television and in cinemas, and requires all alcohol ads to be accompanied by a health warning.

Recent years have seen the interpretation of this law taken to extremes, with cases such as the fining of France's Le Parisien newspaper because an editorial piece on Champagne was deemed advertising and as such contravened the Evin Law. A clause was also put forward in recent legislation to make it illegal to offer free alcoholic drinks with a promotional aim, which could have outlawed tastings from cellar doors for important industry events, like the Bordeaux en primeur tastings.

Although he has admitted the Loi Evin has its limitations, Hollande however, appears in no hurry to overturn it. In the interview with Gesrel he claimed it was better to work within its framework and use other ways to promote wine, such as through "gastronomy, terroir and image" rather than revising the unpopular legislation.

Hollande may come across as something of a Champagne socialist, but his declaration that he dislikes the rich, combined with his plans to raise taxes and remove tax breaks for the wealthy, is also a cause for concern among the more well-heeled of the country's vignerons. They're the small percentage who arguably don't need help, while many in an industry that has seen its market share poached by New World upstarts, have had it hard.

Hollande does appear more committed to assisting the industry, visiting a number of wine regions and talking to growers during his presidential campaign and criticising Sarkozy for "sacrificing the wine industry". Before his election he told the Revue de Vin Francais that a presidential candidate "must defend one of the jewels of the French economy and fight against the trivialisation of wine production".

Time will tell if Hollande's love of wine translates to measures that will help France's wine industry. But the fact that he actually appreciates a good glass of wine is surely an auspicious start.

AFFORDABLE FRENCH
Domaine du Seminaire Valreas Cotes du Rhone Villages 2009 $19.95
Made from 70-year-old vines, this biodynamically farmed grenache, syrah and mourvedre blend, with its juicy and concentrated dark fruit, notes chocolate and clove, illustrates the excitement that can be found at the affordable end of French wine. (From wineimporter.co.nz)

WHITE RHONE
Guigal Cotes du Rhone Blanc 2009 $27.50
Though most Rhones are red, there have been huge improvements in its smattering of whites, such as this cracking combo of viognier, marsanne and roussanne that's soft and fleshy with hints of white peach, anise and white pepper. (From Glengarry, Liquorland, New World, Peter Maude Fine Wine.)

AGED BEAUTY
Chateau Lanessan Haut Medoc Bordeaux 2000 $39.95
A rare find indeed is a lovely aged Bordeaux like this one at such a sharp price. It's mellow and elegant, with notes of dark fruits, truffle, tea and herb. (From wineimporter.co.nz)

- NZ Herald

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