Saturday, March 30, 2013

The French give up wine - Sacre Bleu!



Word comes this week that the French are no longer drinking wine. Mon Dieu! What is the world coming to?  Apparently this decline has been going on for years. Those delicious bottles of Cabernet Sauvignon or Bordeaux are disappearing from their dinner tables. In 1980 over 50% of French adults consumed the crushed grape daily - now it's just 17%. By my reckoning that's eight out of ten of our Gallic brethren don't imbibe.

Now, I love the stuff. Rarely seen without it, but there's more.

Denis Saverot, editor of La Revue des Vins de France magazine, says it's the working class who made it popular in the first place. He blames the war.

"Basically the soldiers went over the top pickled on pinard, the strong, low-quality wine which was supplied in bulk. Up until then the Normans, the Bretons, the people of Picardy and the north, they had never touched wine. But they learned in the trenches. By the 1950s there were drinking outlets, cafes and bars, everywhere. Tiny villages would have five or six."

Sounds fine to me. So, where did it all go wrong?  Denis continues.

"It is our bourgeois, technocratic elite with their campaigns against drink-driving and alcoholism, lumping wine in with every other type of alcohol, even though it should be regarded as totally different," he says.
"Recently I heard one senior health official saying that wine causes cancer 'from the very first glass'. That coming from a Frenchman. Our elites prefer to keep the country on chemical anti-depressants and wean us off wine. In the 1960s, we were drinking 160 litres each a year and weren't taking any pills. Today we consume 80 million packets of anti-depressants, and wine sales are collapsing."

He ends. "The village bar has gone, replaced by a pharmacy."

Denis has got a point worth us Anglais taking on board. Traditionally we use beer and pubs in the same way - to socialise. We always have. Got a problem? Have a beer and a chuckle with friends. That's the difference between a round of drinks and anti-depressants. Communal pill popping never solved anything. We later added wine, French originally and now universally available, to our hospitality. Are we also to go the way of those across the Mer?

Oxford-based French writer Theodore Zeldin has the last word, and this might sound familiar.

"A business-style culture has made huge inroads into France - the bane of all those who prefer to take the time to savour things. Companionship has been replaced by networking. Business means busy-ness. The old French art de vivre is still there. It's an ideal. Of course times have changed, but it still survives. We have a duty to entertain, to converse. And in France - thanks to our education system - we still have that ability to converse in a general, universalist way that has been lost elsewhere. "
"That is the art de vivre. It is about taking your time. And wine is part of it, because with wine you have to take your time. After all, that is one of the great things about wine. You can't swig it."

Order me a glass of Bordeaux immediately - and send my psychiatrist packing.