Buying Wines in France

Ever wonder how the French, who consume 4 times more wine per capita than we do, buy  wine?  One logical answer is that since they tend to visit the market every day to buy food, wine is available for purchase at even the smallest grocery store in the smallest village.

Good guess but when they want to replenish their cellars with enough wine to get them through the fall and winter month and also stock up on long-aging wines, they go another route: the “Foire aux Vins” provided by the major markets. 

Each year over the last week of September and the first week of October, the giant supermarkets, Carrefour, Auchan, Leclerc, and Super U, put on a super sale of wines from all parts of France and other regions.

Each “Foire” or Wine Fair organizes a large number of wines to be sold at discounted prices with an additional discount to club members that carry over to all wines.

During a recent visit, our wine-loving friends in Bordeaux invited us to join them at a special tasting at a Leclerc to kick off its “Foire aux Vins.” Crowds lined up before the doors opened at 8:30 pm to get a chance to sample wines from 36 different producers and to have first dibs at all wines up for sale.

This is France and of course there was food. Excellent finger food and they never ran out. The seasoned veterans headed directly to the oyster bar to go with the glass of Champagne, and then located the fois gras table before turning their full attention to the wines.

Now, if you are thinking there’s nothing to wash these down but ordinary supermarket wine, you would be blown away

by the overall quality. Sure, there were many under $5 bottles but the pleasant surprise was the number of beautifully made white and red wines for under $10.  

Two personal favorites in the tasting were the 2014 Ch. Verriere Bordeaux Superieur and 2014 Chateau Pitray, wonderful red wines for about $6.25. The latter is from the Cote de Castillon, one of several  Bordeaux sub-regions that Americans should get to know better. There’s also Bergerac for red and white wine, but that’s another story.

Many of the famous Bordeaux chateaux offer second label wines in off years. And, as expected, there were several second labels like the 2011 Petit Cheval from Cheval Blanc for $160 and the 2013 Carillon D’Angelus for about $60. My indifference to second label Bordeaux was more or less reinforced.

The biggest surprise of all was the number of high-end, high-priced wines on the shelves. The superstars that caught my eye were the 2012 Chateau Palmer ($250), 2011 Chateau Haut Brion ($460) and 2011 Chateau Lynch-Bages ($100). So not every bottle of fabled Bordeaux is exported to the US or China as some may believe.

The wide variety of wines at discounted prices, the food, and the festive mood converged to produce the desired results: supermarket carts were loaded with wine boxes and cash registers were busy over the next few hours.  It was amazing to see how many cases could be stuffed into one shopping cart.

The check-out lines were long, and we had to wait to find an empty cart. Once located, it too was filled up with a few bottles. Well, make that quite a few bottles.

When in France, do as the French do. And we did.

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