Wednesday, March 28, 2007
So there you are in France...
and you don't know what to do about buying wine. You could go to wineries, but that can be an expensive, time-consuming, driving-in-a-foreign-land-where-you-don't-know-how-to-get-where-you're-going kind of experience. If you think about it, wineries don't really exist much in cities - they're usually, you know, rural. Cause that's where they grow things.
Plus, you don't have an international driver's license and don't speak the language.
And, to top it all off, you haven't made any appointments at the wineries, so even if you go there, you still may not be greeted warmly or worse yet, they may be closed.
OK, so wineries can be a troublesome affair. But you're a wine lover who wants the good juice that you can only get in winemaking regions. What to do? You pretty much have two options:
1) Restaurants - restaurants are a good option for finding good wines in a foreign country, but it's not always a hassle-free experience. You have to know what you're in for.
First, there's the expense. While you probably won't find the 300-500% markup on restaurant wine in Europe (or other wine regions) you have in the States, it's still going to be pricey, espeically by the bottle. Sure, like any other restaurant in any other wine region in the world, you can find wines that offer good quality and flavor for the money, but what makes you thing think that will be easier in a place where you don't know anyone?
Second, there's navigating wine lists. Let's be honest: many people are intimidated by the wine lists where they live, in their local restaurants, where they speak the language. Do you think that experience would be any easier where you can't read street signs, find the WC (as they call it over there) get to the bakery? Doubtful.
Sounds bleak, I know, but there's still hope. The solution is pretty simple - order the house wine.
Yes, I'm aware the house wine might well come in a plastic pitcher. Yes, I'm aware you might only pay 3 Euros for that plastic pitcher full of wine. Yes, I'm aware the owner of the restaurant might have walked right out of the barn and into the dining room to bring you that pitcher of wine.
Despite all these interesting things, chances are it'll be good. There is a chance it might be one of the best wines you get on your trip. Why? Competition.
Wine producing nations have a more pervasive wine culture than we do. That, of course, means more wines. And anyone who has read Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations knows competition means lower prices and - the best thing for us - better quality at those lower prices.
A restaurant owner knows that the wine inside that plastic pitcher has to be the best wine he can find - or you can go right down the block and get a different, better wine in a plastic picture at another restaurant for the same, or less money.
That wine might made by the owner himself. Or, it might be made by the restaurateur's best friend who happens to be a winemaker. It's even likely that wine has never seen a bottle. It might be taken right from the barrel. If you've been to a barrel tasting, you know this is usually a good thing.
That's the way to get good wine in restaurants. Well, in Europe, anyway.
2) Grocery stores - This is probably the best way to find a wide variety of interesting wines at good prices while you're wandering around wine country, no matter what continent you're in.
Buying wine is grocery stores is a good bet for the same reasons as ordering house wine in restaurants - competition. There's lots of wine and every grocery store sells it. There are also lots of customers who want that wine. If you can't find wine you like in one store, just go to the next Ipso facto - good prices for good quality.
And what about the quality of that wine? Well, you tell me. What's better, tomatoes you buy in the local farmer's market or tomatoes picked unripe, gassed with ethylene and then shipped 2500 miles from California? The farmer's market tomatoes, of course. They were hand tended, vie-ripened and hand picked before their very short trip to the market.
If you're buying wine in a grocery store, especially in wine country, you're more than likely to find plenty of wines made by local producers who care for their vines the way you care for your own garden.
You, gentle readers, know this, even without thinking about it. Where are you shopping? - at the places where they have the most wine, for the lowest prices.
This is my best advice for buying wine whle you're getting your wanderlust on. More than one customer has come back and reported good results using this method. I've tried it and gotten pretty good results myself.
Or you could learn the langauge they speak in your wine destination.