Several articles ago I promised to finish my tour of the Yukon Liquor Corp. (YLC) wine shelves before the snow melted.
With the rains coming down and my frozen lake looking mushy, I’d better hurry!
I’ve been writing episodes of my walking tour for so long that when I was in the liquor store last week I discovered they have re-arranged the whole store!
Despite this, I will finish my coverage by discussing the one area or country I have yet to mention in this series.
As mentioned before, if you have had a tasting experience, or had a comment or question, please feel free to e-mail me at: [email protected] I’d enjoy hearing from you. And now, on to the last of the series.
Despite the change in floor plan, the YLC still organizes its wines by country, and the one country not yet discussed is the one I suspect most of our minds most readily associate with wine… France!
This country has produced wines at least since the days of the Roman Empire, and even the least familiar with wines will recognize words like “Champagne”, “Bordeaux”, and perhaps “Chateau Neuf-du-Pape”.
These three wine regions have been associated with luxurious, and often expensive, wines for at least the last 400 years.
Checking on Wikipedia confirmed my understanding that French wine is produced in volumes of between 7–8 billion bottles annually, and ranks second only to Spain in the total vineyard area under cultivation.
A big challenge for French wine producers is in many areas demand outstrips production.
The ongoing challenge for any winemaker is to balance quantity and quality. For many years winemakers around the world focused on trying to increase the quantity of grapes grown per acre, in order to maximize yield, and thus the amount of wine they could make.
The problem is that the more grapes a vine produces, the lower the quality of the taste of the individual grapes, and thus the wines.
I think it might have been Robert Mondavi, the esteemed California wine pioneer, who wrote something like “prune me poor, and I’ll make you rich”.
He articulated the good winemaker’s strategy of cutting off many of the bunches of grapes during the growing season so the full force of the grape vines would be concentrated into the remaining grapes, thus increasing their flavour and yielding fewer, but tastier, grapes.
Of course that means you get less grape juice, and thus less wine.
When you couple this with the fact that French wine-growing regions such as Champagne, Bordeaux, and perhaps Chateau Neuf-du-Pape have defined borders and finite vineyard space, this means that as demand has grown over the last 30 to 40 years, and supply has remained constant, or even diminished (if winemakers followed Mondavi’s adage), prices of many French wines have skyrocketed.
Single bottle prices of Bordeaux futures (buying wine ahead of time, before it has even been bottled) can run into the hundreds of dollars in a good year.
I read some years ago that there is sufficient demand in Japan alone to purchase all the Champagne produced in that region, if the wine exporters did not limit exports to a certain amount per country.
This demand has had a peculiar effect on the development of French wines.
At the same time as demand (and prices) for the best-known and most famous wine regions have soared, the demand for medium and moderately priced French wines, which represent more than 90 percent of all vineyards under cultivation, has dropped.
French domestic wine consumption had dropped over the last 40 years, with a 20 percent decrease in the 1990s alone.
At the same time, Italy and Spain have invested proportionately more on improving their wines and marketing them on the export market.
Australia, the U.S., Argentina, Chile and New Zealand have also become strong players in the international wine market, in all price points below the high-end French Champagnes and famous French reds.
The upshot is, with the exception of famous Bordeaux and Champagnes and a few other wines, the French are sitting on a glut of good to so-so wines.
They are competing to sell them in a world with exciting and emerging wines from other exporting counties, many of which can undersell the French and offer a better quality moderately-priced wine, produced using the latest quality methods.
The YLC does offer a limited selection of the high end wines… I have a lovely bottle of Veuve Clicquot PonsardinBrut Champagne ($68.40) that I am saving for a celebratory occasion. The Whitehorse liquor store also has Chateau Neuf-du-Papes at $42 to $56, but I find I am not buying much in the way of French wines.
Rothschild offers very representative examples of Bordeaux at $15.35 to $18, and it would be fun to do a taste-off with Californian, Australian or even Chilean cabernet sauvignons of the same price.
As well there is the Rigal Original Malbec ($17.20) that you could do a taste-off against an Argentinean malbec of a comparable price.
The Rigal comes from the region in France where all the original malbec vine cuttings were sourced that now have made malbec the signature Argentine red wine.
And finally, the wines of Languedoc-Roussillon are worth a taste, as this is the emerging moderately-priced wine area in France, and is producing some interesting wines.
I have by no means tasted all the French wines offered at the YLC, and hope to find some more interesting ones in the moderate price range.
Chat with the sales associates there… they will have some good suggestions for you to taste!