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EVERYDAY WINES AND EVERYDAY LIFE IN LYON – BOTH ARE EXTRAORDINARY

Since moving to Lyon, France this past summer (LINK to Post About Moving to France), much of our time has been spent attempting to learn French (definitely a work in progress), finding our way around town (easy as Lyon is a very walkable city with great public transportation), and traveling back and forth to the US (which will become increasingly less frequent).

Lyon - Saone
View toward Vieux (Old) Lyon across the Saône River.

I will do another post as a sequel to the one about moving to France soon. For now, let’s talk wine.

Rhône-Alpes_region_locator_map.svg
Auvergene-Rhône-Alps Department in Red

Lyon is located in the Rhône-Alps Department (there are 100 departments, or states in France), in the upper part of southeastern France. We are just north of the Rhône Valley at the confluence of the Rhône and the Saône Rivers. A few kilometers to the north, Burgundy begins with the Mâcon region; to the west, Beaujolais is a few kilometers outside the city; to the east, the underappreciated Jura region is a short drive away. Wines from all these regions and more pour into Lyon, a city of about 500K with 2.2 million in the metropolitan area.

There are only two large supermarkets in the city limits, both at malls. Big box stores are restricted to outlying areas, meaning that mom & pop businesses thrive. Every neighborhood has multiple small boulangeries, boucheries, fromageries, green grocers, and wine caves. Small grocery stores have wine departments featuring representative wines from the surrounding regions, mostly from larger producers. The caves (wine shops) have more wines from smaller producers and a few higher-end bottles, but almost all the wines are reasonably priced and would qualify as “everyday wines.” (LINK to @EricAsimov column on Everyday Wines from the NYTimes). We are drinking these wines for the most part with our lunches and dinners at home – spending an average of 10 to 12€ per bottle (top shelf at these stores) – sometimes much less – and enjoying most of them very much. This is why I have not been blogging and Tweeting as much about the wines I am drinking – they are, for the most part, not stand-out wines, but they are good!

Wine - Lyon Everyday
Some of My Everyday Wines in Lyon

My admittedly limited personal research thus far has revealed an interesting fact: THE FRENCH DON’T LIKE TO SPEND A LOT OF MONEY ON WINE.

I don’t know why this surprised me – but I just have not encountered the kind of wine conversations that I had with friends in California. It is more likely to encounter a boxed wine at a dinner party than a higher-end Burgundy or Châteauneuf du Pape. And, by the way, I have had some very drinkable boxed wines here. But I was a bit surprised that the Mecca of fine wine is largely populated with folks who prefer to spend under 10€ a bottle (and 3€ can get you a very nice rosè from Provence). Even when higher-end wines are served at dinner, the conversation is not about the wine. Perhaps a quick recognition of whoever provided it (usually the host), but that’s about it.

Dorianne and I eat at restaurants once or twice a week. Lyon is a gastronomique capital – many of the great Parisian (and New York) chefs train in the many cooking schools here. Lyon has more Michelin Star restaurants per capita than any other city, so food is a big thing here. And this extends downward from the Michelin restaurants all the way to the Bouchons (think bistro but serving Lyonnaise cuisine) and comptoirs. It is difficult to find a bad meal here, and some very nondescript looking places are working magic in their tiny kitchens. And as for wine, once you get out of the Michelin range, the wine lists tend to be fairly modest, featuring value-priced bottles and vins de la maison, usually from a tap or box. The wine list prices are usually at regular retail or just a bit above.

So, my everyday wine experience here in Lyon has been mostly with everyday wines from the wine regions surrounding the city. I will say that French wine producers seem to understand that the French don’t like to pay a lot for wine. The 13€ Burgundy Pinot Noir I get at the local wine cave tastes equivalent to a $30 or $40 bottle of Burgundy purchased in the US. We are enjoying very good wines for very reasonable prices – and feeling very grateful in the process!

Don’t believe me? Come visit and see!

As always, your comments are appreciated.

 

Copyright 2018 – Jim Lockard

EXPENSIVE WINE/CHEAP WINE – THE CONTROVERSY GOES ON

@EricAsimov on Twitter tipped me off about this article (LINK) by Sarah Miller on the Kitchenette Blog about the VOX video (see below) that has been circulating on the internet recently. The video says that Expensive Wine is for Suckers and features a tasting panel by a few folks at VOX of three Cabernet Sauvignons from different price points. They all liked the cheap one, ergo, expensive wines are for suckers.

Sarah Miller’s hilarious blog post in response (CAUTION: ADULT LANGUAGE!!!) takes VOX and the host of others who blithely support their findings to task in a very significant and entertaining way. It’s a long read, but, IMHO, worth it. First, here is the video:

And here is my take.

I agree with MIller in the basic premise of her post – that there is no definitive line that says what wine is good and what wine is bad; that less expensive wines from large producers tend to be altered with additives to create something other than what the  and grapes and terroir might have created on their own; and that the way we appreciate wine changes with greater knowledge and experience.

Since wine enjoyment is so subjective, each individual will find that his or her experience differs from others’, including many or all of the “experts” in the wine media. This is not unusual, as pointed out in the article – the masses often desire the simplest types of foods, drinks, music and movies. Thus the more expensive wines, those that represent higher quality fruit and true wine making craftsmanship, will tend to be appreciated by smaller numbers of people – more complexity = fewer adherents.

Here is a quote from the article: “Back to the whole cheap wine versus expensive wine thing. Cheap wine is awful. It used to taste like vinegar, and now, more often than not, it tastes like pancake syrup. It is made quickly and with little care. The grapes in it are often too ripe or not ripe enough. Good wine tastes like violets and flowers and fruit and spices and being blown away by it is an experience you are not required to have—but you should believe that it exists, because it does. Yes, of course, there are good wine values and bad ones. There is no one in the wine industry with a brain who thinks that every single bottle of $40 wine is universally better than every single bottle of $18 wine, or that every single person will like a $40 bottle better than a $8 one. As Schneider (a sommelier quoted in the article) pointed out, we aren’t robots.”

The philosopher Ken Wilber writes about the concept of span versus depth: the greater the span of something, the less depth and vice versa. A fast food restaurant will sell many more meals in a day than a fine dining restaurant; an action film with lots of explosions and little if any plot will out draw a character-driven film based on fine literature. Why should wine appreciation be any different?

If you like cheap wine, drink cheap wine. If you like expensive wine, drink that. But I suggest that you not let price, or ratings points, or labels, or other external factors be anything more than suggestions for you. If you are new to wine, find out what you like and drink that. Perhaps you will want to explore other types of wine over time; perhaps you will want to learn more about wines and wine making and that will influence what you drink.

My only caution, as I have stated in other posts, is to watch those really cheap wines produced in large quantities, as they are, more often than not, made with a lot of additives that you do not know about and that may not be good for you. The amount and type of additives tends to change and lessen as the price point of wines goes up, but not in an absolutely predictable fashion. Someday, stricter labeling requirements (LINK TO A GOOD ARTICLE) may help with this issue, but for now, you are pretty much on your own.

WHAT’S WITH CORKAGE FEES? SOME ANSWERS

This article from the LA Times website, pointed out by our friends @AlmaSolWinery via Twitter, speaks to the issue of corkage fees – something that people often find confusing. A corkage fee is a fee that you pay at a restaurant when you bring your own wine. It normally includes glassware, opening and pouring the wine by the sommelier or server, and disposal of the bottle.

LINK TO THE ARTICLE

Wine - Cork or Screw Cap

THE PLEASURES OF WINE – EVERYONE CAN ENJOY IT

As a new year begins, I have been browsing Twitter and some wine blogs and seeing, for the most part, the results of New Years Eve celebrations – pictures of very nice labels, people having fun, even features about opulent wine cellars. Wine is definitely a catalyst for good time and a good lifestyle, isn’t it?

That being said, I have to admit that I am somewhat put off by the displays of opulence. I guess I fall somewhere between those drinking old Chateau Margeaux  and those drinking Yellow Tail. (Full disclosure – I stayed in and did not imbibe last night – a case of food poisoning.) I disparage neither end of the spectrum, for they represent parts of a very wide spectrum of wine enjoyment. Now, I have had both Chateau Margeaux and Yellow Tail, and I hope to have the former again; and I am pretty sure that I will have the latter again. This is more about what wine enjoyment can be and how it is often portrayed in the wine media.

Wine - Bottles Dusty

The emphasis of much of the wine media, including the Twitterverse, is that true wine enjoyment only happens at the high end – by those with better palates, more money, and greater access than most of us will ever enjoy. I know that this is true of many aspects of life – cars, houses, etc. – but with wine, it is, I think, a bit more universal. This deprives many of the true enjoyment that a more modest degree of the three items mentioned above – quality of palate, financial assets, and access to great wines and the places where they are made and consumed – can bring.

I do not wish to disparage the high end of the wine world, but I do want to celebrate the other aspects more than we do. I want to let people, especially young people new to wine, know that a visit to the tasting rooms of Paso Robles or Santa Ynez can be as much or more fun than a visit to the Chateaus of Bordeaux. For one example, you will likely taste wines that are ready to drink in Paso or Santa Ynez, whereas the Bordeauxs that you will taste in Chateaus will mostly be years away from their peak. Also, the people pouring your wines in Paso will be much more accessible and patient with the newcomer than most of the equivalent people in Bordeaux, or in many of the other “premium” places.

I want people new to wine to know that there are many, many AMAZING wines that cost less than $25, and that most of the wines that cost under $50 are really good. That there is a significant drop off in quality to value ratios when you get above $50 per bottle. I want them to know that pairing a wine with a pizza can bring as much pleasure as pairing one with caviar; that screw caps are a better sealing device than corks for wines not meant to age for a long time (and even that is debatable).

Personally, I want everyone who is interested in wine to enjoy their interest without feeling that they are “missing something” due to some lack of knowledge or money or access. I realize that this is probably an impossible desire, but that doesn’t mean that I won’t pursue it. I want this blog and my wine-related activities to speak to people who love wines in all kinds of ways.

During 2015, I will be traveling to Europe and to South America and will blog about wine experiences at all levels. I will be starting to offer wine travel experiences, first in France – Bordeaux and Paris – in two formats – for those who know wine well and for those who want to learn about wine. Later, tours to Burgundy and Lyon and possibly to other world locations will be initiated. The idea is to enjoy travel and to experience the joy of a wine related lifestyle at whatever level works for you.

Wine - expensive-and-inexpensive

Wine is for anyone who wants to enjoy it and we need to keep a broad perspective for the industry, and it’s customers, to thrive. I look forward to exploring more of the world of wine and to sharing it with as many people as want to partake of its many great experiences.