A few years ago we worked for a while with a French estate agent helping to select properties we thought might appeal to potential English buyers. Given most people’s romantic notion of the perfect French dreamhouse, it was not difficult to dismiss the ranks of ugly concrete shoe boxes and Spanish style haciendas which sadly pass for modern architecture in rural France, in favour of the local stone-built properties of yesteryear. Whether empty falling down ruins or inhabited and beautifully maintained, these old houses are resplendent with character and oodles of rustic charm. Many of them also possess that wonder of traditional French lifestyle, the ‘cave’ ( pronounced ‘carve’ ) or wine cellar. Many times we stood in open-mouthed wonder in the lower recesses of an old house, surrounded by racks of bottles and wooden cases bearing romantic names and faraway dates, sometimes tagged with meticulously handwritten labels, accompanied by books of tasting notes, carefully monitored thermometers, tasting glasses and other essential parts of the Frenchman’s wine kit. We have often joked that our own cellar is typically English – it is empty, totally void, not a bottle in sight. We have never been able to resist the temptation to lustily down any bottle of superior quality wine which may have crossed our path. No chance of ‘laying down’ a crate or two for the future in our household.
The French manner of treating wine is so very different. Wine is a crucial part of the cultural heritage, treated with love , pride and enormous respect. In England we know our wines by grape variety (‘cépages’), a Frenchman knows his vineyards, his ‘millésimes’ (vintages) the grand crus and châteaux of his local region or personal preference. Nothing gives him more pleasure than to introduce you to his latest discovery or to present the perfect wine to compliment the perfect dish. Wine is savoured by the glass, not guzzled by the bottle. It is after all a most precious creation and in France the true appreciation of wine has almost been elevated to its’ own art form………………..