1 October 2011

Foires aux Vins 2011

One aspect of September and early October in France and the time of the year known as la rentrée, when the holidays are over and people have gone back to school or work, are the Foires aux Vins. These wine sales events run by the super and hypermarket chains (les grandes surfaces) are serious affairs both in quantity and quality. The image below is of the Foire sales area in one of the Auchan stores near Bordeaux. A UK equivalent to Auchan is Waitrose, but some people might think that comparison is overgenerous to the latter.

To give some idea of the quality of the wines on sale, the next image shows three Bordeaux first growths (Premiers Cru*) on sale – just pop one in the trolley along with the yoghurts. Of course, this branch of Auchan is uniquely well-placed to source Bordeaux wine and there is an appreciative local market.

I have had a quick look at some of the UK wine retailers’ websites and the comparisons go something like this (if you can actually buy single bottles):
  • Château Haut Brion 2008 would be about £420, as opposed to the €399.95/£350
  • Château Mouton-Rothschild 2006 about £695, as opposed to the €595/£520
  • Château d’Yquem* 1998 about £310, as opposed to the €149/£130
which makes the d’Yquem remarkable value. It was also available in ½ bottles at €75/£65, but these had all gone. The prices of the top Bordeaux wines have increased substantially in the last few years, not least because of Chinese interest. This has had an impact on the Foires which seem to have fewer second vins from the major chateaux than in the past. However, Auchan were selling magnums (1.5l) 2009 Les Fiefs de Lagrange (second wine of Châteaux Lagrange) for €35.

I ought to add that I can’t afford any of them, but other lesser and more affordable wines are even better value than they would be in the UK because of the countries’ different duty/alcohol tax systems. Apart from the d’Yquem, the wines described above will not be ready for drinking for some time and would improve if kept for up to 10 years, possibly longer. This raises the problem of storage. How well have the wines been kept so far – who knows, but Auchan was probably about 20degC, so about 10degC higher than desirable, and, of course, well-lit. Once taken home, older French houses often have caves (cellars) and the big electrical retailers like Darty sell a wide range of wine storage systems.

Château Mouton Rothschild is well-known for commissioning famous artists to create its labels, and the 2006 label was by the British painter Lucian Freud who died in July. According to the Château’s press release in 2009:
Far from the tormented portraits and nudes for which he is renowned, for Mouton 2006 Lucian Freud has chosen a joyously exotic transposition of the pleasure of drinking, in which the vinestock is transformed into a springing palm tree and the winelover into a happily anticipatory zebra.

*Château d’Yquem is actually, and uniquely, a Premier Cru Supérieur.

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