To the French, wine is more than just a drink. They make it, they quaff large quantities of it and they produce some of the finest in the world. It is even officially designated part of the nation’s cultural and gastronomic heritage.
However, a poll suggests the wine drinkers of France know surprisingly little about one of their most celebrated symbols and trademarks.
Ask the average consumer if they prefer their vin with a perfumed or spicy bouquet, full-bodied or lighter and the response is likely to be an embarrassed shrug and a Je ne sais pas, according to a new poll.
The survey, carried out for the magazine Terre de Vins (Wine Country) published on Tuesday, asked a group of French drinkers if they considered themselves knowledgeable about wine. Of those surveyed, 71% said no and of these 43% admitted they knew nothing at all.
Only 3% suggested they were well versed in the subject and 26% said they “knew enough”.
Pollsters from the company Viavoice said the research threw up interesting – if somewhat obvious – social class differences. The findings suggested those who were executive or professionals were much more likely to know something about wine than factory workers or artisans.
“This proves that learning about wine is seen as still very elitist in French society and also a feeling – real or supposed – that those households with limited purchasing power cannot afford quality wines,” said a Viavoice spokesperson.
More than half of those questioned in the poll felt young drinkers should be taught about wine and how to drink in moderation.
“Faced with the binge-drinking phenomenon and the massive exposure of youngsters to alcohol, wine, which is the mark of civilisation, constitutes a healthier and more cultured alternative,” added the magazine.
Rodolphe Wartel, director of Terre de Vins, told the Guardian: “In general French people think the wine world is complicated. Because behind the taste there is a whole universe, a language, the land they fear expressing an opinion about it. Our job is to show them that it is, in fact, quite simple.”
He added: “What surprised us most is that 51% of people thought youngsters should learn about wine through tastings at the age of 17 to combat binge-drinking. As the legal age to drink [alcohol] is 18 this breaks something of a taboo.”
Earlier in 2014, the French parliament declared wine would be designated part of the country’s “cultural, gastronomic and French landscape”.
French winemakers have something to celebrate after announcing they expect a healthy grape harvest in 2014.
“After two years of extremely low harvests, we’re getting back to something near normal,” said Jérôme Despey, president of the national agriculture and marine products authority, FranceAgriMer, during a press conference on Monday.
Production is expected to rise across the Champagne region, and Bordeaux vineyards are predicting a 40% increase in the grape harvest on 2013, when many vines were destroyed by hail. A drop in production is expected in the Languedoc-Roussillon, hit by dry weather followed by hailstorms in the spring.
According to French ministry of agriculture figures, the average harvest between 2009 and 2013 was 45.6m hectolitres (4.56bn litres). The 2014 harvest is expected to reach 46.4m hectolitres (4.64bn litres).
Despey said the last two years had been a calamity for winemakers and that this year’s harvest would allow them to replenish their stocks.
In May, the International Organisation of Vine and Wine (OIV) suggested American drinkers had overtaken the French in wine consumption for the first time. US drinkers consumed 2.91bn litres in 2013, while French consumption fell to 2.8bn litres. Italy (2.2bn litres), Germany (2bn litres) and China (1.7bn litres) completed the top five wine-drinking countries.Add to favorites