Do French drinkers protest too much?

By Richard Ehrlich , October 24, 2013
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Last month, Jancis Robinson.com ran a story about proposed legislation aimed at curbing excessive alcohol consumption in France. One proposal would ban talking about wine online. Another would ban “speaking positively about wine in the media”. A third proposal: whereas French wine labels currently carry a health warning against excessive alcohol consumption, the new labels would say, simply, “Alcohol is dangerous for health”.

Any discussion of responsible v. irresponsible drinking is very tricky, involving, as it does, the complex and often contradictory perspectives of consumers, politicians, social scientists, psychologists and physicians, law enforcement professionals, and industry. In general terms, however, and putting it as delicately as I can, these three proposals are insanely misguided.

And for all sorts of reasons, leaving aside the free-speech issues, and the complexities of public health policy (which I do not underestimate for one second) just one point: how can the country making the greatest wine in the world, the result of 2,500 years of experience, suddenly announce that its most glorious product is a toxin which must not be mentioned in public?

Some parts of the proposals seem less contentious. They want to raise taxes on wine, and when I see the prices on holiday in the sunny south (plonk in plastic jugs for €1.20 a litre), I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing. You can read the French protest site here: www.cequivavraimentsaoulerlesfrancais.fr/

We shall see what happens to the proposals. In the meantime, here are three French wines worth cherishing in moderation.

To precede the meal, Cuvée Royale Brut NV Crémant de Limoux (Waitrose, £10.99). Zingy citrus flavours, a fine apéritif. With your autumnal stew, a Bordeaux bargain: Grand Bateau 2011, a wine overseen by the winemaker from the great Château Beychevelle in St Julien. Merlot-dominated and therefore juicy and fat, with nicely judged oak. And finally, with dessert, Tesco Finest Sauternes 2009 (£13.99). Low-priced Sauternes is risky, but this one is opulent but beautifully balanced.

Just don’t tell the French health minister that you’ve enjoyed it.

Last updated: 8:45pm, October 24 2013