French wine's the best, huh?
That's what we English think. It's a national pastime in Britain to hop over the Channel twice a year and pay a visit to Calais' specially built English-only supermarkets. We love a good bargain, so we joyfully fill our mate's van with 50 cent bottles of wine substitute in the mistaken belief that we'll be able to drink it.
No. It's not even slightly true that all French wine is good, just as it's not true that all French cheese is smelly. Some of it's bloody awful. "There is evil in every berry of grape," says the Koran. It's a good point. But there's more evil in some grapes than others.
Last week I took a bottle of something from the bottom shelf of my local supermarket to a friend's barbecue. Usually get away with it. This time I got stung when I ended up having to drink it.
If your piss comes out red after you've been drinking white, you'll know you should have splashed out a little more.
But not all old, expensive French wine is good
Price and age don't equal taste. Unless you're used to drinking aged, sediment-filled bottles of vampire blood that look and taste like they have Gollum from Lord of the Rings lurking at the bottom of the bottle. If you tip the bottle up a bit too far and drink the sludgy stuff, you'll find he's lodging in your head the morning after.
So ignore Luke's advice in the Bible (5.39) that "No one that has drunk old wine wants new; for he says, "The old is nice. " I bet he says the same about women.
Most wine in France ain't French
Cheaper, lighter, easier-drinking wines from California, Australia and South America are taking over. Because we all know they taste better. French wine has gone into decline, with the dedication of a wino on a hopeless downward spiral. We drink half the amount of French wine we drank in the swinging 60s.
French winemakers have got a thumping hangover. The French government gave them 91 million dollars a couple of years ago, after they went out rioting in protest against an advertising campaign warning about the dangers of alcohol abuse.
The shiny new French president Nicolas Sarkozy solemnly promised to increase consumption of wine if elected.
But it won't do any good. We've found out the truth. French wine just ain't all it's cracked open to be.
It's true, though, that the French know how to drink the stuff. "God made only water, but man made wine," said the old French poet Victor Hugo self-importantly. And the French, he was probably thinking, made the rules on how to drink it. They're good rules. Here are some:
First day I moved into my flat, I popped round to my neighbour's to say hellohowdoyoudo. Neighbour's three year old son was gurgling happily in his high chair while Neighbour's wrinkled old mother made aeroplane dives with a spoon full of red wine. Four o'clock in the afternoon! She explained it made them big and strong.
She must have read that report ordered by the French government in December, which advised giving kids in schools lessons about the values of drinking wine "To hold a forceful position in the world, French wine must first assume a strong position at home," the report says.
Divide up the work
Women can now pour it, but men must be the ones to open the bottle. This allows them to feel they're fulfilling their manly role without stretching their abilities too far. And it means femme fatales like me don't have to look stupid yanking at a bottle stuck between our legs.
If it's crap, call it a cocktail
Cheap, bad, white wine? We've all been there. In Paris they pour in a shot of blackcurrant cordial, or failing that Ribena, call it a kir, and pretend it's an aperitif. In bars they do the same and double the price on the grounds it's a cocktail. Bad champagne goes the same way and becomes the grandly named kir royale.
Pontificate for all you're worth
Don't we all? In Paris they do it better. Try visiting Caves Augé, the oldest wine shop in Paris. Marcel Proust was a regular customer, whoever he was. I admit, I tried and failed. Chickened out and didn't make it past the front door. But heard plenty of pontificating through the keyhole.
Did slightly better in Marcel Bossetti's shop in the trendy Marais area. At least I managed to come out alive.There's a big fat man inside who would probably have scared me off too, only I couldn't see him because the windows outside are covered in a huge bushy vine the size of a small aptch of rainforest. And for some bizarre reason, he's hung up old badminton rackets wherever there's a space between the leaves.
Where were we? Ah! Wine quotes. I've got it.
"Both the pleasure and the heat reach their peak simultaneously with the arrival of the sperm in the womb, and then they cease. If, for example, you pour wine on a flame, first of all the flame flares up and increases for a short period when you pour the wine on, then it dies away."
That's Hippocrates' advice, from 2,400 years ago.
Well, we've tried ice-cream, novelty chocolate body paint and one bloke once spilled his can of coke over me at the crucial moment, but I've not done it with wine. Sounds good. One to try.
Monica Guy lives in Paris, writes for Time Out, and keeps a low profile, like any true femme fatale. In fact, most people don't even realize she's a femme fatale. She's been told to upload her avatar, but she's not sure who or what that is, or why she might want one. Unless he's in a pilot's suit, that is. That would be quite another matter.
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