Wine Cellar - maturing wine the old-fashioned way - in wood.

Du Vin, Divine - French Wine still sets the standards

Originally published in Crème de la Crème, January 2007

Margot Palmer

Still setting the standards for the world, the wines of France are largely ignored by the Aussie drinker, but great treasures are there to be found, and the enthusiast should recognise no boundaries.

Du Vin

It might seem strange for a publication distributed mostly in Australia to carry an article on French wine, or even Old World wine, surrounded as we are by some of the greatest wine producing land in the world, but the true connoisseur doesn’t reckon on borders.

We might with schadenfreude applaud articles in the paper about French wine producers diverting their production into vinegar and bio-fuels because Australian wines have made significant gains in the all-important UK market, yet we still need the French wines and the French wine producers to keep us honest, because that is where the world’s benchmarks are set to this day.


The grand styles of wine, the classic varietals, the classic varietal blends, the viticultural techniques, the vinification, the regional differences and variations, and the defence of quality against inferior pretenders – these are all a huge legacy from the French to the rest of us, and we would do well to be for ever grateful, and ever appreciative of the challenge.

This is not to downplay the contribution of the rest of Europe’s winemakers, nor the advances in technology wrought in the New World, nor the Roman Empire that brought the idea to France in the first place, but it is the French who first perfected the art as we know it today. French wine is not as accessible as Australian wine – there are more than 32,000 different wines for a start, by 6,000 producers, most of them tiny. And the labels are in French. The appellations and classifications are archaic, vary from region to region and are impenetrable to the outsider. On the other hand, almost none of these wines leave France. The wines that do leave are either mass-produced indifferent wines, cheaply produced for the indiscriminate; Mouton Cadet for example, produced by the million. Or they are the world’s best, produced in small quantities and sought after by connoisseurs everywhere.


So where does the Australian resident who wishes to appreciate French wine go, to taste, to buy and to learn? In short, the internet. Very few retailers and restaurants carry French wine, and you are unlikely to get lucky in a bottle shop. One of the very few importers of first class French wine to Australia is Euan McKay based in Mt Eliza. His list is strong on excellent Burgundy and Rhone Valley wines. The Australian-based student “really has little choice except to seek the wines out and try them,” he said. The best site on the internet for tracking wines down is and you will soon discover who the main retailers are, and get an idea of the market price. Try

Your best bet is to find a merchant nearby, if you can, and involve him in your buying decisions, and angle for whatever promotions and tastings are going. Or start your own tasting club and taste several wines at once.

The Crème de la Crème Connoisseur

But for those who really want to appreciate the finest, in the best surroundings, then a spring or summer holiday in France going from vineyard to vineyard can’t be beaten. Take a barge up or down the Rhone or Loire or crossing southern France from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic by canal and river, and make sure someone else is doing the driving and cooking. That’s the way to do it.


Du Vin, Divine - French Wine still sets the standards as published in PDF form