Disaster struck French vineyards in the 1860’s, when hordes of tiny sap-sucking aphids called phylloxera suddenly showed up. These microscopic insects probably reached Europe on imported American vines, which were largely resistant to them. Unfortunately, European vines were not. The insects multiplied vigorously and within 25 years, they had destroyed most of the vineyards in France and many others across Europe.
As the insects moved through France, the desperate government offered a massive prize to anyone who could come up with a deterrent. Some wine growers tried burying live toads under each vine, in the vague hope that they would somehow manage to draw the poison out of the roots. In the Beaujolais region, schoolboys were taken from their classes twice a day to urinate on the vines. This must have caused a great deal of merriment among the schoolboys, but it didn’t work, at least not for the vines. Neither did the buried toads. As it turned out, the only practical solution was to uproot entire vineyards and graft the vines on to resistant American rootstocks. To this day, every French vine (and every European one, come to that) grows on an American root.
Bouchard Aîné, Rouge de France (red), France (Best and others, Bt. 360)
The label doesn’t give much away. No year, no grape variety, no area of origin. So we can be pretty sure that this is a blend of grapes from different years and probably from different parts of the country. However, the name “Bouchard” on the label ensures that this is not any old plonk. The company was established in 1750 in the splendid city of Beaune and today produces a very wide range of wines. This is one of their entry level wines, just like those you find in decent bistros all over France.
It has an attractive aroma of blackcurrants, redcurrants and berries, a hint of rhubarb and a pleasing peppery taste in the background. It’s dry and light-bodied with plenty of fruit, a good dash of tannin and an attractive long fruity finish. This is a very well-crafted wine and very French too. It takes me back vividly to sunny summers of bygone days; an al fresco lunch at a French village café with warm baguettes, fresh Camembert and salad, all washed down with a pleasingly simple wine just like this.
The peppery aroma suggests that there’s some Syrah (known as Shiraz in the New World) in the blend and probably some Gamay as well. At just over 12% alcohol, this is light enough to go it alone, especially slightly chilled. It would be perfect with snacks and would go equally well with grilled red meats or cream cheeses. If you like the French style, this would make an excellent everyday wine.
L’Esprit de Bacchus, Merlot 2009 (red), France (Foodland, Bt. 365)
From the south of France, this is an attractive ruby-red wine. It’s a Vin de Pays d’Oc and a very pleasant one too. It has a typical aroma of raspberries and dark fruit, nettles and dusty herbs. There’s a very faint floral perfume in there too, possibly violets, although I wouldn’t lay money on the violets. It’s produced by Seignouret Frères, a distinguished company founded in 1830, whose wines are exported all over the world.
The wine has a good, dry medium body with mild tannins up front and a good dose of fruit on the palette. There’s a dry finish too, with tannic overtones. Very much in the spirit of Bacchus (the Roman God of Wine, in case you’d forgotten), it’s a pleasant wine to glug and enjoy. It would be fine with spicy pizza, red meats or richly flavoured cheeses. It has an attractive traditional label too, making the wine appear rather more expensive than it actually is.
This is the kind of easy-drinking earthy table wine that the average French workman happily knocks back with lunch and dinner. Breakfast too, given half a chance.