Finally life gave me the chance to visit Bordeaux! This is because my husband Davide loves Rugby and this year, of course, the World Cup is being played in France.
For those who don’t know, Bordeaux is a sort of Mecca for wine lovers, in terms of history and prestige. Having dedicated myself mainly to researching Italian wines, I have never delved into French wines in depth. However, the history of the world-famous wines of Bordeaux spans almost 2000 years, from the Roman era, when the first vineyards were planted, until today. With such an amazing heritage it’s worth finding out more.
After relating my personal experience, I’ll try to summarize the main historical and production differences between Italy and France, these two top players in the global panorama of world wines.
I visited two wineries in the Medoc area, Chateau Lanessan and Chateau Maucaillou . Lanessan has been in the same family of wine-makers for eight generations and is one of the oldest estates in Bordeaux. Maucaillou literally means ‘bad stone’ for its rocky terroir, which proved so poor for crops and so perfect for vineyards. I deliberately selected two wineries that sell, among the panorama of French wines, Bordeaux blends – those that have AoC standard, and boast all the famous aromas and aging potential, but at reasonable prices. This meant I could make a proper comparison with the typical production of Italian wines.
The first thing I noticed is that French wine is suffering more from the economic crisis in the sector than Italian wine. At the moment, it’s much more expensive, both to produce and to buy. In fact, the Bordeaux consortium, which has always been so dedicated to protecting Bordeaux blend wines (Cabernet Franc, Sauvignon and Merlot), has now opened the door to the production of rosé and sparkling wines, both currently more popular with wine drinkers. This is concerning for wine purists, who are alarmed to witness this most historical and traditional area of wine production being shaped by market needs. This is sad given that wine criticism always evaluates French wines as much more valuable products, precisely because they are based on many years of constant refining – which undoubtedly created the history of viticulture.
From this premise, I would like to focus on the similarities and differences between the two worlds.
I certainly noticed the passion with which a vineyard is worked, often based on family traditions and skilled knowledge.
The culture of cru and terroir, protecting territories with particular geological characteristics, is typical of both countries.
In both it is possible to find wines of extremely high quality.
French wine production is mainly concentrated on a few products – resulting, at times, in a static supply of similar wines every year – whereas Italian wine production is much more varied and dynamic. Moreover Italian production is clearly artisanal while French wines are the result of highly refined winemaking processes studied down to the smallest detail. This despite the fact that the grapes from which French wines come are not considered as good quality as Italian grapes.
The effort that goes into the marketing of wines from France, coupled with the organization into consortia to manage costs and optimize quality, is an indisputable strength of the French system that Italian production has never come close to matching. It clearly demonstrates an underlying dedication to protect and enhance areas of valuable production. This extreme protectionism that promotes and enhances wine lists is a concept that does not exist in Italy. You only have to notice that every label on every French wine bottle pairs the wine with local traditional foods – and all protected by a trademark. Unthinkable in Italy!
A further difference is the environmental and climatic conditions. If the French terroir can be, from a certain point of view, limiting for the cultivation of the vineyard, Italy only manages to partially exploit its wonderful climate and soil.
Re prices, French wines of equal quality are significantly more expensive!
There is a fundamental difference in the philosophy behind the development of both industries. Italian wineries are now devoted to experimental productions to diversify their offer to the market, while the French follow very strict protocols to optimize the product.
Italy exports more wine than France and has also exported more grapes, which have found new life in other territories, becoming part of local wine-making cultures.
Standard quality processes and controls differ as well. This means, in general, that in France you can be sure of drinking a good wine, while in Italy you have to be selective and much more aware of what you are choosing to drink!
I certainly saw two excellent productions. I tasted wines of the highest quality, perfectly structured and balanced. But honestly, I left Bordeaux thinking that Italian wine does not need to envy the French. Both are wonderful in their own way and should be appreciated and valued for what they are, not any comparisons between them.
However, Italy can learn from the excellent social and economic structure that supports and distributes French wines. But we must also learn to promote our own beautiful and magical traditions. Italian wine is unique and must be safeguarded as such!
One thing the two countries have completely in common is how drinkers toast each other – to each other’s health, what else when you are drinking lovely health-enhancing wines?
So, from an Italian in France, Saluti and Santé!