About two weeks ago, Wednesday 10pm, it was too late when we remembered the Wine Pairing Weekend tasting group on Twitter (#WinePW) had a New Zealand theme planned in August. A few hours later we were off to France. The odds of us joining the #WinePW fun looked slim. Finding quality New Zealand wine in Toulouse France, we thought, would take far more than a quick trip to supermarkets like Carrefour or Casino.
Vins du Monde in France
We had good reason to have low expectations. When in Toulouse with family, of course, we mostly drink French wine, unless we bring something Chinese or other fun to share. But we’d looked at imports many times out of curiosity. The “Vins du Monde” section, if any, used to look very, very slim. Even now, go to a French supermarket wine department, and you won’t be overwhelmed with choice when it comes to imports. Looking at this, you would think France imports little wine.
But that’s an illusion. According to OIV data, in 2017, France was the fourth largest importer by volume (topped by Germany, the UK and the US). Why, then, don’t you find plenty of rows of New Zealand Sauv Blanc, California Cab, or Spanish Rioja at Carrefour and Casino? Well, when you look by value, it falls to 12th position. It turns out that the volume of France’s wine imports was 77% bulk wine (and it’s a bit down from the year before). Much of this is made of basic wines with no geographical indication. And another fun fact: 68 % of imports were from Spain.
Seriously, look at this chart of France’s wine imports by origin country, from a recent FranceAgriMer report. In pink and red, that’s Spain. And the pink part, that’s the share of Spanish bulk (“vrac”).
So where is all the imported (aka Spanish bulk) wine? A lot of it goes unseen, packaged in mystery blends with sometimes French-sounding brand names in local supermarkets, in the low-priced wines “of the European Community.” A lot also goes into the increasingly popular wine-based cocktails. Importing a ton of Spanish bulk wine is how French supermarkets meet demand for basic wine at low prices. On occasion, fraud even led to imported bulk wine being labeled as French. Of course, that’s infuriating to French producers who compete in that price segment.
Finding New Zealand in Toulouse
To be fair, we were surprised by how the Vins du Monde part at the big Carrefour in Toulouse has grown. Much more choice than there used to be! But no New Zealand here. For this month’s #WinePW, we went to explore two small wine shops downtown that specialize in imported wine: La Boutique des Saveurs, and L’Envie, both around Place des Carmes. And they have a very, very nice selection, hooray! What were our New Zealand options? There was, of course, Sauvignon Blanc, New Zealand’s signature grape variety and huge export success from the Marlborough region. The country’s new big thing was also available: Pinot Noir, from Central Otago.
Back in the US in supermarkets and wine shops around us, these are the most common (and often only) New Zealand choices. So imagine our surprise at L’Envie in Toulouse when we saw more: New Zealand Riesling and Chardonnay! Pierre’s dad likes New World Chardonnay, so we chose a Chardonnay from the Hawke’s Bay region.
Aurulent Chardonnay from Hawke’s Bay
Our 2016 Aurulent Chardonnay is from Collaboration Wines, owned by winemaker Julianne Brogden. She describes her approach as “naturally guiding the wines with minimal intervention, limited SO2, natural use of oxygen, no fining agents and minimal filtration.” The beautiful labels feature artwork by Angela Tirrell.
With notes of citrus, ripe stone fruits, oak, and a nice creamy, malolactic feel, rich but with refreshing acidity to keep it balanced. See some details about the wine here.
Thinking about the wine trade numbers we reported above, this kind of imported appellation wine is not widely available in France, and even less when it’s from New Zealand. France doesn’t even seem to register on the list of key export markets for New Zealand wine. We enjoyed this wine with the meal Pierre’s dad had prepared, and the view.
The food and the view
Over two decades ago, Pierre’s dad fell in love with a tiny village an hour south of Toulouse and bought an old farmhouse. He’s the only Vietnamese person you’ll see many miles around. It’s the view of the Pyrenees that got him, and we never get tired of it either.
There are even a couple of old vines that still give grapes (Chasselas, we are told).
Pierre’s dad is not one to follow recipes. He improvises and it always turns out delicious. Here’s the menu.
Samosas from Paris Store (the Asian superstore near Toulouse) and a fresh improvised salad with what was on hand. We’ll never figure out his salad dressings (always improvised, get the idea?) but they always rock in a very special way.
Main course: poached cod, rice cooked with lemongrass in the morning’s leftover tea (improvisation rules), firm tofu dressed with preserved fermented tofu.
The preserved tofu part is easy to find in Asian supermarkets and, frankly, if you’re OK with a bit of funk, something you should put on everything.
C’est quand même exagéré
We loved discovering Hawke’s Bay with this Aurulent 2016 Chardonnay. But one thing is sure : Pierre’s parents, even if they liked it too, are unlikely to buy it.
Indeed, during dinner, we revealed we hadn’t flown this from the US but bought it downtown in Toulouse, which generated excitement, until we mentioned the price: 35 euros. “C’est quand même exagéré le prix de votre New Zealand Chardonnay,” (The price is a bit much for your New Zealand Chardonnay) Pierre’s dad noted the next morning. Yes, it would already be considered expensive wine even in the US, but in France that just sounds crazy to most people. A recent study by consulting firm SOWINE shows that most French consumers have a hard time spending more than 10 euros per bottle, and it is not getting any better.
Pierre’s parents were shocked to see how expensive wine was in the US when they visited. Earlier this week, Pierre’s mom opened a bottle of Australian Penfolds Chardonnay (since dad likes New World Chard and he was coming over). “C’est pas donné” she said (it’s not cheap). The price? 9 euros.
We had a great time shopping for New Zealand wine in Toulouse and were delighted by the selection we found. But for now, we’ll enjoy them in the US rather than during family visits in France.
Check the following posts by the Wine Pairing Weekend crew to learn more about New Zealand wine and great food ideas. Thanks to Lori from Exploring The Wine Glass for hosting!
- Camilla of Culinary Adventures with Camilla will be making Hāngī in a Dutch Oven + Gimblett Gravels Malbec 2017
- Jane of Always Ravenous will be pairing New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc Paired with Fresh Flavors of Late Summer
- Cindy of Grape Experiences will show how to Beat the Heat with New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc and Chilled Cucumber Soup with Mint
- Gwen at Wine Predator will be pairing New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc with Zesty Arugula Kale Pesto Pizza and Salad #WinePW
- Jennifer of Vino Travels Italy demonstrates Seeing the Potential of North Canterbury, NZ at Mt. Beautiful Winery
- David of Cooking Chat will be pairing Tomato Caprese Salad with Pesto and New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc
- Pinny of Chinese Food and Wine Pairings will be serving New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc and Pan-fried Chinese Potstickers
- Wendy of A Day in the Life on the Farm will be Discovering New Zealand Wines
- Sandra of Wine Thoughts will be taking A Tropical Staycation with Spy Valley E Block
- Cynthia and Pierre of Traveling Wine Profs will be sipping New Zealand Chardonnay with a view of… The Pyrenees #WinePW
- Rupal the Syrah Queen will be drinking New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc with Grilled Mediterranean Swordfish
- Nicole at Somms Table will be sharing Memories of New Zealand’s South Island with Waipapa Bay Wines.
- Lori of Exploring the Wine Glass, is thankful that Humans May Only Be 5%, But They Make Great Wine #WinePW