Exposing our Biases ~ French versus American

Last week here at The Kitten, we tasted value priced reds and picked a trio of wines from our local wine store (The Wine Shop). Afterwards, our friend and fellow wine blogger The Drunken Cyclist took us to task for not selecting a French wine amongst them. He’s an admitted “franco-snob,” as he calls himself. (By the way, he does a great job profiling wines, especially European ones, with a particular passion for Champagne and sense of humor we appreciate.) 

When I saw his note, I knew I should make a full confession. In fact, I did have a French wine amongst the bottles I bought as contenders for the three to be tasted. As regular readers know, we typically buy at least few more bottles than needed for a specific occasion when we go to a wine store. “Never hurts to stock up.” “Hey, there’s a sale!” or “We might never find this again.” We have a million and one reasons, but the truth is we just love wine. I guess you could call us wine hoarders, but we much prefer the more sophisticated title: “wine collectors.”

Having bought 5 bottles, and wanting to narrow the playing field for the tasting, I made a conscious decision not to include the French wine (a Cotes-du-Rhone, to be specific) because, well, this is hard to admit publicly . . . but I didn’t think it would have enough big flavor and fruit to satisfy us. (Please be compassionate with us, all you French wine connoisseurs.) What can we say? We started our wine journey with California wines and it has given us a certain bias toward full flavored, fruit-forward wines. And while we do trust the wine advice at our local wine shop, we’ve had a few thinner Cotes-du-Rhones in the past and our biases have become a bit entrenched.

But what are friends for, if not to help you see something you are missing? So, the very day that we read The Drunken Cyclist’s note, we opened the French bottle– Les Trois Couronnes 2010 Cotes-du-Rhone. The deep dark color immediately reassured us. We here hopeful! The first sip was all it took– we were hooked and happily surprised. Delicious, full-flavored, with ripe raspberries, a little blackberry and even a hint of blueberry. Just enough spice on the back end to provide interest without overwhelming the fruit. Made of 80% Grenache and 20% Syrah, we were impressed that the wine was made from sustainably grown grapes. And at $9.99, it was bargain!

The debate about French versus American and who makes the better wine is a long-standing one. Now legendary, the Judgement of Paris in 1976 shook the wine world. In a blind tasting by French judges, California Chardonnay and Cabernet beat their French counterparts and showed for the first time that American wines could stand their ground.

Another great story of toppling this bias comes from Sally Jordan, co-founder of Jordan Winery. In a video interview, she says that when they first started out, she and her husband Tom did not believe that California could produce wine of the same calibre as French wineries until a sommelier they trusted convinced them to try a California Cab. When he offered to buy the bottle back if they didn’t like it, they said yes. They were surprised and impressed. They loved it. In fact, it was the “Aha” moment that led them to start the Jordan Winery in California instead of France. What if they had said no?!

So, whether it’s a bias for French versus American, or vice versa, or even red versus white or any other notion, for that matter, that has become firmly fixed in your mind, we’d like to suggest that it may be worthwhile to question that judgement, just for the fun of it. And that’s why we raise our glasses this week to tossing biases aside and sipping with an open mind. After all, how can you expect to be pleasantly surprised if you aren’t willing to experiment, even with the things you think you already know to be true?

6 replies »

  1. Tres bien, Madame! Your life lesson gleaned from wine tasting was the piece de resistance! I will make it my yoga intention this week to toss away entrenched biases.

  2. Aw Kitten, you guys were already my heroes (heroines), and then you go and do this. Ask my wife: my ego needs no help! Now my turn for full disclosure: I have more Californian Pinot (my passion) than Burgundy! I certainly agree that the generally bigger, bolder California “style” is appealing, but for me, what the French do better is produce wines as accompaniments for food. In general, their approach is that the wine should enhance the food (and vice versa). For me, some of my beloved CA pinots are guilty of being overly assertive, bold, and seemingly focused on dominance (kind of the American way, I guess). I love them, nonetheless.

  3. TDC, we thought you might enjoy being a full-fledged part of our post this week. Glad you liked it. Thanks for your admission about the California Pinot. We appreciate your honesty. You make some great points about the character of French wine and it’s food friendliness. Very true. We have mostly CA Pinot in our cellar, but do love the Oregon Pinot, as well, because the Oregon winemakers seem to split the difference between the robust CA style Pinots and French Burgundy. Wine is just endless fun, isn’t it?

  4. Great post! I’m glad I stumbled upon your blog! My husband for years drank almost exclusively California, and we are now discovering there are many delicious and affordable French wines, of all varietals. Look forward to reading more of your blog!

  5. Thank you! We’re so glad you found us, too. And so glad to know about your blog, as well. We are delighted to know you liked the post and that you’ve had a similar “conversion” experience relative to the affordable French wines on the market. Fun. We look forward to trading wine stories with you! Cheers!


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