All the stuff you never knew you needed to know about life in rural France.....and all the stuff the books and magazines won't tell you.

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

A burger and a glass of wine...

Swiss Burger with Pickled Red Onions and Frisee.Image by millhouseloves via Flickr
The National Front - right wing party - is accusing President Sarkozy of helping to bring about the 'islamisation' of France...yet another bit of ugly fall out from the debate about national identity.
What has he done? Forced Carla to wear the burqua? Worn it himself? Circumcised himself? Nothing so spectacular...just something the National Front think is more insidious. Islamisation by hamburger.

It has discovered that the fast food chain 'Quick' is serving only halal meat in eight urban branches, where there is a high incidence of muslim customers, including its' branch in Roubaix. The maire of Roubaix  - not National Front -says he doesn't mind them serving halal products, but to serve only halal products is discriminatory. The National Front say a lot more than the maire of Roubaix.

'Quick' changed hands not that long ago. It used to belong to a friend of Sarkozy, one Monsieur Frere.
The National Front say, however that when  the company was put up for sale, it was valued at five hundred and fifty million euros and a generous buyer paid eight hundred million euros.

Who was this generous buyer?
None other than a subsidiary of the state finance organisation the 'Caisse d'Epargnes et Consignations'.
Thus Sarkozy, as head of state, is leading an 'islamisation' policy. In the view of the National Front.

Not content with this, the party also complain that by nature of  'Quick's policy, the state is levying an 'islamic tax'...the obligatory fees paid for halal certification of meat to the appropriate muslim bodies.

I never thought that fast food could be so interesting.

In any case, no one is accusing 'Quick' of adulteration, whereas in the world of French wine that nasty old habit has reared its' head again.

Gallo, the Californian based wine firm, bought what it thought was wine made from the pinot noir variety from firms in the south of France, It has turned out to be just the local plonk which adopted a higher class name to attract a higher class price. Those concerned, vignerons, brokers, wine merchants and others, trousered between six and seven million euros between them....O.K., small beer beside what was trousered by M. Frere, but then they're not friends of the President of France.

There have been wine scandals for years...Algerian wine propping up wine from dubious years in the Rhone Valley, wine from the south fortifying the proud names of Bordeaux when conditions were unfavourable.
Not just for home consumption...this stuff was exported.
I can remember when proper labelling controls were introduced in the U.K., 'Nuits St. George'  disappeared overnight. I think it was O.K. to sell it as what it actually was, blended plonk, but not as as 'Nuits St. George'.
Mark you, a Loire Valley firm has just been taken to court by New Zealand producers for selling its' sauvignon blanc as 'Kiwi Cuvee' on the attempting to cash in on the reputation for quality of New Zealand wines....remember the fuss about trying to sell anything other than wine from Champagne as champagne?

It's not just on the grand scale, either.
About three years ago, a local firm was fined for getting the desired 'oak barrel' flavour into its' red wine by dumping oak chips in the steel vat.
Andre, retired worker in a local winery, was not impressed. This had been going on for years, once local vignerons made contact with foreign buyers who didn't want to pay top dollar for a wine from Bordeaux when one from the Loire at half the price would do as well, with a little tweaking.
He remembered that his firm had a contract with a well known U.K. wine merchant for red wine in which blackcurrant twigs had to be steeped, to acquire the 'berry' scent desired by the customer as a sign of quality.
I told him that Australian wine had to have a label listing everything that went into it. He shook his head, pityingly.
Never happen here,' he said.  'And you really don't want to know.'

The old business of shipping tankers of wine round the country still goes on, despite all the checks that are said to be in place.

There was a vogue a few years ago for celebrities to buy vineyards, where they could pose in open necked shirts among the barrels, and, let us not forget, cash in a bit by selling their produce to admiring fans.
A friend is a great fan of one such celebrity, and nagged her husband to take her to see his vineyard, a pretty-pretty operation deep in the countryside.
They returned with a box of six bottles - the smallest unit of sale, it appeared - which, given the apellation concerned, had cost an arm and a leg.
The bottles were left to settle, and before they left again for the U.K., they invited friends round for a meal to sample the nectar.

You must have been in that situation. The wine was dreadful. What do you say?
Luckily, the husband is a man of quick decision. He rose from the table and cleared the open bottles.
'Rinse out your glasses....I'll get something decent.'

Intrigued, I asked Andre, the man with the answers in the local wine world.
'Well, just look at the amount he sells. No way can all that be produced here. The guy running it for him is good...his proper wine can win medals...but for selling to mugs like your mates, any old thing will do. He buys in from all over.'

Not that medals are all they are cracked up to be, according to Andre.
In his view, you could trust anything winning at Brussels or at Macon, but nowhere else. You get medals for being better than the others, not for being outstanding, at most of the fairs.
Further, vignerons out to make a name for themselves make special vats for going round the shows and you won't necessarily find the same stuff when you go to buy.

Listen to Andre and the whole edifice of French wine and its' mystique crumbles before you.
I should take him for a burger in Roubaix.
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