French chef Raymond Blanc has launched an impassioned defence of French wine and accused its detractors of being ‘ignorant’ and ‘unfair’.
The chef patron of the two-Michelin-starred Oxfordshire restaurant and hotel Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons is ‘fed up’ of the ‘unfair attacks’ on his native country and is taking it upon himself to be an ambassador for the French wine industry.
‘France has been unfairly attacked – from left, right and centre,’ said Blanc. ‘But we’re still the number one exporter, the most prestigious producer and the best quality producer.
‘It’s time to defend ourselves and show the amazing creativity which exists today in the French vineyard.’
Blanc accused fellow chef Rick Stein of being ‘unfair’ and ‘harsh’ in his claim that you had to open ten bottles of French wine to find one good one.
‘His comments were unrepresentative of what’s available,’ said Blanc. ‘He was concentrating solely on the lower end of the market. There are so many fantastic little wines around France.’
Blanc is aiming to showcase such wine via a revamped wine list, with an emphasis on lesser known French appellations, and the expulsion of mainly New World, over-oaked, over-ripe blockbusters.
‘I’ve got so angry many times when I’m having a great meal, but the wine is completely overpowering the food,’ says Blanc. ‘Either it’s a buttery white, where the oak is very forward, or a big, alcoholic red.
‘We are looking instead for minerality, bags of fruit, tannin, balance, length and lots of nuanced complexity – identity which, more often than not, you find in terroir.’
Le Manoir’s new list will include ‘100 wines from lesser-known French Appellations’ and ‘100 great little wines from France and the rest of the world’, including Corsican wine, white Collioure, organic Côtes de Provence, Pic St-Loup and other Côteaux de Languedocs. The aim, according to Blanc, is to take consumers on a ‘voyage of discovery’.
‘I want to lead the romantic fight against the tsunami of globalisation’, added Blanc, before going on to accuse supermarkets of being ‘part of the problem’.
‘They have huge responsibility – 80% of wine is bought there – and their power is frightening. What are the criteria of choice for supermarkets buying wine? Volume, consistency of taste, big, broad, jammy flavours, lots of alcohol, and not too much tannin.
‘What chance does this give small producer from Italy, France or Spain? Absolutely zero.’
Blanc is hoping to bring some of the issues to prominence during a two-day wine festival at Le Manoir next month entitled ‘The Renaissance of the French Vineyard’. He will host a series of debates – led by Michael Broadbent and Hugh Johnson – tastings and dinners aimed at showcasing the diversity and excellence of French wine.
Written by Guy Woodward