Italian wine: "Probably tastes like vinegar" (So what hope for Australian?)

A snippet of French attitudes towards wine: Australian wines are popular in Britain - but in what esteem are they held in France? The opportunity to consult a French waiter presented itself when dining at a restaurant in Nice when we popped over for the February half-term break.

It wasn't one of those jolly little brasseries that have that typical bistro atmosphere so unique to France because Esther wanted to visit an upmarket place to enjoy pretentious French cuisine at it's best. Being Nice, it had a strong Italian influence, and the waiter serving me the Italian wine I ordered (the only wine that I could afford) disdainfully remarked (in English) that it probably tastes like vinegar - 'Italian wine's not that good'.

So later in the meal I braced myself and asked his opinion of Australian wine. His reply was that he didn't know - he'd never tasted it - but he thought he knew someone who might have tried it before. (Yes thought he knew someone who might have tried it - very re-assuring). Thus although popular with the un-discerning English, it would seem Australian wine has barely made a dent in France. And furthermore, as Australian wine-growing has such a strong Italian heritage, the waiter's disdain for Italian wines wouldn't bode well for the popularity of Australian wine either. But before the end of the meal, the waiter returned, he'd consulted his 'friend' who'd tried Australian wine - apparently "he says it's quite good".

Tentatively I would conclude, the base Australian attitude to winning at everything works. Sure it's crass and vulgar - like Ricky Ponting's team of sore losers and even worse winners. But perhaps through a trophy culture and lots of wine-tastings, Australian wine might surpass it's "humble" Italian origins. Although of course, like cosmopolitan Britain's "food culture" it's not built on a solid foundation of long-standing traditions. Australia doesn't do long-standing traditions; unless you want to count its history of racism or the decrepit old Labor party.

In comparison, I don't think Italian wine-makers would be particularly bothered that a waiter in France doesn't rate their wine; winning trophies isn't the reason why Italians make wine. Likewise although the French are universally acknowledged as the masters of wine-making, they are so not because that's a stated goal of French wine-makers; rather they are so because they have a long infatuation with wine that dates as far back as Julius Caesar's observation that it was known for a Gaul to trade a slave for a single amphora of wine. The French will continue to produce and drink their own wine regardless of how it is perceived by the outside world.

In that case will the "winning" attitude last? Or will Australian wine-making success, built on the shaky foundation of a 1980s fad for 'haute cuisine', fall as meteorically as it has risen?

Only time will tell...

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