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Why French Wines?

Some of you may be asking the question: ‘Why did Cru start off with exclusively French wines?’ After all the Trinidad and Tobago market is largely a market for New World varietals—Argentine Malbec, Chilean Cabernet, Australian Shiraz, etc, etc. French wine seems almost a throwback to the past, before all these New World varietals came to dominate the local market. What’s more, they are harder to understand and without specific wine knowledge it seems like the buyer is taking a chance. Will I like it? What does it taste like? How do I know what I’m getting?

There are good reasons for the popularity of these New World varietals—they are inexpensive (meaning a good selection between $80-150) and they are easy to understand (what’s to figure out with Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot?) Wine buying made easy. Many customers I interface with tell me “I like Merlot” or “I like Pinot Noir.” French wines by comparison are something of a mystery. You can seldom tell what grape is in the bottle with French wine. It’s usually a place name. It’s like we’re supposed to know the grape type. Well, not really. The French are not too caught up with single varietals as the new world. They have been making wine before many new world countries were even discovered.

This is especially true with Bordeaux wines, typically a mixture of 4 grape types—Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot, in vastly varying proportions. Pomerol for example is almost exclusively Merlot while Pauillac is heavy on the Cabernet Sauvignon. And what about Graves, Margaux, St. Emilion, St. Estephe and all those other Bordeaux names? Yes, it can be quite a mystery and the French producers have been roundly criticised for assuming that consumers either have this knowledge or are willing to purchase on blind trust. No wonder the New World Varietals are so popular! It gets even more confusing when you start talking about regions like the Loire and the Rhône Valley. Who the hell buys that stuff any more?

France is Still the Benchmark

So why then did Cru go for French wines to start off its business? Are we mad or just pompous? Who would be so crazy to go against the grain of clear consumer preference? There are several reasons.

Having travelled to many parts of the wine world and meeting hundreds of winemakers, we have come to realise that France is still the reference point by which most, if not all, wines are judged and compared. Where do the Barolo makers go to learn about producing wine from the finicky Nebbiolo grape? To Burgundy where they have been producing wines from the even more finicky Pinot Noir for centuries and where vineyard and cellar techniques have been perfected over centuries.

When top Napa Valley wineries (known for their exceptional Cabernet Sauvignon) produce a ‘meritage’ (a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot) what do they compare it to? To a Bordeaux.

When Chilean wineries receive the highest praise the reference comparison is usually French Bordeaux or Burgundy. The Australians’ development of Shiraz is an attempt to reproduce the Côte-Rôties and Hermitages of the Northern Rhône and their more recent GSM blends are Southern Rhône combinations of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre of which Côte du Rhône and Châteaneuf-du-Pape are made. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

These comments are in no way intended to denigrate any of the new world wines. Indeed I find them excellent and they usually offer excellent value (with the exception of Napa Valley which I find ridiculously expensive). In fact I have drunk more non-French wine than I have drunk French wine over the years. There was a time when I drank little or no French wine at all. I was busy exploring all the new world had to offer. After a time however the lure of French wine returned. The problem was that the offerings on the local market, apart from Bordeaux, were few and far between and worse yet most of them were overpriced and did not offer a quality/price relationship that was attractive. But as Hugh Johnson says “Nobody argues with the primacy of France as the country that set the international standards by which wine is judged.”

Wines for the Wine Lover

In contemplating our entry into the local wine market the initial temptation was to follow the competition and begin with the wines of Chile, Argentina and Australia, as these were the most popular wines on the market. Had we done that we would have simply become yet another supplier of wines that were already widely available. To the wine lover looking to expand their selection we would be of little relevance or interest.

We decided instead to take the bold step of sourcing fine French wines that could compete on a price basis with the new world offerings of the other importers and offer wine lovers authentic alternatives. In this regard we noted that Burgundy and the Rhône Valley were particularly underrepresented in the local supply chain. So we did extensive research on both regions and then visited in person to find the makers we respected and who we felt would offer good value-for-money propositions.

We are very confident in the wines we have sourced. The public reaction so far has exceeded our expectations. What we did not originally contemplate is the fact that all the wines we have sourced are consistently well-made. Our decision to transport them and store them with utmost care has also paid off. Most customers tell us that, having tasted properly-transported and stored wines, they cannot go back to buying wines that have been exposed to excessive and prolonged heat and which have been thus damaged to a greater or lesser degree.

Of course we do not intend to restrict our selection to only French wines. As we grow we will add wines from all regions and countries. We will ensure however that every wine we import will be carefully selected and meticulously transported so as to guarantee that our customers enjoy the real thing.

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