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Wine Diversity In Italy and France

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Why is it that in France and Italy it is virtually impossible to find much non-French or non-Italian wine respectively; whether it be in restaurants, markets, or wine shops. While in other large wine producing countries like Spain and Germany a wide variety of wine from other countries is available.

Just always wondered,

Thanks!

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  1. Maybe because they produce great wine? And hence do not need anything else!
    Maybe because they are very "protectionist" and prevent other wines from being economically available?
    Maybe because they are myopic and do not understand that there is actually good wine from other parts of the world?
    Maybe you are just looking in the wrong place? BINGO?
    Being from a place that is serviced by the largest purchaser of wine in the world (LCBO) I have come to enjoy a very wide range of wines (that is not a comment on the quality of the available wines - today I tried a $12 Latvian Sparker than set a new benchmark for funky!). My at home experience initialy caused me much dismay when I travelled abroad. My travels to France, Spain, Italy & California have always left me amazed at the narrow selection (read "local") wines i found "available", but I have never been disappointed in the quality of the wines on offer -> which I declare is a key point here.
    I claim the following: The larger the selection of local high quality wines, the harder it is to find non local wines. (Makes sense?)
    As in any large city, if you suss out the specialty shops, you will find that you can obtain almost anything.

    1 Reply
    1. re: dancingTimmy

      I think you have to chalk some of this phenomenon up to national and regional pride. Perhaps the French and Italians are resisting globalization and want to preserve what is unique and traditional about their respective cultures? After all, if France became like Ontario (i.e. totally multicultural), you wouldn't need to travel to France anymore, except maybe to look at pretty buildings.

      I do appreciate living in the "new world," however, where our choices are greater than in many European countries.

    2. One reason is that tariffs and trasportation costs on imported wine are quite high. In France, with the exception of some multi-starred restaurants and large grocery chains, it's rare to find wines that are not from the immediate region or nearby. Also, the local wines are well suited to the local food (go figure!).

      Germany produces very little red wine, so most of the red (especially inexpensive Aussie and Chilean stuff) you find is imported.

      2 Replies
      1. re: Vinny Barbaresco

        Vinny Barbaresco! First I must say I love your chowhound name! Having traveled to France and Italy many times for work and pleasure, I find when I go there it is an opportunity to drink as much local wine as possible.And as you mentioned, it is very expensive to import wine. Also when I travel to these great wine countries I only want to drink their wines which you cant get in the states, or might not be able to afford in the states. So when I go to France and Italy I will continue to explore wines that never make it to the states, along with wines I cant afford in the states. Purchasing Talenti, Chateau Rayas, Tignanello, Paternoster, Raphet, Dauvissant(sp), whenever I get a chance is part of the fun of traveling.

        1. re: Vinny Barbaresco

          Tarrifs on wine within the EU? I don't think so.

        2. 1. I think the idea may have to do with a sense of regional purity...meaning, you rarely find ingredients in a dish, much less a wine, that are from outside the region in which they're being served. Italy definitely has this sense of regional purity. France has such a strong sense of national identity that few "outsider" foods/wines are allowed.

          2. Then, also, there is the sense of why "import" something when what is available right in front of you is so good? Doesn't make sense practically or economically.

          3. And last, the food of a region and the wine of a region have had centuries to adapt to one another and are often the best pairings for each other.

          1. Ok, so I get Germany having to import red wine because they can't make any of their own (or very little). But Spain has very diverse wine as well. What's up with that?

            5 Replies
            1. re: Chinon00

              Spain didn't used to make as wide a variety of good styles of wine as it does today.

              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                Robert, I believe Chinon00 is referring to wines from other countries being available in Spain rather than the variety of wine produced WITHIN Spain.

                The reason might be Spain's location as a separate almost isolated penisula, close to France (just over the Pyrennes), Portugal and Northern Africa, and its vast coastlines and many ports along the Mediterranean and Atlantic. Within Spain itself there is great tribal diversity, from the south to the tribally separate Basque and Galicia in the north. The country has had its share of cultural invaders, visitors and trade merchants from different lands -- perhaps the diversity of wine is due to all these things.

                1. re: maria lorraine

                  Right. I'm saying that since until recently the Spanish didn't make the wide variety of styles they have today (e.g. virtually no good whites), they got in the habit of drinking imported wines.

                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                    Spain has had the most acres of vines planted for many years, even though Italy beats them in production. Franco kept much of the diversity out until he died (1975?) I think the explosion since then is Spanish culture trying to catch up, it sure is different now then when I was there in 1985. True that the wine scene has made drastic changes even since late 80's and early 90's when Barbier (of Clos Mogador, Laurona, Figueres fame) and others made huge investments. BTW Did you know the most widely planted white in the world is in Spain (Airen)? ORIGINAL QUESTION: French buying anyone elses wine? that is like Americans buying Mexican wine (to them), there have been riots there bombing trucks of cheap imports. Remember also that wine is a normal part of their daily lives in both Italy and France, normal households can not afford to drink more expensive imports on a daily basis. Many tourists from the rest of Europe used to go to southern Spain also because it was cheap, and demanded what was familiar. When in Rome..does anyone really not want to try a Barbera or Barbaresco when in Piemonte? Chateauneuf-du-pape in Rhone? etc?

                    1. re: WillK

                      The protests and attacks on trucks are by growers and winemakers in the French plonk industry, not by consumers.

            2. I dunno, I was just in Italy and most wine bars had French as well as Italian wines (fewer, but they were there)

              3 Replies
              1. re: kenito799

                Maybe Italy had protective tariffs on wine prior before the EU eliminated them, and imported wine has become more accessible and popular since then.

                1. re: kenito799

                  Way before the EU, in the days of the lira, the enoteca (wine bars) always had wines from other parts of the world. Restaurants, much less so.

                  1. re: maria lorraine

                    I lived in Rome in the mid-80s and, except for Champagne, imports were rare. A few of the biggest wine shops had a handful of other imports and the selection was usually pretty bad, e.g. Paul Masson. It was a shock to go to Berlin and see lots of great California wines in the KaDeWe.

                2. I'm sorry, but you are absolutely wrong about Spain. You will not find a wide variety of wines from other countries here in any normal sort of everyday setting. In fact, in my experience, I'd say you will find significantly fewer than in France and Italy. I'm curious... where did you get the idea that this wasn't the case?

                  6 Replies
                  1. re: butterfly

                    I found that for instance in markets you could easily get French Champagne, German Riesling, etc, (not so true in Italy for example) along with wine from Chile in some restos. This just wasn't the case for me in Italy and France (not that I was looking for those wines just the difference I always noticed).

                    1. re: Chinon00

                      Which markets?? Where? I live in Spain (Madrid) and that's just not the case! Sure the stuff is there if you look for it in specialty or internationally-oriented stores (which are few and far between in most places), but I'm nearly certain that Spain imports less wine from other countries than does either France or Italy. I almost never see foreign wine at wine bars here. Rarely in restaurants (those with an international sort of focus or cache). With the falling wine consumption in these countries, and availability of better local stuff in the case of Spain, the demand just isn't there.

                      Germany is a completely different story. 17% of Spanish exports went there in 2006 (just behind the UK and ahead of the US and France).

                      1. re: butterfly

                        Listen all I can tell you is that I'm a person who is really curious about wine whereever and whenever I travel. I've been to Spain 3 times and Italy and France many times and the impression left with me was that wines from around the world were much more available in Spain than in Italy or France. Does that mean that Spain "sucks" and that Italy and France are the superior; of course not. It was only an observation. I haven't been to every wine bar, wine shop or market in Rome or Paris or Madrid (but I'm trying).

                        1. re: Chinon00

                          A few visits to a country can often give mistaken impressions...

                          And I certainly never meant to imply that Spanish wine sucked, only that it is a major wine-producing country with very diverse climates, elevations, grapes, regional preferences, etc. The production here far outstrips the consumption, so--as with France and Italy--there is a very low level of importation (really significantly lower--see below). Germany on the other hand IS is one of the biggest importers of wine in the world. Here are the statistics:

                          Spain
                          Production: 33.3 million hl (2005)
                          Total imports: $154.2 million, 472.4 thousand hl (2005)
                          Total exports: $1.95 billion, 14.6 million hl (2005)

                          Italy
                          Production: 49 million hl (2005)
                          Total imports: $340.7 million, 1.8 million hl (2005)
                          Total exports: $3.9 billion, 16.1 million hl (2005)

                          France
                          Production: 54.7 million hectoliters (2005)
                          Total imports: $659.2 million, 5.9 million hl (2005)
                          Total exports: $7.02 billion, 14.07 million hl (2005)

                          Germany
                          Production: 9.1 million hl (2005)
                          Total imports: $2.2 billion, 13.4 million hl (2005)
                          Total exports: $713.9 million, 3 million hl (2005)

                          1. re: butterfly

                            These numbers are interesting, I had always "heard" that Italy has the largest production, I guess that is wrong. Does the source you used have numbers for USA, Australia, Chile, Argentina, NZ, Portugal? And per capita consumption? I have also "heard" that Portugal leads in percapita consumption of wine, at least for Europe.

                            1. re: kenito799

                              These statistics are from the Global Trade Atlas. I don't have Portugal or NZ handy, but here are the others:

                              Australia
                              Production: 12.9 million hl (2005)
                              Total imports: $180.2 million, 347.4 thousand hl (2005)
                              Total exports: $2.1 billion, 6.9 million hl (2005)

                              Chile
                              Production: 8.05 million hl (2005)
                              Total imports: $4 million, 61.7 thousand hl (2005)
                              Total exports: $884.5 million, 4.2 million hl (2005)

                              Argentina
                              Production: 15.2 million hl (2005)
                              Total imports: $2.3 million, 4.7 thousand hl (2005)
                              Total exports: $306.8 million, 2.2 million hl (2005)

                              I could be wrong, but I think Luxembourg usually tops out the per capita wine consumption charts... Per capita wine consumption has been dropping in many European wine-producing countries, mainly because of the move away from table wine (in larger quantities) and toward higher quality D.O. wines (in smaller quantities--and beer and hard stuff, too).