You can’t even imagine what I’m like in the wine section. In Paris, the shelves are lined with pretty, shockingly cheap bottles of vin. I stumble between reds from Bordeaux, sweet whites from Alsace, and row upon row of cerise coloured rosés from Provence.
There is an overwhelming selection of cheap wines to choose from. My schoolgirl French does not serve me well in decoding their sexy, enticing labels. I lunge at the looming wall of indistinguishable wines and pick a bottle based on its price-bracket and whether or not the label features a château. On the way home, I wonder if my wine will double as a paint-thinner.
There are a few tricks I’ve learned since arriving here to avoid choosing wine that only a termite could love. I start with the general rule of thumb that a wine under €3 is likely to be crap; in the €4–10 range you could very well do just fine, and from €20 up, you are drinking a rarefied wine of which I have little experience.
Since the €4-10 range is the most abundant (and its marketing seemingly directed directly at novices such as myself), here are five tips to help you become an intrepid supermarket wine shopper in next to no time:
1. The terms château and clos can connote any wine brand, vintner or estate, and do not actually mean that your wine was made in a fancy castle or closed vineyard. It is my sad duty to inform you that the link between the clip-art château and your enjoyment of the wine is not necessarily related.
2. A terroir relates to the taste personality of a wine, derived from its specific location and history, not to the vineyard’s small, yappy dog (this is not as obvious as it may seem when you’re shopping in a foreign supermarket and have a talent for taking things too literally).
3. Vin de Pamplemousse is a table wine that is flavoured with citrus and typically served ice cold in an elegant aperitif glass after a heavy meal. It’s a fortified grapefruit juice, really, and it’s fun to drink but funner still if you didn’t buy it because you thought it was a rosé.
4. Cask wine is incredibly affordable, but just because it’s French doesn’t mean it won’t give you a hangover. The litre-sized plastic jugs at the supermarkets are not to be trusted.
5. Wine can only be labelled champagne if is made in the champagne region of northeastern France. Grand Cru and Premier Cru wines develop their bubbles by undergoing a fermentation process twice: once in barrels and again in bottles. This is the ‘real’ champagne that people speak of, and as synonymous with Paris as pastry whatnots.
So there you have it. A rookie’s guide to incomprehensible supermarket wine selections. Santé!