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The best time to buy French wine

Shopping the annual wine fair in France

I’ll let you in on a little-known secret.  One that anyone who lives in France and loves wine already knows.  Every fall, at the end of September through early October, supermarkets throughout France hold their wine fairs, the Foire aux Vins.  Large sections of the supermarkets are rearranged to make room for boxes and boxes of wine from every region in France.  Discounts are big, and you can find many wines that are in short supply the rest of the year.  I visited several stores during the wine fair, brought a few bottles home, and even learned a bit about French wines along the way.

I prefer reds, and I headed to the Bordeaux, Burgundy, and Loire Valley shelves to see what kind of deals I could find.  Since Bordeaux is the largest wine growing region in France, with about 700 million bottle produced per year, there was a lot to choose from at my price point.  Believe it or not, I found several good bottles for under €5 each.  The Burgundy section was a different story altogether, with prices at least 2-3 times higher, for an entry-level bottle.  The Burgundy region is small – just one fifth the size of Bordeaux, and many of the finest wines in the world can be found here.  But, for a wine lover on a budget, they were a no-go.  Interestingly, the Loire Valley region is about the same size as Burgundy, yet I found several nice bottles of Cab Franc in my price range.

I learned a few things at my first Foire aux Vins.  Before you shop, read the flyers that the supermarkets put out weeks in advance of the sales.  They will list the wines that will be on offer, along with prices, and a handy chart with information on best vintages, food pairing, and tips like how long to hold the wine before opening.  For a newbie like me, I found that the gold label from Gilbert et Gaillard was helpful in steering me to some good bottles.  Also, if you want to stock up, buy a single bottle of wine, see if you like it, then go back right away to the shop and buy a case or two, because the inventory turns over quickly.  There are case discounts, and even some two-for-one deals during the sales.

So, if you love French wine, and you’re planning a visit to France, try to time it around the Foire aux Vins.  Bring a big suitcase with you, and stock up for next to nothing.  You’ll be drinking French wine as you linger over memories of your trip, for many months to come.

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