Monthly Archives: April 2016

How do the French drink?

Anglo-Saxons have a bit of a chip on our shoulder, compared to the French, when it comes to our drinking patterns.

Having lived in France for over 30 years and observed they way the French approach booze, I was convinced that the French drank less and in a more civilised way than the Brits. This was not based on sound market research but on experience and observation. Having organised many events for a mixed British/French crowd over the years, it has been my experience that French caterers always increase their allowance of alcohol (and price) when told that Brits would make up the majority of the guest list, expecting per head consumption to outstrip their normal calculations.

Brits also ‘enjoy’ a reputation as binge drinkers, especially in younger people. The definition of binge drinking changes from year to year and is no longer associated with falling down dead drunk in the streets. Officially binge drinking is now considered as 5 or more drinks for men, and 4 or more drinks for women in about 2 hours.

Then there is the scary image that Anglo-Saxons have of French women; so many recent books are making us paranoid about how wonderful French women are; they don’t get fat, they’re children don’t throw food, are effortlessly chic, etc. etc. On top of which they appear not to drink to excess – although some may argue this is not necessarily an enviable quality. I’m not the only one who thinks this. Twice, driving home in rural France, we have been breathalysed; fortunately neither time was my husband was over the limit – although the gendarme kindly suggested that perhaps Madame should drive home. He didn’t even think about breathalysing me – those clever French women definitely have a sober image.

I’ve attended many a French dinner party where the women seem to just dip their lips into the wine without really imbibing, perhaps it’s because French men make sure their partners are the designated drivers or perhaps they are all closet drinkers – more research needed to be done!

So I started looking at these figures to try and address some of these preconceptions about French drinking habits, especially those of French women for my book ‘The Drinking Woman’s Diet’.

Fortunately in preparation for the up coming Vinexpo in Hong Kong next month, the wine fair’s organisers, in conjunction with market research group The IWSR, released their latest market research on the future of world wine consumption. Unsurprisingly France and Italy continue lead the world, drinking about 45l of wine per head every year, almost double of the UK figures of 25 litres per head with the US is way behind at about 12 litres.

The World Health Organisation tells a different story. The figures are a little out of date (2010) and may have a different bias as they are under the name ‘Substance abuse’ but they make for interesting reading. Expressed in litres of equivalent pure alcohol (beer, spirits & wine combined) we’re not that far from each other but the order remains the same: France at 12.2 litres per capita, UK 11.6 litres and USA 9.2 litres.

What is interesting is what we drink. In France over 50% of that alcohol is consumed as wine compared to 33.8% in the UK and only 17.3% in the USA, where beer accounts for 50% of the alcohol consumption. Spirits are also highest in the USA. The importance of wine drinking in France is not surprising – they make the stuff after all. Italy has an even higher percentage with over 65% of total alcohol consumed as wine.

And binge drinking? The WHO report refers to ‘heavy episodic drinking’ and claims that 29.8% of the French binge drink compared to 27% of the Brits and 16.2% of the population of the US. So the French beat us again.

And the image of the wayward youth of Britain, clogging up the high streets of English city centres on a Saturday night? It would appear that since that 2010 report today’s youth are changing their ways. The UK’s Office of National Statistics shows that binge drinking is down from 29% in 2005 to 18% per cent in 2013 and that over a quarter of 16 to 24-year-olds are now teetotal, an increase of over 40% since 2006. These figures clearly don’t agree with the vision of the youth of Britain falling down drunk in Britain’s city centres of a weekend.

Bordeaux Fete le Vin Millennials make up the majority of visitors

Bordeaux Fete le Vin – Millennials make up the majority of visitors

The Vinexpo report also predicts Millennials will be reducing their wine consumption over the next few years: drinking less but better and a taking a similar interest in craft beers and spirits. From a marketing point of view, quality, origin and a story seem to appeal to this lucrative market segment.

But what about the ladies? According to the WHO report, French women consume just over 7 litres pa whereas British women consume a mere 6.9 litres. Well, that puts paid to my theory that French woman don’t drink as much as English women.

However all is not lost, back to the WHO’s ‘heavy episodic drinking’ it would appear that 14.4% of French women binge drink as opposed to 16.8% of British women – is this where British women live up to our reputation as party animals?

Interestingly the WHO report includes a margin for under reporting, as they wisely suspect people underestimate (lie?) about how much they drink. Despite this bias, it is important for companies to see who is drinking their products and where their markets are going. It’s certainly interesting to see where the figures contradict or confirm the cultural stereotypes we hold about drinking.

If the French don’t drink less they do drink differently, as the majority of their alcohol consumption is wine, it is mainly consumed at meal times. You will rarely meet (French) friends for drinks in France, not that they’re anti social but they drink with food, they’ll meet you for dinner or lunch. Yes they are the champions of the ‘aperitif’ but very much as a pre meal experience.

Bordeaux fans in NYC - perhaps anglo saxons are a drinking role model after all?

Bordeaux fans in NYC – perhaps anglo saxon women  are a drinking role model after all?

All in all I’m delighted to learn that we Brits can finally shake off, perhaps with a Gallic shrug, the image of being the boozers of Europe. We can sip our wine over dinner with our continental cousins. Or is it all about appearances? Perhaps getting a little loud and legless is deemed more social acceptable in the UK and we ladies don’t mind calling a taxi to drive us, and our partners, home?





The Best of Chateau Carbonnieux

My very first visit to Bordeaux, in the early eighties, was to the Graves, more precisely to Pessac Léognan to the North of the appellation.

I was visiting from Paris for research for my thesis on Bordeaux wine marketing. The owner of Chateau Carbonnieux, Antony Perrin, along with Jean-Jacques de Bethmann of Chateau Olivier and Bernard Thomassin of Chateau de France each took the time to explain in detail, to a foreign student, the workings of the system of the Bordeaux market place ‘La Place de Bordeaux’.

Sadly, none of these gentlemen are still with us today but their wines are and their legacy continues with their children continuing to make great wines, with a nod to the past and excitement about the future.

Under the stewardship of Antony’s sons, Philibert and Eric, Chateau Carbonnieux has just won the coveted Best of Bordeaux Wine Tourism award for Architecture and Gardens.

Chateau Carobonnieux: a family home and an historic site.

Chateau Carobonnieux: an historical monument and a  family home.

It was here, in the 17th century, that we saw the emergence of the new French Claret, Bordeaux wine as we know it today, and it was here in 1987 that the appellation Pessac Léognan was created in the historical heart of the Northern region of the Graves appellation.
Château Carbonnieux is one of the oldest of these estates, founded in the 13th century by Benedictine monks. In 1776, the white wines of the “Benedictines de Carbonnieux” were considered to be the top white wine of Bordeaux (with neighbouring Haut Brion being the top red). The bottle became instantly recognisable by its scallop shell motive, the symbol of pilgrims on their way to Saint Jacques de Compostella.
Despite it’s religious background, the white wine made it into the Muslim world when a French member of the Ottomans harem became his Sultana and imported the white wine as «the mineral water of Carbonnieux» into Constantinople, flaunting the religious laws thanks to it’s crystal clear appearance. This reputation reached the ears of Thomas Jefferson, who visited the estate on one of his tasting trips to Bordeaux.

The chateau is both an historical monument and a family home. The Perrin family purchased Carbonnieux in a sorry state after the tragic frost of 1956, already having already established their reputation as wine makers in Algeria. They continue to honour this rich history but are resolutely turned to the future.

The white wine cellar at Chateau Carbonnieux

The white wine cellar at Chateau Carbonnieux

Anthony has restored both the Château and the reputation of its wines. Château Carbonnieux became a Cru Class for both the red and the white in the 1953 classification of the Graves and this was reconfirmed in 1959, an honour only bestowed on six properties in Pessac Leognan.

Today, the Carbonnieux estate covers 170 hectares of land farmed in an environment-friendly “sustainable agriculture”, banning the use of chemicals and respecting biodiversity.

Close to the city of Bordeaux, perched on top of one of the gravel outcrops of Léognan, Carbonnieux welcomes visitors throughout the year to share the history, discover the vineyards and the beautifully restored cellars, which include a unique collection of French historical cars, another family passion.

Vintage cars and vintage wines

Vintage cars and vintage wines

The fortified chateau with its four towers is built around a central courtyard where receptions rooms welcome groups for visits and tastings that show the marriage of tradition and technology that maintains Chateau Carbonnieux wines at the top of their game. The Perrins do not work in splendid isolation, they also work closely with their neighbours such as Chateau Haut Bailly with whom they create ‘Bicolore’ Red and White open days and picnics in the grounds. This willingness to share their heritage was confirmed when they were awarded the Best Of Wine Tourism award in 2015 as regional winner in the Architecture and Landscape Category. Another feather in their cap.

The original version of this post was published on the Great Wine Capitals Blog