I don’t know about you, but years ago my dream of living in France – other than in Paris, which was an entirely separate fantasy – had as one of its central features a view from the kitchen window of the neighbouring vineyard. The soundtrack would be Beethoven’s Pastoral, played possibly on an accordion, and the vista would extend all the way to the river, just beyond that copse of trees.  I would know the family well and, naturally, would help out trampling the grapes every October. 

And so we bought a cottage in Brittany

To be clear, I love Brittany, which is essentially the gallic version of Wales. The countryside, at its best, is sumptuous, the coasts, both north and south, are spectacular and we have made many good friends here. And I have, as you may know, begun to play pétanque

But there is not a vineyard in sight. According to the experts, climate change will turn France’s North West into the equivalent of Burgundy or the Rhone Valley within the next 50 years, possibly sooner, meaning that it will be perfect for the Pinot Noir, Gamay and Grenache grapes (with a hint of Syrah) that currently infuse some of my favourite wines. 

The problem is that I won’t be around to sample the first vintages. Looking ahead even ten years is hard enough at my age; fifty is an impossible dream. So I am stuck with cider apples and the regular foires aux vins at our local supermarket. 

Speaking of which … I just looked up the Waitrose wine list online and see that a bottle of Leroy Corton grand cru 2009 (Renardes Domaine) can be rushed to you from France for the merest €15,500 (£13,700)) a bottle. I’m assuming it is an exceptional Burgundy, but it would have to be. If it closes the deal for you, let me add that the shipping is free. 

More generally, Waitrose wines, like those of Sainsbury, Tesco and Asda, are priced at between £6.00 and £15.00, though I don’t doubt there are some cheapies and special offers. In New York, where my wife and I lived for many years, a bottle of plonk would set us back (then) at least $12.49, including tax. At the liqor store we used to frequent in Brooklyn Heights, the cheapest wine currently available is something called Jam Jar, a sweet Shiraz, on sale for $11.99 (plus tax) representing a “saving” of four dollars a pop on the everyday retail price. Most of the regular wines are more like twenty dollars a go.  Some would require a mortgage .

Here in France, using our local Intermarché as an example, a half-decent bottle of Côtes du Rhône starts at €3.80 (£3.35), but there is perfectly drinkable vin ordinaire available for as little as €2.99 – not much more than the cost of a bag of posh crisps. 

The six-packs we tend to construct during our shopping trips are typically made up of two bottles under four euros, two around six and a couple at more like eight or nine-ninety-nine – a superior Macon, say, or a Brouilly. As it happens, my wife has just come in the door from doing some shopping. She bought five bottles of red and one of white, including a Lalande Pomerol and a Bourgogne Aligoté that we will serve to our new neighbours tonight, for a total of €37.78 (€33.29).  

I should add that I am no wine buff. Here is how I evaluate a glass of red (or even the occasional white): terrible, okay, not bad, very good and excellent. If pressed, I would normally add, “fine” or even “Mmmm”. My favourite description of a workaday vintage, recalled from an old supermarket promotion, is “a good drinking wine”.  The point is, I like wine and enjoy it every day, but I don’t know enough to call myself any kind of expert, and prominent among my deciding factors when glancing up and down at the bottles on display is … price. 

What else can I tell you? Two things. The first is that it is very hard to get a decent bottle of wine here that is not made in France. The exceptions are bottom-end Chiantis, indeterminate Riojas and something from Morocco the name of which I have forgotten but is probably a Shiraz. There will often be two or three bottles of each of these tucked in at the end of a row, but nothing from America, north or south, and even less from Australia and New Zealand. 

The other thing to remark on is the expensive bottles to be found on the top shelves in even the smaller retail premises. Some of these cost as much as 90 euros, though the average is more like forty-nine. Who buys these? Birthdays only come once a year and the celebratory choice is more likely to be champagne, not Chateau Lafite. It’s not as if there are just two or three different offerings on display. There are perhaps fifteen or twenty – and central Brittany is officially one of the poorest parts of the country. 

Mind you (and don’t say I told you this), I have heard that some of the farmers round our way, who look like unmade beds, are actually quite rich. Legend has it they used to keep their money under the bed but that these days they invest heavily in property on the coast, or else buy expensive wines to lay down in their cellars. Is it true? Who knows? I must ask next time I’m in Brussels. All I can say for sure is that the top shelves in Intermarché are buckling. 

At the end of the day, or in this case the end of the season, I don’t get to trample the grapes and I don’t get invited in by old Gaston and his wife to sample the year’s vintage. Nor do I get to look out at the vine rows extending all the way to the river. But I do get to drink the stuff, and I’m grateful for that.  Yec’hed mat!  as we say in Breton: “Santé!” 

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