Thursday, March 19, 2009

A French President who doesn't drink

He's an odd figure, that Nicolas Sarkozy. Is there a historical precedent for this kind of président, one who doesn't drink, not even a glass of wine? He provides a stark contrast to Jacques Chirac, who during his time as Mayor of Paris had turned the cellars of the city hall into a kind of Fort Knox of fine wines. In October 2006, 4000 of these bottles valued at £400,000 were put up for auction to put back money into public funds.

Teetotaler Sarkozy, however, chose to attack alcohol, first in his portfolio as interior minister by bringing in tougher laws against drunk driving. But as president his tacit support for the ANPAA − the national association for the prevention of alcoholism and addiction − is not making anything easier for the wine industry, which employs 340,000 people in France. The French parliament are now debating "a proposed law that carries an article banning promotional sales of alcoholic beverages as a way of curtailing binge-drinking among youths." (Reuters)

In essence, what this could mean is a ban on promotional giveaways of alcohol, so free tastings of wine at cellars and shops would be prohibited. Legally, you would be required to purchase each sample. This is obviously a ridiculous prospect to wine enthusiasts and professionals alike, but it is now being debated in the French parliament.

In January 2008 a French court ordered Le Parisien to pay the ANPAA €5000 in damages for publishing an article entitled "The Triumph of Champagne", which the ANPAA contended was a form of advertising for alcohol, which they obviously do not like very much. So anything seems possible. If you had told me five years ago that it would no longer be possible to smoke in cafes and public places, I probably would have laughed.

A bigger question here is, what does Sarkozy really have in mind for France? Does this austere man really wish to replace the sumptuous culture of the bon-vivant with a kind of Calvinistic sense of moderation and responsibility? Ultimately, will the French accept this? As Ed Starren lamented in his excellent Dutch weblog Wijnerij, "Where have the luxurious drinking and eating habits of the Élysée palace gone, which in the time of 'Monsieur le Président' Georges Pompidou, Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, François Mitterrand and Jacques Chirac were a rule rather than an exception?"

Yet Sarkozy is odd. While on a state visit to the UK a year ago, he had the audacity to demand to see the Queen's wine list before a formal banquet, raising eyebrows in Buckingham palace. Since Sarkozy doesn't drink, one would have to assume the request was for his wife, Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, who apparently enjoys a good bottle. One hopes the Queen's wines met with her approval.

Strangely, up until about six months ago I was able to sell a wine that was a personal favorite of Jacques Chirac's, 'La Reine Blanche' from Jean Reverdy et Fils, a beautiful, bone dry Sancerre that cries out for crustaceans. It's said that when Chirac was president, thousands of bottles were reserved yearly for the French government. My importer no longer imports it. I know I can't blame that on Sarkozy, but somehow I would like to.

1 comment:

Alexis said...

Really kind of sad Sarkozy doesn't appreciate the good things in life. I heard he dislikes any kind of official dinner.
But I also thought that Chirac was more of a beer than a wine drinker. That might be the reason the wine cellar grew so big, nobody was drinking the bottles... ;=)
regards, alex