For a long time, it was accused of causing headaches. Today, propelled by the success of Chardonnay, the flagship grape of Burgundy and widely spread in Languedoc, white wine is favored by the majority of wine consumers. Let's delve into this revolution.
Some series are no exception, and American shows even less so: TV soaps reflect trends as much as they help to reinforce them. There's Bree Van de Camp in Desperate Housewives, for whom any excuse is good enough to toast to chardonnay - pronounced, of course, with an exclamatory emphasis on the last syllables -, Siobhan Roy, one of the heiresses to Succession, who combines conflict resolution with the pleasures of drinking, or Tanya McQuoid, in The White Lotus, a lonely woman who dissipates her boredom by declining chardonnay to its effervescent champenoise version. Is white wine feminine? According to the results of the So Wine barometer, the latest edition of which revealed last April that chardonnay was the favorite grape variety of the French, the golden hues of white wine are more appealing to women, who, from sauvignon to riesling, are still more likely than their male counterparts to set their sights on dry whites. While the success of white wine owes a great deal to women, it should also be pointed out that the sweetness of sweet and syrupy wines, which is little appreciated by consumers, explains the univocal plebiscite that only concerns dry wines, and confirms the digestibility of light, fruity wines.
The call of digestible, fruity wines
"Our customers are fed up with red wine". At Les Flaconneurs, there's no question of waffling; it's quicker to tell it like it is. An emblematic cellar in the IXᵉ arrondissement, this local business welcomes a diverse clientele, made up of regulars and tourists passing through, a veritable laboratory for a sociology of consumer taste. "There's a real demand for wines that are both lighter and easier. Red wine still suffers from its label, and remains associated with the great wines of Bordeaux and Burgundy, products prized by connoisseurs, but also impressive and not very accessible to the general public". While the decline in red wine consumption is the result of a general reduction in alcohol consumption, it is also the cause of a real craze for white wine, driven by the celebrity of Chardonnay, the favorite grape variety of the French, and one of the most widespread in the world. "What we need to read behind the disaffection with red wine is this aspiration to consumption freed from tasting codes. We enjoy a glass of wine as we would a beer, to meet up, relax and refresh ourselves. In the collective imagination, white wine is both festive and relaxed". In contrast to the solemnity of these traditional meals, which have marked the destiny of the well-informed and left behind those who definitively associated the red nectar with the throes of protocol, the assertion of "white" in the collective imagination is both festive and relaxed.
New drinking occasions
Unsurprisingly, yellow-gold wine is most popular as an aperitif and in the evening. A quarter of those surveyed drink it before a meal, twice as many as those who opt for red at the same time. The result is more or less the same for night-time consumption. It has to be said that the freshness associated with wine drunk chilled is more appealing to partygoers eager to quench their thirst, who are less inclined to put up with the less digestible weight of a fuller-bodied wine. For Sylvain Dadé, head of the survey produced by SoWine, the success of white wine follows in the wake of the triumph of beer, which has become France's favorite alcohol: "These trends are driven by the new generation, and should become even more pronounced as they define tomorrow's tastes. People drink a glass of wine, like a demi, to relax and quench their thirst". Should we welcome this modern appropriation of a traditional product, or worry about the desacralization of wine tasting? It's not really a question at all, as the two are perfectly compatible. As proof, many connoisseurs will tell you that their favorite wine is not red, but white. And behind the neophytes who are driving the growth of the white wine market, there are also enlightened wine lovers, who apply the art of tasting to all colors.
Beyond Chardonnay, the excellence of white terroirs
From Chablis to Macônais, Burgundy has more than one white wine to offer. Of course, there's the Meursault from the Côte des Beaune and the Gevrey-Chambertin from the Côte des Nuits: ambassadors for these buttery Chardonnays, both fat and acidic, the product of a limestone terroir and ageing on lees. However, just as you can't reduce red wine to Merlot, there are many other grape varieties that produce great white wines. More southerly and, above all, more accessible, Rhône enthusiasts won't be mistaken. Alongside the greatest Syrahs, the finesse of Clairette or Roussanne exalts the excellence of the Rhone terroir, from Vacqueyras to Châteauneuf. Owned by Jean-Michel Cazes Vineyards, Domaine des Sénéchaux is a model of its kind: that of the great white wines of the Rhône Valley. A blend of clairette, roussanne, grenache blanc and bourboulenc, the domaine's white wines, aged in barrels and vats, have nothing to envy the buttery balance of more northerly wines. The 2018 vintage, which combines the minerality typical of the appellation's sandy-clay terroir with the roundness characteristic of great white wines, bears witness to the fact that, while the consecration of white wine by the French is primarily driven by Chardonnay and a public of neophytes, connoisseurs eager for more original discoveries are also driving a trend that is likely to be much more than just a wine trend.