By Cathy Huyghe
Technically no, I did not have to come to France in order to attend a seminar about California Zinfandel.
Yet there it was — the invitation, that is, for the seminar and an afternoon of tasting wines and spirits from all across the US — and there I was, at the US Embassy on Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré in Paris yesterday afternoon, in order to partake.
There were plenty of connections between the event and WGBH, including the ambassador himself, Charles Rivkin, formerly CEO of The Jim Henson Company and a friend (and fan) of ‘GBH’s children’s programming. Several of the wines being poured are represented in the WGBH wine cellar and auction, including Kistler, Joseph Phelps, and Hahn Family Wines. And wines from the state of Massachusetts were originally slated to be included in the tasting; they withdrew, unfortunately, at the last minute, but states like Missouri and Colorado in addition to California and Washington all poured samples of their wines.
All of which were excellent reasons to spend an afternoon at the Embassy. But, aside from those reasons, my eyes and ears were especially attentive to the reception the wines would receive from the 600-plus attendees. American wines in France have traditionally been given a rather cool reception, despite the increasing percentage of US wine exports into France.
That cool reception was still very much in evidence at the tasting yesterday. “That tastes excellent,” I heard one guest say to another before adding, “for an American wine.” The cool reception was also in evidence at the Zinfandel tasting, when a member of the audience asked presenter and California winemaker Paul Dolan if it was “within the possibility of his imagination” to make a wine that’s less subtle than the high-alcohol wines we were tasting. I sat next to a restaurant consultant who is active in Paris, who told me that several Parisian sommeliers in the room weren’t even picking up their glasses to taste the wines in front of them.
Was it worth the effort, to bring more than 100 American wines to Paris where they received such a response? Perhaps, especially if you factor in the responses from less hostile guests who commended the effort to increase bonheur between the two countries.
But would the tasting and seminar have been as well attended were it not held at the US Embassy? Probably not. And that is the uphill battle that the US Foreign Agricultural Service will have — may always have — to fight.
Cathy Huyghe writes the WGBH Foodie blog. Read new WGBH Foodie posts every weekday, in which Cathy explores myriad ways and places to experience good food and wine.