Presidents Donald Trump and Emmanuel Macron are meeting in Biarritz from August 24 to 26 for the G7 summit against a backdrop of trade tensions. While France has started to tax American digital giants via the new “GAFA tax” (Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon), the United States is raising the spectre of tariff barriers on French wine imports. This would not be a great loss for Donald Trump. He said in a tweet at the end of July that “American wine is better than French wine.”
Even though he bought a winery in Virginia before he arrived at the White House, the American president is not a great wine lover — he doesn’t drink wine — but is he right that American wine is better? The comparison irritates professionals. “It doesn’t really make sense to compare the two. It’s a hasty simplification,” says Pascaline Lepeltier, who was named Best Sommelier in France in 2018 and is a partner in the New York restaurant Racines. “You can’t compare a country that has hundreds of centuries of wine growing with a young country that has real potential. France has a wine-growing culture that has been rooted for centuries. It is a world leader that is a model for other countries, such as the United States.”
The same verdict is made by Eddy Le Garrec, owner of the Empire State of Wine in Manhattan, who reminds us that making broad comparisons makes no sense because wine is such a subjective experience. “Americans were raised on sugar. We cannot change this education. For them, bitterness and acidity are negative, which is not the case for Europeans. A Burgundy will often be too acidic for American palates,” explains the wine merchant, for whom no wine is “better or worse. They are complementary”.
One can also wonder what “French wines” and “American wines” mean, as the wine regions in both countries are so varied. According to Le Garrec, by “American wine” we mean mainly “Californian wines” — 89% of American production comes from the Golden State. These were brought to the forefront by the famous “Jugement de Paris” of 1976: during this blind tasting of Californian and French wines organized by a British seller, California wines obtained the best scores in the categories in competition (red wines, chardonnay).
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“Comparing American and French wines doesn’t mean anything, because they each have their own personality. In France, we have vineyards as far as Alsace and very great diversity. In the United States, even if Napa Valley is beginning to identify with Bordeaux, they are actually very different wines,” says Stephan Asseo, winemaker and founder of L’Aventure Winery in Paso Robles, California. “American wine is experiencing a strong increase in vineyards and know-how and this is only the beginning. There are now vineyards in 30 states in the United States, although California has the lion’s share.”
Opposing French and American wines has even less meaning in view of the exchanges that exist between the two countries in this field. “The United States feeds on France and vice versa. There is a great dynamic between producers of high quality wines. The French will study at UC Davis (renowned for its training in the wine industry) in California and the Americans come to France to learn techniques,” continues Pascaline Lepeltier.
Oregon, whose temperate climate is close to that of Burgundy, has become, in a few short years, the promised land of many producers from the French region, including Maison Joseph Drouin. For its Domaine Drouhin Oregon, it has found a slogan that reflects the mix of cultures: “French Soul, Oregon Soil.”
Marie Demeulenaere contributed to this reporting from Washington
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