We Italians often define the French as our “cousins from beyond the Alps”, literally the cousins who live beyond the Alps. This expression contains all the awareness of many roots in common. In fact, we don’t always know each other that well. As for gastronomy, stereotypes and misunderstandings abound. In the field of wine, the truth is that Italian winemakers don’t know French consumers very well. I will try to question commonplaces with a market analysis: I want to know more about the French consumption of Italian wine.
Where do the French buy wine?
First of all in organized distribution, on any type of surface; from hypermarkets to proximity stores associated with a distribution brand. We will start from the Off-Trade channel to find out how much the French actually love Italian wines. To interpret some trends, it should also be remembered that over seven million French people are aware of having Italian roots.
The best-selling Italian wine in France is Lambrusco, in all its denominations, mainly in its sweet form. Our sparkling wine from Emilia, drunk cooled in an ice bucket, appeals to modern French cosmopolitan society. The other Italian bottles present in every supermarket are those of Chianti, Nero d’Avola and Cannonau. Almost always there are also a couple of labels from Piemonte region: Barbera (in its various denominations) and Moscato d’Asti. Among the latest arrivals on the French shelves, Prosecco; already a protagonist of sales.
The French have always loved aperitif, both at home and when consumed away from home.
The tradition of real handcrafted vermouths is experiencing a new spring in the many Parisian cocktail bars and speakeasies. All the artisan producers of Vermouth di Torino Igp are well represented there.
The French also buy Italian wines in the most traditional wine bars, comptoirs and in the gourmet paradise, the fine épicerie shops. In all these situations it is the owner who accompanies the most demanding customers to discover new wines and regional vines.
To test our stereotypes, thus confronting us with the real attitude of winemakers, restaurateurs and final consumers, we went to visit two Italian wine specialists in France.
Beautiful discoveries and unexpected comments
We met Igor Stamboulian, owner of COFI, based in the Rhône-Alpes department. Edouard, Igor’s father, 48 years ago created this comptoir to import Italian food products, thinking first of all of selling to the families of Italian immigrants who lived in Grenoble. The company now owns several outlets and distributes, mainly in catering, from Chambéry to Lyon and Grenoble. Edouard’s motto was: “directly from the production areas”. Even today, the link with suppliers is based on the visit of Igor and his staff to the Italian agro-food companies represented.
Let’s let Mr. Stamboulian tell us about the French consumption of Italian wines. “The most imported Italian wines from our company are Lambrusco, Chianti and a Sicilian red Igt wine. Customers with good purchasing skills and good taste choose French wines from Burgundy or a fine Italian wine: Barolo, Amarone or Chianti Classico Riserva. It’s a question of status symbol ”. An unexpected comment: “The children and grandchildren of Italian families show a certain pride of belonging. They are proud to be able to choose the best products: from olive oil to pasta, from appetizers to wines. However, it happens that they are reluctant to try new tastes. They are conservative. Thus, among those who know your infinite heritage of vines and appellations well, there are more French than children of Italian families! “
Finally, we ask Igor if he perceives new trends in the French consumption of Italian wines. “In recent years Nero d’Avola has been selling a lot; the red wines of Sicily are generally very successful. They are very fruity, good, very well priced. I also feel a general interest in Abruzzo wines, in particular for Cerasuolo. We French drink a lot of national rosé wines; so we like both the color and the long and persistent fruity flavor of your Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo. “
The other meeting took place with Davide Dalmasso, originally from Cuneo, who 25 years ago founded LA CAMBUSE company in Golf Juan. Davide selects gastronomic specialties from artisans and wineries from all Italian regions. Distribution takes place both in restaurants (high-end and bistros), in delicatessens and fine épicerie shops throughout the Provence-Côte d’Azur region.
Mr. Dalmasso confirms: “In the French consumption of Italian wines, the great classics resist: Valpolicella, Lambrusco, Chianti and Nero d’Avola. Barbera is also known and appreciated ”. We want some more information on the consumption of Italian wine in catering: “if a restaurant has a large selection of Italian wines, I’m sorry to say this, but that’s not an Italian restaurant. It is the medium-high level French bistros that successfully offer Italian wines from native grapes. For many French consumers in restaurants, the passion for wine goes beyond their own national borders”.
We also ask Davide about the new trends. “A few years ago, it was the Parisian restaurants that generated the first interest in wines from organic cultivation, unfiltered and without added sulphites. The bo-bo class (the so-called bohemian bourgeois) made it a flag; the category of “natural wines” was born. These still continue to be a growing trend. In general, there is a lot of interest in Italian wines that express the features of a territory. When my sellers and I manage to tell a wine, talking about the producer and the territory, in general, we conclude the order. “
Italian winemakers: don’t forget our “French cousins”
The preconceptions we had about the French consumption of Italian wines are definitely worth revising. We have verified in the field that Italian wines are considered of excellent quality and offered at a winning price. Our “French cousins” recognize all the value that some of our denominations deserve. Furthermore, the extraordinary variety of Italian wines from indigenous grapes and small denominations does not cause confusion, on the contrary it invites the most experienced French consumers to explore new frontiers of taste.
Speaking of borders: while those outside Europe are still closed due to the pandemic, visits between “cousins” (Italy – France) are allowed! It was the French who created the word gourmet, to indicate the fine connoisseur of food and wine. Modern gourmets (or épicurien) love to travel and dedicate several weekends to their passion. Many have observed, especially in regions with intense food and wine tourism, such as Piemonte, Toscana and Sicilia, an intensification of visits from French “cousins”.
For our winemakers, selling Italian wine to the French is no longer a chimera.
30th September 2020,