The Concours General Agricole
25th February – 5th March
The Concours de Vins Paris – probably the best wine competition in the World!
The Concours General Agricole is an agricultural competition that takes place in Paris every year in late winter in order to showcase the best food and drink products in France. Selection to this prestigious event carries a lot of influence both in France and around the world. The Wine competition is especially important as it is maybe unsurprisingly, the most popular category. It is true to say that what happens in Paris each year is watched with interest across the world of wine.
This year the competition runs from 25th February until the 5th March and is an eagerly anticipated event across France and especially in wine producing regions.
As most people know, the French did not invent wine. The first evidence of wine making actually dates back to the Neolithic period but there is a special relationship with wine in France that is more intense than in seen in any other country.
As with all food and drink, the French take their gastronomy seriously at all levels of society. And although there are of course some excellent wines produced around the world, often there will be a French person somewhere behind production or history.
In Australia for example it was French migrants who played a key role in the development of the wine industry which dates back to the 1800s and there is still a strong French influence on Australian wine making.
However nothing matches the diversity of wine production in France where every region offers the consumer something different. This means the Concours de Vins is arguably the best and most definitive wine competition in the world. So let’s take a look to find out what makes it so special.
Vineyard in Bordeaux
History of the Concours de Vins
The agricultural competition started in 1843 as a small competition in Poissy Paris. The general agricultural competition was created in 1870 to select and award the best regional French products and breeding animals. The competition is jointly owned by the Ministry of Food and Agriculture and CENECA the National Centre for Agricultural Exhibitions and Competitions.
Today the Agricultural competition still awards prizes for animal husbandry, cheese and all the other facets of agricultural life. However it is the wine competition that gets people excited and this is more relevant and fun to the general consumer. It is the wine competition that has the largest number of candidates and samples and competition is fiercely stiff.
How is the Concours of Wine organised?
There are thousands of wine producers in France. There are over 2900 different types of wine and most of these will be judged at the competition. Maybe because it is a very French event, the organisation of the competition is not easy to understand. It is steeped in history yet relevant to the modern world and given the scale of the task, this is a big event that probably could be simplified but comes with a lot of weird arcane rules in order to keep with tradition.
So as with any major sporting event or competition, there is a regional selection process before we get to the final.
The wine tasting and selection is a serious business. Both at regional and national level the competition is recognized for its impartiality, and the value of its results. Throughout its 150 year history if there have been any underhand dealings and bias we can find no record of any shenanigans!
Did you know that there are over 2900 different types of wine produced in France?
The major wine-producing areas of France
There are nine major wine regions in France. Each region is broken down by area so the wine judges need to taste a lot of wine.
The major wine regions are as follows;
Bordeaux – the largest wine producing area that includes many of the world’s most expensive wines
Bourgogne or Burgundy region produces some great red and white wines but not such a big a producer as |Bordeaux
Champagne sparking white wines with a high price tag
Val De Loire or the Loire Valley
The Rhone Valley (cotes de Rhone) famed for red wines such as Syrah and Grenache
Alsace – once part of Germany, Alsace wines are white and fragrant
Savoie and the Jura – highly prized wines from a small area bordering Switzerland
South-western France such as Languedoc and Aix en Provence. Wines from this area can vary from full blooded red wines to delicate Roses.
However there are other areas and sub categories to consider so this list is by no means definitive.
The competition awards prizes to each wine producing region in France. So there are a lot of wines to taste and evaluate. No wine producing region is overlooked. No grape variety or wine type is ignored.
For example there were 625 prizes called Laurels awarded to entrants in the Bordeaux region alone. The biggest category was Bordeaux with 210 prize winning wines.
St Emilion for example had 25 prize winners whereas the less well known area Saint Croix de Mont only had one.
The Palmares refer to the awards. Wine producers can win a bronze, silver or gold medal and these are displayed on each bottle of wine along with the winning year. This is fantastic advertising for winning wine producers. The general population of France is very wine savvy and once these award winning wines appear on the supermarket shelves displaying their Paris medal, they are quickly snapped up by the public.
Sometimes the wines are kept in order to improve and even ordinary people will often have a wine cellar where they will save bargains and prize winning wines for the future. People discuss wine without fear of being labelled pretentious. Many people like to show off their latest find, even if they discovered it in the local supermarket.
The Prix de Excellence
The prize for excellence is an additional award that was initiated in 2000. It awards the producers who have obtained the best results in their category of products or wines, during the last 3 years of the competition. These wine producers show they are consistent and high quality.
So who judges the wines?
The jurors have high technical expertise in wine so they can detect the characteristic aromas, and note the qualities and the typicities for the same wine category. They can be sommeliers, wine experts, producers, representatives of the wine growers union or well informed consumers.
The judges are independent and carry out their duties on a voluntary basis and in general half of them are wine professionals and the other half are consumers.
The tastings are blind. The judges cannot see the individual labels so evaluate each type of wine on its own merits.
Anyone can apply to be a wine judge. The organisation offers free training in sensory analysis and trains around 1000 consumer judges for each annual competition.
Also read: Nichelini Family Winery
How many medals are awarded each year?
Last year 3954 wine medals were awarded. This was made up from 1504 gold medals, 1425 silver medals and 629 bronze medals at the Paris competition.
You can check out the winning wines via the Concours de Agricole website. If you are visiting France yourself, never forget a trip to the supermarket. Here there are some remarkable bargains to be had especially if you time your visit to coincide with one of the wine fairs (foire de vins). These take place in spring and October and can be simply a display in a supermarket or a physical wine event in a wine growing area.
As a hint to successful wine buying in France, always check out the label and if it has a Paris medal, just buy it. You won’t be disappointed.