France's new stimulus: Cocktail Hour

Food and beverages served at a French Cocktail Hour party.

TEXT OF STORY

Kai Ryssdal: Like every other country that's caught up in the global recession, France is trying to boost its economy. It's got the usual infrastructure projects and jobs programs. But France being France, there's food and wine involved, too. Call it, call it the "The Cocktail Party Stimulus Plan" if you like. Sally Herships reports.


SALLY HERSHIPS: Belinda Chang is sommelier at The Modern, a pricey French restaurant in New York. Every night she chooses the right wine to go with entrees like Monkfish, Squab and Foie Gras. Tomorrow night she's throwing a cocktail party in her own home. But this time, the French government will be picking the wine and picking up the tab.

BELINDA CHANG: Drink more, vive la France.

That's the message that Chang will deliver to her guests. So will hosts across the country. It's all part of French Cocktail Hour, a $2 million effort by the French government -- 15,000 guests at private parties around the U.S will be plied with French liquor and hors d'oeuvres. Marie Noelle Guerin is with Sopexa, the marketing firm behind the parties.

MARIE NOELLE GUERIN: We were tending to get a reputation of being kind of elitist, too sophisticated, too expensive, too complicated.

Guerin says the hope is the intimate events will make French cuisine more popular as well as demystify it. While wine sales in the U.S. are going up, sales of French bottles have plateaued. So even though the French Government has been hosting the "Cocktail Hour," for six years this is the first time parties will be held in private homes.

GUERIN: It's about sharing a good moment together; it's the French atmosphere.

To create that atmosphere hosts have been given decorations, a corkscrew and a CD by singer turned French first lady, Carla Bruni. And then there are the drinks. Beers, liqueurs, and wines including Lucien Albretch Pinot Gris Reserve Romanus. No wonder the French think we're mystified. There's also plenty of French cheese with names I won't even try to pronounce. Again sommelier Belinda Chang.

CHANG: I think it's going to be really fun to see how my friends respond to having really cool aperitifs and cocktails served. Perhaps now is not the time for a really expensive bottle of vintage champagne.

Champagne? There's always next year for that.

In New York, I'm Sally Herships for Marketplace.

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