The culture of wine in France is inextricably linked to the culture of food and that of joie de vivre, or enjoying one’s life with family and friends. One of the ways that I love bringing this culture home to Boston is with a wine tasting!
In traveling to Paris and other parts of France, I have come to understand that French people maintain an inherent cultural knowledge and appreciation for the connection between the wine they drink at their table and both the terroir and the winemaker from which and from whom the wine came. It’s the same way with their food. They are very conscious of where their food has come from, how it was raised, when it was harvested, and how this will affect quality, flavor, and freshness, which they cherish and consider of utmost importance.
The French grow up with this appreciation, which one could argue comes from the history of agrarian culture in France, of being so connected to the land and knowing that the qualité and unique flavors of food, of grapes, of wine, all come from the land, the native climate, and the way that people interact with and cultivate the crops.
The notion of terroir is one that I learned while attending a wine tasting seminar in Paris in the Quartier Latin with my husband. My constant pursuit of living a life full of French chic and sophistication of course includes diving into the world of wine and learning all about how it is made, what affects taste, how to analyze it properly, and how to pair it with food. My husband and I love to cook, and we love wine, so we decided to take a wine tasting class together in Paris.
After a brief bit of research on attending a wine tasting class that was led in English, I decided upon the aptly named Wine Tasting in Paris and booked a seminar for us. This turned out to be an excellent decision and one of the most fun and informative experiences we have had in Paris.
The whole concept of Wine Tasting in Paris is brilliant, because it brings the complex and sometimes overwhelming world of French wine to tourists in a way that is informative but also fun and light at the same time. While it takes time to learn the intricacies of the French wine culture, from the appellations, to the crus, to the analysis of l’oeil, le nez et la bouche of the wine, we definitely left the class with a greater global understanding of wine and lot less apprehension about describing wine correctly.
Our wine expert, Thierry, who is also the creator of Wine Tasting in Paris, talked to us all about the wine regions of France and talked about how he comes from Bourgogne, or Burgundy, and grew up around the vines and learning about wine. He explained the different ways that we can analyze wine, through its look, its nose, and its taste. I learned about families of aromas, including floral, red fruit, dried fruit, foods such as caramel and licorice, as well as spicy, woody, mineral, and even animal, which I never even knew existed!
It was so fun to smell and taste a wine and actually take the time to listen to my senses and experience those moments of: “Ah! It’s vanilla that I am tasting!” or “I’m sensing some spice here, like cinnamon.” It’s amazing what you can uncover with just your senses, without being any sort of expert on wine.
Upon returning home to Boston, I decided that the fun and educational wine tasting we experienced in Paris, as well as the wonderful insight we received into French wine culture, should not have to stay in Paris. So I started throwing together little Paris-inspired wine tasting gatherings of my own.
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Mind you, I am always learning about wine and am in now way an expert, but the point of these types of tastings are to have fun, first of all, and to learn as you go. I love doing this as a pre-dinner cocktail hour, whether your group is going out to dinner or staying in. It also make for an incredibly fun girls’ night! It’s great to have books like Karen MacNeil’s The Wine Bible on hand as you do this, just for reference.
Sometimes people will pick a certain grape, like the Chardonnay, and try Chardonnays from various places around the world. Other times, you can design your tasting by vintage, as in different wines from the same year, or by region, as in Burgundy or Bordeaux. I honestly started with a variety, only following the rule of moving from the lightest whites, including champagne, to the deepest reds. Find the best wines that you can near to you, or you can order online. Sometimes the French wines that are in your local store are not necessarily the pride of France, so don’t be shy about picking a fantastic California wine, for example.
Pick about four to six wines, and make sure you have the right glasses for each if you can. Always add a water glass as well. It’s best to have a white surface to compare the color of the wine to, so I like to put my glasses on a white table or countertop. Sometimes space can get cramped with all those glasses, so I’ll just set up cute little tasting stations for all of my friends where I can find enough space.
You just pour a small amount of wine in the glass, and then, you start your tasting! Below are some general steps I have remembered and brought home from France:
Step one: The eye (L’oeil, en français)
Here is where you look at the color of the wine. If it’s white, is it a white gold, a green gold, a pale gold, or more of an amber? If red, is it purplish, brick red, or more of a mahogany? For rosés, is the wine purplish pink, raspberry pink, orangey, salmon, or apricot? Is the wine cloudy or clear? What is the viscosity of the wine? The legs when you swirl the wine and let it drip back down into the glass can give you an idea of the alcohol content of the wine. There are a multitude of descriptions to go with here. Just talk (or even write down) about what you see!
Step two: The nose (Le nez, en français)
What are your first impressions of the smell of the wine? Is it pleasant and agreeable or unpleasant? Does it have a strong intensity or does it have a medium, low, or closed nose? What about the quality? Is the wine elegant, subtle, and fine, or does it have an undistinguished or rough nose? How complex is the nose?
Swirl the wine in the glass. The smells can become more intense and more complex as the wine gains more contact with the air. Very small changes in temperature can also bring out different smells!
Step three: The mouth (La bouche, en français)
Take a small sip of the wine and even draw some air into your lips as you do so (I believe this aerates the wine. I know that it works to bring out its flavors, but I honestly do not remember exactly why). You’re supposed to spit the wine out after a few seconds, but let’s be honest, my friends and family and I never do this. Maybe if I one day reach the pinnacle of French wine sophistication, I will do this, but I’m just not there yet.
What is the first impression of the wine? Is is straightforward, or lively? What is the balance of flavors between acid, sweet, bitter, and salty? What about the tannins in red wine? Are they silky, elegant, or rough, harsh, and dry? How is the body of the wine? Is it full-bodied, ample, dense, or light and thin? Finally, the finish! Is the finish of the wine pleasant and aromatic or bitter? Share your thoughts with your friends and family or with your date!
I love to throw together a few plates of fresh or dried fruit, cheese, some salted nuts, and even chocolat to pair with the wine. Crackers or classic bread are great as well to help cleanse the palate in between tastings. Plus, no guests should have wine without food! For now, I just follow my instincts on what I think would taste best, but stay tuned for more posts in the future when I delve into the complex world of proper wine and food pairings. To start, I have been creating assortments than my guests can choose as they go through the tasting.
What to wear
Sleeveless sweater: White House Black Market Jeans: The Limited
Purse: Kate Spade Earrings: Oscar de la Renta
Ballet flats: Repetto Paris
Shop the look: The Instagram Shop
I love to wear an outfit that blends with the occasion, and for a classic wine tasting, I like to wear something classic and elegant, but casual as well. This type of gathering seems more educational and less like a cocktail party, so I like to wear a ballet flat like the red patent leather Repettos in the photo. If you’re going out after the tasting, bring a cute bag like this classic black Kate Spade. The French often dress in a simple, elegant way, so I’ll opt for a white sweater like this one by White House Black Market and a skinny jean, like this black skinny jean from The Limited.
The French also infuse art and creativity into their outfits, so sometimes with this inspiration in mind, I’ll throw in a brilliant blue like these Oscar de la Renta earrings and a bold red lipstick. My favorite is a red matte lipstick from Mac. I always make sure to do a good job on the lip liner first, as this defines the bold lip clearly.
C’est à vous! It’s your turn!
Have you ever attending a wine tasting class or hosted your own tasting party at home? How do you style your outfits to go along with these events? Do you love French wines? Let us know in the comments below! We’d love to hear from you!
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