It’s all about the terroir, said the amusing instructor as he began the hour-long discussion of French wines. No Chardonnay, he said shaking his head at the Californians in the crowd. No Shiraz, he told the Australians. Any Argentinians? He asked. There were none but he said anyway, No Malbec for you.
My wine education, thus far, had come from vintners in Napa and Sonoma. In fact, a wine-tasting course more than five years ago at Francis Ford Coppola‘s estate continues to inform my wine tasting. That day it was all about Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay, big fruity wines from the first whiff to the last swallow.
But at O Chateau, our instructor Richard Chane shook his head at all those varietals. With a great deal of humor and charm, he talked about the various regions of France —Champagne and the Burgundy — and the various attributes of wine, both young and aged. Everybody knows what kind of wine comes from Champagne but I don’t know if I realized Burgundy was known for its chardonnay and pinot noir.
It’s all about the appellation, a certification to guarantee the quality of the region’s wines.
The French taste wine the way I had learned but Richard used a few different terms which he explained quite well. I learned about tears, the drips of wine inside of a wine glass after you swirl it. Younger wines have fewer tears —or as our instructor said, there is “less summertime drama” in a younger wine. Body refers to alcohol and crisp, lively, refreshing usually mean a more acidic wine — it’s been picked earlier in the season. There’s more sugar in grapes picked at the end of the season.
We tasted three wines we will probably never find at home: a light Muscadet from the Loire Valley with a hint of fruitiness, an astringent and very dark Malbec from Cahors in the southwest of France and a crisp Rose made with cabernet sauvignon grapes.
The class was all in good fun and the group was friendly and good-natured. And when it was over, there was the wine bar upstairs for further exploration. There are wines on tap, a short menu of foods to pair with your glass of wine and knowledgeable people behind the bar.
“Gentlemen,” our instructor said as he invited us to taste our wine, “this is your moment of glory.”
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