Being whisked away to Paris for Valentines Day is probably on a million different bucket lists and to be honest, it wasn’t on mine. It did, however, make my list of awesome adventures I never thought I would have when my boyfriend booked us a getaway to Paris for a surprise Valentine’s weekend. Everything about this weekend was a surprise, so the night before Valentines Day as we walked up to an old cobblestone street in the Latin Quarter I begged to know what we were doing. I peaked in every shop window, curious. We turned a sharp corner and he opened a door into a warm and cozy tasting room that smelled of fresh bread and wine. I knew I was in for a treat! I was about to experience the wonderful night of A Wine Tasting in Paris!
I have always considered myself a lover of wine. I enjoy it, but my knowledge of wine is very basic. Since I moved to Germany every time I walk into a wine shop I wander around aimlessly. Where is the Malbec, the Cab Sav? Complicated French names are scrawled across the bottles. My boyfriend, also a lover of wine, chose the perfect tasting in Paris for us. After our educational and boozy night with Thierry, the owner of A Wine Tasting in Paris, I now know all the French regions and the types of wine that come from each.
I’m going to leave a lot of the knowledge taught by Thierry to Thierry himself and encourage everyone in Paris to attend this tasting, but I’ll cover some basics of what we learned, as well as an overview of how to taste wine and the wines we tasted.
There are quite a few wine tastings in Paris one can do, but what really made our experience unique was that this tasting was custom created by Thierry himself for wine lovers and beginners, like me. Born in the Bourgogne region he has been in the industry for a long time and eventually decided to branch out to share his passion with the world. The hands-on tasting lasts for two hours and I enjoyed every second of it. Concentrated aromas are passed around to help us hone in on smells specific to wine before we put our noses and mouths to test on real wine. Accompanying the tasting was a well constructed and informative visual screen presentation which made things simple and easy to understand. It really feels like you’re getting first class treatment by one of the best in the business.
The tasting room is small and intimate, allowing room for 12 people. The tasting is targeted for English speakers. His main cliental therefore, hail from the US and UK, but tonight we had couples from Switzerland, California, France, Portugal, Ganesh and myself and a sake producer from Japan. We were all comfortably seated on a custom wood bar in a U shape, which allowed for us to get to know each other. I enjoyed that as the night progressed the group got more and more chatty, as this wasn’t just a wine tasting, this was full on wine drinking experience. Be prepared to drink 6 full glasses of wine. 1 Champagne, 2 white and 3 red.
Why is French Wine so Unique?
France is renowned as one of the world leaders in Wine. So, what better location to taste wine than Paris? France is divided into 11 main wine growing regions. Each region produces a unique flavor of grape, due to the vast size of France and the difference in the soil and temperatures. If you were to divide France into quarters, down the middle and across the middle, you get four main types of weather conditions. Hot & Dry, Hot & Wet, Cold & Dry and Cold & Wet. If you were to grow a pinot noir grape in all four regions the taste of that grape would be vastly different. Wine in France can even vary from plot to plot. This is why French wine is labeled by region and not grape. Wine from France is so unique that there is an entire entity in plac to regulate the wine. The AOC has set up strict guidelines for producing French wine, since the regions are so particular. Farmers can stray from AOC guidelines, if they choose, and not put the label on their wine, but very few choose that option. It’s often said that the label is what makes French wine!
Here is an example of a wine we purchased from Thierry’s shop that shows just how complicated labels can be. Each word is carefully chosen and means something specific about the wine and region, therefore the taste of the wine. Thankfully, Thierry can help demystify French labels.
Map showing the different wine regions in France.
Valentine’s Weekend Wine List (Wines do Change)
Champagne- Grande Reserve from Vve Fourny & Fils Blend of different vintages. 80% Chardonnay 20% Pinot Noir. Loire Valley White- Sancerre from Domaine Bizet 2014 100% Sauvignon Blanc. Bourgogne White- Macon, La Roche Vineuse, Merlin 2014 100% Chardonnay Bourgogne Red- Santenay Bouchard Ainé 2009 100% Pinot Noir Bourdeaux Red- Chateau Charmail 2010 bourgeois Cote du Rhone Red- Rasteau, ORTAS prestige 2011 50% Grenache 35% Syrah 15% Mourvedre
The first beverage up was Champagne, as it’s very unique from most wines. Now, I love Champagne. I always have a bottle on me since life is a celebration! So, I enjoyed learning about Champagne from the French region. My favorite fact about Champagne was that it was created by accident and was once regarded as the result of careless wine-making. During cold years in France the fermentation process of wine actually stopped in the winter. When the warmer months came around the fermentation process started again, creating excess carbonation. It took a while for Champagne to become the icon of luxury that it has today. Champagne is a luxury item for a reason now as the process is rather complicated and involves careful rotation of the bottles, often by hand, and a freezing of the neck to remove sediment. Thierry also had some great information on how Champagne can be dry or sweet, the types of grapes, Chardonnay, Pinot noir and Pinot meunier, that go into the process and the deciding factor between vintage and non.
As we learned about Champagne we shared two whole bottles between the 11 of us, because according to Thierry you can’t let Champagne go to waste, so you must finish the bottle. Hey, I wasn’t complaining!
After Champagne we moved on to the wine tasting with our whites and reds.
How to Taste Wine
I swirl wine to look cool, I thought that’s how you did it, but there is an art to tasting the wine that Thierry taught us and the key is to not swirl your wine, yet. Smell: This is done in two phases. First, before you swirl to get the initial aroma. Second, after you swirl. Swirling causes a chemical reaction to take place and you get an entirely new aroma. The wine we smelled went from mineral to citrus or earthy to meaty with the simple swirl. Look: Also done in two stages. First tilt your glass toward light, without swirling, to assess the color. I thought there was only red and white, but a helpful chart provided showed that there were dozens of shades. This determines different flavors, such as body and the age of your wine. Second swirl the glass and look for the legs. If they’re slow to drip down you have a thick wine with a higher amount of tannins. Taste: This one is the easy part. Simply taste the wine and assess where on your tongue it lands and how long the flavor lingers in your mouth. This determines acidity and body.
We got to put the tasting process we learned to test as we continued down the list of wines. When doing a proper wine tasting you always start with the lightest and cleanest and move to the darkest and heaviest. So we started with Loire Valley white. The Loire Valley is mostly known for the red wines, but we tasted one of their unique whites. The white we tasted was on the dryer side and had aromas of mineral and citrus. The Bourgogne White was my favorite white, I even purchased a bottle. This wine was well balanced and contained a smooth butter taste from meloactic fermentation. The three reds we tasted boasted prime examples of the three factors that go into the pallet of red wine, tannins, acidity and bitterness. Most wines tend to find a balance between the three, but we tried a wine that was stronger in each area and learned what was involved to gain these characteristics. My favorite was the red from Bordeaux, which had strong tannins giving it a firmer structure with dark berry flavors.
We were given time between each wine to enjoy and savor the flavor. A Wine Tasting in Paris includes a bread basket, but also offers cheese and charcuterie plate at an additional cost. While we were enjoying our wine Thierry continued his presentation about each wine. He discussed pairings and characteristics of each. He also went into much more detail about the regions and the AOC guidelines. This is when he handed out bottles of concentrated aroma. We all had to guess the different smells. They ranged from jalapeño to grapefruit to meat. That’s right, flesh is a wine aroma!
This experience is a fantastic way to spend an evening in Paris for wine lovers. Ideal for couples or groups of friends Thierry was very accommodating and knowledgable and can handle any request or group. He lingered at the end for us to purchase wine and chat. All wines were very reasonably priced under 25 Euro. I was happy with the selection of wine and the knowledge shared by our gracious host. This comes highly recommended.
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