Intimidating and daunting were the words that came to mind every time I thought about doing a wine tasting class in Paris. I love wine, Bordeaux to be exact. I know which wines will make me ill after a sip and I can tell the instant the cork is pulled out if the bottle is bad by taking in a quick whiff of the glass. However, I am confused by the talk of different flavors in the wine. It all sounds like bull to me when some snooty sommelier (even the word is pretentious) asks if I can detect a hint of licorice or peonies in such and such a bottle of wine. Once in Sonoma we stopped in at winery and there was a card that suggested one of the wines had a hint of mango. Mangos are in the wine? I didn’t want to sound like an idiot and ask if they were, but all these years I have wanted to ask that dumb question without being made fun of.
Life is short (the theme of our trip) so it’s time to risk looking like an idiot to get the answer to the mango question. Now fearless, I booked a Wine and Cheese Tasting in Paris at the cellars of Ô Chateau which came recommended by fellow travel blogger Julie Gilley. Started in 2004 by a young and crazy (their words, not mine) sommelier named Olivier Magny, Ô Chateau is a clever wine tasting operation located on the right bank within walking distance to Notre Dame. Its claim to fame is that their sommeliers are young, fun and drink too much. Humm…guess it will be easy to ask the mango question after all.
Lionel (pronounced Li-Oh-Nell) was our hilarious, knowledgeable, personable, baby-faced sommelier who didn’t look old enough to drive let alone drink. After introductions were made around the table and helpful cheat sheets were in hand, we went straight to tasting.
Sparkling: Champagne: Montmarthe, Brut, Premier Cru made with Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes sold for 21 Euros. I noted that Lionel said that champagne is for before the meal. The bubbles wake up your palette. I loved this tongue and cheek comment from Lionel; he said, “If you mix champagne with orange juice in France, you can go to jail.” If you have a champagne cocktail in Paris then it’s most likely made with Crémet which is NOT champagne. Loved it and bought a bottle to bring home!
White: Sancerre: Domaine de la Garenne 2009 made with Sauvingnon Blanc grapes sold for 18 Euros. My notes say it had a citrus flavor with passion fruit and a hint of green apple. Uh haaaa! Now was the time to ask the question – what the heck is up with those flavors? Several people around the table said they didn’t know what it meant either so whew…this idiot had company. Minerals in the soil have certain chemical compounds that are found in other things grown in the soil. This is why certain wines from certain areas tend to have similar “tastes” as it were to other produce grown in the country. You are not actually tasting those items, just the same compounds that go into those flowers, nuts or fruits thus giving the illusion that they are in the wine. Maybe I don’t have his explanation exactly right, but I think you can catch the drift. Way too sweet for my palette, but loved trying it.
White: Burgundy from Cote Chalonnaise: Domaine Venot 2007 made with Chardonnay grapes sold for 17 Euros. A more dry wine than the Sancerre with an oaky taste. Lionel says it’s a more subtle and elegant interpretation of the Chardonnay grape – “Take that California!”
Red: South West from Fronton: Château Coutinel 2005 made with Négrette Cabernet and Sauvignon Syrah grapes sold for 19 Euros. The notes say this wine is full of berry flavors with a hint of vanilla. I also tasted vanilla slightly, but enjoyed it very much.
Red: Bordeaux from Haut Médoc: Château Lanessan 2003 made with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot grapes sold for 25 Euros. Of course I naturally liked the most expensive wine. It’s from a vintage year – 2003 when the heat wave came to France and made the grapes superior. I purchased a bottle to bring back and it was outstanding! Bordeaux, how I laugh when I say the word…read this story and you will understand: http://wp.me/pLv7o-og
What we learned in class:
- Look – “La Robe” clarity, brightness, color, viscosity.
- The faster the legs or tears the more alcohol.
- Smell – “Le Bouquet” is it nice, is it open, is there a problem?
- Taste – “La Bouche” first impression, is it balanced, is it full bodied, is it flat or lasts a while?
- Balance – it’s all about the balance of acidity/sweetness/tannins.
- Burgundy – only produces 2% of wine that’s why it’s so expensive.
- Beaune is a great area for a field trip from Paris to taste great wine.
- The darker the wine, the longer you can store it.
- Clear wine bottles = sweet wines.
- Brown/Green bottles = drier wines.
No longer in fear, the Gal Pals headed off to dinner the later on that night to a restaurant in Paris with arguably the best wine list in town no longer intimidated because now we know as much about French wine as the sommelier who will be testing our palettes tonight. It’s four thumbs up for Ô Chateau!
Ô Chateau 68, rue Jean-Jacques Rousseau, 75001 Paris
06 24 31 20 18
All photos belong to Weekend In Paris unless otherwise noted.