One of the wonderful things about living in the Charente region in France is our proximity to Bordeaux.
As a lover of red wine, the fabulous Médoc region is home to my favourite red wine, Malbec.
The Médoc also happens to be one of the six appellations of Bordeaux wine.
The history behind wine and how it’s made is fascinating, and I do love my history.
But I also love my wine and I’ve been on quite a few Bordeaux Wine Tours over the years and learnt quite a bit about wine tasting.
It can be really overwhelming deciding where to go as there are so many varieties of wine to choose from. This stops people from visiting a winery (vignoble) by themselves and is usually why they opt for a guided tour.
However, visiting the French vineyards is such a wonderful experience and it’s even better when you understand what you’re doing.
So if you’re planning a trip to one of the many wine regions in France here are a few tips to help you make the most out of the experience.
Tip 1 - Know Your Wine Regions
Wines in France are often named after the region where they come from like Beaujolais, Bordeaux, Burgundy, Chablis, Cotes du Rhone etc.
So do your homework before you go and find out which wines come from which region.
Alsace wines are influenced by the area’s close proximity to Germany so look out for Riesling and Gewurztraminer.
The best Bordeaux wines come from the Médoc and Saint Emilion.
In Provence, you’ll find some wonderful dry rose including the Côtes-de-Provence.
Whereas in the Loire Valley, you’ll find fabulous sparkling wines and Muscadet.
Tip 2 - Understand the AOP
AOC stands for Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée and is a hierarchical system that reflects the geographical origin and production practices of the wine.
It guarantees consumers that the wine is produced from grapes grown in a specific geographical region and that the production practices comply with the standards established by the appellation.
Wines that meet these criteria can then bear the AOC label.
There are also other classifications for French wine, such as AOP (Appellation d’Origine Protégée), which replaced AOC in 2012.
AOP is a European Union designation that includes all of the requirements of the AOC while adding additional regulations that apply to all EU member states.
Another classification is Vin de Pays, which translates to “country wine.” This classification is used for wines produced in a specific region but does not meet the strict requirements of the AOC or AOP classifications.
Finally, there is Vin de Table, which translates to “table wine.” This is the lowest classification for French wine and much lower quality.
Tip 3 - Single-grape Varieties in France
Single-grape varieties are wines made from a single type of grape, such as Cabernet Sauvignon or Chardonnay.
These wines are not subject to the same strict regulations as AOC wines because they don’t reflect the unique characteristics of a specific geographic area. Instead, they are made to showcase the flavour profile of a particular grape variety.
Despite not being subject to the AOC regulations, single-grape varieties are still subject to French wine regulations. For example, they must be labelled with the grape variety used, and the grapes must be grown in France.
Tip 4 - Look for Degustation Signs
These signs indicate that guests are welcome, meaning you can go in and enjoy some winetasting.
It won’t always be as formal as you’d find in a Wine Tasting Tour but they’ll happily find a glass for you to try what’s on offer.
Tip 5 - Use the 5 S's of Wine Tasting
I learnt this little trick when I was living in the Yarra Valley in Australia. We lived right in the Victorian wine region, at the foot of the valley and often used to take visitors on a wine tour.
I can’t remember the name of the winery we were in but the sommelier told me if I wanted to look like a wine-tasting pro, I needed to remember the 5 S’s of Wine Tasting.
I found them really helpful and I thought you might too.
What you’re looking for is the colour of the wine. This will give you a clue as to the variety of grapes. Usually, oak-aged wine is darker in colour.
It’s called giving the wine air. I’ve learnt that my favourite heavier reds are quite heady and hit the nostrils during this part of the process.
This is a big part of wine tasting. What does it smell like? This is where you often hear people say things like “it’s got a hint of raspberry” or “there’s an aroma of cinnamon”.
This is the best part. Let the wine sit for a few seconds so you can really understand the taste sensation. As it develops you’ll be able to detect sweetness, bitterness, fruitness etc.
There’s a difference between the initial taste when you sip wine and how it tastes when you swallow it. How long does the taste stay with you?
Hopefully, you’ll remember these 5 Wine Tasting Tips when you take a wine tour through the wonderful wine region of France.
Here’s to French wine and all who enjoy drinking her. Santé!