French Wine My Way

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French Wine My Way
Let’s face it. Wine is complicated. And French wine is a swirling maelstrom of history, government control, regional divides, family in-fighting, and basic chemistry. But must we know every little detail to understand what we like when we drink it? I want to demystify French wine. I want to simplify French wine. I want to drink French wine without reading volumes and memorizing details. I want to know about the people and families who make the wine, and how they feel about their commitment and drive for perfection. But honestly, I simply want to breathe in the aroma, take in the first sip, savor the wine, linger on the mid-palate and head for the finish line with a smile of satisfaction. It’s like searching for the Holy Grail. Except we are looking for magic in a bottle, and it can be elusive. But isn’t the thrill of the hunt in the searching? How do we begin such a journey? Must we climb to the top of a French mountain for enlightenment? Should we read a book or check wikipedia for each regional grape variety? Or can we simply jump right into the deep end and go for it? I say jump, but with some thought as to how to organize and accomplish this search. Make it easy on yourself and create your own Tour de France. Pick a wine region such as the Loire Valley or Burgundy, or select a varietal such as Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Noir. Then choose one wine each from three different producers for comparison. Congratulations! You have just created a wine tasting. You have now entered The Wild and Wonderful World of Wine Subjectivity. Pat yourself on the back: You have already graduated without taking the exams. It doesn’t matter what wine critic Robert Parker says or the local wine columnist professes. It only matters what YOU think when you inhale the aroma and linger over the first tastes. And remember, Mr. Parker was a beer drinker until he met a pretty French girl he wanted to impress. He got the girl and he built a career from practice, practice, practice. TASTING PEP TALK Now it is your turn. First check the color and clarity, and then the aroma. When you take the first sip of any wine, take a mouthful and acclimate your mouth. On your second and third sips, pull the wine slowly over your tongue to get some aeration. It’s like inhaling through your mouth with pursed lips. Feel how the wine settles on your tongue midway, giving you an impression of body and texture. Sense the depth of flavor and how it finishes. Did it drop off like a stone? Did it linger on your tongue, then quietly disappear? Or did the flavor burst like a ripe peach spreading multiple layers of liquid goodness? It’s your call. Because wine is subjective, and it is all about you. First, is it tasty? Do you like it? Then this wine is a winner. And so are you. Then move on to wine number two with wine notes in hand from wine number one. Look forward to comparing the two and challenging yourself. What are the differences, the pluses and minuses? Think of the strengths in flavor. Does it interest you? Are you now curious about wine number three? Then let ‘er rip and move forward! With regard to “Wine Notes”, try to create your own vocabulary in describing the wines you taste. You’ve heard or read the pros pronounce the ultimate descriptives: asphalt, barnyard, grass, leather, tobacco, licorice, cherry et cetera. It’s a world of Jelly Belly flavors out there but it means nothing unless you discover the descriptive word yourself. Besides attending trade tastings, we do private events and tasting classes on a regular basis, and sometimes it is even difficult for us to find the right descriptive word. The secret is to not try too hard. Keep an open mind and let the aroma and taste lead you. Sometimes it takes only one inhalation and sometimes it takes more little sniffs and multiple sips. Take your time and go slowly. Occasionally the aroma will be contrary to the taste, as I recently found with a Côtes du Lubéron (Rhône Valley) I drank in Paris this August. I will now add “nail polish” to my wine vocabulary. OK, lets be chic and use the French name “vernis“. I had no chance to think about it, because it hit me in the nose before I could open my mouth. The thought of tasting it was off-putting, but I lifted my glass and sipped like a sparrow. Pure amazement and finally happiness danced in my mouth. The alcohol-prominent nose settled down and the wine was enjoyed as we continued with our meal. Now let’s take it up a notch. Let’s talk about food. Let us think about food. Give yourself a food challenge and think about what foods will go with these wines you have just tasted. It’s a creative opportunity. It’s only a matter of taste. Your taste. You will not be judged by The Napoleonic Court of Food & Wine. The ball is in your court. Use your own good sense. Think of contrasts. VARIATIONS ON A THEME: SAUVIGNON BLANC Take Sauvignon Blanc as an example. Think about the minerality, what it does to your mouth, the clean crispness and the contrast potential. Opposites do attract. Perhaps a creamy seafood pasta with prawns or bay shrimp? With perhaps a small side of dressed baby greens with a splash of EVOO and a grind of sea salt. Or Padron peppers, sauteed in EVOO with a touch of sea salt. Keep it simple as you go. Don’t complicate your attempt in pairing a wine with food. Trust your instincts and use your imagination. Practice, practice, practice and begin your pairings conservatively, layering as you gain confidence. However, the first…
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