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Published on Wednesday 9th of September 2015 by Valerie

Learn French through the art of wine tasting

How do you like your French wine? Are you a sip on it type or a drink it slowly but steadily type? Our French and Canadian experts from Oddbins, Ben and Pierre, certainly set us straight when it comes to the art of wine tasting. At the end of their presentation, which was conducted in French (with some translation for those who were a bit less fluent), smelling, swirling and tasting wine held no more secrets. This was truly a French master-class in the art of wine tasting.

There are three steps to wine tasting. First comes the colour test. What colour is your wine? That’s a fairly silly question on the face of it: Red, rosé or white! Of course, there would be no expertise in wine tasting if we stopped there. Hold your glass against a white page. If it is a red wine, is it a light, purple red or a deep brown red? What about your white wine? Is it transparent like water, straw or gold-like yellow? The richer the colour, the older the wine. Next, tip your glass and look at the legs. Yes, apparently, wine has legs! These are tears-like traces that run along the sides of your glass when you tip it then straighten it. I must be honest, that’s when I realised I wasn’t a wine expert yet. Despite everyone else having no apparent difficulty describing the legs of their wine, I personally saw none. I put it down to having too small a quantity of wine in my glass (I was driving…)!

The next step calls upon your sense of smell, one of the most important sense involved in wine tasting. It would appear that your olfactory receptors are positioned very close to your memory. Therefore, the simple act of smelling will invariably call back a pleiad of childhood and past memories. We couldn’t resist bringing up Marcel Proust’s ‘A la Recherche du Temps Perdu’ in the conversation. Why? Because in this masterpiece of French literature, the author recalls how the smell of a ‘madeleine’ dipped in tea awoken very vivid memories of his time in Combray with his aunt Leonie. I was instantly prompted to a vivid memory of my own: Sitting in my French class as a teenager and studying Proust with mademoiselle Ménard! But back to French wine… Bring your glass to your nose and breathe the aroma through your nostrils. What adjectives come to mind: Fruity, floral, oak, citrus…? This will help you identify the area of France your wine might come from and the type of wine. That is, if you know a lot more than me about the various French ‘terroirs’. Now swirl your glass clockwise (anti-clockwise if you live in Australia) to oxygenate the wine and release the flavours. What can you smell: Raspberries, apples, pears, pineapple, peaches, roses, daffodils…? Whatever you smell should tell you more about the provenance of your wine. The flavours that come to you most strongly will be those recalled by your memory, so if you spent your childhood picking berries in wooded areas, woody and berries smell in a wine would be very prominent for you. And the interesting thing is that a wine doesn’t ‘taste’ but smells of berries, peaches, etc.

And for the final step: Taste! This one comes in three parts: The attack on the tip of your tongue, the middle of the tongue and the final phase (swallowing or spitting it out depending on what you feel like doing). The attack phase helps you to form a first impression of the texture of the wine as raspy, oily, velvety, creamy, acidic… The middle of the mouth allows you to define those flavours further and add characteristics such as earthiness, herbs, spices, butter, honey and many others. This is the bit where you’re supposed to swirl the wine in your mouth whilst sucking air in, a process described to us as trying to kiss someone and sucking in at the same time. We had great fun with it but, apart from George who turned out to be a natural, we all realised we needed quite a bit of practise! As for the final phase, it is meant to let you analyse the density of the wine, the after taste and any lingering impression other than ‘I can’t believe I don’t have any wine left in my glass’, which in my case was much more a reality than an impression considering I only had one or two sips-worth in my glass (I was driving…).

On behalf of French Ignition and all the participants, a very big thank you to Ben and Pierre for sharing their expert knowledge in French with us. Everyone enjoyed it and learned French as well by adding adjectives, names of fruit and spices to their existing vocabulary. We of course finished off with some food to help soak up the wine or give a good excuse to more wine and it was definitely a great evening.

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