The art of French wine tasting
It’s no surprise that one of the first things on our guests’ ‘to do’ list is to spend a day or two doing some wine tasting. How else would it be, when our boutique hotel is sitting in the middle of a lush Bordeaux vineyard, in – let’s be honest – one of the world’s most famous wine regions?
What has been an interesting observation among our clients though is the general approach to a tasting session, compared to other wine experiences around the world.
Using the Australian wine industry as an example – being my first experience of a tasting set-up and a common benchmark among our Australian guests visiting the region – it’s a bit of a different system.
The image in my mind from places like the Hunter Valley is more like a tasting room bar attached to the vineyard, with an eager staff member waiting to offer you a sample of almost any of the wines within their range. This approach, coupled with the fact that a number of wine producers are open most days and you don’t have to plan out each visit with an appointment, means that wine tourism in Australia is relatively easy to access.
The Bordeaux tasting set up is a little different on the surface, and I don’t think anyone expects to be able to just rock up to Château Lafite Rothschild or Château Margaux and swill a few of their finest drops. But sur rendez-vous is much more common-place at all levels of the Bordeaux market (especially on weekends), rather than what us Australians know as a Cellar Door tasting.
That’s not to say that there aren’t wine producers that open their doors seven days a week. The stunning wine appellation of Saint Emilion, surrounding the famous UNESCO Heritage Listed village of the same name, is a perfect touring ground for visitors, with tastings and cellar tours readily available.
My favourite wine tasting experience here in France is making the most of the Portes Ouvertes weekends. The season has now begun where a number of châteaux in a particular corner of the map will open their doors to the general public over the course of a weekend. This is a fantastic way to access wine producers that may be otherwise difficult to get in to, and it’s about as close to a Cellar Door tasting as you can get.
The added bonus of these weekends often hits you as soon as you arrive, with the smell of smokey duck or something else sizzling on a barbecue, and local market stalls lined up ready to tantalise your tastebuds. What better way to entice you to buy some of the wine you’ve just tasted, than having mouth-watering local produce options to accompany your new best friend?
The Maisons des Vins dotted throughout the region are also a great way to sample some different wines, get a brief education in wine making and challenge your sense of taste. I’ve never been much good at picking up on the hints of chocolate, cinnamon, pear or other subtle flavours found in different varieties of wines, but these wine houses often have a blind ‘sniff test’ to see how well you can pick these underlying wine characteristics.
It might appear to be a relatively closed tasting market on the surface, but there are some hidden gems and events that are a fabulous way to explore the area. You just need to know where to look.