What is the national holiday is today? I’m so happy you asked cause it’s NATIONAL DRINK WINE DAY!
I wasn’t always a wine connoisseur. Just a few years ago, my nose would crinkle and my lips would twist at the mere suggestion of wine. I was a hardcore whiskey drinker and no one could tell me smashed grapes were better.
In my early twenties, I asked friends and relatives about wine suggestions. They recommended reds since I had a sweet tooth but the taste was always too strong or gross no matter what shade of crimson I sipped. It took years and several tasting in California to find out that Sauvignon Blanc was the only wine I kind of liked.
That is until I spend a month in France. A few weeks in the country best known for wine, as well as the birthplace of champagne, broadened my palate.
Trying French Wine for the First Time
As a frequent traveler, I’m constantly eating, drinking, and doing things I normally wouldn’t. “When in Rome…” is the cliché line I utter before diving headfirst into local traditions.
But I was still apprehensive about ordering wine. What if I didn’t like it? What if I ordered the wrong one with my meal?
At the first few Parisian restaurants I dined at, I simply took the server’s suggestion. My phrasebook helped me convey in broken French what I would like to eat and “votre vin prèfèrè, s’il vous plaît.” Every glass seemed like a perfect pairing with my dish.
On one occasion, I ordered a specific wine I’d thoroughly enjoyed days before in another location. However, my server refused it with a simple, “No” and a head shake. Bewildered, I widely eyed the list again, hoping to select the correct choice. He placed his hand on the menu and then gestured that he would make a selection for me.
You really can’t order the wrong wine in France. Someone will stop you.
Where to Go in France When You Don’t Know Wine
When you want to learn about wine, go to a winery and sit down to a tasting with a knowledgeable sommelier. Wine tastings are just as much for the newbies as they are for those with experience. A personal wine tasting can help you distinguish what type of wine and flavors you prefer.
The best experience I’ve had with wine was in Bordeaux. The region has around 6,000 chateaux (wineries) and is famous for its red wine blends using the following grapes:
- Cabernet Franc
- Cabernet Sauvignon
- Petit Verdot
Wineries worldwide try to mirror the Bordeaux style, but the area’s success comes from the perfect vine-growing environment. In addition, French winegrowers age their product longer than others to soften the flavor.
Although I’d been to several wine tastings in Napa Valley and Solvang, the tasting in Bordeaux was the most enjoyable. The sommelier gave me five glasses of wine (for less than nine euros total) each with a paper tag and number around its stem.
She gave me time to taste and make notes before returning with details about each. This allowed me to form my opinions without other influences. Upon telling her which I enjoyed best, she offered other suggestions and we narrowed down to my new favorite wine, the 2016 Cassini from Saint Èmilion.
The flavor is rich and fruity and consists of 85 percent Merlot and 15 percent Cabernet Franc. Arnauld Daudier de Cassini is a winemaker who doesn’t use oak, filter, or insecticides.
Since coming back to the States, I’ve tried more Merlots and red blends to my pleasure.
How to Order Wine Like a Professional
The first and only step to selecting wine is to rely on the professionals around you. Your servers, sommeliers, and retailers are more than happy to offer suggestions based on your taste and meal. Factors to communicate when discussing wine preferences include:
- Type such as red, white, and ròse. Your meal choice can influence the wine suggestion so be sure to mention which plates you are considering.
- Viscosity, or consistency, such as full-bodied, medium-bodied, or light.
- Flavors such as fruity, dry, and sweet.
- Price using specific figures, as “moderately priced” means varying sums to different people.
Order the bottle. You may think that bottle service is pricy but the same number of glasses will cost more in the end. A glass may cost $10 whereas the bottle that holds about four glasses will cost $30. And, you can take the bottle home with you, which can also be a nice memento.
Wine Basics 101
- Red wines pair well with red meats and strong-tasting meats like venison and lamb. Red wine also brings out the flavors in chocolate and sweet desserts. Common reds include Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and Pinot Noir
- White wines pair best with fish and poultry as well as lighter dishes. Common white wines include Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Riesling.
- Ròse is closer to white than red wine. Ròses pair well with just about everything.
- Good wine types for beginners include Pinot Grigio (white) and Grenache (red).