Do you like French wine? And if so, do you wander the supermarket aisles wondering where on earth to start?
Similarly, do you spend ages studying a London restaurant’s wine list, wishing you could make a thought out, well-informed order, only to end up ordering the house white?
I went along to this class on Sunday to see if I could learn a thing or two about wines from the Continent.
If you’ve ever been to Vinopolis, it’s a fabulous visitor attraction built into the railway arches of London Bridge – like me, you’ve probably passed it dozens of times if you’ve ever been to Borough market.
Inside you have several rooms filled with interactive wine displays and of course the onsite shop, Laithwaites, which is HUGE and stocks dozens of types of wine from all over the world. There’s also the Whiskey Exchange and a handful of winebars and restaurants also under the same roof.
The French Wine Labels Unravelled class focused on two main wine areas in France – Bordeaux and Burgundy.
Expert and native French man, Sylvain, taught us many things about these areas. These are the main points I picked up:
– Tend to produce wines containing mainly one variety of grape
– Main producer of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay
– Tend to produce wines containing a blend of grapes
– Main producer of Cabernet Sauvignon (The Grape King!) and Merlot
– Tend to taste better when left to age in the bottle for 5-10 years (Yep, you read that right – This requires a lot of willpower as well as space to store it!)
– A really good Bordeaux wine will often set you back a minimum of £40
– The Bordeaux region is made up of two very different areas which produce very different wines: 1) The Left Bank – made up of the Graves appellation and the Médoc which has gravel-like soil and is great for producing Cabernet Sauvignon and 2) The Right Bank – made up of the Libournais,Bourg and Blaye appellations which have more clay-like soil which is great for producing Merlot.
Interesting huh? The combination of the soil and climate is known as the Terroir.
Sylvain took us through a number of steps in our wine tasting masterclass: Appearance, Smell and Palate/Taste
What to Look for When tasting wine
Appearance – Look for the ‘legs’ in the wine (the lines which run down the glass when you swirl it around. If they run down the glass quickly, the wine is dry. If they run down the glass more slowly, the wine is sweeter.
If the wine appears slightly murky or not 100% clear, it has been contaminated or is off – so send it back!
Smell and Taste – Wine can take on all sorts of smells and tastes depending on the type of grape variety and the soil. You could find yourself detecting any of of the following smells or flavours: floral, fruity, vegetable-like, mineral-like, and spicy. You may also detect hints of vanilla, and in some red wines it’s common to pick up hints of asparagus.
Also look out for acidity, oaky and leather characteristics. These can be linked to how the wine is barrelled.
Palate – Look out for the Tannin – this is a gloopy dry feeling you get over the teeth which is common with red wine. If the wine’s tannin is too high, it may be because it needs to be aged.
We learnt SO much in this class I could go on… but I’ll save that for you to explore and now I’ll give you the lowdown on the six wines we tasted (the ones that are starred were my favourite):
The six wines we sampled
Year: 2008, Cost: £25, Flavours: nutty, pineapple, aniseed and mint.
2) Domaine Chanson Chassagne Montrachet (Les Chenevottes) – Chardonnay
Year: 2007, Cost: £50, Aroma/Flavours: butterscotch, toasted brioche, nutty, vanilla
Other: We agreed this one is a bit heavier so best with food
3) La Terrasse de la Garde Pessac Leognan – Cabernet Sauvignon (50%), Merlot (45%), Cab Franc (4%) Petit Verdot (1%)
Year: 2009, Cost: £20, Aroma/Flavours: Quite heavy
Other: This one had a high tannin so could be left to drink in up to 5-10 years when it might taste more mellow
4) Chateau Grand Barrail La Marzelle Figeac (St Emilion Grand Cru) ***
Other: This one was my first favourite. It was light and smooth and as Sylvain suggested would taste great with Asian/Thai food
5) Domaine Bott Geyl Gewurztraminer (Le Elements)***
Year: 2011, Cost: £18, Aroma/Flavours: Honey, lychee, honeysuckle
Other: This one was my second favourite. It had quite a ‘vegetal’ taste and as Sylvain pointed out, it would taste great with sauerkraut, sausages, or once again, Asian cuisine
6) Chateau d’Arche Grand Cru Classe (Sauternes)
Year: 1997, Cost: £30, Flavours: Marmalade, figs, apricot and toffee
Other: This one was a big hit in the group. It’s a sweet wine, would go great with a dessert, or as Sylvain pointed out, would actually complement blue cheese! This is also a top wine, originating from the notorious Sauternes region.
This is truly a great wine tasting class to attend if you’re interested in the origin of the French wines you see on the supermarket shelf, and if you want to know about what to look for when tasting wine.
Vinopolis is a great place to go and the staff will happily help you in their onsite shop, Laithwaites. I just can’t wait to go back and try out their other masterclasses. How about the chocolate and wine masterclass? Or the Cocktail making class? Or how about the cheese and wine class? Either way, Vinopolis is a great way to do it.
Check it out and tell me what you think!
Until next time x
Wine Labels Unravelled (£40) was covered by Vinopolis, 1 Bank End London Borough of Southwark, SE1 9BU
020 7940 8300, www.Vinopolis.co.uk
Follow them @VinopolisLondon