WHEN IN PARIS WINE TASTE LIKE THE FRENCH DO
WANT TO EXPAND YOUR PALETTE?
An evening of wine tasting with Ô Chateau is the “wine for dummies” class we all need
For many when visiting France, the dream is to head out into wine country and spend an entire day in the vineyards and Champagne houses of the Champagne or Bordeaux regions.
But what if you just don’t have quite enough time to leave Paris, but still want to fill your brain with as much knowledge as possible so you can return home feeling slightly more elevated? How about heading to a tasting room centrally located in the city which also doubles as a restaurant?
I’m not saying you can’t pull quality knowledge out of your server at one of the cities many bar à vin (because trust me I was able to), but there is nothing like being lead down into a wine cellar and having a sommelier fully immerse you into France and its love of winemaking for 2 hours.
Ô Chateau is one such place.
When you happen upon a place which states, “We're all about good wine and good fun!”, you know you’re in for a special evening.
Located just 5 minutes from the Louvre, Ô Chateau offers a variety of wine tasting options (in both French and English) 7 days a week! If you’re new to wine, kind of like it or don’t know what you would do without the incredible, edible (and drinkable) grape Ô Chateau is the place for you – and it was the place for me!
Laura (from She Who Wanders) and I were able to kick off my birthday evening in the best way possible with Ô Chateau’s “Tour de France” evening session. Which to be completely honest, was the perfect “pre-game” to a night out on the town.
The “Tour de France” was just the thing for us beginners as we definitely like wine but may not be as well-versed as some. We were in France and felt like maybe we should expand our knowledge and palette so we could come slightly off the “fake it til you make it” train.
We started the evening with round the table intros, and soon came to find out that although most of our “classmates” were fellow North Americans we got a dose of diversity sprinkled in with a couple German/African couple from the DRC (I’ve never met anyone who actually lives there!) and a nice woman from England.
Our sommelier Gérald (a delightful man who is insanely knowledgeable and adds a fun personality to the tasting) made things refreshing and fun as we went through a variety of the main wine regions of France – everything from the grapes each region grows to the style of wines that they make. He even dissected the wine bottle label for us which is the easiest way to feel slightly more knowledgeable when in a wine shop!
So without further ado here’s a little breakdown of what you can expect from an evening with Ô Chateau…
CHAMPAGNE ISN'T JUST FOR TOASTING
Many of us can really only say we’ve had sparkling wine. Because for bubbly to be technically called Champagne it must come from the small yet renowned Champagne region and be made from either Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier or Chardonnay.
I’ve experienced a few wine tastings in New York and the thing they and this tasting had in common was beginning the evening with a glass of dry bubbly. Why you may ask? Because Champagne is the perfect palette cleanser.
Our evening began with a Brut Champagne called Secret de Famille Premier Cru Brut from Monmarthe Champagne (which has been in Ludes since 1737 and is currently run by a 6th generation Monmarthe). So we knew it was going to be a good one.
The Monmarthe Champagne house vineyards have 22 plots in the region with 35% being Pinot Noir, 35% Chardonnay and 30% Meunier.
There are two ways to open a bottle of Champagne: The fine dining (as quiet as possible) way, or the “showstopper” way (as loudly as possible).
Which person are you?
This is also when we learned our first wine term: terroir.
Terroir is very important when it comes to wine as it is referring to the complete natural environment where a specific wine is produced. This includes everything from the soil, to the climate to the topography.
BEFORE YOU TASTE, LEARN YOUR NOTES
Anyone who has been to a wine tasting before will tell you, you can’t just say “I like it” or “It tastes fruity” to every wine you sample. Your sommelier is going to give you that pained or look for a pity which if you read between the lines says “you’re such an amateur”.
When it comes to wine (both red and white) you need to be able to distinguish a few key things…
The aroma (because you really should smell it first)
Within the aromas there are three different levels: primary (what you get on the first whiff that come from the grape and the terrior, usually fruity, herbal, and floral), secondary (come from the actual winemaking process and can be similar to fresh baked bread, or as sour cream and yogurt), and tertiary (what smell you end with, that come from aging the wine, and can include clove, vanilla, baking spices, roasted nuts, dill, smoke, and a shift in the fruit smell from fresh to dried).
The tannins, body and acidity (now you can taste the wine, but make sure you slurp into your mouth and gurgle a little first)
The body is just like it sounds (and is probably the easiest to distinguish if you think in terms of milk, yes milk): Does it feel like skim, 2%, whole milk? What is the overall texture?
The tannins, a buzz word that sounds tricky but is very useful. Just think in terms of texture. Do your lips stick to your teeth? Do you get delicate, tiny prickles in your mouth?
The acidity. Don’t overthink it, it’s like it sounds. How tart or puckering is the wine? High acidity will be similar to a lemon or lime, and lower acidity would mimic the acidity of a watermelon.
TASTE THE RAINBOW
Reds, whites, fruity, floral, mineral, vegetables, the sensory list goes on...
After learning the basics when it comes to reading labels and how to define terms when it comes to actually tasting wine it was time to sample our first variety: Sauvignon Blanc from Sancerre in the Loire Valley region.
This is also when we learned our next wine term: appellation. Appellation refers to a defined and protected area, mostly used in relation to where grapes are grown. Each country gets to determine what defines an appellation, and in some cases, appellation cannot be listed unless other standards are met (such as what grapes are grown, and how the wine is made).
There are 4 families when it comes to describing the complexity of wine aroma (in addition to what I previously listed): fruits, minerals, florals, and vegetables (yes, you read that right).
Domaine De La Garenne dates back to the early 1800s in the Sancerre region, which has three main types of terriors bringing its own characteristics to the grapes: clay-limestone marl or "white soils", hard or soft limestones ("clots" or "griottes"), and flint clays.
The white Sauvignon Blanc we tasted had elegant notes of fruits with white flesh (think apples and pears) with a slight aroma of jasmine and honeysuckle. Something that was interesting about this wine was the mineral taste which our class came to define as “wet rock”.
The Chablis region only produces one type of grape – chardonnay.
From the Sauvignon Blanc we moved on to a Chardonnay from Chablis (which we also learned only produces the chardonnay grape).
The Domaine Christophe et fils is only 9 years old but is making waves in the area of white wine from Chablis. Run by Sebastien Christophe the Chardonnay we tasted had a less fruity taste but made up for that with its white peach and woody / vanilla notes. More golden with the aroma of white flowers and lemon it’s easy to see why the conversation is building around this wine makers classic Chablis notes.
Move out of the way – it’s time for the big, bad reds
I have been trying to expand my red wine palette for the past year or so. For many the land of reds is intimidating but for me it’s full of possibilities.
First up was a Syrah from the Rhône region (in Collines Rhodaniennes). Also a relative newcomer in the winemaking world (Michel Ogier previously sold his entire crop, on the vine, to Messrs Chapoutier and Guigal) the 2½ hectare vineyard, now run by his son Stèphane, produces its own variety of reds.
Leaning more towards the silky elegance side of red wines with soft, subtle tannins they still measure up to the other Côte Rôtie wines in their incredible ability to age flawlessly.
The wine we tasted, the 'Syrah d'Ogier', had the aromas of fresh fruit, cherry and violet with a hint of spices. It was crisp and fruity with a classic long finish and ripe tannins which is when it made perfect sense that it was recommended to be paired with gamey birds.
Following the 'Syrah d'Ogier' we tasted a red blend of Grenache, Carignan and Syrah from the Languedoc region. I’ve always been partial to red blends, maybe because I am still a novice in the red world. The Les Petits Pas by Domaine du Pas de l'Escalette is a great blend which can partly be attributed to the ideal mesoclimate (what happens in a region on a smaller scale) it comes from, which is perfect for the indigenous grapes Carignan, Grenache and Syrah. Another cool thing we learned about this winery is that they work by hand and avoid chemicals in favour of plant-based vine treatments. Delicious and environmentally friendly!
You can’t think of Bordeaux without also thinking about red wines.
This is why we ended our two hour tasting strong with another red blend – and my personal favorite out of the three reds we tasted.
With notes of blueberry and black currant the Diane de Belgrave from Château Belgrave is nothing short of spectacular – after all the wine estate does have its own coat of arms and it’s been named after Diane, the Goddess of Hunting, as an homage to the estates past, when it was used as a hunting lodge). The vineyard contains 50% Merlot, 46% Cabernet Sauvignon and 4% Petit Verdot grapes (they are planning to phase out their remaining Cabernet Franc vines over time).
As with many reds the Diane de Belgrave really should be aged in order to be fully enjoyed. I think I did like this wine so much is it wasn’t typical of many reds I have previously tasted. Full bodied and well balanced I liked that it was soft and had a fruitier taste.
SIDE NOTE: I recently found out there is a a wine museum (correction, cultural center) in Bordeaux called “Cité du Vin” which is a multi-sensory playground featuring 19 themed spaces. Guess what is moving to the top of my France Round 2 trip?
YOU'RE PROBABLY GOING TO LEAVE SLIGHTLY INTOXICATED
Just accept it.
Following two of the best wine tasting hours I’ve probably experienced I was warm with knowledge and maybe a little tipsiness.
I felt confident I could go out into the warm Parisian night and (the remaining nights of my trip) successfully order un verre de vin without stumbling – which ultimately is the goal of Ô Chateau.
The “Tour de France” tasting I participated in is offered 5 nights a week with pricing at 55 € for Adults and 49 € for students. And as someone coming from NYC this is a GREAT value! And if you still feel the need for even more adventure Ô Chateau also offers day trips to Champagne as well as a Champagne cruise on the Seine.
BIG thank you to Olivier at Ô Chateau for making this tasting possible and to our sommelier Gérald for fueling my fire to return to France and head straight to the vineyards.
Don't forget to pin the images below, or you may forget about this wine tasting experience you must have while in Paris!