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Archive from February 2015

The fundamentals of wine tasting


There you are, comfortably seated amongst friends, at your in-laws dining table, in a restaurant with some colleagues, or opposite your loved one in a warm and cosy atmosphere. You've ordered a nice bottle of red wine from the wine list. Perhaps even an organic wine from Château Beau Rivage, Domaine la Cabotte, Château de la Bonnelière or the Allegria winery that you know well and are particularly fond of. The wine waiter arrives and asks THE embarrassing question. "Who would like to taste the wine"? Those in your company refer the waiter to you, and you're overcome with panic. How to taste the wine correctly and what to say?

Wine experience in France

Not to worry! Here are a few pointers to help you cover the basics, and to help you enjoy the wonderful moment when your senses are stimulated and enchanted by the "robe" of the wine, its fruity "nose", and its lingering length on the "palate". These are the three senses that called upon the most when tasting wines, and the trick is to find the words to describe what you perceive. Let's start with the sight, one of the first senses to be aroused when some wine is served in your glass.

Start by analysing its robe, which is a combination of its colour, intensity and viscosity. Is it ruby or brick red? Is the colour intense? Or even shiny? A wine's colour can tell you a lot about its evolution. A "young" red wine will tend to be more purple in colour, compared to an older wine which has started to turn an orangey-red. When inspecting the colour, it's best to do so against a white background such as a napkin or piece of paper. A coloured background can hide the true colour of the wine.

Original wine gift in France

It's also useful to look for other visual references such as how clear the wine is from impurities, which can be a measure of quality, and its viscosity. How much a wine clings to the edge of the glass when you tilt it and watch the wine flow back gives an indication of the level of alcohol present. The more the wine forms legs or tears around the glass and flows slowly, the higher the alcoholic degree.

Let's move on to the smelly side of things. This analysis is done in two stages. The first is called the "first nose". There's no need to swill the wine around your glass yet, as a simple sniff above the glass will enable you to judge if a wine has a fault or not, and to give you a first idea of the primary aromas to be found in the wine.

The "second nose" calls first upon your skills to gently swill the wine around your glass in a circular motion to allow a little oxygen to mix with the wine and to release a more complex bouquet of fruity, floral, spicy or other aromas depending on the wine that you are tasting. Here the difficulty is not so much being able to smell the different aromas, but in correctly identifying them. You need to call on your memory, and it's often a frustrating experience because you know that you have already smelt the aroma somewhere, but you just can't put a name on it. Only training can help!

Wine gift pack in France

By now your mouth has started to salivate and your taste buds are fully alerted. The most important moment of your tasting has arrived, to taste the wine on your "palate". No need to take a big swig, a small amount is sufficient to open up a plethora of sensations. You will first notice the "attack" of the wine, which is what you experience immediately when you take the first sip. Then you will start to notice nuances and aromas, and to note whether you can detect any notes of salinity, sweetness, acidity or bitterness. You'll also get a feel for how tannic the wine is. And we also talk about the length of a wine, which is how long the tasting sensations stay in your mouth after swallowing or spitting out the wine. If you are tasting multiple wines, it is best to spit, and some tasters even think that by spitting out the wine, you can give a finer analysis to the tasting.

So a few of the basics to think about when tasting wine. You might at first think it's a little too much to take in for a simple dinner, but don't forget that the most important thing of all to guide you is whether you like the wine or not, and then it's just a matter or practice to better understand the whys and why nots!

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Wine-Making Experience Day at Domaine la Cabotte


St Valentine's Day this year saw a small group of wine lovers get together in the Rhone Valley at Domaine la Cabotte for a Vinification Experience Day. This wine course is the third and last in the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience, the aim of which is to demystify the work of the winemaker during the vinification and ageing stages of making wine. We had the perfect hosts for such an occasion in Marie-Pierre and Eric Plumet, two passionate winemakers who speak with sincerity and conviction about their profession.

Wine gift pack in Rhône Valley, Mondragon

The day began in the chai where we learnt how the wine is worked during the fermentation period. The winery is both organically and biodynamically certified, and so Eric also took the opportunity to explain the fundamentals of biodynamic farming. The winery makes red and white wines, and for the first time for many years, has added a rosé wine to the range for the 2014 vintage. Eric & Marie-Pierre told us of the different techniques required in making each of these types of wine. Stéphanne taught us how to taste wines properly, and we finished with a tasting of the Sauvageonne 2014 white wine directly from the barrel.

Wine experience in France at Mondragon

Back in the warmth of the boutique, we put our noses to the test. With the help of some small flasks, we had to identify twenty different aromas that can be found in white and red wines, a task more difficult that it seems, but always fun to try!

Vineyard experience in France, Rhône Valley

Next, we continued with the tasting of wines that are still in the process of ageing. We tasted three red wines from the 2014 vintage, the Garance, Gabriel and Châteauneuf du Pape Vielle Vignes. Eric & Marie-Pierre talked us through the different blends used for each wine, and the characteristics that each grape varietal brings to the wine.

Wine making experience in Rhône Valley

The Colline 2014 red wine had been bottled just a week before, and so before lunch, we took the opportunity to give it its first tasting. A very fruity and fresh wine which had opened up nicely despite its young age. We then tasted the Colline 2014 white wine, followed by the Garance 2013, Gabriel 2012, Châteauneuf du Pape Vielles Vignes 2012 and the new Colline 2014 rosé wine during the meal.

Rent vines at Domaine la Cabotte, in Rhône Valley

To help us digest all of that, we started the afternoon by taking some fresh air. We first visited the vineyard plot where our adopted Grenache vines are to be found. Eric then took us on a stroll around the vineyard to learn more about the geology, terroir and the biodynamic practices used.

Wine lover gift in Rhône Valley

The day finished back where we started, in the chai. Eric explained how the wine is bottled and the importance in choosing the correct corks. Marie-Pierre also showed us the labelling machine in operation.

Personnalised bottles of wine in Mondragon, France

So another very instructive day, full of interesting information. As usual, many thanks to Eric and Marie-Pierre, and to all of our participants for a thoroughly enjoyable day.

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Wine-making Experience Day in Chinon


Last weekend, we gathered in the Loire Valley for a couple of Vinification Experience Days at Château de la Bonnelière. Following the days we had spent in the vineyard during last winter and spring, and then for the harvest in October, this third in the series of wine experience days, picks up where we left off at the harvest to give us an insight into the winemakers' work in the cellar up until the time when the wine is finally ready for bottling. The winemakers job is far from finished once the grapes have been picked!

Vineyard experience, red wine in France

During the morning, we participated in three different workshops. In the chai, Marc Plouzeau, the owner and winemaker at the winery, explained to us the work carried out during the fermentation period and at the start of the ageing process. All of the wines are vinified separately at the winery, and Marc enlightened us as to the differences in using vats or oak barrels to age the wine.

Wine gift packs in Loire Valley
The Vinification Experience Day is when we taste the most wine. Often, one of the most difficult things to do when tasting wines is find the words to describe them. To help us, we put our noses to the test to try and identify some of the aromas found in wine, either due to the grape varietals or by having been aged in oak barrels.
Wine tasting gift in Loire Valley

To put our new found skills to practice, we headed to the cellar where the wines are aged in barrels. The cellar is located directly underneath the Chinon fortress, and it's in this magical setting that we tasted four wines, led by Marc. Each wine was from the same grape varietal, from the same 2014 vintage and each still in the ageing process. One of the wines had been aged in a vat, another in an old oak barrel, another in new oak, and the last was a press wine. Four completely different wines in aroma and on the palate!

Wine making experience in France

Back at the château, we continued the tasting with a sparkling wine, a white wine and three Chinon red wines from the winery during lunch.

Personalised wine gift in Loire Valley

After lunch we took some fresh air and went out into the Clos de la Bonnelière, the vineyard where the vines adopted by the Gourmet Odyssey clients are to be found. After a few pictures, we headed back to the chai.

Rent a vine in Chinon, at Château de la Bonnelière

Marc showed us the machinery that is used to bottle and label the wines. An important point during this stage is the choice of cork. Marc talked about the different quality of corks available, and also explained the advantages and disadvantages of alternatives such as screw tops and plastic corks.

Personalised bottles of red wine in Chinon

And so a day full of information and tasting drew to a close. Huge thanks to Marc for having shared the day with us, and to all of the participants for their good cheer!

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Wine blending workshop in Bordeaux


Last weekend saw us travel to Bordeaux for a couple of Vinification Experience Days at Château Beau Rivage. During these oenology courses, we learnt more about the work of the winemaker in the chai during the fermentation and ageing stages of wine-making. We also got the chance have a go at blending some wines, giving us a better appreciation of the complexity of this wonderful profession. 

Wine experience gifts in Bordeaux

The days began at the château, and after a coffee and the introductions, we headed over to the chai. Christine Nadalié, the winemaker and owner, started by explaining how the wine is worked in the vats during the weeks following the harvest.

Wine gift packs in Bordeaux at Château Beau Rivage

Once the fermentation has finished, the wine is transferred into barrels. Christine told us how the wine interacts with the oak, and of the different tasks that are performed in the barrel room such as topping up the barrels to replace the angels share and in stirring the wines to keep the lees in suspension. As Christine comes from a well-known family of coopers, she talks about her barrels with as much passion as she does her wines!

Vineyard experience in Bordeaux

The Vinification Experience Day is the day when we taste the most wines. When tasting wines, often the most difficult thing is to find the words to accurately describe what we think of it. So before getting down to the serious business of tasting, we took a few minutes to put our senses to the test in identifying some of the aromas that can be found in wines due to their grape varietal or due to being aged in wood. It's not always as simple as you would think!

Unique wine gifts in Bordeaux at Château Beau Rivage

Then to our first tasting. Two identical wines but each aged in different types of barrel to better appreciate the influence of the barrel on the nose and structure of the wine.

Personalised bottles of wine in Bordaux at Château Beau Rivage

During the meal, prepared by the chef of the 1902 restaurant, we tasted some of the different Bordeaux Supérieur and Haut Médoc wines that are made by Christine.

Wine making Experience in Bordeaux, France

The afternoon was devoted to blending the wines. We started by tasting 4 different grape varietals separately, Merlot, Malbec, Cabernet Sauvingnon and Petit Verdot, each of which are still being aged. By tasting them in turn, we were better able to identify the distinct characteristics that each holds. We then blended several different wines to try and create the blend that is best suited to each of our tastes.

Wine tasting gift in Bordeaux, France

Blending wine is a real art, and it's amazing to see the impact that a small change in the percentage of the grape varietal used can have on the wine. There are so many things to think of, to learn and to try and project into the future, that it's impossible to learn everything in one day. But fortunately, we have an expert winemaker to look after our wine! Many thanks to all of our participant for two excellent days spent in Bordeaux.

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Wine-making Experience Day at Domaine Chapelle in Burgundy


The snow and wind also turned up for the Vinification Experience Days on the first weekend of February, but fortunately the programme was to spend most of the day inside. The aim of the Vinification Experience Days is to learn about the process of fermenting and ageing wine from the time of harvest up until the time when the wine is finally ready to be bottled

And so after a nice warm coffee, the day started with a workshop led by Yvette Chapelle to develop the senses used when tasting wine, notably our sense of smell in identifying the aromas that can be found in wine.

Wine experience gifts in Burgundy

We first tried to name some of the primary fruity and floral aromas that are characteristic of different grape varietals, and then we had a go at identifying some of the tertiary aromas such as grilled almonds and toast that are indications of a wine that has been aged in oak barrels. We then participated in a second test to recognise sweet, saline, bitter and acidic tastes. This also enabled us to have a look at the machinery used in the room where the bottles are cleaned and the labels stuck onto the bottles. Jean-François Chapelle and Yannick Jacrot then took us into the fermentation hall to talk about the work carried out there during and immediately following the harvest.

Unique red wine gift in Burgundy, France

We then went down into the magnificent cellar; and tasted some of the 2014 wines direct from the barrels. This enabled us to compare different wines that are still in the ageing process, and to put our new found wine tasting skills to the test!

Vineyard experience in France

Back in the fermentation hall, we started to taste some of the finished wines from the estate. To start, a Santenay 2013 village white wine, accompanied by a few gougères, a local savoury delicacy. We then continued the wine tasting with some of the red wine wines during lunch.

Wine tasting gift in Burgundy

To kick off the afternoon activities, we took a short stroll to the Clos des Cornières vineyard, where our adopted vines are to be found. It also gave us the opportunity to learn learn a little more about the local geology and the different appellations of Burgundy, Regional, Village, Premier Cru and Grand Cru.

Adopt a vine in Burgundy

Despite the icy wind that blew over the Côte de Beaune on this particular weekend, we braved the elements to take a look at our vines and to note that they seem to be doing fine prior to being pruned in the coming weeks.

Personalised bottles of wine in Burgundy

The day finished with a tasting of the 2014 Clos des Cornières wines that are ageing in oak barrels, quietly lying in the cellar. The Clos de Cornières vineyard is made up of three distinct areas, which are refered to as the park, young and old, and we were able to taste the difference in each of the wines before they will be blended together closer to the time of bottling. Many thanks to Domaine Chapelle for their welcome and for enabling us to discover a little more about the art of making wine in Burgundy.

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