We love WINE, whether it’s paired with a delicious meal or simply sipped by the glass. Over the last 10 years, we have tried to get smarter about wine through classes, tastings at different vineyards and tastings at local wine shops. Despite all those classes and tastings, we aren’t going to pass the sommelier test anytime soon. It takes years of practice and blind tastings in order to correctly identify wine and detect the subtle differences in smell, taste and viscosity. We organized a blind French wine tasting lesson with our friend, Nico and his father, Eric, who is a co-owner of a vineyard in Burgundy, France. We are excited to share the details with you.
The most important part of a blind wine tasting is selecting the WINE. France is currently the largest producer of wine by volume in the world. If you plan host or attend a French tasting you should familiarize yourself with the country’s top winemaking regions:
|Source: Wine Folly|
- Champagne: (Northern France) Best known for producing the sparkling white wine that bears the region’s name. Only sparkling wine produced in the Champagne region using Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier grapes can be called Champagne
- Alsace: (Eastern France, borders Germany) Wines influenced by French and German winemaking styles. Unlike the rest of France, Alsace names its wines by grape varietal instead of location. White wines comprise the majority of Alsace wines. Grapes grown include Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Noir and Muscat
- Bourgogne / Burgundy: (Eastern France) Produces Pinot Noir, the dominant grape in red Burgundy wines, and Chardonnay, typically the only grape in white Burgundy wines
- Beaujolais: (Southern part of Burgundy) Produces Gamay grapes, which are used to make the light red wine, Beaujolais
- Rhone Valley: (Southeast France) Known for producing a variety of earthy red wines. The region produces Grenache, Syrah and Viognier grapes
- Corse: (Island in the South of France, near Italy) Although the island is a territory of France, the region’s winemaking traditions and grape varieties are Italian. The region produces red and rosé blends
- Provence: (Southeast France) Oldest wine producing region of France and the only place focused on Rosé
- Languedoc: (Mediterranean coastal plain, west of the Rhone) Known for producing ordinary red wine. Languedoc is the largest French wine producing area in terms of volume
- Sud Ouest: (South West France) Known for Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Bordeaux blends. Many of the region’s wines are similar to Bordeaux in varietal, winemaking style and quality
- Bordeaux: (on the Atlantic coast) Grows three major red grape varieties: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc. Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon are Bordeaux’s primary white grapes. Bordeaux is also known for Sauternes, a sweet white dessert wine
- Loire Valley: (Northwest France) Produces crisp whites, refreshing rosés, fruity reds and sumptuous sweet and sparkling wines that can rival Champagne
We transformed an ordinary dining room into a beautiful wine tasting room with a little Twinspiration! Red and white wine inspired our luscious red and white color palette. We also added some splashes of yellow and gold for additional pops of color. Olga from International Garden created our beautiful floral arrangements with 1) scarlet roses and burgundy safari sunset flowers 2) pearl roses, lily grass and porcelain wax flowers and 3) a combination of both roses. We displayed the arrangements in gold wine bottles on crisp white linens.
The ideal number of wines for a tasting is six: three white and three red. Eric recommends sticking to single varietal wines as blends can be extremely difficult to identify. We provided 3 wine glasses per taster. We highly recommend labeling each glass so your guests can easily identify their glasses even out of order. Rather than labeling each glass 1, 2, 3, Kanchana drew 1, 2 or 3 wine bottles on chalkboard labels. For formal parties, we like to assign seats. Kanchana created adorable place card holders out of wine corks. Nico and Kanchana prepared red and white wine tasting sheets, which were placed on top of yellow and red chevron napkins.
A few wine tasting tips:
- Chill white wines for at least 4 hours prior to the start of the tasting
- Start with white wines before moving to the reds
- Consider price points – don’t pit a $5 bottle against a $50
- Wrap each bottle so guests can’t see the label
- Use wine glasses to properly see, smell, swirl and taste the wines
- Choosing a fun group is almost just as important as selecting the wine!
We are not going to lie. Identifying each French wine was DIFFICULT.
- White Wine #1: Riesling from Alsace. This Riesling exhibits a fine balance between its dry personality, its distinguished fruitiness and its natural vitality. French Rieslings are less sweet than their German counterparts.
- White Wine #2: Pouilly-Fuisse Chardonnay from Burgundy. This Chardonnay’s light tannins frame its peach, apple pie, lemon and stone flavors.
- White Wine #3: Viognier from Languedoc. This wine featured aromas of ripe pears and peaches.
- Red Wine #1: Grenache from Rhone Valley. This dark red wine has hints of pepper and spice.
- Red Wine #2: Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot blend from Bordeaux. This dark red wine has hints of blackberry, soft tannins and a lingering finish.
- Red Wine #3: Burgundy from Burgundy. This delicate wine has notes of cherries and cranberries.
We concluded the tasting with a yummy dessert wine from Hungary. This wine has notes of apricots, honey and tropical fruits.
We kept the food simple: cheese, crackers and cupcakes! The key to a delicious and beautiful cheese plate is selecting a variety of ingredients with different flavor profiles, colors and textures. We recommend Crate and Barrel’s cheese markers and Williams Sonoma’s cheese knives. Since this was a French tasting, we served 4 French cheeses from Murray’s Cheese including:
- Cremeux De Bourgogne
- Marcel Petite Comté Saint-Antoine
- Tomme De Chèvre Aydius
Archana created a beautiful red wine glass cupcake display. She even put wine into the cupcakes and the frosting. Tide and Thyme has a delicious recipe, though she substituted the Cabernet Sauvignon with Montepulciano. She topped the cupcakes with Toba Garrett’s buttercream (plus red wine).
Be sure to check out our white and red wine tasting cheat sheets.
Special thanks to Nico, Eric and Marie-Anne for making our first blind wine tasting a success!
“Age is just a number. It’s totally irrelevant unless, of course, you happen to be a bottle of wine.” ––Joan Collins