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Know your Grenache from your Viognier?

A beginner’s guide to tasting wine

France and wine – a marriage made in heaven. Having just returned from a trip to Southern France, one of the must dos on my itinerary was a tour among the wineries of the Côtes Du Rhône. It was absolutely stunning, as you can imagine, and I was spellbound by the scenery, the rows and rows of vines and really understood for the first time, just what skill and talent it took to produce a bottle of wine.

Part of that, of course, involved tasting the wine! Now here I was a complete novice, but by the time I’d visited a few, I was beginning to learn what makes a great bottle of wine, and what makes something that’s really special.

I also learnt how to properly taste a wine, and what to look out for, and, although I don’t claim to be any kind of expert, I thought it might be useful to pass on my learnings if you are planning to visit the region, so you can really learn to tell what wines you like!

So here goes…

The colour

Now I’m talking primarily red wine here, but you need to tip the wine in your glass against a sheet of white paper to look at the colour around the outside. If the colour takes on a purple hue, then you’re looking at a red that’s aged between 0-3 years old. A ruby red colour, and it’s typically 3-9 years old. A distinctive brown colour, and the wine you’ll be tasting is over 9 years old

The smell

Then, take your first sniff. Wine aromas are divided up into seven categories and these are:

1. Fruit
2. Floral
3. Soil
4. Food sensations
5. Oak/leather
6. Spice
7. Animal

Within that, there are a number of sub-categories. Overall, professional wine tasters are trained to distinguish 84 different smells within those seven categories. So take a good sniff, and see if you can pick out any of the aromas in those categories

Then, swirl the wine around, and take your second sniff. You’ll be surprised at what different fragrant ‘notes’ you will identify. Next, swirl the glass again, and take a look at the ‘legs’ or tears that flow down the side of the glass. This is an indication of the amount of sugar, alcohol and oil from the grapes that are present in the wine. The quantity, and the thicker they are can depend on a variety of factors, but you are looking to check they are all clear

The taste

Then comes the actual tasting. First take a sip and then pucker your lips to allow air to come into your mouth, aerating the wine. Then swish around your mouth a few times (think mouthwash!) and wait a few seconds (for the sensation to travel from your tongue to your brain). Then swallow. The taste will be very intensive, and again, you’ll be able to pick out a number of different sensory dimensions.

Once you have tasted your sample, gently swirl the glass in your hand to create more air in the glass, and then sniff for the final time. You’ll be able to pick out even more aromas as the wine ‘opens’ and becomes oxygenated.

So there you have it. Give it a whirl with different wines, and you’ll soon get the hang of it. And enjoy, I certainly did!

I visited the Provence region, and we have a number of holidays which also tour this region, walking, cycling and also on a canal cruise. It truly is a stunning place to visit, I can’t wait to return!

Also, take a minute to check our interactive Loire Valley Wine map.

If you’d like some advice on the region, or the best places to go to sample wine and tour vineyards, please get in touch with our team, they will help you plan your perfect trip, and you’ll be able to practise the tips above, and look like a real expert!

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