Tasting Tips for the French Wine Connoisseur Wannabe

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Tilt and Swirl – Gently, very gently

A Fair Paris Tradition     

Now that parents have depleted their school supply budget and the kids are safely back in their respective institutions, the Parisians are ready to party.  The first sign of this is the hype for the traditional “Foire aux Vins”, or “Wine Fair” which starts in mid-September and lasts for two weeks.  There are wine tastings everywhere – private homes (beats a Tupperware party), supermarket retailers, wine store chains and farmers’ markets (my favorite).  A wine consumer really gets to consume before they buy at this time of year.  It could be overwhelming for those of you who aren’t used to the many facets of wine. So, here are some tips for the wine-tasting neophyte.
1.    Look before you leap – Take a good look at the wine you have poured into that glass; observe and enjoy its color.  Look beyond the usual suspects of red, white or pink.  Is it ruby, maroon, purple or brownish?  For white wines, is it pale, yellow, golden, straw-colored? Is it opaque, cloudy, translucent?
2.    Tilt and Swirl – Tilt your glass slightly and give that wine a gentle swirl.  Look for traces of sediment, which is a sign of an aged wine.  Older reds might have more of an orangey tinge on the outside as you swirl; older whites would be darker.  The swirling aerates the wine, which will release its aroma.  The secret of the perfect swirl?  Be gentle and don’t stand near anyone who is wearing white.
3.    Smell and Sigh – Well, maybe, just smell.  The aroma of the wine will conjure up fruity memories of raspberry, blackberry, gooseberry or black current.  You might also smell vanilla, oak or citrus.  Enjoy it – smell once, smell twice.  Your nose will remember.
4.    Taste and Savour – Now, taste the wine, really taste it.  Remember, you drink water but you taste wine.  So, take your time.  If the wine doesn’t stay long enough in your mouth, you cannot appreciate its magnitude.  Sip it first, letting the wine spread across your tongue.  Swish it from front to back and side to side before finally swallowing. Let its acidity, tannin and depth explode in your mouth.  And let it linger.
5.    After-taste – Once you have imbibed the wine, it’s time to pay attention to how long it lingers.  Can you still taste it on the back of your mouth or throat?  Is the taste sweet, acidic?  Like butter, fruit, flower or oak? Do you like it?  Do you want more?
6.    Discover your preferences – There is no wine that satisfies everyone’s palate so it’s to time to pay attention to yours.  Know what you like.  Tastes can vary from fruit, leather, wood, spices, nuts, vanilla or any combination of these.  Pick your favorite flavor from the wonderful range of options.
7.    Write and remember – I can’t tell you how many times I have tasted a wonderful wine only to forget its name the morning after.  So, keep a paper and pen handy when you embark on your wine-tasting adventure and write down the ones that you liked and want to buy again and again.
8.    Buy It – The Wine Fair in France in September is a great time to buy – in wine store chains or even in huge supermarkets such as Carrefour or Auchan.  At a supermarket, you might not be able to taste everything you would like to so here’s a little hint.  Buy a bottle that you think would be a good bargain; drink it the same day.  If you like it, go back and get a case or two before they all sell out.  Have a party or get a wine cellar.  Whatever you do, enjoy it.  Wine and dine your lover, family or friends – or yourself.  You know you’re worth it!

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