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Wine, cheese and cuisine of Savoy

Wine, cheese and cuisine of Savoy

In the midst of this chilly season of snowfall and winter sports, we’ve decided to concentrate on a region which offers many comforting and heart warming foods: Savoy. This region has welcomed many first generation ski stations (such as Val d’Isere) and was then caught up in the wild growth of “white tourism” (linked to snow sports). Its culinary culture is rich and wide, attracting skiers and holidaymakers everywhere. In fact, skiing is often associated to cosy and warm evenings spent in the chalet, watching the snow fall outside while thinking about the delicious fondue planned for diner…

            But Savoy has many delicious tricks up her sleeve to welcome you to the mountains. Read on to learn all about the typical dishes from the region, but also about the local products to try, wine and cheese in particular.

I – Classic for a cold winter evening 

            Tartiflette, one of the most comforting of winter dishes, calls for Reblochon cheese melted over a « gratin » of potatoes, lardoons and onions. White wine is sometimes added as well. Although tartiflette is a well known and popular mountain dish, the term was only coined recently from the word tartiflal, meaning potato in the Savoy dialect. An interesting alternative you may have heard of, the morbiflette, is worth a try. You must simply replace the Reblochon with Morbier, that delicious and distinctive semi-soft cheese with a characteristic black line running across the middle. Another variation you may find in Savoie is called the croziflette. Here the potatoes are replaced with little square « crozons ». They are made from wheat, quite like a type of pasta, and produced in Chambery.

Tartiflette could be served with a variety of Côtes-du-Rhône wines, such as a Châteauneuf du pape or a white Crozes-Hermitage. (more on this in our article on wines from this region) If you’d rather stick to local produce, why not have a little bit of Roussette with your tartiflette?

 

            Another meal which will draw friends and family to the table in an instant is the famous raclette. This easy to make dish isn’t from Savoy but from the Valais, in Switzerland, but it can just as successfully be made with cheese from Savoie. This cheese is simply heated, melted and scraped onto your plate where a pile of potatoes and cold cuts await. A true raclette is quite impressive, since it uses a huge half block of cheese which becomes less and less intimidating as the meal goes. Thankfully the more common little raclette machines which are placed in the centre of the table and used for melting small pieces of cheese will deliver a delicious dish as well. 

You can choose to rave a raclette with or without any meat. Without meat, you could serve it with a dry white wine, but not excessively so or it won’t go too well with the oily mouth feel of the cheese. White Cotes du Rhone like Roussane would be a good match, or a Pouilly-Fuissé from Burgundy. For a raclette with meat, a good match would be red wine from the Beaujolais like the particularly smooth, fruity vintages from Morgon or Moulin-a-vent. If you would like to know more about the beautiful vineyard of the Beaujolais, have a read here)

We’ve covered raclette parties, now a few words about fondue parties. These come with a higher level of risk, since the first to fail at the art of eating a fondue traditionally recieves a dare. This dish is a true delicacy of the Savoie region, in fact its full name is really the “fondue savoyarde”. Its made by melting a selection of cheeses together (often comté, beaufort and/or gruyere) and a little white wine in a pan called a “caquelon”. This pan is placed in the middle of the table and everyone uses a long fork to dip pieces of bread into the delightful mixture. This is where you risk losing your little bit of bread in the battle and receiving a dare… When there is nearly no cheese left, you can even break and egg or two in the warm pan and finish wish a tasty variation on scrambled eggs.

            Again, this kind of cheese based meal would be most enjoyable with a dry white wine such as those from Savoie Bugey. Chautagne blanc, Rousette de Savoie or Seyssel are all good options here. 

            The last classic ski holiday meal was also conceived in Savoy, we call it a cheese « croute », meaning crust. It’s also made with our two favourite Savoyard products: wine and cheese. Take stale bread, soak it in white wine and cover it with cheese before popping it in the oven. You can also add cold cuts or an egg, serve it with gherkins and little onions and voilà!

            Finally, if you have any room left, you can try some of Savoy’s most famous desserts. The brioche de Saint-Genix, for instance, is a brioche cooked with red pralines which give it a particular flavour and a characteristic look. It was invented at the end of the nineteenth century in the little village from which it got its name, by a pastry chef called Pierre Labully. You can still find his shop in the village today. A lighter alternative to end your meal: The Savoyard cake. The recipe dates back to the fourteenth century and calls for egg whites beaten into snow and lemon, and it results in an airier and lighter cake.

II – Wine of Savoie

            This regional delicacy has been produced in the city since antiquity. In fact, we know the famous gastronome Brillat-Savarin, native to the region, used to own grapevines here. Savoy now produces wine in AOC under 16 geographic appellations.

            Local red wine is made from three main grape varieties: mondeuse, pinot noir and gamay. Mondeuse is a local variety which results in structured and tannic reds with aromas of red and black berries. Gamay, on the other hand, is a typical variety of Burgundy which was introduced in Savoy after the Phylloxera epidemic of the nineteenth century. Wines made from it are a little less tannic, quite light and share berry and spice aromas. Finally, Pinot noir expresses itself differently on this terroir than in other French vineyards. It covers only 40 hectares in Savoy, where it makes powerful and complex wines.

There are a few more grape varieties to play with in white wine crafting in the region. Again, several varieties come from Burgundy, like Chardonnay and Aligoté, but the most common are Jaquère, mondeuses blanche and altesse. This last one comes from Savoy and produces fragrant and floral whites. Jaquère is an even older variety originating from the region, where it was planted during the thirteenth century. It covers a much larger area of the region’s wine land, nearly 1000 hectares. This represents 55% of the wine land, against just 15% for altesse.

            It is not uncommon that food and cuisine from a region are a perfect match for its wines. It’s certainly the case in Savoy where we can find a series of local wine and cheese pairings, which will also give you a few examples of great bottles from the region’s vineyard. Wine shops and cheesemongers agree on a few pairings with which you cannot go wrong.

III – Savoyard Cheese

You may also discover all of the region’s agro-pastoral potential by sampling the different cheeses it produces in geographic nominations.  There are 7 apart from the raclette cheese mentioned above.

            First of all, there are two cheeses in the cooked pressed paste category to try, Beaufort, with its fruity and floral flavours made high up in the mountains and Emmental de Savoie, the fruitiest of all the French Emmentals. This particularly tender and fruity Emmental is the perfect match for a local wine called Roussette de Savoie, made from Altesse and known for its floral and spicy notes.

            Another lovely pairing to try out is Beaufort and Chignin Bergeron. This wine is made from roussane, a variety which covers only 80 hectares of land. The smooth texture and complex flavours of Beaufort go very well with the wine’s rich but delicate fruity aromas.

            Abondance is a similar type of cheese but only half cooked, meaning it is suppler and more melt-in-the-mouth. Its name comes from a breed of cows from which the milk is obtained, but it is also the name of the valley in which the cheese is made. This cheese typically has light aromas of hazelnut, pineapple or citrus fruit. You could select either a red or a white wine to have with this cheese. White wine from Chasselas Ripaille will do very well, or perhaps red wine ideally made from Gamay.

            The remaining cheeses are from the non-cooked category. The Tome des Bauges, the Tomme de Savoie, the Reblochon de Savoie (used in tartiflette, typically creamy with a touch of hazelnut) and Chevrotin. This last one is hand made and uses only goats milk.

Regarding wine pairings, here’s one for those who prefer to drink red wine with their cheese: Tome des Bauges with Mondeuse. This particular wine shows woody notes and flavours of blackberry and violet, which soften the cheese’s lactic and green flavours. Make sure you remove the cheese’s crust here, since it will not interact nicely with the tannins present in red wine.

            You are now fully prepared to face a harsh winter with comforting foods and wine. Whether you go to the mountains of stay in the city, nothing stops you from exploring these indulgent dishes and sharing them with friends or family. There’s a little something for everyone in Savoy, for all tastes and for even the biggest of appetites!

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L’abus d’alcool nuit à la santé.
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Champagne, a wine to celebrate!

Champagne, a wine to celebrate!

Christmas time is often associated to champagne. The joy and celebrations, but also the foods which match perfectly with this wine. (Champagne is indeed a wine). The process of making it, however, is rather elaborate and relies on a technique known to few. The aim of this article is to help you better understand this bubbly wine produced solely in the champagne region.

The French region Champagne is, in turn, often associated to the grand champagne producers (called champagne “houses”), such as Moet&Chandon, Dom Perignon, Veuve Clicquot… It is interesting to note that only for this region do our minds go straight to brands rather than appellations. There are nonetheless terroirs in champagne, spread out over 4 regions: the montagne de Reims, the Côte des blancs, the Côte des Bar and the Marne Valley. Although Reims remains the historical capital of the region, Epernay is a serious contender to the title. This is partly due to Epernay’s famous avenue de Champagne, the most expensive street on earth because of the millions of bottles nestled underground.

I – The region’s wealth dates back

Long before it even became sparkling, wine from Champagne was already prestigious. Its first vines were planted in roman times. As is the case in many French wine making regions, the romans were the frits to discover its potential despite the relatively cold climate.

Later on, Clovis, King of the Francs, was baptized by the bishop of Reims and chose to celebrate with champagne wine. This tradition was kept up by the 33 French kings who were crowned later on in the Reims Cathedral.

The Duke of Orleans then introduced sparkling wine from champagne to the high society, where it was quickly adopted, and from then on the market skyrocketed.

   Before becoming a world famous brand of Champagne, Dom Perignon was a modest monk. Some say he was the first to master the process of making fine bubbly, although we have no historical proof of this fact. Either way, he played a major role in the wine’s development, and he greatly improved the technique for his Abbey in Hautvilliers. His wine was very reputable and sold at the price of the champagne produced by great houses. Other religious men were involved in this journey towards great Champagne.  

Among the main players of the region, we find famous merchants of the 18th century, in particular Claude Moët and Florens-Louis Heidsieck. The former slipped into the court at Versailles to advertise his wine throughout the world, whereas the latter presented his wine directly to Queen Marie-Antoinette. Both built an empire still standing today, thanks to their wit and creativity. Indeed, they were already excellent at marketing in their time.

We must also mention the women who made history in champagne. The Veuve Clicquot (Meaning Clicquot widow) was a formidable salesperson, who even managed to take over the Russian market. In addition to her commercial success, this very influent woman also invented rosé champagne and the riddling table with her cellar master Antoine de Müller. Also during the 19th century, the Pommery widow marketed the Champagne bearing her name, and did so very successfully as Pommery became on of the big champagne houses. 

Finally, some unexpected factors behind the success of champagne are rappers such as Jay-Z, who partner with certain houses to increase their fame and value, and their sales especially in the states. Several debates ensued on the appropriateness of such an ostentatious message, but it remains undeniable that such associations have boosted the international reputation of champagne houses. 

II – Behind the bubbles

Effervescence was introduced very late. At first, bubbles were undesirable, misunderstood and seen as a flaw in wine. This type of wine wasn’t nearly as popular as it is today, it was even called wine of the devil because of the unfortunate tendency barrels of bubbly had to explode in the hold of ships carrying them. Even once it became a more common style of wine, sparkling wine was much sweeter at its beginnings than Champagne is today.

The elaborate process behind making sparkling wine, which we are about to go through, was developed in stages by several people. There have been many contributors to this process, and each Champagne house has its own history and specificities.  

 

Before bubbles come into the mix, Champagnes is a wine made pretty much like any other. Grapes are harvested and pressed, just as if we were making white wine., and the grape varieties used are Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. These last two are red grapes with white flesh, and so they must be pressed very lightly to result in white wine.  The juice then goes into a vat, and then what we call the “Prise de mousse” (secondary fermentation) takes place in the bottle.

As the wine is bottled, additional yeast is introduced so that it can consume the leftover sugar. This prompts the creation of carbon dioxide, as the wine stays in a horizontal position 9for 12 months at least) and the wine ages on its lees.  There must be at least 15 months between the introduction on of additional yeast and its removal, and this limit increases to 3 years for champagnes wich are “Millésimés” (Vintage). This is the legal framework, but in reality most Champagne makers keep this process going for much longer.

The yeast at work during all this time eventually coagulates into residue which must be removed from the bottle. In order to achieve this, the bottles are turned upside-down very slowly using a riddling table, a process which is often automatic nowadays. The Yeast eventually comes to rest in the neck of the bottle, and is then submerged into a liquid which will freeze the residue. The last step called “dégorgement”(disgorging) consists in opening the bottle by popping out the frozen yeasts.

Before the bottle is corked once again to be distributed, an expedition liquor is added to the wine. It contains wine aged by 2 years at least, sometimes combined with sugar. The quantity of sugar added will determine the flavour but also the category of the champagne. From the driest to the sweetest, these categories are: brut nature (or non dosé), extra brut, brut, extra dry, demi-sec, doux.

Hopefully you now know how champagne is made and prepared for distribution. Once you have your chosen bottle, what will you pair it with? A few pointers to help you out.

III – Food and Champagne pairings

For this purpose, we will separate types of champagne into 4 categories. « blanc de blancs », made only from chardonnay, « blanc de noirs » made only from the red grapes  Pinot Noir or Pinot Meunier, rosés Champagne, mostly made from a mixture of red wine from the region and champagne, and finally vintage champagne.

« Blanc de blancs » will go well with meals that call for sharper wines. A good example is seafood or oily fish varieties like salmon. You could also think of getting sushi for this type of wine. Another idea would be soft cheese, such as Saint-Félicien.

Regarding « blanc de noirs », their fruity aromas will allow you to venture out towards dishes with more character. It is sometimes even served with foie gras, as mentioned in our previous article. You could also go for white meat dishes, for instance turkey with chestnuts.

Rosé champagne is the only rose wine which is made by mixing red and white wine, it is known and appreciated for its powerful and fruity profile. Rise champagne goes well with meats like duck or lamb, but also with fruit pies. It is sharp enough to cut through pastry, and its fruity flavours complements that of the fruit.

Finally, to find a perfect match for vintage champagne, you can use its slightly oily and powerful characteristics. Don’t hesitate to serve it with ripened cheese, or dishes served with mushrooms. 

Ready to taste ? 

You are now ready to begin sampling different champagnes over the holidays, and try food pairings you might enjoy. So cheers, and make sure you surprise you guests with original and elaborate food pairings. Champagne is a wine to celebrate with, but also and fortunately a wine that can be had at any point during a meal and complement many dishes!

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Cider, drink of the kings

This time around, we wont be telling you about grapes but turning towards the subject of apples. Indeed, as we are getting ready to welcome the twelfth night pancake to the table for the feast of the Epiphany, we mustn’t forget its traditional partner: cider. This sweet drink is often underrated, partly due to the low-end, massively produced versions of it we encounter. What we are getting at in this article is rather the fruit of aged artisanal techniques and savoir faire.

Cider has had an eventful and unique history. For a long time, in France, it has been a common and renowned beverage. In fact, its popularity increased considerably after the Phylloxera epidemic hit the country’s vineyards. However, cider’s century long ascent reached its peak in 1914 before declining sharply due to the two world wars, which had a harsh impact on Normandy, Maine and Britany to a lesser extent. Thankfully, in more recent years, cider has made a comeback and many wine cellars are beginning to recommend and sell some. It is the perfect opportunity to bring cider back to the table and enjoy a bottle with friends and family!

Let us take you through cider’s origins and making process as we uncover the secrets to its production.

I – How and where is cider made in  France 

            As you will have figured out, cider is made from apples, but not just any apple. Indeed, there are about 400 varieties of apples in France today, which can be classified into one of three categories according to their flavour profile: Sweet apples, sour apples and bittersweet apples. From here, producers can assemble apples from different categories or stick to a single one.

Apple trees distinguish themselves in that they only produce fruit every other year, that is if they are not tampered with in a chemical process. Contrary to the practice for grapes, harvest is conducted once the fruit has fallen and apples are picked up from the ground. This is typically done between September and December.

            Once the apples have been harvested, they are stored in a warehouse where they continue to develop all their aromas and flavours. They are then washed and crushed so as to later extract the juice. But before the crushed apples are pressed for juice, they are exposed for a few hours in vats away from the open air. Then, just like grapes in wine making, the apples are pressed and the juice collected.

             The high levels of sugar in the apples will cause the juice to ferment very quickly. The juice is promptly pumped into a tank, often in a dry and cool environment. Once the process of fermentation has come to an end, the juice is once again pumped out and unwanted particles are filtered out. This is when the alcoholic fermentation begins: again similarly to winemaking, yeasts will consume the sugar present and release alcohol and carbon dioxide in its stead.

            Opting for a long and slow fermenting process will result in a high quality cider, which explains why certain AOCs require a minimum duration for the process.

            Once it has fermented and the required amount of alcohol is reached, the cider is bottled at last. The fermentation within the bottle is slowed down so that the cider may the be kept for years.

II – Food and cider pairings

You will have heard of the typical pairing of the moment: cider with the Twelfth night cake (called cake of the three wise men in France: a buttery pastry stuffed with frangipani) a truly delightful match. But cider can be had with a number of other dishes, thanks to its powerful flavours which allow many types of pairings.

            You could go for the regional pairing of the terroir by serving cider with a classic Camembert from Normandy. The acidity and freshness of a good cider will offset the creamy texture of the cheese and the two will go together beautifully. In this case we recommend going for a traditional style of cider.

            The beverage could also be selected to accompany white meat or shellfish based dishes. Indeed, cider is often used in beef recipes or to craft sauces. Alternatively, cider – especially medium dry cider – is a good choice for sweet-and-savoury dishes, or cheese made from ewe’s milk. Raw cider boasts high levels of acidity and can also be served with soft and pressed cheese, or be had as an appetiser.  

III – Welcome to cider-land

This article wouldn’t be very helpful if it didn’t explain the different types of cider and appellations in order to give you a clear picture. The categories of cider are determined based on the level of alcohol they contain. These categories are:

  • Sweet Cider (doux) which does not ferment too long. Alcohol level must be below 3%
  • Semi-dry cider (demi-sec), between 3.5% and 4.5%
  • Raw cider (Brut), which ferments longer and alcohol content is higher (between 4% and 5 %)
  • Traditional cider is the name given to ciders with alcohol content higher that 5%, quite like an extreme version of raw cider.

 

            After many years of studying boundaries and product specifications since the 1980s, cider producers were finally granted their first AOCs (appellations) in 1996: Pays d’Auge and Cornouaille. Ciders from these regions must satisfy certain requirements, which guarantee a minimum level of quality, paired with the expertise of the producer making the cider.

            It was only in 2016 that Cotentin also obtained its own cider appellation, since product specifications took much longer to gain approval.

We strongly recommend that you make the trip to Normandy or Britany to discover their wonderful ciders. It’s a shame that this delectable beverage has lost in popularity in the past years because of the market of mass produced average ciders, even though skilled producers are still crafting exceptional bottles that deserve to be kept and enjoyed. Some of these producers we can recommend are Lesuffleur and Lemasson in the Cotentin. In order to discover the region and the pleasures it has in store, why not take a day to follow the cider trail, peppered with castles, horse farms and manor houses …

If you’re interested in a day trip, don’t hesitate to look at offers from mywinedays !

Best wishes !  The whole team of the guide Le Décanté wish you the best for year to come. We hope it will provide you great discoveries and moments of sharing.

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Come up with the perfect food and wine pairings for the holiday season!

Come up with the perfect food and wine pairings for the holiday season!

Holiday season is most definitely upon us. If you haven’t thought about wines to go with your Christmas dinner, it’s more than time to get cracking. But not to panic, the Décanté team is here to help.
Tis the season to share joy and a good bottle of wine with those you love. Although within the team, impatient or epicurean as ever, there is no need to wait for a festive occasion to crack open a special bottle.
We are well aware that the appellations (AOC, IGP…) can’t aspire to completely defining a wine – a winemaker’s work greatly impacts the wine’s quality and character – however we will use them as reference to tell you all about the wines you could choose to refine your meal. It is undeniable that appellations still stand for quality most of the time.

In order to give you a wide berth, we will go over all the main foods we typically encounter at Christmas. If on a whim you decide to stray towards an ambitiously unique meal, ask your wine merchant for advice as he will surely be delighted to help out.

Here are the keys to setting up for unforgettable evenings around an expertly thought up table.

I – Appetisers and starters 

We’ve selected a few original pairings for your great Christmas classics.

Let’s begin with our oysters. Often Muscadet is associated with them, and for good reason as they do very well together! We can recommend the wines of Jo Landron, the new ambassador of the region. Otherwise you could go for a Chablis, or a Chenin Blanc and play with their sharp and vibrant character. To be even more original you could venture out towards a young Riesling.

Now regarding Foie Gras, have your pick of the litter! You could go with the traditional Sauternes. It can, however, seem slightly sickly to some due to its sweetness. In this case you may favour a semi dry such as Vouvray. It could also be served with Champagne (Blanc de noir, and an old millésime), a Porto, or even an old red Bordeaux from Haut Médoc (but avoid those with a strong woody character).

Now, if you prefer Salmon as a starter, we can suggest a very different type of pairing. We quite like to counter the fatty quality of salmon with some acidity to cut through it. This can be found in several wines, take for example a champagne, ideally blanc de blanc extra brut. If you’d rather steer clear of bubbly, try a Riesling with sharp acidity, from Mosel in Germany or Alsace. We can recommend the Bott Geyl domain, or Achilée in Alsace. Finally for something more traditional but just as pleasing, why not select something from the Sauvignon Blanc variety, like Sancerre.

It would be a shame not to mention Scallops these wonderful shellfish we call Saint-Jacques. You could serve them with a Savennieres, or even a Champagne (extra brut or non-dosé).

Finally, the ultimate starter: Caviar. Enough to make quite a few green with envy, you might as well serve it with Champagne. Don’t hesitate to vary the Champagne according to the types of Sturgeon and their flavour characteristics.

II – Mains

Would it really be Christmas without the classic turkey? It is often served with chestnuts, and would be the perfect match for very fine reds like Burgundy. Our thoughts go straight to Corton Volnay, but you could also pick a Morgon which would suit perfectly. A millésime from a few years ago, ideally. Another option is to aim for wines such as an old Moulin-à-Vent (Beaujolais). In any case, avoid serving wines with too strong a body and high tannin.

            Another classic, Capon, can be served with wines from the Loire Valley (Vouvray and Montlouis-sur-loire in particular) or a white Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Truly a match made in heaven. Alternatively, a red Châteauneuf-du-Pape will do very well too.

            Perhaps Christmas, for you, calls for game instead. In this case, we can suggest a wine from Languedoc or from Provence, like red Bandol from a few years ago.  Otherwise why not give Cornas a try, a little gem from the Rhone Valley which we tend to forget. This wine, just like a Côte-Rôtie, would be the perfect escort for quail.

            Holiday season if also a good occasion to share platters of seafood, either as a main or a starter. In this case, white wine from Burgundy is always a good choice: Meursault, or Montrachet in the may variations they come in. Or perhaps the more budget-friendly Givry or Montagny. A more original choice would be white Hermitage, always a pleaser too.

 

            If you’re lucky enough to sample some truffles over Christmas, select your wine depending on what you serve them with. With eggs, in an omelette for instance, go for a red Beaujolais (Cote de Brouilly, or Morgon for a more powerful option) or a wine from Loire like Saint-Nicolas de Bourgueil. Served with white meats, a white would be more appropriate for truffles. Hermitage, Saint Joseph or a white from Burgundy.

III – Cheese

Here we are, face to face with our toughest dilemma: red or white with cheese? We won’t attempt to convince you either way, but rather to give you a few pointers.

An old classic consists in serving camembert with cider. Trust us, this will forever be a pleaser. For soft or pressed cheese, you can’t go wrong with a white wine, or even bubbly. They go very well together and light acidity will cut through fatty cheeses. This pairing always goes down well.

It remains difficult to convince those who like red wines with their cheese. In this case, you’d better stick to rather powerful reds such as those produced in the Rhone Valley.

IV – The Christmas Yule log

We did warn you we were going over the classics. What could possibly be a more typical Christmas dessert? Unfortunately, one could easily go wrong in selecting a wine for this delicacy.  Many serve it with champagne, although bitter chocolate doesn’t really go down well with its acidity.

            We recommend having a look at fortified wines. Often we think of Porto – and it does indeed work very well – but you could also choose young wines from Maury or Banyuls, in the south of France. A true delight.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year !

And there you have it, the perfect wine for whatever classic you decide to enjoy over Christmas. So don’t hesitate to introduce a little bit of variety and most importantly to share it with your loved ones.

            All of the Décanté team wishes you a splendid holiday season. Make the most of it, and don’t hesitate to share your favourite food and wine pairings for the occasion in the comments. Cheers!

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Top principles and steps of wine tasting

Top principles and steps of wine tasting

Have you ever wished you could taste a wine like a pro and uncover all its secrets? Read on to discover the method and different steps of wine tasting.

More than an art, wine tasting is really a moment of pleasure. In order to experience the complexity and expression of a wine, however, it is crucial to acquire a little bit of basic knowledge. Conditions, steps, appraisal, we will provide you with all the key insights required to effectively decipher a wine and show off a little on Saturday evenings over drinks or dinner.

I – The key steps of wine tasting

In order to successfully taste and appreciate a wine, there are few principles you must follow. First of all, using adequate material is crucial. Getting specific wine glasses is the first crucial step of a tasting. Last November, during a wine fair called “Sous les pavés de la vigne”, a winemaker even told his team “the glass is 80% of the wine tasting”. INAO glasses are a base requirement in order to enjoy all the aromas the wine has to offer. Other glasses with specific characteristics exist to accommodate particular wines, especially great wines, and let them express the wide range of aromas they can deliver. 

Once you’ve validated the glass, special attention must be paid to the environment: you must be surrounded with neutral scents and benefit from natural lighting, to better observe a wine’s colour. A white background or piece of white paper will be very helpful in observing all the subtleties of a wine’s appearance. Wine writers even speak of dinners during which they saw one of the gentlemen present roll up the sleeve of his smoking jacket to inspect the colour of the wine in his glass against the immaculate white background of his shirt sleeve!

Once all these requirements are satisfied, it is time to proceed to the wine tasting, but in a specific and important order which will depend on the wines you’ve chosen to explore. Generally, you would begin with dry white wines, followed by rosé, then red, and finish with sweet wines and liquors. You mustn’t forget to keep a sharp eye on temperature as the wine is served. To get this right, ask the staff in wine cellars who will certainly be able to give you a recommendation.

II – Wine and the delicate art of making it twirl

The visual step of appreciating a wine is seriously underrated, when really it deserves to capture all of our attention. To master this first step is to uncover a great deal of information, such as the age of a wine, details about its geography and origin, and even the amount of alcohol it contains.

 

If you tip the glass 45°, you will be able to better admire a crucial element: the colour and intensity of the wine. For white wines, the colours will range from translucent to straw to deep gold. Rosés can appear to be any variation of grey, faded salmon, or raspberry pink, while red wines vary from vibrant ruby to brick red, sometimes diverting towards the deep purples.

The hues observed in a wine will give us an clue on the age of the wine.  Green hues in white wine and bluish hues in reds will indicate youth, whereas silvery hues in a white wine and copper, crimson hues in a red will betray its age.

Finally, if you delicately swirl the wine around in your glass, you will discover what we call the legs of wine. That’s right, a wine can surprise you with its fine legs. They look like tears running down the side of you glass when you hold it upright again, and they betray the level of alcohol which is escaping through these discreet trails.

III – The bouquet and aromas

The nose, or bouquet of a wine must be examined in three stages. An exhaustive approach will ensure the wine surrenders all the delightful (and not so delightful) scents it conceals.

During the first exposure of a wine’s aromas, we keep an eye out for potential flaws and the initial aromas. To do this, you simply give it a sniff before even swirling it around. There are 6 main flaws to look for, the most famous of which is the scent of corked wine. You may also encounter a certain scent which some commonly compare to horses or stables, or oxidation, where wine will smell like chards and lose some of its colour and aroma. Other relatively common flaws include volatile acidity (nail polish, glue), a smell comparable to a musty and humid environment, and what is referred to as beady, or slightly gassy wine, which, surprisingly enough, is sometimes appreciated. This last flaw can be corrected by sharply tossing the wine around or by transferring it to a decanter.

The “second nose”, or second exhibition of the wine’s aromas, will help you decipher the subtler aromas or the aroma families. If you are struggling to put a finger on a particular scent, try to take a step back and identify families of aromas instead. Here are the most common:

  • Fruity: citrus (lemon, grapefruit, orange), white fruit (apples, pears), yellow fruit (peach, apricot), red berries (strawberry, raspberry, gooseberry) black berries (blackberry, blueberry, blackcurrant)
  • Floral: white flowers (acacia, hawthorn, jasmine), lime tree, violet, iris, peony, rose
  • Green or vegetal aromas: forest floor, mushroom, scrubland, thyme, moss, ferns
  • Spice: pepper, clove, ginger, cinnamon, vanilla, liquorice
  • Mineral: granite, iodine, gasoline, flint
  • Strong and bitter: burnt, toasted aromas, woods, coffee, cacao, caramel, tobacco

The third and last « nose » which the wine will reveal gives you an opportunity to notice the evolution of aromas, since they will shift with time. After a few moments, take another sniff at the wine in your glass, it will probably have opened up and be offering new aromas for you to discover.

IV – Gustatory bliss

You are now prepared, excited, and impatient to bring this delicate liquor to your lips. By this stage, you are certain the wine doesn’t have any major flaws and awaits but your imminent satisfaction. Move on to the next stage with confidence, but keep paying attention to what your senses are telling you.

            The quality of the wine in terms of taste is the first thing you will feel. As you analyse the “attack”, or initial pang of flavour, the mid-tasting feel and the lasting flavours, you can create a comprehensive panel of flavours and sensations you will or won’t appreciate. Try and identify whether the aromas you identified in the previous step carry on to the palate, as they say.

            The second parameter you might think about has to do with balance, whether the sensations you feel weigh each other out or whether one dominates. For white wines you look at acidity, sweetness and alcohol, and for reds you must also consider tannin. An unbalanced wine isn’t necessarily bad, some are actually designed to be more acidic, for example, and very much appreciated. More generally, however, a delicately balanced wine is valued and conveys an agreeable harmony.

Et voilà, vous savez l’essentiel de la dégustation !

            N’hésitez pas à partager cet article avec un maximum de monde afin de connaître les clefs de la dégustation. N’oubliez pas que le vin ça se déguste mais ça se partage, c’est le plus important. Aller chez un caviste vous permettra de savoir dans quelles conditions déguster un vin et avec quoi l’associer au mieux. Vous rendre dans un bar à vin vous permettra de déguster dans des conditions optimales. Alors n’hésitez plus à faire la démarche ! Faites-vous plaisir, mais toujours, faites attention, l’abus d’alcool est dangereux pour la santé ! 

Bonne dégustation et n’hésitez pas à commenter ce que vous aimez déguster 

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L’abus d’alcool nuit à la santé.
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