French wine for dummies
Do you not know a thing about French wine? Do you want to shine at a fancy dinner surrounded by French people? You’re stuck at a Parisian restaurant table, with a waiter waiting for you to taste the wine? This French wine for dummies guide may save you from a great shame, and will let you know the things you have to know, and will eventually make you love French wine. Here are the basic things to know about French wine.
How it’s made?
The wine making process has 5 steps. Each one of them has its own matter in the taste of the wine. So knowing this process is the key to truly understand the subtilities of the several scents.
1.) Picking the grapes
Either by human hands or by a machine, it’s called « les vendanges ». To be sure to get the grapes at their best, they can either be picked at night or during the day. The aim is to capture the grapes with a stable sugar level.
2.) Crushing the grapes
White and red grapes are then crushed the same way. The white grapes, meant for white wine, go to a press to take off their skin, which produces a filtered pure juice, ready for the next step. As for the red grapes, they skip the separating skin process, and they are lightly crushed, this is why they give a red color.
3.) Fermenting the grape juice into wine
Basically, this is when the sugar turns into alcohol. To make the fermentation complete, winemakers add yeast. The red grapes are pressed after the fermentation process and are then filtered.
4.) Aging the wine
Winemakers can decide how they will age the wine, which is to determine its taste. Usually, white wines age for a few months, red wines are ready after 18-24 months. Depending on the kind of the wine they create, some prefer to age for several months, other for years. An oak barrel also gives a rustic flavor, while a steel one has a smaller impact on the taste.
5.) Bottling the wine
This step can either be done by hand or by a machine. The type of bottle and the chosen cork (natural or synthetic) are as well to impact on the flavor.
How to store it?
To keep the prime quality and the taste of your wine, you have to be careful with the way you’re storing it.
- Firstly, it has to avoid any UV rays, they could affect the taste. Leave it in a dark room, away from sunlight. This is why red wine bottles are mostly dark, some of them even have UV filters in the glass. You could as well wrap it in a cloth to avoid any contact with the UV rays.
- Then, be sure to let the bottle side up. If you store them upright, the cork will dry out and will allow air entering the bottle, spoiling the wine.
- Keep the wine in a refrigerated area. If it’s too hot, the wine will oxidize. The perfect temperature is 12.2°C (54°F). Try to keep the temperature as constant as possible, it shouldn’t change more than 1.6°C (3°F) a day.
- Keep the humidity rate around 70%. It helps the cork not to dry out and avoids evaporation. Nevertheless, a higher rate of humidity would allow the growth of mold and would spoil the wine.
- Lastly, make sure that the wine is not exposed to any strong smell ingredient such as onions. A wine breathes, meaning that it easily captures other flavors.
If you follow all those tips, your wine will be kept at its best!
How to taste it?
In every great restaurant, the waiter is to make you taste the wine. This process has three steps: you’re expected to firstly look at the glass, then to smell the wine, then to taste it. In France, it’s traditionally the eldest of the table who’s appointed. If you’re picked, don’t panic, and remember to look confident: this bragging moment is all yours!
1.) Look at it: When you need to give a look at the glass, focus on the color. Give the glass a small tilt, so that you can see the real color and not just the dark center of the glass. It gives precious indications about the wine, even if you’re a beginner. For example, if the color is not very intense, and quite watery and pale, it might not be a good wine. If the color is brown for the white, or orange for the red on the edges, the wine might be past its prime. Lastly, once you’ve had some experience, notice the leg of the wine. When you give it a swirl, it might let some tears running down the glass. Generally, the better the leg is the more alcohol the wine has: that flavor will be more intense and mouth-filling.
2.) Smell it: The smelling part is very important, it’s to make sure that the wine is not corked. The sense of smell is very strong (try to eat while holding your nose, you’ll notice that your brain won’t be able to process flavors). Try to focus on the wine perfume, and if you smell something like a wet newspaper, moldy attic, the wine might be corked. If you’re not sure, you can ask advice from the server or from the other people at your table. There is only one golden rule: never drink a corked wine!
3.) Taste it: The next step is to taste the flavors. Try to identify the several scents, it might be smoky, spicy, sweet, or fruity. You might even spot some earthy or mineral scents in the best red wines! Just focus on your senses, and enjoy this moment. The more experience you will get, the more flavors you will highlight!
How to pair it?
There are some strict rules when it comes to pair wine with food. Each French wine has its perfect match, so make sure to accord your food with it! Basically, pair meat with red, fish and seafood with white. As for the cook, grilling and frying fit best with red, while steaming goes with white. Keep in mind that cheese is always best with good red wine, and desserts are generally served with white. So if you have to choose between red or white, choose according to the dish you particularly want to highlight in your meal.
How to buy it?
Let’s be honest, if you’re reading this French wine for dummies article, you might not be a wine connoisseur… So when it comes to buying a wine on your own, it’s all about chance. Here are a couple of tips to survive this challenge, and to find a decent bottle for a decent price.
The main and the easiest place to buy wine is the supermarket. Of course, don’t expect to dig up the hidden exquisite perfect French wine, since the manager of the supermarket focuses on the profits, and sells the commonly known bottles. But though, it’s possible to buy good wine for not too expensive there. Even if the price is not an indicator of the quality, it can always give a clue. Just don’t buy anything below 5 euros, it won’t be drinkable.
Between 5 to 10 euros, expect a good bottle, but not a surprisingly astonishing one. Between 10 to 20 euros, you can find a great bottle for a fancy dinner with good friends. More than 20 euros, you can start to find a bottle good enough to age to get even better with time. But it’s always risky to buy such a bottle at the supermarket without tasting it. So keep this kind of purchase for a wine fair, where you can discuss with the producers and get advised.
If you’re going to a wine store, ask for help! They are professional and will be able to advise you! Don’t forget to remember their storytelling about the wine, it’s always good to put it back on the table with friends when you will serve it. Knowing that « the hill-slopes of the vineyards of this côte de nuit are carved into the hard limestones of the Upper bathonien » always makes the wine taste better…
If you want to hit jackpot, you could try these universal values concerning French wine. One of the most popular French wines is the Chateaux Margaux. It’s commonly known as the best Bordeaux wine, but it’s also very expensive. The price can raise up to 1000 euros for a bottle! Another very famous French wine is Château-Grillet. For most people, it is the best white wine produced in France (and in the world according to the proudest ones !). Count several hundreds of euros for a bottle.
But if you’re just looking for a nice place to drink it, without facing this great puzzle of buying it, here are the top 5 wine caves in Paris.
1.) La cave de Belleville
Between a supermarket and a kebab shop, you’ll find this very distinguished and elegant wine cave. This surprising spot serves an astonishing selection of the best wines. Besides the great cheese, you’ll be able to enjoy your wine with savory tapas. The food is a bit expensive, but the wine is definitely worthwhile, about 5 to 10 euros for a glass.
51 rue de Belleville, 19ème arrondissement, from Tuesday to Saturday from 10 to 23, and from 11 to 17 on Sunday.
Nearby Odéon, surrounded by expensive tourist traps, this wine cave is a hidden gem! You go there for the wine first: no menu, but just the owner and its 350 wine references. You tell him what you like and he serves you what matches your taste. You can have a small snack in case you’re hungry, for about 10 euros. The price for a glass is between 7 and 14 euros.
33 rue Mazarine, 6ème arrondissement, from Tuesday to Saturday, from 17 to 2 am.
3.) En vrac
This very cosy and comfortable wine cave proposes the best prices for a high-quality wine. Besides the traditional cheese and charcuterie plate, you’ll be able to enjoy the French cuisine with their ratatouille tart, or their vegetable soup. You can get a glass of their wine from 3 to 4 euros, and get a liter for 14euros.
2 rue de l’olive, 18ème arrondissement, every day from 10 am to midnight
4.) Les caves de prague, bastille
This secret Parisian spot is the perfect match between the authentic wine cave atmosphere and a warm comfortable decor. The great wine selection is surprisingly affordable, you can get a great bottle for only 16 euros. During the winter, enjoy the rustic wooden room, and relax on their lovely terrace during summer. And of course, their food won’t disappoint you!
8 rue de Prague, 12 ème arrondissement, every day from 11 to 14:30, and from 17 to 22:30
This wine cave is to make you live the traveling experience of its owner. Before opening his cave, he decided to travel all around Europe, seeking for the best cheese and charcuterie to pair with the best wines. He serves affordable plates to fully enjoy the wine, and the prices are not too high. For a very good bottle of wine to share, count 22 euros, and the plates are from 6 to 30 euros.
38 rue rené Boulanger, 10ème arrondissement, from Monday to Saturday, 18-midnight
Thanks to this French wine for dummies guide, you know now how to taste it, how to drink it, and how to buy it. But you’re still missing the last point to fully enjoy the wine connoisseur experience. Always keep in mind that appreciating wine is also spreading your knowledge. Let’s say it, what is the point of all this if not to brag a little during fancy dinners? So to perfect your learning, check out this top 5 fun facts about French wine! And remember to subtly expose your great new passion about French wine to shine in French society!