Friday, December 9, 2011


Last night Mr. Oil and I attended a wine-tasting course offered by WICE, an anglophone organization here in Paris.  The event was about the wines of Bordeaux, with a "wine master" leading the tasting.  This was part of the numerous activities I signed up for in the first month or so of moving here so that we would have things to look forward to.  And also when I was feeling like euros were monopoly money. 

Not surprisingly, we were the youngest people there by quite a bit.  One guy was maybe around 40; everyone else was our parents' age (no, you guys aren't old, really, just oldER).  But perhaps surprisingly, we actually enjoyed ourselves quite a bit. 

At first we were overwhelmed and feeling absolutely out of place, as everyone else discussed previous tastings, and dinners with $70 bottles of wine, and trips to vineyards, and soil.  And when Tom, the wine master, started speaking, it seemed like a foreign language.  Because we simply did not realize that people actually said things like, "We like our wines to be disciplined in our mouths" or "You need to relearn what merlot means when you come to France" or "they oaked the he** out of that wine."  We did manage not to laugh out loud, though I couldn't resist whispering to Mr. Oil, when Tom asked to identify what we smelled in the first glass, "I smell wine?" 

The first two rounds were a bit of a guessing game. We had two samples of wine in two identical glasses in front of us.  One was from the left bank of Bordeaux and one was from the right bank (news flash: there is a left and right bank in Bordeaux! the wines are different!).  Apparently the left bank is more "gravelly", more "black/blue fruit", more "masculine".  Right bank is more "red fruit", more "clay-y", more "roundness." Still I say, smelled like wine to me.  It didn't help that I have possibly the worst sense of smell in the universe.

But by round two of left bank vs right bank, we were hitting our groove.  Words like "deep", "dry", "fruity", and "juicy" starting rolling off our tongues and we were in there with the big kids, debating the merits of the two samples.  I actually got it right, at which I point I may have exclaimed, "YES!" with a certain level of naive enthusiasm that probably underscored again the fact that we had no idea what we were talking about.  I also jumped on a bandwagon of ridiculous analogies to classical music, in which I claimed I got the answer right because I could smell the Beethoven in the one wine (as opposed to Chopin in the other).  Possibly now everyone at the event thinks I know stuff about classical music. 

Tom also told us to make sure to take a moment to "love our wine."  Which basically means - just because we were sitting around over-analyzing in overly intellectual ways the characteristics of these wines doesn't mean we shouldn't also just enjoy them.  And this was nice to hear, since my general approach to wine is - if it tastes good to me, then I like it.

We tasted seven wines, which range in price from 40 euros - 70ish euros a bottle. In other words, more than we spend on wine, for sure.  And while I'm not sure I can tell when the "structure is integrated with the fruit" or predict whether the "new oak will integrate with the flavor" or what "complexifies" a wine, I did learn something about wines from Bordeaux and I also learned that people who talk the wine talk may also be full of bullsh*t half the time (except for Tom).    So there's no reason that we can't talk the wine talk too!

If you're curious, here's a list of the wines we tasted.  6 of the 7 were 2004 wines - "young" wines that are beginning to be drinkable but should improve in the next 6 years.  Oh, Tom also told us not to be afraid to start our own wine cellar - though I did point out to Mr. Oil that this seems to require having, oh I don't know, a cellar?

1. 2004 St Emilion Grand Cru Classe, Chateau La Tour Figeac
2. 2004 Pessac Leognan, Chateau Haut-Bailly
3. 2004 Pauillac 5th Cru Classe, Chatue Haut-Batailley
4. 2004 Pomerol, Chateau Guillot Clauzel
5. 2004 Margaux 3rd Cru Classe, Chateau Ferriere
6. 2004 St Julien 2nd Cru Classe, Chateau Leoville Barton
7. 1998 St Emilion Grand Cru, Vieux Chateau Chauvin

And just a note about this last one. Which was definitely the best.  I mean, that was legit good stuff.  As Tom starting smelling it (because we would take several sniffs before even venturing towards the palate), he started exclaiming, "Figgy! Figgy!"  You have to love and respect anyone who speaks with such unequivocal reverence about their subject matter.  Listening to Tom expound on the smells of the '98 St Emilion - "Carrot!" "Some rust!" - with exuberance and true passion made us feel like we too could shout "Figgy!" to the heavens and happiness would rain down upon us. Or something like that.