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Bordeaux– France
Learn about Wine Tasting

Bordeaux, wine capital of France and perhaps the world. Where else to learn the secrets of wine but at L'école du Vin in the centre of this beautiful city. Moira McCrossan went back to school.

Wine Tasting


Our lesson started at 10am, not the best time of day to drink wine, but according to Elsa our lovely tutor, the morning is when the taste buds are most discerning. We started with the sniff test to give our noses an idea of the aromas to seek out in the wines. There are 11 aroma families but 5 was enough for us. Five tiny sniffing bottles contained variously smoky, floral, vegetal and fruity scents, all connected with particular wines or processes. Smokiness comes from the barrel ageing process, the aroma of violets is found in the merlot grape, while the fermentation and maturation of dessert wines produces an apricot aroma.


After a potted history of wine, in particular 2000 years in Bordeaux, we learned of the devastation of the crop in 1850 by phylloxera, a louse transported from America. This malady has never been remedied and still remains in the soil, not only in Bordeaux but world-wide, with only a few places, such as Chile, clear of it. Fortunately American rootstock was resistant to the disease and now all the vines are grafted onto American rootstock. How close the world came to losing the joys of fine wine!

Bordeaux is the largest fine wine producing region in France, and because it has such a range of soils and microclimates, it also produces a range of different grapes. Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc are the main varieties with one or two other types of grape grown in small quantities. They all have different characteristics, which are then blended in different proportions and aged either in barrel or vat to produce a huge variety of red wines. Similarly with white, the main grapes are Sémillon, Sauvignon Blanc and Muscadelle producing mainly fresh aromatic dry wine, best drunk when young.


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We learned about the "terroir", which is the term to describe how the soil, the climate, the aspect and exposure of the land all contribute to determine the quality of a wine, along with the all important expertise of the winemaker. Bordeaux has everything, gravelly heat retaining soil for the slow ripening Cabernet Sauvignon and cool clay soil for the early Merlot, two rivers to water the vines and the perfect autumnal climate of early mist and afternoon sun for the "noble rot" required for the prized Bordeaux dessert wines.

By the time we had all this information and a great deal more, we were ready for the taste test. The first wine was white, a young fresh wine, which we could tell by holding the glass up to see the pale yellow almost greenish colour. This was even clearer when we held it under the light, where the green reflections sparkled all around the edge.

Comparing the wines under lightNext we sniffed, detecting fruity and floral aromas. But after swirling the glass the aromas were much stronger and more complex. And finally the tasting. Elsa showed us how to sample a small amount of wine, hold it in our mouths to allow our taste buds to experience it, then to breathe in through our mouths for the retronasal effect in the nose and finally to spit it out and see how long the taste remains. She then guided us through the words to describe the taste. Was it sweet? No, it was dry. How acid was it? It was fresh or lively not soft or acid. Length, how long did the aftertaste last? We repeated the process with two reds, a mainly Merlot blend, clear ruby red, black berried and fruity and a mainly Cabernet Sauvignon, purplish red, red berried and smoky, with a stronger tannin taste. By the time we finished with a sweet white, golden yellow, fruity, honeyed dessert wine, we were all much more confident in identifying and describing the tastes. Elsa explained to us that these descriptions are not just imaginative or comparative but that the molecules are the same ones as in the fruit and the skill is in identifying the taste in the complexity of the wine.

The course we took is one of several at L'école du Vin. Ours was the Initiation Course and well worth the modest fee for the two hours. Elsa, our tutor, has not only followed a course of study in wine but she also ran her own vineyard for years and she and her family are still involved in the wine business. She also gave us advice about buying wine. So next stop the wine shop!








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