In a previous article, I took the liberty of unjustly criticizing those (mainly frat boys) who, solely according to stereotypes, seemed a tad unsophisticated. I chose to focus on their preference for Natty Light rather than a refined vino as reinforcement for my assertion. However, looking back at how I developed an affinity for wine, I realized that it was, in no way, cultivated in the collegietteTM atmosphere here at Davis. Actually, my adoration for this beverage really began while I was abroad as, before my adventure, I adhered to the cliché college girl criteria, merely focused on tallying up my beer pong wins and counting down the days until the next keg crawl. So, its not a surprise that some college aged guys and girls, especially those under 21, are unaware of the awesome world of wine.
Wine plays a huge role in French food, culture, and history. Whether it’s having a glass of rosé on a summery afternoon in the Jardin de Luxembourg, pairing a fine Cabernet with a filet mignon, or sipping a Chardonnay while strolling through the vineyards of Chablis, the French see themselves as the connoisseurs of wine production.
My zest for wine came about when I decided to go for a refreshing drink with a local Parisian after a day of meandering through the Centre Pompidou (Paris’s museum of modern art). On a warm, sunny day back in mid-September, we stumbled upon a cute, little Parisian café with tables and chairs lining the sidewalk, perfect for people watching (a classic French pastime), sipping sumptuous aperitifs, and noshing on some crudités.
When the waiter arrived at our table and asked for our order, I naively answered simply saying, “I’ll take a glass of white, s’il vous plait”. Admittedly, I was somewhat satisfied with myself for being what I thought to be sophisticated enough to legally order a glass of wine (as I was only 20 at the time and drinking age in Paris is 18). To my chagrin, he ensued by asking, “Yes, but what kind?” with a puzzled look. That’s when I realized I had absolutely no idea whatsoever what I was talking about or what to order because the extent of my wine tasting experiences consisted of slapping wine bags and chugging it out of a spout.
Back in Davis, my drinks of choice usually included Smirnoff and Redbull or, when I felt like taking it easy, a Keystone Light. Before my experiences abroad, I never actually had to consider what I was drinking, where it was made, or what type I wanted, because, in all honesty, my main objective was pretty much getting wasted. We never held a wine tasting in the Segundo dorms, beer pong tournaments with wine seemed counterintuitive, and playing flip cup with wine just seemed too messy.
So, when I finally came around to answering the waiter, I hesitantly replied, “Ugh… I’ll just have what he has”. This is when I realized I wanted to know more about wine, not just for the sake of impressing my dates, but because it plays a huge role in the French culture as well as many others. In addition to being a great social lubricant, it offers a great topic of conversation pertaining to food, hospitality, and travel. Hey, if anything else, the alcohol content in a glass of wine can be up to twice as much as that of a cheap beer depending on the type so if that’s not a selling point to convince someone to learn about wine, then I don’t know what is.
From Merlot to Bordeaux, Sauvignon Blanc to Pinot Gregio, each wine has its own idiosyncratic taste based on its region, grape, and climate, among other factors. Hopefully, these facts will offer a bit of clarity rather than confusion so when girls out there are trying to impress their dates (whether they are frat boys or Frenchmen), you can understand and discuss what to order when wine is on the menu.
How is wine made?
VERY simply put, grapes are cultivated then harvested, typically in the fall after the summer crop. They then undergo a fermentation process where grapes are juiced, the juice is put into barrels, yeast is added, and the concoction is left to ferment. Depending on the type of wine, objective of the wine producer, and the type of grape, the wine is left for a prolonged amount of time before being bottled and prepared for consumption.
What about tasting the wine itself?
There are three main components to wine that essentially make up its style: look, smell, and taste.
The look: When looking at a wine in a glass, you want to regard the consistency of the drink and the depth of color. First, swirl the wine around in a clear glass then set it on a flat surface and watch as the liquid trickles down the sides of the glass. The trails of trickling wine are called the “legs”. The “legs” indicate sugar and alcohol content and the faster the “legs” move down the glass shows that there is more alcohol than sugar while slower ”legs” mean more sugar. Another aspect of look is color.
Color is important because it demonstrates the intensity of the wine and can even reveal the origin of the grape. To check the color properly, tilt your glass slightly against a white surface and take note of the color and intensity. For example, if you tilt a glass of red Merlot, expect a darker, better concentration of color because the grapes are from the south of France, which is warmer in climate. The darker and bolder the color of the wine means that the wine has more tannins (antioxidants founds in the skins of the grapes that influence the color and texture of the wine).
The taste: When tasting a wine, you are trying to identify all the elements that differentiate this wine from others. The factors that contribute to the taste of a wine include the soil from which the grapes grew, the type of grapes used, and the oak of the barrel in which the wine itself was fermented. Is the wine spicy? Is there a taste of cinnamon or vanilla? Maybe tobacco from the oak or a berry flavor from the soil? Flavor can also be a product of region like color. For example, wines from the southern, warmer climates tend to have a sharper, more full body and bolder taste.
Example of a wine profile- Sauvignon Blanc:
An authentic Sauvignon Blanc is a white wine, AOC certified from the Loire Valley and Bordeaux regions of France. The taste tends to be citrusy because of the soil. The wine tends to be more acidic and dry as a result of the yeast leaving some of the sugary tastes of the grape remnants behind in the fermentation process. When assessing a sip of wine, let the wine rest on your tongue and breathe in air. Why? To oxidize the wine, release some of the tannins, and create a stronger taste and change in flavor. Beware- as you warm the wine in the mouth, you extract alcohol and it goes through vapors straight into your head making you get drunker faster (although this may not be too much of a bad thing…). Wine is meant to compliment food and bring out flavors otherwise hidden in the cuisine so, in the case of Sauvignon Blanc, it is best paired with seafood and sushi.
Random Facts to Impress:
Wines are named either based on their region of origin or the type of grape used in the production process. European wines tend to name their product based on the region while American and Australian wines name their wines depending on the distinct grape used.
Wines are barreled in only two types of oak barrels- American Oak or French Oak because oak is a porous material.
Contrary to popular belief, a metal, screw top offers better preservation than a traditional cork unless you intend to age the wine in the bottle, especially for a red.
What are the best years for French wines? 2000, 2003, 2005 (best of century) and 2009
On most bottles of French wine you will see the expression “Vin d'AOC”. AOC stands for Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée. This stamp of approval means that there has been a monitoring process to verify that the wine, claiming to be from a particular region of France, is truly produced in that respective region.
To some, wine may be a glorified, elitist drink more appropriate for slapping out of a bag than leisurely sipping and discussing. However, to those epicureans out there, interested in learning about, tasting, and enjoying the taste of wine, I can only hope that this will provide a brief introduction that will prompt an interest in wine and encourage those to take advantage of attending the number one viticulture school in the country. À votre santé!
Edited by: Amy Coyle