Type of wine
Colour and appellation
In France, AOC appellations refer to a strictly defined area and a specific selection of grape varieties. This classification system gives wines from different terroirs their uniquely recognisable personalities. AOC (controlled designation of origin) therefore remains an important quality guarantee.
Wines to keep, or wines to drink right away... it all depends on the vintage! Always remember to check the year of production on the label. The character of winemaking grapes varies from year to year due to climatic variations, and it is always a good idea to know whether a given year was rainy, dry, cold or mild...
Matching wine and food
Finding the right wine for the right dish is a serious art, where the possibilities for combinations are endless – with certain basic rules.
Generally speaking, experts recommend light wines for light dishes, and more substantial wines to accompany richer fare.
Some suggested combinations:
White meats: red wines with light tannins
Dishes with rich sauces: full-bodied red wines
Spicy dishes: white or rosé wines, or highly tannic red wines.
Fish and seafood dishes: dry whites, but certain powerful reds can also prove to be a surprisingly good match!
Foie gras: sweet whites
Desserts: dry or medium-sweet whites.
Studying a wine's colour allows you to make an initial judgement of its state of maturity. For sweet whites, the lighter the colour (straw-yellow) the younger the wine. For reds, the deeper the colour the more powerful the wine, with a greater concentration of tannins.
Observing the nuances of colour and light in a wine can also help determine the wine's state of maturity. Thus, for red wines, a hint of ruby red and flashes of violet indicate a young vintage. Conversely, a deep scarlet colour with hints of brown indicates a certain level of maturity.
Once you have studied the wine's appearance it is time to assess the bouquet. This is a crucial part of the tasting process, and can help you to identify the terroir (thanks to the dominant aromas), the characteristics of the vinification process (secondary aromas) and the age of the wine (tertiary aromas). Aromas are classed into set categories: animal, balsamic, woody, chemical, spicy, smoky, airy, floral, fruity, vegetable.
The first breath you take will allow you to identify the nature and intensity of the wine's most volatile aromas. For this reason you should never agitate the wine before taking the first breath.
The second breath (and you should now begin to lightly swirl the wine around the glass) will reveal the animal and balsamic aromas... and their level of intensity. As you agitate the wine more energetically, you may pick out any defects present in the nose (mustiness, cork, sulphurous compounds).
The third breath will allow you to analyse the wine's tannic and oak aromas, and thus assess its potential for ageing.
Sweet, salty, bitter, sour: these four basic sensations are at the root of all taste. Remember that a wine's flavour will evolve and develop in your mouth. The attack, or opening, reveals the wine's level of smoothness. Acidity and bitterness will be detected within 12 seconds at most. Ultimately, it is the experience of the wine's flavour on the palate which allows you to determine its quality. Indeed you can identify a truly great wine by its length of flavour. The aromas in a mediocre wine may last for around 3 seconds, but the flavours of a great wine will persist for around 7 to 10 seconds.
Tasting also allows you to assess a wine's substance. Full-bodied, hearty wines owe their consistency to their strong polyphenol content. A wine which is hollow, dry and thin is the product of under-ripe grapes, or a substandard vinification process.