Tuesday, February 16, 2010

All about Wines

During our trip to Paris, we took an introductory wine tasting tour at the O'Chateau. I have never been to a wine tasting before and somehow I never warmed up to the smell and taste of alchohol but I decided to surprise Ashok for our anniversary and I am glad I did because this tour made me see wine in a whole different light, literally and figuratively.

Before I move on the tour, I should explain my general opinion about alcohol. Before I came to Europe, alchohol meant taboo and drinkers meant bad guys and wine shops meant filthy looking places with drunkards and cops, in short, everything I knew can be summed up in sarakku, thottuka ooruga, adichitu kuppara padukardhu, galatta panradhu (sorry, can't translate this) - thanks to tamil movies and some local rickshaw/auto drivers ! In college, I heard kalyani, Pondicherry trip for beer (there is a hilarious dialogue from Santhanam in a movie where he is chased by someone, turns to his friend and says ''inga odinadhuku badhila ECRla odirndha Pondicherry poi sarakavadhu vangirkalam''...ROFL !), ragging for beer and one always kept a safe distance from all of these/them and pretended not to hear any of these/them. Then I come to Europe and find people talking about choosing a wine to go with Lasagne, another to go with dark chocolate, champagne with strawberries to bring out the flavour, Aperitifs, Digestifs, Glühwein, Feuerzangenbowle (we actually had both Glühwein and Feuerzangenbowle at work for christmas celebration) and the list is endless...of course there are people who get hammered for the sake of it but the concept of drinks with food was completely enlightening to me (although James bond drank Vodka Martini, you hardly see him drink it with a meal, right ?)

All this in-turn softened my judgement about alchohol and drinkers, in general, although I still cannot identify with people who think drinking cocktails is fashionable and juices are for kids.

Now to the tour itself......

It took place in a 17th century wine cellar and we entered to find a wine map (seriously!) that explains the different kinds of wines manufactured in different parts of France, on display in the centre of the cellar, with tables arranged with wine glasses, bread and a sommelier who spoke English with a very delightful French accent.

It was an introductory tour for an hour and we tasted (as in, had 2-3 sips) 3 different wines - a dry white wine and 2 red wines. Although to me, they tasted like a mixture of cough syrup and amma's kashayam, Ashok enjoyed them a lot. I thoroughly loved the interesting facts that accompanied the tasting and here they are.

Wines follow the same principle of desi food - using all senses to enjoy food - hear (the cork pop in this case), see, smell (no touch though) and then taste.

La Robe: What do you look for?
Clarity, Brightness, Viscosity and Color.

Clarity: Any wine should be clear
Brightness: The more acidic a wine is, the more reflective its surface (if you tilt the glass and hold it against a paper, you would see what I mean)
Viscosity: The more the sugar, the longer the wine will take to flow down the glass when you tilt it and bring it back to the normal position
Color: If the surface is lighter than the body in case a red wine, its a young wine. The darker red wines are usually from the south (color attributed to the weather and grape produce). In case of a young white wine, the surface is darker than the body.

Le Bouquet: What do you smell ?
There are 5 flavours: fruits, flowers, spices, wood (depending on the barrels in which the wine is stored), animals (apparently leather is a flavour too! am not kidding !)

Take a whiff, shake the glass (gets oxidised) and then take a whiff again and you would be amazed at how different the wine smells !

La Bouche: What do you taste ?
Take a sip and think about what you taste. Then take another sip and take in some air (it makes a weird gurgling sound, so you might want to not try it at a work party !), and then swallow to experience another new taste.

Note: When Ashok was completely enjoying this step, to me, it tasted like nail polish remover and while I was wondering why it stuck me - oxidation => higher alchohol content => you never try this when you are having a hot drink which already has a high alcohol concentration to begin with and especially, if your body is not used to alchohol at all !

Ever wondered what all that information on the label means ?

Appellation: Refers to the origin of the wine (a region that is classified mainly based on the produce as well as weather)

Chateau/Domaine: While the former refers to large 40-50 acre vineyards, the latter refers to smaller ones. The smaller ones generally do not have mass production or exports and hence offer better choices at very reasonable prices. Chateau/Domaine is usually followed by the name of the winery.

Year: Obviously the vintage. 2005 is apparently really good !

Younger the red wine, the healthier: yeah, yeah, its not vintage but it is full of anti-oxidant that burns fat, improves blood circulation and fights cancerous cells. The longer a wine is storied, the lesser the concentration of anti-oxidant, so vintage wine burns just your purse and not your natural insulation :D !

Did you know that....

....white wine can be made from black grapes ?
....dark chocolates are perfect with spicy wines ?
....vegetarians drink organic wines ?
....weather and hence the grape produce influences the quality of wine and certain batches/vintage (like 1997) should be avoided ?
....sweet wines are always stored in transparent bottles ?
....and the sweetest of them can contain up to 900gm of sugar in a litre ?
....it is illegal in France to call a wine, Champagne unless it is made from grapes grown in the Champagne region ?
....Bordeaux is the largest wine region in the world ?
....a glass of particular variety of vintage wine from the Bourgogne region can cost upto 12000 euro and is served only in one restaurant in Paris?

If you are thirsty for more, go wine tasting the next time you are in France. à la vôtre !

Note: Obviously I am making my feelings about alchohol clear since I know there is a good chance that my family will read this post ;) :D


  1. Appreciate the details in your post. Wine is a divine piece (I feel our Soma Banam and Sura Banam directly relates to this). Its an art!!

    //Younger the red wine, the healthier://

    Is it.. Thats news to me.. If it is very young then it becomes grape juice!!

    //I still cannot identify with people who think drinking cocktails is fashionable and juices are for kids.//

    சறுக்கிட்டயே சிங்காரம்!!(as in kadala kadala vadivelu)

    //Note: Obviously I am making my feelings about alchohol clear since I know there is a good chance that my family will read this post ;) :D/

    No other comments so far.. guess everybody wants to make their position clear :D

  2. WOW!!! I have always wanted to go on a wine tasting tour.. may be this summer.. But France and Wine cannot get any better than that!
    Yes the idea of wine changed for me too after coming here, though I do not support drinking as a habit I am not against having a sip with your food. Infact some cooking wines add a lot of flavour to food :)

  3. @Bharath
    A few desis have got on my nerves by saying they only drink ‘mojito’ or ‘Manhattan’ and I used to think germans kooda ivalo scene podardhilla, that’s what prompted that remark

    @Musing Gal
    Cooking makes me think of amma and I have never mustered up the courage to add wine to food !

  4. Good tour sowmy..We had been to one in Napa Valley and am recollecting the facts..Its amazing how some fine wine drinkers can identify a lot of facts mentioned above...ennala adhellam panna mudiyathu but I love red wines and reislings(Polka Dot-German reisling try pannu)...a glass ..or maybe 2 is perfect to chill during the weekend :)


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