Posted by / Category Cultural Differences, French food /

Usually, just because I am French, I am asked to choose the wines for outings, conferences and the likes. The thing is, I have no idea what to do, because I know next to zero about wine. But I can’t say so, because I am French and all French are supposed to be experts in such things, right? I had to learn a few tricks to be able to talk about wine. Why didn’t I just tell the truth? Well, because I would have had to write and print dozens of fliers and distribute them every day to acquaintances, friends and colleagues. That’s how bad it was. What to do? Once again, I learned to go with the flow…Here is how I did it:


First of all, I added a few terms in my vocabulary:

  • Aroma: I need to be able to say things like it’s buttery, creamy, and round. I may even say it’s a little oaky, since it’s been aged in the wood. How about ‘this white wine is more acidic and fruity ‘(that’s bound to impress, right?)? Oh, and  did I just get a whiff of chocolate? I am unstoppable now!
  • Tannin: Tannin makes a red wine taste a little rough, but it also gives it the structure it needs over time to smooth out and age. As for red, a Cabernet Sauvignon from France’s Bordeaux is more tannic. The trick is, you can find tannin in white wines too (but less often). Tannin gives the wine its dry taste, and is often a sign of an older wine. Prepare statements like ‘Tannic wines are all about ageing gracefully’. Just like French women, come to think of it. Just saying.
  • Terroir: this is about what makes a wine unique. It’s about the climate, the soil and everything in between maybe. My trick: read the label, it should say where the wine is from.Well, hopefully.

Now: Old World versus New World

The main point of distinction when picking up a bottle is whether the appellation is listed on the label (It usually is). It’s good to know that wine labeling falls into two camps: Old World (Europe) and New World (everywhere else). If you are truly French (or if you want to sound like one), you will frown upon any wine that’s not from France. The rest of Europe might (only might) be tolerated (occasionally, that is). I know it’s a shame, and between you and me I am quite fond of some Chilean reds and Australian whites, but I would never, ever, admit to it. That’s the way it is. Never.

Right now. Let’s continue. Here are a few facts you need to learn:

  • A good non-vintage Champagne will be a blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier, and it’ll have aged at least 15 months in bottle, if not longer.
  • Regions you should know: Chablis, an unoaked Chardonnay from northern Burgundy; Sancerre, a minerally Sauvignon Blanc from the Loire Valley; and Chianti, an acidic red wine made of the Sangiovese grape from Tuscany that happens to go great with food (and to top everything up it shows that you know when to recommend a wine that’s not French, which proves that you are open-minded -sort of-).
  • Again, have a look at the label. The region should be listed as well, and it’s a pretty good indicator of the quality level of the wine — the more vague will be a more entry-level wine, while a more specific notation usually means the grapes are from a concentrated vineyard area with a higher quality control.

And here is how you need to behave:

Do Hold by the Stem

There are a lot of opinions on the temperature at which a red wine versus a white wine should be served. Although it varies by grape and style, whites as a rule are generally chilled, while reds are served a little below room temperature, and Rose even colder. Especially if you’re in a fancy restaurant or at the home of a wine connoisseur, the way you hold your glass of wine tells a lot about your level of knowledge. How to look like you know what you’re doing? No matter what the wine, hold the glass by the stem, instead of gripping the bowl — it keeps the temperature of the wine the way it should be longer, and therefore doesn’t alter the flavours. And whatever you do, don’t put ice in your glass, unless it’s filled with water, obviously. I know a French woman who has dumped her American boyfriend because he wanted some ice cubes in his wine. Now you are warned.

Play it cool with up and coming wines

There are lesser-known regions producing killer wines for a better price than a Chateau Petrus (which isn’t too hard, come to think of it). These wines are some of the best wines for the best price coming from France, and you’ll look like you really have the inside scoop. Like lighter reds? Look for wines from the Beaujolais — no, not the Beaujolais Nouveau that comes out in November. You want wines from the Creuse regions, like Fleurie, Morgon, and Régnié. For fresh whites, try Sancerre’s neighbouring towns like Quincy, Pouilly-Fumé, and Touraine. They’ll share some of those minerally aspects of the famous Sauvignon Blanc at a more affordable price. The Côtes du Rhône region makes gorgeous, rich, full-bodied reds from North to South. And if you ask me, a red Cote de Provence from Correns is as good as a good Cote du Rhone. But I am not objective, I am from there. I know, I know.

That said, if you are in a bad mood and are not willing to play the wine expert, there is a trick I use from time to time: ask to have champagne with your dinner. Things cannot go wrong with a good champagne and, frankly, it goes with most dishes and flavours. But beware: you need to drink champagne in a flute, not a regular glass, and to cut a long story short, the smaller the bubbles, the better. You want a ‘methode champenoise’ champagne (fermentation in the bottle), and nothing else.

I know, I know, it is tiring to be a wine expert. Right now, I need something to chill. Like, a glass of wine? Sante!