France and wine go together …just like a horse and carriage, so to speak. What’s a visit to France without the proverbial wine tasting? With each nook and cranny of the French countryside, having its own signature varietals, you simply can’t have it all. Yet, you can make the best out each wine tour.
With the winery lingo vocabulary and a wide array of flavors to master, it is easy to be daunted. All it takes are but a few tips to have a fabulous time wine tasting in the French countryside. Miranda Mouillot wrote for Fodor’s Travel 10 Wine-Touring Tips for Beginners. Check out these tips:
- Don’t be embarrassed to start with a guidebook. A guidebook is something you can read in advance or stash in your bag for a quick reference. Even wine connoisseurs use them.
- But once you arrive, don’t be afraid to toss it in the backseat and ask around. You don’t need it; most winegrowers will regale you with facts and stories you’ll certainly don’t need your handbook. If you want to know something, just ask them.
- With or without a guide, always look for the caveau des vignerons. These are the cave cooperative, the groups that “promote, sell, and often vinify local grapes.” Mouillot likened these cooperatives to a gasoline station, a one-stop shop for wine tasting place and buying.
- Ask what’s beyond the caveau, too. Caveau offers more than the produce in the region. Here, they also combine the grapes of different growers and sells wines from small growers that use unconventional procedures to produce organic, biodynamic and sulfite-free wines. These wines can be a revelation; without sulfites you don’t get a hangover the morning after.
- Dine out. Since restaurants and vineyards have close connections, you can get recommendations from both about the best places to go wine tasting and the best places to dine.
- Call ahead. Since there is much work in vineyards and in the cellars, they may not always be close enough to hear you when you knock or buzz the doorbell. After the effort to drive all the way, make sure you’ll have an appointment or your schedule for wine tasting is right.
- Give yourself ample time. Wine is one of the ultimate slow foods. If you’re having fun, a tasting can last over an hour, so set aside plenty of time between visits. You’ll be glad you’re not in a hurry—and so will the person conducting the tasting.
- Don’t be afraid not to know. You don’t have to be a connoisseur to enjoy wine, which is the most important reason why you are visiting vineyards, wineries and doing a wine tasting. If you are interested to know something, don’t be ashamed to ask. Enjoy the opportunity to learn from masters.
- Remember to ask where to eat. Wine is best paired with food to better appreciate its character – robust or light, full-bodied, sparkling or sweet, etc. To find the best place to dine with a recommended bottle of wine, ask the vintner.
- Buy a bottle. Your host will greatly appreciate it if after the wine tasting or tour you’ll show your appreciation by taking home with you a small bottle. “… winemakers pour their hearts and souls into their product, so while some larger vineyards do not or cannot sell their wines on-site, if you’re visiting a small vineyard, buy at least a bottle to thank them for your experience.”
Finally, take some risks by venturing outside what you are used to, your comfort zone. If you are invited to taste something that you haven’t tried before, try it. It is not something that will make you ill, after all. What you’ll gain by testing is an experience and a lesson from a master; it is a rare opportunity so grab it.