Georgia Institute of TechnologyMike McCracken's GTL-Blog
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Wine

So much wine, so little time.

That pretty much sumarizes it. I have never in all my life seen so many different types, styles, etc. of wine. I'm not a connoisseur but I do enjoy wine, and my opportunity
to come to France included sampling the fermented grape juice of the country.

The understanding of wine requires many things, primarily a book that helps you decipher the wine labels. Basically, the wines in France are from regions (or domaines) and each domain, or sometimes several domains, has a set of rules that determines all kinds of things about the wine, how it is sold, what can be sold, yada yada yada. Some of the regions or domains (actually most) don't allow the bottler to say what grapes constitute the wine. Generally, varietals (familiar to US buyers) don't exist except in the cheapest wines. So, you get out your books look up the domaine, see if the vineyard is in the book, and go from there. Remember, what is ok or used or called in one domain may not be used, or ok or called in another domain. Oh yeah, I forgot appelations, which is an area governed under a particular set of rules that can go so far as to what type of grape can be grown, or how many grapes per acre your vines are allowed to produce.
Here's an example. In Bordeaux, there is a set of appellations called Medoc. In the Médoc there are eight appellations
  • two regional appellations, Médoc and Haut-Médoc, and six communal appellations : Saint-Estèphe, Pauillac, Saint-Julien, Moulis en Médoc, Listrac-Médoc and Margaux. And on and on, so....

So much wine, so little time. You can spend time trying to figure it all out or you can spend time sampling it. One person's style may be different than another's, so whatever you do, just enjoy it.

My style is to look at it as a game, and have fun. Look at an obscure label from Medoc, versus Haut Medoc, and try figure out what they are saying. But tasting is more fun than figuring.

I'll add more, but here are a few tips. Go to wine stores to buy wine. The proprietors, in general, are fanatics about wine, and have their own scouts who go out seeking the best buys just for that store. If the proprietor likes it, you will most likely like it as well. They also have tastings going on all the time, so you can try before you buy. That's another part of the fun, sampling (did I say that yet? Tasting wine is fun).
If you must visit Cora or Auchon, note that they have around 500-1000 different wines, sorted by region, and what you find today, may not be there tomorrow. I've found some good wines at Cora, and lots of mediocre ones.
My little grocery near my current apartment even had a tasting when the Nouveau Boujelais came out in the fall.

I like to concentrate on wines from a couple of bucks (Euro bucks) up to 10. Frequently you can find acceptable stuff at 2, and pretty good stuff in the 7-10 eurobuck price range. You can also get some rot gut at the 2 euro level, but rot gut over here is not like the rot gut in the US.

There are also categories that differ across regions, though some of the terms for categories seem fairly consistent. If the bottle says table wine, that's what it is, the lowest category. Next is vin de pays, wine of the land, which is a step up from table wine. Then after that it gets goofy.

My wine tasting hobby is two dimensional. Try as many different ones as you can. In France, that's likely because I can't seem to find the same thing, except for the ones I don't like. The other dimension is see how low you can go. Reading about neglected but coming back to form regions led me to Cahors, a region in Southwest France, just below Bordeaux. I have found some very good wines from Cahors and some of the nearby appelations. Same goes for some of the lesser known Cotes de Rhones.
If you want to stick with the famous areas, such as, Bordeaux or Burgandy, you will often be disappointed (I should say, I was), because in the 7-10 eurobuck range, there isn't very much I would brag about. Pretty bland. Get into the 15 and up range, and they get pretty good. But, I'm a cheapskate.

One last thing. If you go to lunch or dinner while visitng a university or company, they will invariably serve you the wines from their region. They are all justifiably proud of the wines they produce. At one university in the Britany region, they were a little embarrassed since they only had white wine in their region. Just think how it would be if you lived in a region of France that had no wine! Oh dear.

Last modified 9 January 2006 at 12:24 pm by Mike McCracken