France is host to some of the most beautiful wine producing regions in the world. Almost everyone has heard of the French wine regions Burgundy, Bordeaux, Champagne, Chablis, and Rhone. These diverse areas of France host an incredible number of vineyards and wineries, and are areas that also produce a very large number of the top wines in the world, such as Louis Latour, Chateaux Lafite and Mouton Rothschild, Cheval Blanc, DRC, E. Guigal, Chateau Margaux, and Chateau d’Yquem, among many, many others.
An excursion to wine country from Paris is usually a multi-day affair, as the distances can be great. Champagne is the closest region to Paris (less than 200 km northeast of Paris), with Chablis and Burgundy being the next closest. Bordeaux is probably the most well-known, and is around 500 km southwest of Paris. Check out our Paris Transportation Guide for more information on getting to Bordeaux and other wine regions. Whichever wine region you choose to visit, once you arrive it is a good idea to do some pre-wine tasting preparation. Here are ten tips to ensure you enjoy your French wine tasting experience, and aren’t faced with any unpleasant surprises.
1. Plan ahead
Nothing is worse than wasting precious wine tasting time trying to figure out where to go, and which wineries to visit. So do some homework prior to your trip. Purchase a guidebook dealing with the wine region(s) you will be visiting, and note the wineries you wish to visit. Although they can be expensive, a wine tour may be a worthwhile investment, as you won’t need to worry as much about the planning, and can often get access to wineries that you wouldn’t if going it alone.
2. Wear sensible, comfortable clothing, especially your shoes
Wineries sometimes give vineyard tours, and wine tastings are often underground in a cave used for aging barrels of wine. Getting around can involve lots of uneven ground, rocks, stairs, etc. In the wine cave, it can also vary in temperature a great deal from outside, depending on the time of year you are visiting. Be sure you have a jacket or sweater, just in case the temperature is uncomfortably cool.
3. Don’t wear perfume or cologne
A large part of tasting wine involves smelling it, and if you, or someone else in your group, happen to be wearing a strong perfume or cologne, it can mask the subtle scents of the wine. Best to not wear perfume when wine tasting, both for yourself, and those around you.
4. Bring cash, in local currency
Many wineries charge a nominal fee to taste their wines. Although this is much more prevalent in the United States than abroad, it is good to be prepared. If there is no tasting fee, be prepared to buy a bottle or two of wine, as wineries may aggressively market their wines to you while you sample, and some don’t accept credit cards.
5. Check for tasting rooms in villages
Many of the local villages in wine country will have a tasting room within the village, often representing a number of the local wineries. Search these out to save time (and money).
6. Drink lots of water.
This prevents dehydration, especially in the warmer weather, and also helps prevent intoxication, and feeling lousy the next day.
7. Remember to eat
There are many cafes and restaurants in wine country, so make use of them. If you are drinking wine all day, it is wise to keep some food in your stomach. Additionally, wine is usually much more enjoyable when paired with cuisine. Many wineries will have small bites available to you, but bringing or buying your own is a good idea.
8. Don’t be afraid to spit
Wineries provide buckets to dispose of your unused wine. If you don’t enjoy a particular offering, just pour the remainder into the dump bucket. No explanation is needed. Everyone’s palate is different, so something that tastes awful to you may be delicious to the person next to you.
9. Have a designated driver
While Europe is a bit more lax than the United States when it comes to drinking and driving, it is still an excellent idea to have an individual who is not drinking wine act as your driver. Nothing would be worse than causing an accident or ending up in jail.
10. Have fun!
Even the best-planned excursions can go awry, so relax and enjoy the experience. Sometimes the best wine comes from that tiny estate in the middle of nowhere that you stumbled upon after you made a wrong turn. Be flexible, and open to the experience, and you will enjoy it much more. And who knows, you may just get the inside track on the next Chateau Lafite Rothschild!
Photos: top photo by roblisameehan, all other photos by Robert Frost
About the author:
Robert Frost is a wine connoisseur currently living in Portland, Oregon. He has a carefully selected wine collection of close to 300 bottles from around the world, though primarily reds from Washington, California and Australia. He has been active in the Portland wine scene for the last 3 years, and is often found wine tasting with friends in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, or in one of the many Washington wine regions.
Professionally, Robert is the Director of Internet Marketing & Strategies for a Portland-area technology startup called Process Path, Inc., and is also the owner of RPerro Media Services, a search engine marketing and social media consultancy.
Outside of work and wine, Robert enjoys running and weightlifting, mountain biking, hiking, rock and mountain climbing, and spending time with his family and friends. He is an active member of many communities in Portland geared toward technology and marketing, such as PDX Mindshare, Young Professionals of Portland, and the Portland Social Media Club, as well as several wine-related meet-up groups. Robert blogs about wine, and life in general, at www.rperro.com.