Tag Archives: Le Nez du Vin

History of a Wine Lover

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View from “La Hungerie” in Normandy

When Relationnel and I first met 16 years ago, he had a wonderful cellar but no one to share it with. Although I hadn’t done any serious wine tasting, I loved good wine. So I was delighted to help him taste some of the bottles he’d been keeping in reserve. I can still remember the taste of a wonderful bottle of Château le Bonnat 1988 that we sipped on a terrace with a bucolic view of the Norman countryside in front of a plate of oysters.

So when I was asked by a colleague at university to be part of the adjudication committee for a terminological dissertation on wine tasting, I didn’t hesitate. When the defence was finished and we’d given our mark, the student, who had studied to be a sommelier, gave us a mini tasting. What a revelation! When I got home, I told Relationnel that I wanted to go to wine tasting classes. “No problem”, he said, “we can join the oenological circle at work”.

Bergerac in February

Now why hadn’t he mentioned that earlier? So off we went and that was the beginning of a wonderful adventure into the realm of wine growing and wine tasting. We gradually learnt what to look for when tasting a new wine, helped along by the “Nez du Vin”, a collection of tiny bottles containing different “noses” which I have described in a previous post.

Our holidays from then on usually revolved around wine. We’d choose a region, find a gîte to stay in for a week or so and armed with the independant wine growers’ guide Gilbert et Gaillard, visit a couple of cellars a day. Depending on the time of year, we’d spend the rest of the time hiking, visiting, cycling or sipping wine in front of a log fire. Our first wine holiday was in Bordeaux in 1999 and we came back with the boot of the car chock-a-block, the prize possession being a 1964 bordeaux supérieur that cost us 50 francs. We certainly regretted not buying a couple of dozen but we weren’t sure how it would travel.

Loire Valley in May

I don’t remember the order of our visits, but we once had two unforgettable weeks in Alsace during harvest time. We’ve tasted wine in several parts of Burgundy and the Loire Valley, as well as Sancerre, Beaujolais, Cahors, Minervois, Bergerac, Gaillac, Jurançon and Nîmes. We’ve also toured vineyards in Italy and Luxembourg, not to mention the Hunter Valley and Orange in Australia where I came across an old school friend from Townsville running a vineyard with her husband! We’ve tasted wines in Switzerland, Germany, Croatia, Slovenia  and even Egypt!

As time passed, our cellar became overstocked and our wine consumption dropped, particularly when I decided that I needed to lose weight, so our holidays are much less focussed on wine these days. However, now that we’ve bought a house in the Loire, we feel we should get to know the local wines better. And to start off, I went to a wine tasting yesterday in Blois at Vinomania with fellow blogger Femme Francophile, based on the connection between the history of the Loire Valley and the local wines.

I could honestly say it’s the best wine tasting I’ve ever had. More tomorrow!

Le Nez du Vin

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One of my greatest frustrations during our 4-part introduction to wine-tasting many years ago was my inability to identify all the “noses” that the other participants seemed to have constantly … on the tip of their tongues. “Blackberry, most definitely”, they’d say, or “bilberry – reminds me of my grandmother’s tarts”, “morello cherry – just like home-made cherry brandy”, “wild violets – you can smell the undergrowth”, “hawthorn – shades of country lanes”. “Mmmm …”, I’d say, trying desperately to memorise the elusive scent.

Although I’ve now been living in France for over 30 years, my childhood in the Australian tropics did not prepare me in any way for the subtleties of berries and flowers from temperate climes. The next spring, during our long country walks, Relationnel would invite me to smell the blossoms along the way: hawthorn, wild cherry and apple blossoms. I gradually began to enrich my olfactory memory and was delighted when I, too, could identify what the French usually lump together as “fleurs blanches” or “white flowers”. When the summer came, I seized every opportunity to smell all the different berries available on the market. But having to wait until the season came around again made the learning process a little slow.

During the wine-tasting classes, our instructors used to pass around tiny numbered phials of “noses”, part of a collection of 54 different concentrated aromas called “Le Nez du Vin” with an explanatory card for each “nose”. Since the full collection was rather expensive, we started with a smaller set of the 12 most common aromas found in bordeaux wines: strawberry, raspberry, black currant, blackberry, cherry, violet, green pepper, truffle, liquorice, vanilla, pepper and smoke (!).

It didn’t take long for us to learn them off by heart and it became our best party trick. One day, we tried them out on my daughter’s friend who was born and bred in the country and I was most reassured to see that she had even more trouble than me putting a name to what she could smell.

Of course, when we started tasting white wines, I came into my own: citrus fruits, pineapple, banana and lychee were far more familiar to me than wild berries of course. I’ve become quite an expert at picking up the “banana” aroma intentionally cultivated in “beaujolais nouveau”. Contrary to popular belief, most French people probably know less about wine today than Australians do. When beaujolais nouveau hits the cafés and restaurants on the third Thursday of November the question is always “does it smell of banana or strawberry this year?” Since people expect one or the other and love being able to get it right, the winemakers often adapt the wine-making process to produce isomyle acetate which is the molecule that gives a banana its characteristic smell.

Then one November, at the wine producers’ fair at Porte de Versailles in Paris, we didn’t like any of the wine we tasted so decided to splurge and buy the whole set of “noses”. The box is divided into citrus fruit, exotic fruit, seeded fruit, red berries, black berries, pitted fruit, nuts, floral aromas, vegetables, mushrooms, wood, herbs, spices, animal aromas and roasted aromas. Of course, the concentrated phials are only a reminder of the real thing, and what you can smell in the wine is something else again. Fifty-four aromas, however, are taking much longer to get our noses around!

But I can now identify most of the berries and flowers with a reasonable success rate, often confirmed by the experts at our regular wine tastings. And I can tell you, having the whole set is a much better party trick!

Le Nez du Vin: http://www.lenez.com/en/index.htm

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