Everything I Learned About Wine in France

May 17, 2017

Lessons in wine I wit & whimsy

When I was invited to visit the Languedoc region of France I instantly jumped at the chance to spend time in a part of the country I love so dearly that I previously didn’t know so well. As mentioned in this post, the Languedoc-Roussillon is the largest vineyard and wine producing area in all of France (they produce over 1/3 of all the wine made in the country) and, as it is just adjacent to the Mediterranean Sea, it benefits from loads of sunshine (320 days a year on average!), surrounding mountains and a variety of soil types that allow for successful terroir for grape growing.

In today’s post I’m excited to be sharing more about my trip, what I learned and a photo diary of sorts as well!

Lessons in wine I wit & whimsy

The region actually first recorded wine making in the 5th century (!) and produces approximately 2 billion bottles ever year. Through the trip we visited a variety of regions in the Languedoc to have a better understanding of how each of the different terroirs contribute to the taste and quality of wine. Because of the weather conditions it also allows the region to grow a large variety of different grapes.

Lessons in wine I wit & whimsy

While I’ve dabbled in learning about wine over the years thanks to many trips to Napa & Sonoma when I was living in California and an immersive experience in Bordeaux, I was amazed at how much I learned on this trip! As a means of sharing my experience, I decided to detail the top lessons I learned (or had reinforced) because I figured what I didn’t know, you might not know either.

I hope you enjoy!

Lessons in wine I wit & whimsy

1. Expensive wines do not equal better wines.

There’s so much that goes into pricing a bottle of wine, of course, but in the U.S. in particular it feels like we’re trained to assume when we blindly spend more money on a bottle at a restaurant or at a liquor store we’re getting a better bottle. The Languedoc’s wines are unique because, since the region boasts a variety of terroirs, they are able to grow a larger variety of different types of grapes. It allows them to make stellar wines at stellar prices. Seriously I couldn’t stop taking photos of many labels because I would take a sip and think “this is amazing” and the winemaker would tell me it was 9 euros – equivalent to about $11. I was astounded!

Lessons in wine I wit & whimsy

2. Sweet wines can actually be really great.

I don’t drink a lot of sweet wines. (I may actually have previously turned my nose up at those who do so regularly!), but when you take the opportunity to switch wines when you move to a cheese or dessert course, and opt for something sweeter, your dining experience will be greatly improved. So much so that I’m thinking of having friends over to do a sweet wine / dessert + cheese pairing party! Also a fun new-to-me-fact is that a sweeter wine like a Riesling can be wonderful when paired with spicy food so since I tend to put pepper flakes in everything I make (or overuse hot sauce on the regular), this is a pairing I’ll be sure to be trying out at home soon.

Lessons in wine I wit & whimsy

Lessons in wine I wit & whimsy

3. Rosé is a great wine to drink with food.

I feel like I often have rosé without any food. When it became all the rage stateside a few years ago, it seemed like drinks dates and get togethers surrounded splitting a bottle on a patio under the sun with no consideration for the type of food it might pair well. Turns out, rosé goes excellently with light salads, grilled white meats, seafood, goat cheeses and light pasta dishes. And by the way, did you know that rosé gets its beautiful color based on how long the wine is in contact with the skin of the grapes? The longer the contact, the darker the color!

Lessons in wine I wit & whimsy

4. Good bubbles don’t have to be champagne.

Sparkling wine is believed to have been born in the town of Limoux of the Languedoc! I tasted many that tasted just as good as champagne but didn’t come with the same price tag associated with champagne. (In case you are unaware, often times we use the word Champagne as a generic term for sparkling wine, but in many countries, it is illegal to label any product Champagne unless it both comes from the Champagne region and is produced under the rules of the appellation.) The next time you want to get some celebratory bubbles, take a look at sparkling wines that say Crémant on the bottle. It essentially means made in the style of champagne but not in the region of Champagne. You’ll sacrifice price, not taste.

Lessons in wine I wit & whimsy

5. Bubbles shouldn’t be drank in a flute.

This one was SO interesting to me! While flutes feel fancy and celebratory, they don’t allow you to aerate the wine, to swirl it or to properly smell it which is an important part of tasting.

Lessons in wine I wit & whimsy

6. You should avoid stemless glassware.

On this trip I was surrounded by serious wine people. They knew a lot and they shared a lot! One of the items they shared is how you should never drink wine out of stemless wine glasses. Temperature is wildly important when it comes to how you enjoy wine and when you’re holding the glass where the wine is sitting, you’re heating it up and potentially getting in the way of its taste.

Lessons in wine I wit & whimsy

7. Believe in blends.

Growing up in the States we are often trained to like a type of grape. So for example, I always say I like Pinot Noir. Then I started exploring and tasting these amazing blends the Languedoc winemakers were producing and I realized how much I undervalue blends when I go to pick out a wine! When I want red, I go straight to Pinot Noirs or Malbecs. But now I know just how many varieties of grapes there really are and that when looking at the majority of European wines you’ll need to actually turn over the label to see what grapes are in it (unlike many wines produced in the United States who all label the variety on the front.)

Lessons in wine I wit & whimsy

Lessons in wine I wit & whimsy

8. You can drink sparkling wines with food.

I really never thought of pairing sparkling wines with food. Unless I was at a party where champagne was being served with lite bites, I often think of champagne and sparkling wines as “stand around and sip” kind of wines. On this trip I learned how delightful sparkling wines can actually be when paired with dishes like terrines, coconut milk based dishes and, of course, with desserts.

Lessons in wine I wit & whimsy

9. Yes, you really should let wine breathe.

How many times have I come home and needed a glass of wine so I’ve promptly opened a bottle and poured myself a glass ready to take a sip immediately? Too many. But alas, it shouldn’t be done that way. Most wines need at least 30 minutes to be aerated and sometimes reds with lots of tannins may need even a few hours (say what!?). Since coming home I’ve practiced patience when I open a bottle at home and am also training myself to wait to really take in the glass of wine at a restaurant until its been on the table with enough time to breathe.

Lessons in wine I wit & whimsy

Here are a few favorite wineries whose wines I really loved should you want to keep them handy the next time you go to the store or order some vino online.

  • Domaine de Nizas
  • Château de l’Engarran (*this winery is a specialist in rosé for the appellation and the winemaker calls herself Madame Rosé! I adored her.)
  • Le Mas de L’Ecriture
  • Chateau de Luc
  • Chateau Rives-Blanques
  • Domaine Anne Gros (L’O de la Vie)

Finally, my new friend Allie from the trip is a columnist for Parade and has some handy, informative articles that I thought you guys would like as well such as: simple rules for pairing wine + food, rosé intel and even more background on sparkling wines.

A huge thank you to the CIVL of Languedoc for such a lovely trip to my favorite country. I can’t wait to return to the region someday and in the meantime I will enjoy it from afar by sipping wines from Languedoc!

p.s. 48 hours in Montreal and what I packed for France.

9 comments on “Everything I Learned About Wine in France”

  1. I visited Limoux (and the Toques et Clochers wine festival!!) two years ago – my mom and her boyfriend were living there for six months!! My dad lives in Napa, so it was such a fun chance to compare and contrast different kinds of wine. We still find blanquette (sparkling) from Limoux at some stores here, and it’s always so much fun to think about – looks like you had a great time!

    1. Ah so amazing you’ve been there as well! So beautiful, right!? How fun that your mom lived there and that your Dad lives in Napa! I love Napa and only wish I could go as often as when I used to live in SF! xx

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