The basics of wine tasting

Sep 21 2011 by
Categories : Culture

Continuing on my travels through the
Cote D’Azur, I have come to realize many things about the French way of life: Mornings must begin languidly with a croissant and double espresso while taking in the azure waters of the Mediterranean (especially if you have the luxury of seeing the views from
Hotel Martinez). It becomes quickly apparent (after viewing stunning French women at every corner) that owning one
Hermès silk scarf is clearly not enough. Wine should never (ever) be turned down, regardless of day, time or how little you may have slept the night before. In keeping with these new found philosophies, I visited the island of 
Île Saint-Honorat, home to the Cistercian monks of the Abbaye de Lérins to learn the basics of French wine tasting. This tranquil 15th century monastery has been producing its own Pinot Noirs as of late and I had the pleasure of tasting (and tasting) the many varieties of this exceptional grape. Although I consider myself a bit of a
connaisseur, I enjoyed a refresher on training my palette to distinguish the varietals of a
vin rouges.

Clarity: Tilt your glass by an angle of 45° to look at the top (the disk) of the wine to see the true colour of the wine. It should be bright. The deeper the colour, the more concentrated the flavour. Pinot Noir will be transparent, a light ruby red, while a Syrah is more densely purple.
The tears (or legs): Swirl the wine inside the glass and note the number of
tears (the streams of wine that trickle down the glass). This will tell you about the levels of acidity in the wine, the alcohol levels, plus the sugar content. The slower the tears move down the glass, the higher the alcohol level in the wine; also, the thicker they are, the larger the body and sugar content of the wine.
The scent: A critical step. Trust your instincts when trying wine (you may not be right often, but there is no shame in exploring your olfactory senses!). What aromas do you detect?  Honey, black currant, clove? A wine’s scent is the purveying indicator of its complex characteristics and quality.
The taste: There are many layers in tasting a wine properly, but what is most important (regardless of grape) is balance. You want each component (ie: alcohol, acidity, flavour and tannins) to compliment each other, not overwhelm. Once the wine culminates on your palette, you can explore the aftertaste: How long did it last? If light-bodied, the flavour last mere moments; if full-bodied (reminiscent of a heavy cream) it will coat your throat and stay longer.
Flavour impression: Was is your last impression of the wine? Are you encouraged to take another sip? After having my share of the
2008 Saint Sauveur Vieilles Syrah, all signs point to "Oui!". (
Insiders Tip: If you do have the occasion to travel to
Île Saint-Honorat, have lunch at
La Tonnelle, a charming restaurant at the water’s edge that serves up pan friend fois gras with violet confit, or petite friture with lemon. C’est magnifique!)
For more information on
Île Saint-Honorat, please visit:

Categories: Culture