Being French comes with a sizable amount of drawbacks but also a few noticeable advantages. First and foremost, growing up in France, wine was always present at family dinners, functions, events…My family was actually making wine in Burgundy and my grandfather was an agricultural engineer so I picked up some wine knowledge as I was growing up. It’s pretty awesome to have your grandfather casually explain how grafting American vines helped save the French winemaking industry that was dying because of phylloxera (I’ll write about that in another post because that’s a great story).
But picking up bits and pieces of knowledge around the dinner table or the vacation house only gives you just that: bits and pieces. It’s hard to have a global view with those; you need more structure, a more comprehensive approach. That is why I started taking classes, to replace what I knew in perspective, make sure my basics were solid and then expand outward. Furthermore, growing up in France, I had more experience with French wines, I’m taking classes in Boston where I live and where US, Australian or South African wines are more easily available which (hopefully) corrects my French-centered wine education.
The classes are really fun; they mix theoretical knowledge with tasting, trying to establish the basics and illustrating it with relevant wines. There is also a tasting method which has the merit of assuring a systematic approach to the wine. That way, comparisons between wines are easier since you tasted them the same way.
This is by the way my single biggest takeaway from the classes: it is much easier to pick up flavors, intensity, acidity levels, tannins… when tasting 2 or 3 wines in succession. Going back and forth really helps me distinguish wine characteristics; it’s really a case of comparison and contrast. This being said it remains hard to pinpoint aromas with the trained and imperious certainty of the wine expert! Try and recognize an elderberry or gooseberry aroma!
Anyway I’ll take my first exam in a couple weeks then start the next block of classes early next year. I intend to practice a lot in the meantime. And yes, by practice, I mean drink. And yes, by a lot, I mean a lot.