Authentic France Travel Tip #13: Don’t Be Intimidated by Winetastings

If you have even the remotest interest in wine, it would be a shame to visit one of the myriad of France’s wine regions and not experience a winetasting.

As discussed in the comments of my last Frenchitude post, the big commercial tastings that you pay for are fine if you want to taste a bunch of wines with no obligation to buy, or tour really impressive cellars. However, I persist in believing that the heart and soul of French wine culture resides in the smaller family-run Domaines.

There are of course hundreds of these all over Burgundy, but it is not always easy for a visitor to summon the courage to push open their doors and venture inside.

Many visitors to France know little about winetasting technique or appellations or terroirs. French winemakers, by definition, know a lot. It’s definitely outside most people’s comfort zone to willingly enter into such an unbalanced situation. As adults, most of us are not big fans of feeling ignorant.

However, allow me to let you in on a little secret…the least favorite tasting clients of my winemaker friends here in Burgundy, by a long shot, are the ones who have spent years building up an encyclopedic knowledge about wine, and who are dead set on showing it off.

I regularly hear complaints from local winemakers about this brand of client. One superb but low-key winemaker I know has said of them, “they are so focused on trying to impress me with what they think they know that they spend all their time pointing out the flaws in my wine. They don’t appear to enjoy the wine they’re tasting, and I know that I’m certainly not enjoying myself.”

In my opinion, trying to impress a Burgundian winemaker reeks not only of the pretentious, but of the ridiculous. Consistently I have found that the more a French person knows about wine, the less they need to show off that knowledge.

One amazing tasting I did at the Domaine Comte de Vogue in Morey-Saint-Denis was ample proof of this. Francois Millet, the winemaker, obviously possessed an other-worldly knowledge of wine, and one taste of his “Les Amoureuses was proof enough that he also boasted a winemaking talent of the same breadth and depth.

Yet Monsieur Millet spoke very little, mainly letting his wines speak for themselves. When he did answer a question about winemaking technique, he answered plainly and simply. In France, and perhaps especially in Burgundy, trying to impress everyone with your store of wine knowledge is the best way of illustrating how little useful information you actually know.

Instead, consider winetastings an opportunity to discuss and learn. With this attitude, you will make yourself welcome and appreciated at all kinds of Domaines, from the biggest to the smallest.

Also remember there are no right or wrong answers in regards to how a wine tastes. As Aimé Guibert, a Languedoc winemaker, rhapsodized in the film Mondovino, taste is “an internal symphony”. He describes taste as the marvelous alchemy between what you have inside you and how that relates to the wine you drink. It does, and should, vary widely from person to person.

That is precisely what makes wine, and winetasting, so fascinating.

*”Authentic France Travel Tips” are posted every Tuesday and give ideas for savvy travellers who want to experience the authentic side of France.