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Information about wine tasting of French wines – the web magazine for visitors to France.

tasting wine

Wine tasting

In 2000 we did extensive wine tastings to find out which shops tasted their wines before buying them.

We have independently bought and tried a number of wines. To begin with we bought some cheap wines and a Fleurie, Morgon, Mercurey or similar wine to sample. We aim to find out which places choose their wines with care and which sell the stuff the French won't touch.

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Remember that Supermarkets do not stock for long periods wines and have a high turnaround – labels and varieties therefore change constantly. How we do our tastings.


We carry out wine tastings for two reasons; firstly to find out which establishments take care in choosing their wines (or just sell anything that comes their way), and secondly, to find the wines which we would recommend.

Analysis has shown that spending less than 16 euro per bottle carries a high element of risk – only 1/3 of the wines we have independently bought and tasted have scored above 65% – a score we feel marks out the wines that are above average (54% passed if the cut off point was 60%). Journalists and other books dealing with Calais simply don't have the time to carry out the detailed research we do – and it shows. For example, Auchan Hypermarket is often touted as the best in Calais. However, our research shows that if buying wine (the main reason people come to Calais) you would be well advised to give Auchan a miss (food wise – apart from the fact it is too crowded, we quite like it though). On the other hand, a small supermarket called Monoprix had scored surprisingly well, although parking is difficult by the shop. For foot passengers this place is a hit as they offer a free taxi to the ferry if you spend 316 euro.

How we do our tastings

Almost all the wines we taste are red, and all are French. We try and get a good mix of the following wines; 2 or 3 from the Pays d'Oc, a Côtes du Rhônes, 2 or 3 Beaujolais cru (Fleurie, Brouilly, Morgon), a Bourgogne (Mercurey, Côtes de Nuits Villages), 1 or 2 vins de tables / cheap wines on offer. We have restricted the field in this way as we feel it makes for fairer marking. Wine tastings generally have a theme, perhaps by region or by price (Vins de tables for example)

Tastings are either held before and with a meal, or at my local wine bar where members of the wine tasting club participate. We prefer to have a least 4 tasters although 6 is what we aim for.

Occasionally we retry a wine with another group of tasters, happily the results have been consistent. Scoring is straightforward – marks out of ten are awarded for initial impression (smell, colour, taste), for taste after the sample is finished, and value for money. It does not follow that a nice wine that costs a lot will score badly under value for money – our experience shows that mediocre wines score badly here only if they are expensive, enjoyable wines still score well despite the price. Likewise a cheap wine that has impressed will get a high "value for money" score too.

If you live in London and wish to be invited to a wine tasting please e-mail us with your name and telephone number.

Spend your money wisely – accept our advice

Summary of Wine Tasting results.

Cost of wine – 6.00 euro and less – 6.00 euro and more

No. scoring 65% – 37 – 71

Number tasted – 106 – 105

% scoring 65% + – 34.91% – 67.62%

If you want something special, it is clear that you take a big chance if spending less than 6.00 euro on a bottle of wine.

Group and Overall winners – overall position after wine tasting

What to look for when tasting

Check that the wine looks clean and bright.

– if it is cloudy it could be a sign of contamination – however the bottle may just have been shaken disturbing the sediment.

– if there are bubbles in still wines it is a sign of secondary fermentation which makes the wine smell and taste of vinegar.

– a musty dank smell that does not go away indicated a "corked" wine (tainted).

– if it smells of vinegar it is beyond hope.

– if it smells of bad eggs, blocked drains or burnt matches it is a sign of sulphur related problems. Try swirl it in a jug or leave a copper coin in the glass for a few minutes.

– if you find a young wine too full of tannin, store it for a while.

How to taste wine

Don't be put off by the experience of watching professional wine tasters. The sniffing, spitting and face pulling is all part of the business. Just as you sniff a carton of open milk to see if it's fresh, slightly off or completely bad, smelling wine can tell you a lot too, such as its age, style, origin and quality. About 1 in 15 bottles of wine may have a musty smell because of a faulty cork. If the wine has been exposed to air or heat, or is too old, it may smell of sherry or vinegar. Generally, it is a fine wine you may find it harder to pick out a single smell.

When wine tasting yourself, to begin with, don't brush your teeth before tasting. Avoid smoking or wearing perfumes. Have a glass of water and some bread handy to neutralise your mouth between tastings. Hugh Johnson the well known British wine writer suggests closing your eyes when tasting to help concentrate your senses.

Step 1

Although looking at a wine is the least important and pleasurable part of wine tasting, it can help identify a wine. If you tilt the glass away from you, preferably against a white background, the different shades of colour are exposed. The more shades between the centre and the rim, the more mature the wine, especially at the rim where the age of a wine tends to show.

The browner a wine, the older it usually is. Red wines tend to go from a deep purple to pale tawny, whites from pale greenish to deep gold. The best wines usually have a luscious sheen, whilst commercial, heavily treated wines can be dull and monochrome. In general white wines grow darker with age, reds grow lighter.

Step 2

Most of a wine's flavour molecules are given off only on the liquids surface. To encourage them you must maximise the wine's surface area by swirling it round in a half full wine glass. Good wine glasses go in at the rim so that the swirled wine stays in the glass as does the heady vapour above it. Take a look at the way the wine clings to the glass – if it trickles down slowly and in distinct streams it is fairly viscous and therefore high in alcohol or sugar or both. Take one short sniff while you concentrate – notice whether the wine is clean and attractive, how intense it is, and what it reminds you of. Grapes contain thousands of components, many of which can be found in other familiar substances. Fermentation adds further layers of flavour.

Step 3

Take a mouthful of wine and swish it round your mouth. This part of the tasting is called "the palate". Notice how sweet, sour / acid, bitter, tannic / astringent, alcoholic and gassy the wine is. Try to gauge the body of the wine (how unlike water it is). Take a little air in as you sip the wine, this will help you smell it. Lightly suck a little air through your teeth to aerate the liquid, the flavours – good, bad and indifferent- should be even more apparent. "Feel" the wine in your mouth – is it smooth or rasping? Professionals will spit the wine out, players will swallow.

Step 4

Assess the wine.

Balance is the vital relationship between a wine's different characteristics. Were the dimensions of sweetness, acidity, alcohol, and the possible elements of bitterness, tannin and gassiness in balance, or was one of them obtrusive? Tannins often dominate in young red wines, whilst young whites are often very acid. This lack of balance would be a fault in an older wine.

Was the sweetness counterbalanced by acidity or did it taste sickly?

Another good indicator is length. How long did the impact of the wine last after you swallowed it? A mediocre wine may leave no trace on the palate or in the olfactory area at all, but a fine wine can still continue to reverberate for 30 seconds or more after it has been swallowed.

The language of wine tasting

When discussing a wine with friends or colleagues you may need to say more than "I really liked it". After tasting a few bottles of the same sort of wine from different producers, you should find it easy to say that a wine is flowery or fruitier. You may want to suggest it tastes of peach, apple or mango.

Other words have more to do with the texture and body of the wine. It could be full bodied, big, intense, concentrated or dull and flabby (lacking acidity). However, one taster's subtle and delicate can be another's watery and dilute, and powerful someone else's overpowering. Young red wines can have some of the tannic character of cold tea and can be described as hard. If a young or older wine hasn't mellowed as it should have done it would be called aggressive. Wines that are soft may be immediately attractive but will not have the structure to keep for long. When you have tasted the wine there is long and short, which refers to the length of time the flavour lasts in your mouth.


You may well ask what difference a wine glass can make to a wine. Compare the sensation of drinking tea from a mug and a china cup. No one has ever denied the effect of the porcelain. You could also try an experiment; drink a wine from 3 or 4 different glasses and see how taste. Champagnes is best drunk from a flute (not the saucer type glasses said to have been modelled on Marie Antoinette's breasts), white wine is best in smaller round bowl glasses, red wine in larger tulip style glasses.

All these glasses will have narrower rims, to allow you to swirl the wine around to release its smell and flavour. White wine glasses tend to be smaller as a chilled liquid retains its temperature better in an ice bucket than a glass.

If you want to be absolutely professional, make sure you rinse your glasses well after washing – detergent can affect the taste of some wines, dry the glasses properly and leave them upright (or they may develop a musty smell), and don't put champagnes glasses through a dishwasher – the rinse aid stops bubbles forming.

Useful Outside links

Wine links

wine travel guides France – Wine Travel Guides, comprehensive site.

wine cellar tracker – Cellartracker.

snooth wines – Snooth, American wine site.

vinogusto wines – Vinogusto, good source of information on French wines.

wine searcher – Wine Searcher. Find a wine, for both the United Kingdom and France.

London Wine Academy – London Wine Academy. Gift vouchers for courses and tasting events. Tel: 0845 555 1100.

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