For Tyler’s birthday, I signed us up for a wine tasting class in Paris at Ô Chateau, which came highly recommended by our visiting friends Linda, Josh, and Sam. I selected Ô Chateau’s wine and cheese pairing lunch out of their class offerings.
I never drank wine when I lived in the US, but am slowly developing a taste for it while living in Paris– how could I not? France produces more wine than the US, Argentina, and New Zealand combined, so there’s no shortage of it here. You can even find cheap wine at stores like Franprix for 2 EUR a bottle, but spending at least 5 or 6 EUR will make all the difference (and avoid chain stores like Nicolas, we’ve been told!) At 10-20 EUR, you’ll generally find good quality, but between 50-100 and 100+ EUR, most people can’t really tell the difference.
When Tyler and I arrived at Ô Chateau for our lunch course, we were greeted by the hospitable sommelier, Vincent Féron. He has an impressive background in the wine industry as the former sommelier of Paris’ Four Seasons and head of wine instruction at famous Le Cordon Bleu. The other guests consisted of two couples from the US celebrating a honeymoon and also a birthday, plus a woman from Japan.
To start off the class, Vincent presented us with a glass of champagne (Lancelot-Pienne NV) and a plate of Brie de Meaux. He told us of the myth of the monk who invented blending grapes prior to sending them to press and who is often credited for inventing sparkling wine. This monk’s name was Pierre Pérignon, the inspiration behind the famous brand Dom Pérignon.
Next, we tasted a Sauvignon blanc from the Loire Valley (Domaine de la Garenne 2016), which was paired with Couronne-Lochoise, a mild goat cheese. I was surprised at how wonderfully the two went together, as I’m typically not a fan of goat cheese. The thick goat cheese needs wine to help it unstick to the roof of the mouth. Surprisingly, this was my favorite pairing of the day.
After that, we tried one of my all-time favorite cheeses, Comté, which has a hard texture and is made from unpasturized cow’s milk. Unknowingly, I’ve always made the mistake of ordering Comté and thick, creamy cheeses with red wine… in fact, you should choose a white wine or at least a red with fewer tanins for a better pairing. We also tasted Cantal (a mild cow cheese) with Malbec (Chateau Combel La Serre 2016).
Vincent had us do a fun test where we held our noses and took a sip, and then unplugged them to have the full taste of the wine. In addition to sense of smell, the environment in which you’re drinking also influences your experience. One experiment placed some of France’s top sommeliers (including Vincent) in various colored rooms with different lighting and had them perform blind tests. While the glasses of wine were exactly the same, each sommelier rated them differently depending on the room they tasted in. For example, blue made the drink seem more acidic, yellow brought out its fruitness, green revealed the vegetal aspects, and red elevated the spice levels. Pretty interesting!
At the end of the class, we were presented with a semi-hard blue cheese, Fourme d’Ambert. This is one of France’s oldest cheeses, which was actually created by mistake when a shephard’s moldy bread fell on top of cheese and melted with it… nevertheless, it was delicious with sweet dessert wine, Chenin Blanc (Le Fief Noir Nouvelles confidences 2015). I don’t appreciate blue cheese or dessert wine on their own, but they actually worked well together.
If you’re interested in learning more about wine, consider a local class at Ô Chateau next time you’re in Paris. Tyler said it was the perfect birthday present 🙂 For those of you at home, I also recommend Somm: Into the Bottle, which can be found on Netflix.
Next stop: wine tours in Bordeaux, anyone?