Wine rightfully slinks into the starring role in any at-home survival kit, as has been exemplified this year with lockdown. That’s hardly a surprise. For millennia, the drink has been as much as source of comfort as it is symbol of cultures around the world. Perhaps that’s most demonstrated in France than anywhere else, with destinations like Bordeaux frequently a bucketlist sojourn for even the most casual wine enthusiasts.
Sadly, Aussies won’t be able to travel of Bordeaux anytime soon, but that doesn’t mean our taste buds can’t. In fact, even the long-rumoured South Pacific travel bubble could open up a way for us to head on over to France, without actually stepping foot in la République. It’s simple: New Caledonia.
For anyone unfamiliar, New Caledonia is the absolute closest French territory to Australia, and just because it has floated a fair way away from the European country, doesn’t mean the maritime destination isn’t absolutely glowing with French charm. After all, it has the only certified Bordeaux wine bar in the South Pacific.
Located in the capital of Noumea, Le Chai de L’Hippodrome is one of many venues in the small, dense area that is in complete service to top-quality wine. Taking a break from the scuba diving, kayaking and family-friendly resorts nearby to head along to this hotspot is a nightly affair, driven largely by the wise choices made by a team of sommeliers (they even have freelance sommeliers) who keep things dusted up to a high standard.
As part of that team, wine expert Yumi Furukawa, knows more than a thing or two about how people should be maximising their wine collection at home. Valuable knowledge to impart, especially given many will be celebrating Bastille Day from the comfort of their kitchens this year.
Given Furukawa is a certified tutor at Bordeaux Wine School, as well as a graduate with a Level 3 Diploma from the world’s largest wine-training organisation, WSET, there are few better minds to pick when it comes to opening up the often overwhelmingly complex world of wine to casual drinkers.
We caught up with Furukawa to source five top tips to keep in mind this Bastille Day when it comes to tasting and enjoying wine at home.
Pay Attention to the Label
Any discerning wine enthusiast tastes with their eyes first. And it’s not just the colour of the wine that communicates several important characteristics of your chosen bottle. Your tasting starts before you even open the bottle.
“The label on your wine bottle will tell you quite a bit about what you’re about the drink, including where it’s made, when it was made (of its vintage) and the geographical indications such as AOC – which is a French food-labelling term that refers to the style, ingredients and origin of a product,” explained Furukawa.
“Where it’s made will tell you the type and style of the wine. It’s vintage will tell you the age and condition of the wine – for example, younger wines tend to be fruitier and fresher, whereas older wines are more complex,” she continued.
“The AOC will tell you what grape varieties are used, which will often dictate the wine’s flavour. For example, a wine made using a Pinot noir grape is usually lighter, whereas a wine made using a Cabarnet sauvignon grape is bolder.”
“The way the wine label is written depends on the country it’s from, but with these three you’re on your way to knowing more about what you’re going to drink before it’s even open.”
It’s Okay to Eschew Tradition
Certain food and wine pairings have been established as sacred, but that doesn’t mean you have to always play by the rules. Everyone knows that fish needs to be paired with white, for example, but Furukawa says it’s fine to think outside of the box.
A few pairings Furukawa suggests that may be a bit unconventional include opting for a light to medium bodied red with less tannins and enjoying that with fish. Something like a beef carpaccio in a balsamic sauce will pair well with a sweet white wine, like a Noble rot given its high acidity.
Start Light and Work Your Way Up
If you’re doing a tasting or degustation, you may notice that the sommelier starts with lighter wines. That’s not a coincidence.
“Lighter wines generally have more delicate aromas and flavours than their full-bodied counterparts,” explains Furukawa. “If tasting heavier wines, your tastebuds can become desensitised to the subtle notes of a lighter wine. Starting with a lighter wine allows you to taste a wine more effectively.”
Always Smell, Always Taste
When you pick a wine at the restaurant, and you don’t really know what you’re doing, you may be surprised when the sommelier or server fills your glass with only a fraction of what you’re expecting. That’s to let you smell and taste the wine first before you give that small nod of approval. Take the same approach when you go to serve the wine at home.
Smelling and tasting a little bit of the wine before serving allows for three important things.
First, if you’re drinking wine that’s come from a corked bottle, you can check for something called “cork taint.” As Furukawa described, this is when a chemical present in some corks can give the wine a mouldy and cardboard-like aroma. There would be nothing worse then fully committing to a special wine only to realise the cork has spoiled it already.
Second, you can easily check for unwanted oxidation, which is what happens when a wine is exposed to the air for too long. This can often happen if a cork is faulty and doesn’t give a proper seal to the bottle. You’ll know a wine is oxidised as the colour, aromas and flavours of the wine will be changed.
Lastly, your little snippet will also tell you if the wine is the ideal temperature for serving. If it’s not, it should be decanted. “Ensuring your wine is at the ideal temperature – that is, well-to-lightly chilled for white; lightly-chilled-to-room-temp for red; or well-chilled for sparkling – decanting it often helps ‘open’ the wine and bring out more of the aromas and flavours”, offered Furukawa.
Photo credited to Marine Reveilhac.