When you've spent time living in France, there are certain things people assume you're good at. Speaking French, cooking French food and dressing fashionably are examples of the supposedly inherent post-France talents. After a combined lifetime 15 months spent living in modern-day Gaul, I'm happy to report that my French language skills are pretty strong, I have a few French culinary specialties under my belt (Gratin Dauphinois, anyone?), and, while I'll never be a chic Parisian, every now and then I manage to wear something other than jeans and a T-shirt. But then there's wine. Tell people you just got back from Paris and they automatically think you're an expert on the stuff. They think you read wine lists with ease, peruse the wine section with confidence, and are simply brimming with wine recommendations. In reality, despite many months of living amongst the French, an expert I am not. When asked to pick out a great bottle of red, I'm stumped...and convinced that the shame of it is written all over my face.
My embarrassing dearth of knowledge when it comes to choosing a fabulous bottle of wine is not for lack of trying. Like any true visitor to France I practically drank myself across the entire country. Golden Vouvray in the Loire Valley, sweet Riesling in Alsace, sunny rosés in Provence, and fine Mersault in Burgundy. I've tried them all. Multiple times. The one flaw in my wines-of-France tour was that somebody almost always selected the bottle for me. Whether it was my college professor-slash-tour guide, an acquaintance who invited me over for dinner, or a handsome Frenchman showing me around his country, I was never the one in charge of the wine. Sure, I've picked up a few helpful tips along the way such as which regions I like the most (Burgundy and Provence) and how to properly smell the contents of a glass (don't be shy, put your entire nose in there), but that's pretty much where it ends. Want me to bring wine to your next party? Ask at your own risk.
Now that I'm back in the states and no longer surrounded by natural-born vin experts, I think it's time to set out on my own. I enjoy wine and I'd like to be able to pick out good ones for myself and others whenever the mood strikes. Fortunately, the process of learning about wine and is not going to feel like a chore. It pretty much involves going to tastings, experimenting with various bottles, and asking lots of questions. As far as hobbies go, wine discovery definitely ranks high in the fun quotient. With that in mind, I'll be kicking off my serious wine education this Wednesday by attending a local wine shop's annual Champagne tasting extravaganza. Pen, paper and palate in hand, I'll be the most attentive student in the bunch. After all, every good wine repertoire needs a few bottles of bubbly; eager to finally become a connoisseur, I'm definitely up to the challenge. Santé!