Greg and I recently visited Bordeaux, France. When we were living in California, we frequented Napa Valley and enjoyed visiting new vineyards, so of course we wanted to wine taste in France. For those who haven’t been to Napa, I’ll give you a quick rundown.
Typically, visitors come to Napa for a day or a weekend and can taste wine one of two ways. The first is to just show up. Most of the vineyards are in a concentrated area and it’s easy to pop in and out of them to try a variety of wines. Many of the wineries allow walk-ins without a reservation and will greet you with a tasting list.
Once you’ve chosen a tasting selection the wine is brought out one glass at a time for you to try. Typically there are 3-6 wines in a tasting flight, and when you’re finished the staff will ask if you’d like to purchase a bottle. At this point, either choose a quantity or simply head to the next vineyard.
The second way is to make a reservation. Very popular or very small wineries will require a reservation in order to ensure that they can seat you and/or give an extra “something” whether it be a vineyard tour or a history lesson on the wines.
Having had such great experiences in California, we knew that we wanted to wine taste in France. The French are said to have the best wine, so to south of France we went, eager to see what the hype was about. We stopped by the tourist office in Bordeaux to ask for recommendations and could tell right away that we hadn’t done enough research. The lady at the desk told us that she couldn’t recommend places because she didn’t know which owners were available or if they offered tastings of their wine.
We were a bit confused and hopped back in the car to find the places ourselves. Based on internet reviews and a winery booklet we picked up, we drove to several different places only to find that either no one was available or that they only offered tastings if you walked in the door with the intent to buy a specific wine.
We ended up only going to one tasting and walked away with a single bottle of wine and valuable new information. Wine tasting in France is not the same as in America.
Later, we asked a friend from France to explain why it was so different. According to him, the concept of just going to a winery to taste wine is a new concept that is still slowly being adopted.
In France, wine is served at many meals, so the idea is that if you try a wine at lunch that you enjoy, either buy a bottle at the restaurant or write down the name and then call the vineyard to set up a time to go and purchase a few bottles directly from the source.
Though we didn’t have the best experience, we learned a valuable lesson about doing enough prior research and grew to appreciate our home state even more!