A Gallic Masterclass: Fromage et Vin

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I’m not sure I’d ever tire of wine and food matching ‘masterclasses’. Yes, there’s the ‘how to taste wine correctly’ monotony, I think we all know how to spot great legs (funny the first time, that joke, on a par with Bingo caller humour the subsequent times), how to swill and sniff, etc., but there’s usually a new and interesting nugget in there that I haven’t previously heard elsewhere, plus if all else fails, it’s an evening of eating food and drinking wine – two of life’s most enjoyable pastimes.

For this evening in question, a celebration of French cheese and wine, hosted at Vinopolis by the resident wine expert, Tom Forrest, the ‘something new’ was a proper demonstration of how to do the sucking wine through your teeth thing. It’s the first time I’ve done it and picked up a whole bunch of tastes I’d missed out on by just swilling it about my mouth a bit. Yes, you’ll look a bit like you’re having a stroke, but it’s worth it to be able to detect more of the notes listed on the back of the label. One way to impress your mates when the facts run dry.

The actual everyday wine tasting experience of Vinopolis is a fun way of trying out wines from places you wouldn’t necessarily invest in a bottle of, and for first timers who are interested in learning the basics. I skipped the half-hour introductory talk on this because I couldn’t bear to listen to another demonstration of it; if you’re also reasonably au fait with the whole thing, I recommend you do the same.

Wandering around, pondering which wines to trade in my five tasting tokens for – the sixth being reserved for a gin cocktail in the Bombay Sapphire bar at the end – was enjoyable. Although, I was a little miffed at the tiny amount I was given to taste, especially as my man friend was served more, well, manly, portions. In hindsight, with the Bastille Day masterclass following straight after, glugging down too much would’ve ruined it somewhat…

After congregating at the main reception for 7pm, we were led upstairs to a brightly lit, air-conned room with around 50 others, and greeted by generic French music, bon soirs and red, white and blue bunting.

Over the course of an hour or so, our taste buds were taken on a journey of France, through five different cheeses and wines, kicking off in the Champagne-Ardenne region with a glass of Champagne, naturally, and a buttery, fluffy Petit Langres; the salty bitterness of the rind softened by the green apple pie notes of the bubbles.

Next stop: Poitou in the Loire Valley, through the nutty goat’s milk Crottin de Chavignol and bright, fruity Sancerre. Normandy gave us Pont’Eveque, the region’s oldest cheese, dating back to the 13th century; quite a smoky, in the not-incredibly-palatable tobacco sense, made actually rather delicious when matched with the red fruits and oaky softness of the Burgundy. Corsica brought the rosemary and fennel seed-topped round of Fleur de Maquis and my least favourite wine of the evening, the Grande Reserve de Gassac Blanc 2007, a leathery, herbal blend of Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Claret. Our final stop, the Midi-Pyrenees, packed a punch with a generous slab of salty, unctuous Roquefort and a sweet, smile-inducing sup of Le Plein de Sens Nigri, which conjured up thoughts of apricot jam and warm caramel, and finished off the journey wonderfully.

Upcoming events at Vinopolis include Welcome to Premium Wine masterclass (28th August), Meet the Expert with Oz Clarke on 17th September, and Whisky masterclasses running monthly through to November. For more information visit the website.

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