For wine lovers, late October into November is the best time to visit Lyon, France’s 3rd largest city which is centered among some wonderful wine regions. Wine regions which include Burgundy, Beaujolais, Jura, and the Rhône Valley.
One can take day trips from Lyon to all of these wine regions (and to nearby Switzerland, if so incined). And in Lyon, there are world-class restaurants featuring amazing wine lists as well as wine caves (shops) which hold vast troves of great French wines.
But these past 3 weeks (and the next two) have been special, even for Lyon. Three very large tastings of French (and only French) wines have been held. They are: Vinomedia Salon du Vin, Terre de Vins Grand Degustiation, and the Salon des Vins des Vignerons Indépendants. I attended the last two over the past couple of weeks. (A fourth, Sous les Pavés la Vinge is scheduled for Nov 16 & 17.)
The Terre de Vins Grand Degustiation was held at La Bourse, a grand old building on La Presquille near the center of the city. 90 tasting stations offering about 300 wines, ranging from single vignerons to the large négotiants such as Louis Latour and Georges DeBoeuff. Here are some photos from that event:
The Salon des Vins des Vignerons Indépendants was held in the huge Le Halle Tony Garnier in the 7eme Arrondissement of Lyon. This four-day event offered about 400 independent wine producers offering up to 8 wines each for tasting. Wines from every region in France are featured, the stands mixed together so that you have to walk past the Alsace and Sud-Ouest to get to the Burgogne or the Bordeaux. Regions have color-coded signs with the names of the winery and the sub-region.
The difference here is that all of the product is for sale right at the event. Lyonnaise folks show up in droves, often bringing the whole family to this event, and they stock up. We bought two cases on our first visit, and then I went back the next day with a cart and bought three more. Here are some photos of this event:
At this time of year, there are wine festivals all over the countryside as well, in Beaujolais, Jura, the Rhône Valley, etc. Once the harvest is finished, it is time to move the previous year (or most recent vintage to be released) out to the public, and these events help that to happen. A great time to be in and around Lyon!
The wine world is filled with possibilities. There are dozens of nations, hundreds of regions, thousands of appellations, tens of thousands of vignerons and wine makers, and probably hundreds of thousands of wine outlets if you count restaurants. You can add to that all of the wine knowledge, science, literature, publications, websites, bloggers, and well, it’s a lot. Can you imagine walking into a restaurant, asking for a wine from a specific label which you happen to like, and them actually having it?
How is one to make choices about what to drink and when?
And there are price points to consider, wine rating points (should I order a 91 or an 88?), sometimes snooty sommeliers and wine shop employees, various vintages of differing quality, and labels, labels, labels. And those labels are on bottles with corks, bottles with screwcaps, boxes, cans, casks, and more. And by the way, how should you store that wine?
Oh, and what wines to serve with which foods? Which wines to sip alone? What kind of wine opener should I use? What other wine accessories should I buy? What temperature at which to serve the wine? In what kind of glass (or slipper)? Bubbly, sweet, dry, demi-sec? Port or late harvest? And ice wine!
All of this can be seen as a huge obstacleto wine enjoyment, or it can be seen as a vast array of opportunities to enjoy wine. Like much of life, it all depends on your attitude.
Entry into the world of wine is really quite easy. Wine is practically ubiquitous – it’s pretty much everywhere. I was just in eastern Ukraine and had local wine, some of which was delicious (LINK).
One way to view the many options in the wine world and all of the different types of knowledge and skill that goes into the whole process of bringing wine to your table, is to see an opportunity for almost endless exploration. You can have a different wine every day and never repeat yourself (assuming varied wine retail options in your area and online).
Another way to approach the wine world is to find a few wines that you like and stop there. I have a friend who rarely drinks anything beyond Kendall-Jackson Chardonnay; another who will only drink oaky chardonnays. Some may only drink Port wines; others Napa Cabernets.
You can study broadly or do a deep dive into a narrow range of wine knowledge and experience. Most will be somewhere in between the extremes, but there is a niche for everyone. The key is not to pay too much attention to what the “experts” or the marketing forces tell you as they try to steer you toward their own preferences. Find your own way – if it isn’t interesting or fun for you, you’re not doing it right.
Me, I have some favorite wines, some favorite producers, some favorite growing areas, and some favorite countries. I also like to experiment with wines I have not tried yet, but I tend to favor a known quantity with a good meal. For example, we were in Kraków, Poland recently (LINK), dining at Padre, a local Polish restaurant. I was having lamb and noted that there was a very nice French Malbec from Cahors on the list. Knowing how a rich, inky Cahors Malbec would go with lamb made my decision easy – so I passed on some Polish wines. I picked a favorite over the chance to explore – that time. At other times, I will make a different decision. But that is me. You may well do something different.
My point is that the bulk of the effort in learning about wine should go into learning what YOU like about it. Then go from there. You may become an expert in Cabernet Sauvignons from the east side of Paso Robles; or you may be the go-to person for advice on Hungarian reds. Or, you may be that person who always drinks Kendall-Jackson Chardonnay.
So, if you are new to wine, consider building yourself a starter case (LINK) to see what you like. Let your local wine retailer know your preferences, including if you like to try new things or stick close to what you already know. If you travel, check out the local wine scene, either in town – wine bars, urban wineries and restaurants; or head out into the local wine country to taste and explore. In an airport? Stop at Vino Volo and try a wine that you’ve never had before. Sign up for an online service like WTSO.com(LINK) and opt for something new to you.
Maybe you are a long-time wine consumer who is ready to spread your wings a bit. You might begin with your local wine shop – tell them what you like and ask them how you can explore some new wines that have a similar profile. Go to a Greek restaurant with good Greek wines on the wine list, and try some if that is new to you. See if there are some small producers of wines in your local area and give them a try. There are lots of possibilities. Try not to be intimidated by the experts or by too many choices. Take your time and stick to what you like – and maybe explore around the edges.
The world of wine is literally at your feet. Enjoy!