Mmmm... is it grapefruit, lemon or pineapple – or do I detect hints of strawberries and vanilla? Richard Marsden visited Bordeaux to discover the art of wine tasting.
A myriad of flavours can hit the nose and palate when trying wine - so how do you make sense of it all?
I was invited to learn from the masters.
Bordeaux has been producing wine since Roman times and is famous the world over.
Jane Anson, an expert from wine organisation Decanter, was on hand to give a lesson in the art of tasting at L’Ecole Du Vin, in the city centre.
But for the first part of our class, corks stayed firmly in place - as we had a test to pass.
A range of 10 small bottles contained scents from common types such as lemon and blackcurrant, to rarer varieties such as truffle.
And guessing some of the flavours was quite tricky.
Then, it was onto the wines.
Pour (but only one third full), swill, inhale the aromas then – and only then – taste. And, after all that hard work, heaven!
Heading out from the city to see how the wines are produced, vines stretched across the rolling hills in green lines, their branches laden.
Bordeaux appellation contains more than 110,000 hectares of vineyards.
First visit was to Sauternes, one of just five areas producing sweet wines which are literally a labour of love.
Jerome Cosson, director of Châteaux D’Arche vineyard at Sauternes, said the grapes are harvested individually, by hand.
Pickers have to check for signs of ‘noble rot’, a fungus growing on the grapes which reduces moisture and increases the sugar content.
It often means going around the vineyards four or five times in a season to collect the grapes with the condition and leaving others to develop it.
Oak barrels used for maturing the wine are carefully selected as they add flavours such as spice and vanilla. Jerome explained how vineyard owners go so far as to taste the wood itself.
Sweet wine makers are keen to stress that their product should not be viewed solely as dessert wines as they actually go better with savoury dishes.
Jerome had brought along a chef, Georges Gotrand, who had cooked a range of mouth-watering dishes including pork with coriander and honey, chicken, baby calamari, salty smoked halibut and haddock on lentils, and prawns fried in salt and pepper.
The savoury and sometimes spicy flavours were a great contrast to the chilled, sweet white wines – going much better than dessert, when the combination can prove a little too sickly.
Of Bordeaux’s two main red wine producing areas, St Emilion is the more scenic with its limestone hills. The town itself has a church built into a cliff face.
But the Medoc is home to some of the most famous and sought-after wines – and most châteaux welcome visitors, although advance booking is a good idea.
In the Margaux area of Medoc, Château Kirwan is one of the oldest remaining family-owned wineries. Sophie Schyler Thierry, joint owner, explained that wine production was an art form ‘like a Leonardo Da Vinci painting’.
Bordeaux itself has a range of elegant shops and restaurants, including La Tupina, which serves traditional dishes cooked in a roaring oven visible from your table.
Although a prestige restaurant frequented by past French presidents, it has a relaxed atmosphere and serves a reasonably-priced set menu.