All photos courtesy of O-chateau.com
It’s no secret that wine is a fundamental part of life in France, and it’s no wonder that wine lovers throughout the world hold French wine in particularly high esteem. From production to consumption, the rituals and processes associated with French wine reflect the essence of what life in this country is all about: quality, tradition, and of course, joie de vivre.
But for many visitors to France—wine novices and aficionados alike—the world of French wine can be as intimidating as it is enticing. The seemingly simple act of navigating a wine list is, in fact, anything but simple when you consider the many factors involved—region, grape variety, vintage, and the ever-elusive concept of terroir. Luckily, sommelier Olivier Magny and his dynamic team at Ô Chateau have set out to demystify the world of French wine and to remind us why we love it: it’s fun.
On a hot and hazy evening in mid-June, I descended into Ô Chateau’s newly restored wine cave (located near the Louvre) to partake in their “Tour de France” tasting, which included a champagne and five other wines from a variety of France’s major wine regions. As a policy, Ô Chateau tries to highlight wines from smaller wineries that produce wine using artisanal practices. The tasting was led by Ô Chateau’s founder, Olivier, whose love of wine (honed via “excessive drinking with his rugby friends”) ultimately led him to train as a sommelier at Le Cellier Saint Paul in Paris. Despite his classical training, Olivier has established himself as somewhat of a maverick within the Parisian wine community, maintaining that wine can (and should) be enjoyed in a “pretension-free” environment. On the evening of my tasting, his clients hailed from the United States, Canada, New Zealand, and Australia, and as Olivier began his presentation, it was clear that he thrives on working with all different types of people. Deftly fielding questions from a knowledgeable Australian couple and from an American woman who “preferred Diet Coke” to wine, Olivier worked the room, his sense of humor setting the tone for the evening.
As we sniffed and swirled our way through Champagne, the Loire, Burgundy, the South West, Bordeaux, and Languedoc, Olivier regaled us with anecdotes from his wine adventures, all while providing information about the wine industry in France: from its historical roots, to modern production processes, to industry trends, to the nuances of the AOC system (for designating and regulating terroirs), to how to judge a wine’s oxidation level. And while his technical knowledge is substantial, it is clear that Olivier is as much an entertainer as he is a wine expert. His anti-elitist (some might say irreverent) point of view made for a fun and low-key evening. (For a taste of Olivier’s social insights about his native city, see his blog, Stuff Parisians Like).
Since its founding in 2004, Ô Chateau has continued to offer a variety of tasting experiences that are designed to allow visitors to learn about wine in a convivial and casual setting. Whether you are a wine novice looking for a crash course, or a connoisseur looking to deepen your knowledge of French wines, Ô Chateau’s approach to wine education is adaptable and accessible to all types of tasters. The company’s services include a variety of tastings, a dinner with wine pairings, a champagne cruise on the Seine, guided daytrips to major wine regions, and private customized tasting experiences for clients with specific interests (starting at 20€). In general, all tastings are presented in English (by a bilingual sommelier) and prices range between 20-125 € per person. In addition, Ô Chateau sells wine on site and will soon be launching their own wine club.
For more information, check out Ô Chateau’s site at: http://www.o-chateau.com