Ah, la France. Rolling hills, valleys of vineyards, row upon row of grapes in the French countryside. Nowhere else in the world does wine have such a reputation, and from nowhere else are wine names so cryptic and confusing.

Whether you’re sitting down at a fine New York City French bistro, hunting for a smooth merlot to accompany the veal roast you have marinating in the fridge, or glancing through stacks of Burgundys and Bordeauxs for a BYOB pick, selecting French wine is just downright difficult. That is, until Director of Wine and Beverage Studies at ICE, Richard Vayda, broke down the codes of a French wine label and educated us Wine Essentials Course 2 students on the background, history, and geography of French wine.

This past week, classic French music hummed upon entering the classroom. Cheese was plentiful and bottles awaited opening, and I was thrilled to see a new addition to our individual wine glass arrangement: an aperitif glass, garnished with an orange segment. Once class began, Vayda whet our palates with a pour of Lillet Blonde, a fortified, aromified wine, made in Bordeaux. It paired up perfectly with the orange segment and created a pleasant mood in which to absorb Vayda’s knowledgeable introduction to wine production in Burgundy and Bordeaux. Introducing different varietals, ranging from a Chablis, to a Beaujolais, to a Pinot Noir, to a Sauternes, each wine was carefully selected to compare the fruit of these famed regions and to break down the mystery behind the wine labels.

Matched up with tastes of gruyere and camembert, and with Vayda’s fun-loving suggestions of what to cook alongside these pours, I could already see how my tasting palate had started to develop by Course 2. I will now gaze at a French wine list or glance through my neighborhood wine shop with a more educated eye. Happily, deciphering French wine labels seems more a challenging game than a terrifying test.

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