Culture and Heritage, Review

Storied Sips at Alliance Française de Denver’s Wine Tasting Class

A review by Gwen Gray

“Anywhere a monk has been, you have good wine.”

“The nose begins the dialogue between the palate and the brain.”

“Pouilly Fuisse sits in an amphitheater of light and heat.”

Such tidbits tumbled out of our instructor’s mouth as I eyed the three glasses of chardonnay before me. We were at least 10 minutes into the “Introduction to Burgundy” wine-tasting class at Alliance Française de Denver, and I wasn’t sure if picking up and sipping the luscious-looking, golden-hued wines that lined the table was okay — or if I should wait for a proper invitation.

AF-041813-Pour_smI looked around the room and saw that most of the 15-20 other students who were seated at the U-shaped table, including my husband next to me, were managing restraint.

Our staggeringly bright, infectiously enthusiastic instructor, Ashley Vaughters, a sommelier and wine consultant who has been teaching Alliance Française de Denver’s educational French wine-tasting classes for a year and a half, ramped up her description of the villages and areas within France’s vast and nuanced Burgundy region — their varying climates, soils, grapes, histories and traditions — with such passion, familiarity and insight that I, too, managed to give her my undivided attention for another five full minutes.

When our designated cheese guide, Devin Lamma, an expert cheese monger from Whole Foods Cherry Creek, took the floor and began describing the first cheese pairing as having “a buttery assertiveness that envelopes your whole mouth,” my attention was again riveted by passionate description. And my mouth was watering like mad.

Finally given the go-ahead, we each took a bite of the cheese. My husband leaned over and whispered, “Oh good god.” My thoughts exactly. We’ve both tasted our fair share of cheeses in our time, traveling through France on several occasions and indulging as often as possible, but this one took our breaths away.AF-041813-Sniff_sm

The rest of the class murmured with excitement as, at last, we moved on to sampling the wine. The lesson really got underway as Ashley walked us through the characteristics and lineage of each of the three white wines — a 2011 Domaine des Terres de Chatenay Vire Clesse Chazelle, a 2011 Savary Chablis Vielle Vignes and a 2010 Château Puligny Clos du Chateau.

We paused only for questions or to give Devin a chance to introduce the corresponding cheeses, each threatening to steal the entire show (and drive the Alliance Française staff from the building with pungent odors).

Then on to the reds.

Ashley introduced a 2011 Château du Basty Beaujolais Regnie, explaining that Beaujolais’ “bubblegum” reputation may just be turning around of late, noting that a contingent of hipsters in Brooklyn have recently latched onto the wine.

Two other reds, a 2010 Vincent Girardin Santenay Vieilles Vignes Rouge and a 2009 Dupont-Tisserandot Gevrey-Chambertin Vieilles Vignes, led to intense discussions of the “heartbreak grape” (pinot noir) and its genius simplicity.

AF-041813-Plate_smAs the conversations of the evening come back to me now, I am astonished at the ground we covered. Geographically, we stretched from the very tip-top of Burgundy in Chablis to its foot in Beaujolais. Chronologically, we talked of the 1443 Hospices de Beaune to the latest trends in steel versus oak-casked chardonnay. We noted good vintages (2009 was exceptional) and bad (2012 was difficult); grand crus and village appellations; this perfect hillside and that challenging valley.

Unlike other wine tastings I’ve attended, what was most memorable here revolved less around the usual wine lingo — legs, bouquet, nose, clarity, etc. — and more around the individual stories of each wine. Vines and plots of land divided and handed down through generations, grapes outlawed by kings, and, yes, even the occasional group of hipsters taking a downtrodden wine under their wing.

Fitting for an event hosted by Alliance Française de Denver, which was founded in 1897 (you read that right) and has its own storied past (one of their early members was Molly Brown). Even if you aren’t interested in learning French (though their courses are rumored to be the very best in Denver and are taught only by native-French-speaking instructors), you may want to give the complex, delicious and, as it so happens, riveting language of French wine a try at the next Alliance Française wine tasting class.

Taste for Yourself:
There are several upcoming Alliance Française wine classes including Wines of the Mediterranean on May 29, Intro to French Wine on June 20 and Explore the Rhone Valley on August 28.


Our hosts: Ashely Vaughters and Devin Lamma

Gwen Gray is a writer, editor, and owner of Sugarloaf Content.

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