Do you know your Sancerre from your Sauvignon Blanc, or which cheese to serve with that bottle of Margaux? When you live in France, which is one of the world’s largest producers of wine, there’s always more to learn… and (the part we enjoy most) to drink! That’s why we’re introducing you to Hélène Goble, a wine expert who was probably born with wine in her blood.
Hailing from a wine-producing family in Bordeaux she exudes a contagious passion for wine, which she shares through her business, Do You Speak Wine? Hélène organizes intimate wine tasting dinners and wine and cheese pairing events at her home or yours, as well as tours of Bordeaux and Champagne. Each unique experience keeps the conversations on wine flowing.
Wine, champagne and cheese. Why do we immediately think of France when we see, sniff, taste and indulge ourselves with these products?
We think of France because wine and cheese are part of French culture and history. Wine was introduced in France 2,500 years ago. There are over 3,400 different wines. It’s as if every French person had a bit of wine in their blood! Everyone has a connection with it or has stories to tell about it. Champagne is associated only with France, as the region’s name can’t be used anywhere else in the world. As a matter of fact, the region of Champagne (and part of the Burgundy wine region) was assigned World Heritage status by UNESCO just in July. And cheese speaks by its own statistics: there are around 1,600 different varieties in France.
With so many good wines produced around the world, is French wine still considered the best in the world?
Yes definitively! But I am French! France is blessed with amazing terroirs (natural assets, geographic position, geological characteristics). We could say that France won the climatic and geographical lottery. There is something unique about wines in France. Each bottle is unique. Each winegrower is unique.
Age-old know-how and techniques have been passed down from generation to generation. Ancestral savoir-faire and new techniques have been used together to produce some of the most expensive wines in the world. There is also something secretive about wine making in France: this personal touch that every wine maker will add when he makes his wine. A bit like the champagne maker adding his liqueur de dosage (a mixture of reserve wine and sugar) before bottling.
Tell us about the world of wine that you grew up in. Does wine flow through your heritage?
Our family is new to it! This is only the 3rd generation. My grandfather was a champagne trader and my parents were wine producers in Bordeaux. I did my first vendanges (harvest) at 11 years old and used to help my Mum selling wine in private tasting and fairs. I have realized with time that I have always been involved in wine. Either when I was selling the wine from our vineyard, or from the wine trader my Mum used to work with. But I really came to it later. I studied Economics to start with and worked in Environment and Communications before moving to London after my marriage. There I decided to get proper training in wine: I realized that it has always been what I wanted to do. I studied at the Wine and Spirit Education Trust and passed the first levels. When the whole family moved back to Paris in 2006, I decided to become much more involved in wine.
Instead of being a winegrower, you’re a wine expert. How did you choose this path?
It is more interesting to look at wine from a broader perspective. If you come from a country producing over 3,400 wines from 15 different areas it would be a shame to be focused on only 1 wouldn’t it?
Why does it make a difference to learn how to drink wine and appreciate various kinds?
It makes the whole difference! Because, in addition to learning how to taste and describe the wine – you learn about yourself. You learn to put sensation into words and to develop your olfactory memory. I love observing people during my wine tasting training sessions; especially those who are regular wine drinkers. For some of them, this is a completely new discovery: “… but I never tasted wine like that before! ” My aim is to give confidence to people and let them know they can do it! This can be especially true for women who can be less confident when we come to wine.
What do you mean when you ask potential clients, “Do you speak wine?”
They are often confused about the questions and their first reaction is often defensive: along the lines of “I don’t know anything about wine, but I appreciate it,” which is what I want to hear! I want people who appreciate and who want to learn in an open-minded, friendly and professional environment!
Is it true that one uses all his or her senses when drinking wine: sight, smell, sound and taste?
And touch! Yes, it is definitely true. Come and try!
You offer various wine training sessions for different levels. Just how sophisticated can a wine connoisseur become?
It is like mountaineering: with determination and perseverance the highest level can be reached!
Just why do wine and cheese go so well together, and with so many choices of wine and cheese, where to begin?
This question is often asked: where to start? Start from where you are in France and where you plan to have your next meal. Each region has its own specificities and the locals will help you choose.
And then there is champagne, the noble drink. Is there such a thing as bad champagne?
Of course there is! But with the new techniques developed today, it is less and less likely.
Today, organic (bio or biodynamic) wines are gaining popularity. Do you recommend these wines?
These wines are interesting and definitively worth trying. What is behind the denomination isn’t always clear. Before 2012, to be granted bio wine status, only the grapes had to be bio (i.e. specific rules for the wine growing). Since 2012, the entire organic wine making process has also been regulated with specific rules. There is a lot of marketing behind the industry, especially as 70% of the bio wine produced in France is exported. As with every other wine the basic rule is the same: taste until you find one that you like and that you will enjoy drinking.
Bordeaux Wine, Champagne country: two distinct French regions with two distinguished French products. What can we expect on a visit to two of your favorite places?
One can expect to have fun learning, visiting and tasting. I organize the whole tour myself, meeting local people who are as passionate about wine as I am! We can have wine tasting dinners and wine and cheese pairing events at my home or yours, as well as tours of Bordeaux and of Champagne.
For INSPIRELLE readers who want to relax this week, can you recommend a good wine to pop open and enjoy?
The first thing I’ll recommend is always to keep a bottle of champagne in your fridge. That’s something I learned from my parents. You always have a good reason for drinking champagne: to celebrate good news, or to get over a defeat.
For a red wine, depending on your budget and on your taste, I would recommend La Fleur d’Alouette 2012, AOC Saint-Emilion. This red wine from the Bordeaux region is situated on the right bank of the Dordogne river. The main grape variety for the Fleur d’Alouette is the Merlot (80%) which is blended with Cabernet Franc (20%). This blend on this terroir makes for a wine with soft tannins, fruity aromas and elegance. Open one hour ahead, serve as an aperitif, and enjoy through the meal.