Wine tours have been popular for quite some time now, especially for those looking into educational or informative events while out on an adventure discovering a new part of the world. I recently had the pleasure of meeting Laurel Simmons, founder of Wine Behind The Scenes Inc., who focuses on vineyards and estates in Catalonia and Provence. The evening focused on rosé and gave a wonderful introduction to its popularity in Europe, characteristics, and surprising versatility for meal pairings!
We started out the evening with an intriguing exercise to get our olfactory system ready: Laurel gave each table five different vials of essential oils from her Jean Lenoir Le Nez Du Vin kit (one of the essential tools of a Sommalier) and asked everyone to try and identify each scent. After a few minutes, she went to each table and disclosed exactly what each vial contained, with an alarming amount of misses from the entire group! They had common smells like strawberry, almond, or lemon, as well as deceivingly difficult smells like leather and green pepper.
It was during this exercise that Laurel’s professional training in wine and viticulture at Niagara College, combined with her obvious passion for the subject matter, emerged to demonstrate the absolute wealth of knowledge she has. She spoke about the importance of agriculture, and the impact soil, proximity to any body of water, and elevation has on the flavour of the grapes. She touched upon the historical significance that wine has had on our survival, as beer and wine were once cleaner and safer to drink than water. All this information was conveyed in a very casual, enjoyable, and fun atmosphere. (Laurel’s preference for hands-on instructional exercises makes sense when you learn that she completed her teaching degree at Queen’s University, haha!)
After answering some general questions on the various production process of wine, Laurel focused on rosé and its key characteristics, letting the group know that it is a wine that’s meant to be consumed young: within one to two years of bottling. She presented a selection of rosés that ranged from gris de gris (an almost pale grey tint) to a ruby red. We started with a Castillo de Almansa Rosado from 2015, paired with goat cheese, and the entire group noted how complementary the pairing was, but not very surprising due to the common practice of holding wine and cheese events. Laurel explained that the fat from the cheese coats the tongue and softens the flavours of the wine, allowing for the undertones of fruit to really come through, and that’s why they’re so great together.
We then moved to a Chateau Val Joanis Tradition Rose also from 2015, but this time it was paired with a variety of sausages. What an unexpected flavour combination! The rosé’s acidity cuts through the fat of the sausage, and lightens the entire experience. Laurel introduced a wine which she believed to be fantastic for roasts: Ogier Cotes du Ventoux Rose. There was a slight petroleum smell that no one could quite identify until she explained that stronger minerals in the soil add that note to many wines, which is why they can be paired with stronger meat dishes. I’m telling you, this was quite the educational night!
We ended the night with a Cava, which is the Spanish version of champagne: a Codorniu Seleccion Raventos Rose. This one had very strong carbonation, and much sweeter on the nose than the tongue. It was paired with strawberries to bring out the sugars, but we were all invited to mix and match flavours. I discovered a love for the Cava with brie, because the carbonation cut through the fat, but left very delicate notes behind. So lovely!
I was thoroughly impressed with Laurel and her team after spending the evening with them, and decided to ask what the average day on a tour with them looked like: have a typical breakfast for the select region, hop on a mini bus and visit one (at most two) vineyards, making sure to explore the grounds and take in all the fresh air as most are located on conservation grounds. They push for a very hands-on experience, and want every visitor to not only taste the end product, but also touch the soil and experience the entire estate through every sense.
The tours also typically include market visits (which are one of my favourite attractions when traveling), and they end every night with a very light dinner. This may sound like a typical wine tour, but believe me that it’s the personality and knowledge of the guides and organizers that really make the difference. Laurel is a dedicated individual who genuinely loves sharing her passion with others. If just one evening with her completely changed my perspective on rosé, I cannot imagine what an entire week would do for my perspective on wines in general! I highly recommend booking a tour with Laurel and the Wine Behind The Scenes team.