Wine and cheese: Two classy consumables that can instantly transport me back to Paris, where I lived for over 5 years. Even today, years later, a simple dinner of cheese and baguette accompanied by a nice bottle of wine (almost) makes me feel like I am back in my tiny Parisian chambre de bonne, where dinners of wine and cheese were the norm, not a luxury!
During my time in Paris, I knew little about wine. I really wish something like Ô Chateau had been around back then. It would have been great to know what I tasted, how to describe it, and a little bit about the history and wine-making process itself. Ô Chateau was started in 2004 by Olivier Magny, who abandoned a previous (business) career path to follow his dream of educating people about French wine. Olivier’s passion is evident in the company as we see it today: staffed by young, enthusiastic people who all driven by a shared mission to teach others about French wine in a non-intimidating way.
I first visited Ô Chateau in December 2009, with my very-knowledgeable-about-all-things-wine husband and our friend, who, like us, simply enjoys drinking wine. We felt this would be a good test to see whether the 75€ ($97) Wine and Cheese Lunch would have something to offer both the novice and connoisseur.
As expected, our incredibly knowledgeable instructor, Lionel, was friendly and inclusive, and made the information accessible and enlightening for everyone in our party.? In just under two hours, we tasted 5 wines accompanied by 5 cheeses and a platter of gorgeous charcuterie. A nice pace, it allowed Lionel to talk us through each wine, imparting a bit of history and background of France’s wine-growing regions while we offered our own tasting impressions.
A true diplomat, Lionel was kind enough to not laugh when we made potentially outrageous observations and associations, including “tastes like lollipops”! So often in tasting situations, I feel like a fool because I don’t have the “right” vocabulary to describe my impressions. Not at Ô Chateau, which felt like my chateau — welcoming, like home. Such a pleasantly different experience for the amateur oenophile.
It certainly helps that Ô Chateau’s sommeliers are hired on the basis of personality as much as knowledge. Aiming to give each and every customer a better understanding of the wines of France, they are true ambassadors to French wine. The web site’s promise rings true: Ô Chateau is a place that is open to everyone. To people who like wine, who love it, who are intrigued by it, who have no clue about it… Open to all those who feel some sort of an attraction to wine. Ô Chateau is a cool wine tasting company. We just want our tastings to be informative and fun. That is how we see our job: making wine fun and interesting.
A handy, easy-to-read “cheat sheet” Lionel gave us at the end of our class ensured that we would be well equipped with some of the “right” vocabulary the next time we found ourselves in a situation where we needed to sound knowledgeable!
I re-visited Ô Chateau last summer, in their new premises: a gorgeous 17th-century building on rue Jean-Jacques Rousseau in the historic Les Halles district of Paris. With a menu that changes weekly based on seasonal produce, the restaurant offers a Retour du Marché, 32€ ($41) prix fixe that includes an appetizer, main course and dessert. If you don’t want all three, you can have any of those items à la carte. Interested in pairing wines with your food? Mais, bien sûr! For 65€ ($84), Ô Chateau offers a tasting menu that includes Champagne and 3 wines, all selected to perfectly pair with your food. As it’s a small-ish dining space, reservations are recommended.
I also took in Ô Chateau’s Petit Big Day experience, a great way to spend the afternoon for the wine-minded traveler. At 3 pm, we convened at the on-premises tasting cellar and took part in the Introduction to French Wine tasting class. Three wines over the course of one hour, a perfect starter. A two-hour break followed, enough time to meander along the Seine at a leisurely pace. We reconvened near the Eiffel Tower for a one-hour Champagne Cruise on the Seine. In a private area at the front of a Bateau Mouche, we took in 3 fantastic Champagnes (and a huge number of fantastic views, of Seine-side Paris), along with a brief history and lesson about the world-famous region of Champagne.
Both of my Ô Chateau experiences have been a true pleasure. I left each time with more knowledge, and more confidence. More fun? Could not be possible, because it’s so much fun already. Highly recommended.
Mardi Michels is a full-time French teacher and part-time writer, cook, baker, photographer and traveller. She blogs at eat. live. travel. write., where she chronicles her culinary adventures near and far. Join her this summer in Paris with Le Dolci and La Cuisine Paris for a culinary tour of the city of light.