When getting an education means finishing 5 bottles of French wine

Marilen Fontanilla | Feb 5, 2019

Want to learn more about wine but are too intimidated to figure out how? A wine class at the Wine Story Academy offers an enjoyable and informative start



“A person with increasing knowledge and sensory education may derive infinite enjoyment from wine,” writes Ernest Hemingway. For those who are beginning to enjoy wine, delving deeper into the subject may be the best way to derive even more enjoyment from the experience.

I had frequented Wine Story’s Edsa Shangri-La branch in the past, caving in to my oenophilic desires to longingly gaze at the prized bottles from their extensive cellar or enjoy some exquisite pours from their Enomatic.

My last visit provided me with a different purpose (and excuse) to savor wine in a different manner, as I took part in Tour de France: An Introduction to French Wines, Wine Story Academy’s wine class centered on France’s premiere wine growing regions, wonderfully narrated one bottle and one glass (or more) at a time. 


The class setup with tasting notes and a flight of wine glasses at the ready.


Carla P. Santos, Wine Story’s Wine Education Manager, was our wine guide that afternoon, expertly doling out information to our small class of twelve that added more complexity and nuances to each of the six bottles we tried from Champagne, Alsace, Loire Valley, Burgundy, Côtes du Rhône, and Bourdeaux.

“Wine opened up a new world for my career, our group of companies, and Philippine culture,” Carla reminisces about how she started as a wine educator. “It is a curious field that satisfies so much—heart, mind, and body. The way it connects strangers and forges relationships is surprising and, in my opinion, just perfect for Filipinos and our culture.” 


Wine Educator Carla P. Santos was working in Healthy Options before she shifted to a career of pure discovery and indulgence.


Her passion was evident as she guided our taste buds and senses through the different regions in a lively wine and food pairing class that highlighted the unique qualities of each bottle, while also breaking down some stereotypes typically associated with this luxury French product. She emphasized the need to understand and respect the wine culture and the need to adjust our minds and palates.


Carla adeptly covered the basics, from explaining terroir, demystifying wine labels, to understanding the appellation system that is unique to France.


As the world’s leading producer of fine wine, France grows wine in almost all parts of the country, reflecting wine’s integral role in French culture.


Champagne: The benchmark for sparkling wine

First stop in our wine tour was Champagne, a cold and erratic terrain in the north of France. It is in this landscape of bespoke vineyards, hills, and forests where the Méthode Champenoise was created, effectively influencing and shaping how we appreciate sparkling wine, a juxtaposition of brilliance and finesse captured in each bottle.


The Thiénot Brut NV Champagne boasted a reserved elegance, made from an assemblage of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meuniere grapes from the best Champagne vineyards. Its crisp finish and creamy texture make it the perfect partner for a variety of food, including the tart slice of goat cheese served during the wine tasting.


Alsace: Pure grape expression

We took our palate next to the northeast of France, in the Rhine valley where Alsace is located. Bordered by the Vosges mountains, this perpetually cold, dry, sunny region is known for its distinctive white wines that reflect the linear acidity of Riesling grapes, the aromatic character of Muscat, the intensely floral Gewurztraminer, and the full-bodied Pinot Gris, with hardly any oak influence in the winemaking process.


The Hugel Gentil 2015 provides the perfect introduction to Alsatian wines. Termed “Gentil,” it combines the following noble grape varieties—spicy Gewurztraminer, fine Riesling, grapy Muscat, refreshing Pinot Blanc and Sylvaner, and the body of Pinot Gris—for a beautiful complexity.


Loire: A diversity of freshness

The Loire Valley lies in the heart of France, near the Atlantic coast where the terrain provides for a diversity of wine styles, characterized by fresh aromatics, structured balance, and subtle elegance. The cool climate with limestone soil yields classic expressions of Sauvignon Blanc in Sancerre and Pouilly Fumé and Chenin Blanc in Vouvray, as well as a popular delicate sparkling wine, the Crémant de Loire.


The Domaine Champalou Vouvray 2013 from the Loire Valley is a demi-sec or semi-sweet wine with residual sugar, adding concentration and fullness to the palate. Paired with blue cheese, the contrasting explosion of salty and sweet was simply divine.


Burgundy: Small but sought after

The east central part of France is where Burgundy’s vineyards hold domain. Its sub-regions have become prominent for the refined and layered bottles from Chablis, Côtes de Nuits, Côtes de Beaune to Mâconnais.  

The prized terroir of cool climate and mineral-rich soils creates wines of different complexities that can be appreciated by wine lovers of varying levels from the popular Beaujolais (made from Gamay grapes), to Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs.


The single vineyard Domaine Faiveley Clos des Myglands Monopole, Mercurey Premier Cru 2014 from Burgundy opens with a distinctly earthy nose, as generous layers of flavor invite a second sip of this intense Pinot Noir.


Rhône: Southern charms

The Rhône valley in southeast France is where one can find interesting, excellently nuanced wines at a “happy” price range. With a moderate climate, regional specificity, and high quality wines, the Côtes du Rhône produces age-worthy reds.


The M. Chapoutier Belleruche 2015 from Côtes du Rhône has a predominance of Grenache and Syrah, a well-structured wine with firm and silky tannins that shows the heat and heartiness of this region. Paired with Manchego cheese, this powerful wine softens on the palate.


Bourdeaux: On the banks of great wines

One of the world’s premier winemaking regions and a recent top tourist destination, Bourdeaux is renowned for its top-quality wines from thousands of producers, 54 different appellations, and several sub-regions on the left and right banks of the Gironde River that have become the benchmark of fine wines throughout the world.

Carla admits that Bourdeaux is her favorite wine region. “As my interest in wine was just blossoming, the bottle that clinched my love for it was a bottle of Château Pape Clément 2003. The flavor was exceedingly complex and more textured than anything my novice palate had ever tasted. When I learned about its lovely history, it just turned on my mind, as well as my palate.” 


Our last wine that afternoon was a Château Poitevin 2014 from Bourdeaux, a medium-bodied wine with supple tannin from concentrated and structured fruit, for an unapologetic bold red with a rustic edge.


Wine classes for all

For those who are keen to sharpen their wine knowledge, Wine Story Academy offers classes that are perfect for both wine novices and seasoned sippers at the Wine Story Shangri-La Plaza store in Mandaluyong. “Teaching about wine showed me how much potential Filipinos have to master this subject,” Carla muses. “We may not have grown up with it, but we’re so good at talking about wine and making people fall in love with it. It’s unimaginable how far we can go when our wine culture develops further.”



Among Wine Story Academy’s offerings, basic Wine 101 and Food and Wine Pairing classes offer a solid foundation in wine tasting and sensory evaluation. The Aroma Wine Class provides a more in-depth and interactive sensory experience, while Introduction to Bourdeaux serves as a sophisticated tasting session to uncover the complex and elegant flavors of Bourdeaux wines.

For those who want to take their knowledge and passion for wines to a deeper level, Wine Story Academy offers certification courses from Wine & Spirit Education Trust® (WSET) from the United Kingdom, the premiere wine education body that provides highly-coveted qualifications for wine professionals and beginner, intermediate, and advanced enthusiasts.