As much as I drink wine, you’d think I’d be an expert by now. My girlfriends and I have a wine club back in NYC where we do blind tastings, have field trips to local wineries, and invite guest speakers to come talk to us (we’re so fancy, ya’ll!) But there’s still so much I don’t know.

During our trip to France a couple of weeks ago with Christopher’s parents, we stayed a few days in Bordeaux and visited something like ten wineries (although who really knows? I lost count after the third tasting…) While the wine was delicious, my favorite part about each visit was learning more about it.

So, I thought I’d share some of my favorite takeaways (I wrote them down during the tours so I wouldn’t forget because, you know… wine.)

1. The barrels are everything.

wine barrel cellar bordeaux france

All of the barrels we saw in Bordeaux were made from French oak that comes directly from a nearby forest. The average age of each tree used is 200 years old. One barrel costs around $600 to make–they’re the biggest expense for the chateau each year. They only use them for two to three years, and then sell them at a super-reduced rate to other companies like whiskey producers. Makes you appreciate that “oaky” taste even more, huh?

2. Winemakers are messy… but creative.

Many of the barrels we saw were red in the middle, and it turns out it’s because they paint them with wine to mask the spills they make when topping up (the process of adding more wine to the barrel to prevent oxidation). Eighty-nine percent of Bordeaux wine is red, and with 300 bottles in each barrel, there are bound to be some colorful spills.

3. The winemakers are at the mercy of the weather.

wine vines in bordeaux, france

2013 was a bad, bad year for Bordeaux wines due to constant rain and hail storms–the worst conditions in over two decades, apparently. The winemakers in Bordeaux want to produce only the highest quality wine, even if that means they have to throw out 60 percent of their harvest. Unfortunately that means that some of them went out of business in 2013 because of Mother Nature.

4. Winemaking is as much science as it is art.

wine bottles and empty glass, bordeaux, france

Back in the day, women used to stomp the grapes with their feet to get the juice out, and the temperature in the fermentation room was regulated with fire and ice. These days, computers with optical sensors select only the best grapes and machines used to crush them do so much more gently than the ladies. There’s still an incredible amount of art that goes into making each batch, but thanks to advances in science and technology, wines within a single production are much more consistent than they used to be. So, a bottle bought in New York City will taste similar to one bought in Oxford, England. Cheers to that!

5. Emotions trump price.

Julie Pennell and family at wine tasting in Bordeaux France

In one of my favorite moments from the trip, the four of us sat down for a four-course lunch at the family home of Chateau Angelus. Stephanie de Bouard de Laforest, the eighth-generation family member to manage the winery, treated us to wonderful conversation about her experience running the chateau and what wine means to her. One of the things she said really struck me: your feelings about whether you like a certain wine have to do with the emotions you feel when you taste it, not how expensive it is. While quality wine does cost more, a less expensive bottle you share with loved ones might actually taste better. I don’t know why, but I just love that concept so much.

What’s your favorite bottle of wine and why? Share your story in the comments below!

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