Lessons Learned from Lausanne’s Expert Wine Teachers

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March 24, 2022

Photography by Hayley Hay

For Jean-Daniel Loparco, wine was always a family affair. Since the early 90s, his father ran a small restaurant and wine shop that specialized in imported wines from Spain and his native Italy. He was an explorer of sorts, hunting the sunny terroir of these southern countries for the best and most intriguing bottles to bring back to Lausanne.

While Jean-Daniel shared his father’s passion for human connection and the stories that hide behind each wine label, he took a decidedly more corporate path and chose a career that led him to multinational companies and eventually to an EMBA at Lausanne’s prestigious IMD Business School. For a while, it all made sense. But then his father decided to retire, and Jean-Daniel realized it was his turn to take the entrepreneurial leap.

So, he harnessed the skills that his career had given him and took the helm of Alfavin.ch.

During the COVID pandemic, Jean-Daniel started organizing online tastings for his customers, which turned into full-blown tasting classes. Word of mouth spread, and before long he was running corporate team building events for up to 45 people each week. We all learned something about ourselves during the pandemic, and Jean-Daniel learned that he was more than a business man – he is also a teacher and a storyteller.

As his reputation for leading wine tastings in the Lausanne region grew, we caught wind of what he was doing. Before long we were discussing his now famous wine tasting classes and organizing one for our own group. With COVID restrictions now lifted, we gathered with some wine-loving friends at his shop in Lonay for an evening. For two and a half hours, we sniffed, sipped, and laughed our way through the fundamentals of tasting and four key grape varieties in Italy.

Of course, we walked away with plenty of new information, but we also gained some wisdom from the experience. Here are three ideas that changed the way we think about wine…

Back to the basics of wine tasting...

The wine tasting evening began with activities to demonstrate, first hand, the power of sensorial memory and the nose. As Jean-Daniel explained, our ability to identify particular scents in a wine is as much about our past experiences with those scents as it is about the intellectual exercise of paying attention and naming them correctly.

With the help of his sommelier Olivier Pellet (formerly Assistant Chef Sommelier at the Beau Rivage and the Anne Sophie Pic restaurant) Jean-Daniel set up smelling stations throughout the shop and we each had an opportunity to inhale concentrated aromas on cotton balls and try to identify them. I’ve never had a very good sense of smell, so not surprisingly I struggled. However, when I came to “leather,” I was overwhelmed by a sawdust-mixed memory of my childhood in Texas. It was so vivid that the taste of leather even filled my mouth.

And that’s when his message hit home for me – understanding wine isn’t just about accumulating knowledge and information and being able to recite it on cue. It’s about reaching into your past experience and calling up memories of the taste of fresh cherry pits or the liquorish candy your grandfather gave you as a child. It’s deeply emotional and, above all, deeply personal. In my case, you can take a girl out of Texas, but she will always love a wine that recalls the smell of cowboy boots.

It's not you; it’s me – the importance of personal preference in wine tasting.

There’s no doubt that bad wine exists, as anyone who’s ever lived on a student budget can attest. But “good” wine, much like beauty, is a harder concept to define. Of course, there are technical attributes like structure, acidity, and alcohol content that can be analyzed, but the true marker of a good wine is what each individual prefers.

And if each of us has a different set of sensorial memories, “good” is as diverse as we are.

To demonstrate this, we did a blind tasting of four Italian grapes and were asked, with a bit of information about each one, to smell, sip and identify each one. After learning about the color, tannins, and structure that were typical of each grape, most of us were able to correctly name the wines. However, when Jean-Daniel asked us which wine we preferred, the room was split across all four. And passionately so!

For some, the Primitivo was far too sweet; and for others it was the hands down favorite. For me, the Nebbiolo (Barolo) was my top pick, but I was surprised to discover that I was alone in putting it first.

Jean-Daniel relished our divisions and used it as an opportunity to drive home the point – wine preference is personal, and we should never feel insecure about our abilities to follow our own noses when selecting a bottle. He encouraged us not to be influenced by the “wine expert” at every gathering, that person who knows a thing or two about wine and then convinces others to abandon their own instincts.

Wine tasting classes for all levels.

Our group came to the tasting with varying degrees of skill and knowledge about wine, but each of us learned something new from Jean-Daniel and Olivier. Even for the most skilled among us, the return to the basics portion of the class was enlightening. Jean-Daniel’s philosophy of making wine accessible – insisting that we leave all pretension at the door – created a space that was free for questioning and making mistakes. By the end of the night, each of us felt a renewed confidence in our ability to converse about wine and our personal preferences.

Ultimately, we may never master wine. But with practice and expert teaching, we can learn more about the kind of wine that pairs best with our unique tastes.

Benefit from expert wine-tasting advice.

If the idea of improving your skills or your confidence when enjoying wine speaks to you, we cannot recommend Jean-Daniel and Alfavin.ch highly enough. You can stop into his shop in Lonay for expert advice in French or English or even join one of his upcoming wine tasting courses (in English on April 7, 2022 or May 12, 2022). Or, if you’re looking for a creative way to give the experience to someone you care about, consider Alfavin.ch’s monthly wine subscription as a gift. Each subscription box includes three bottles with detailed tasting notes and food pairing recommendations.

Alfavin

www.alfavin.ch
021 801 55 41
Instagram : @alfavin.ch
Rte de Denges 28C, 1027 Lonay

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