There was a time, I am not ashamed to admit, that I wasn't really a fan of Champagne or sparkling wine. Frankly I didn't see what all the fuss was about. People I knew, wine lovers especially, would rave about how amazing Champagne was. I would read quotes from famous epicures, chefs, and even wine critics, suggesting in not so many words that given the opportunity they'd drink Champagne every day with every meal without ever tiring of it.
"Man," I thought to myself, "what is the big deal, here? It doesn't taste that good!"
And then I found out one day that I had just never had a good Champagne.
Honestly? This revelation came only a couple of years ago, but I have never looked back since. And every time I meet someone like the old me who has really only had Champagne at weddings, Sunday brunch restaurants, and by the glass in an occasional fine restaurant, I throw my arm around their shoulder and send them off to buy what one enthusiastic importer has called Farmer Fizz.
The past few years have seen an upswing in interest and availability of these "grower champagnes," as they are also known -- smaller production bottlings by individual estates who grow and then bottle their own grapes. Combine this interest with the generally climbing demand for the great houses of Champagne in clubs, bars, and fine restaurants around the world, and we've got a Champagne renaissance on our hands.
This demand for bubbly means that many producers, big and small, never really need to bother themselves with putting on trade tastings in the United States. They sell their stuff just fine without ever stooping to the necessity of letting people actually taste the stuff. Which is why even very informed wine lovers, who may have tasted hundreds of Cabernets, Pinot Noirs, or Chardonnays, often only have experience with a dozen or so different Champagnes.
Well, the Institute for The Masters of Wine is out to change all that. You know the IMW, right? The people who run the non-profit educational foundation that after years of grueling study and testing let's some extremely knowledgeable people put the initials "MW" after their name? Yeah, well, these folks (who know a thing or two about wine) have decided that people don't know enough about Champagne, so they're putting on a public tasting of over 100 different champagnes (from the $20 variety to the $300 variety) for the benefit of San Francisco wine lovers and to raise some funds for their organization.
I attended this event last year, and it was a phenomenal opportunity to taste some truly world-class Champagne in the company of some of the smartest wine people on the planet. How's that for a value proposition?
So if you love Champagne, or perhaps more importantly, if you don't, I seriously recommend spending the time, effort, and money to attend this tasting.
Institute for The Masters of Wine Champagne Tasting
Monday September 17th, 3:00 PM to 5:00 PM
Ferry Plaza Marketplace
Port Commissioners Meeting Room (2nd Floor)
San Francisco, CA 94111
Tickets are $50 ($35 for MW, WSET and MS students) and can be purchased in advance online, or potentially at the door on the day of the tasting.
ALDER'S TIPS FOR TASTING CHAMPAGNE:
1. Taste on a full stomach
2. Sip far less liquid than you might ordinarily out of the glass, as it will foam up in your mouth
3. Don't swish the bubbly as violently in your mouth as you might with wine
4. Spit, of course, but do so more carefully, as it is more difficult with the foam
5. Drink lots of water, rinsing out your mouth frequently
Really serious tasters/students may want to bring their own Pinot Noir/Burgundy glass to taste out of in order to get a better aromatic sense of the wines.
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