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09.04.2007

Masters of Wine Champagne Tasting: September 17th, San Francisco

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 imwlogo.gifputting 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)
The Embarcadero
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.

Comments (11)

razmaspaz wrote:
09.05.07 at 7:59 AM

Alder,
I have tried what I consider to be a significant amount of champagne in the past few years. I've tried everything from Korbel to Veuve Clicquot to a handful of grower champagnes, and I've found very few that I didn't have to force down the gullet. The few that I have liked were off dry to sweet, not the bone dry style that seems so popular. I guess I just don't get it. What were some of the bottlings that sparked your awakening? I'd like to believe that I'm just trying the wrong stuff, but I'm pretty skeptical at this point.

Alder wrote:
09.05.07 at 8:50 AM

Razma,

The first time I had Krug was definitely an eye opening experience for me, followed by a taste of vintage Dom Perignon, to name a couple of wines that made an impression. Of course it is possible that you just don't like Champagne. Nothing wrong with that, especially if you've tried enough to be able to say that with confidence.

CHATr Box wrote:
09.05.07 at 9:53 AM

Alder-
I imagine Krug and Dom are indeed eye openers when it comes to finding an appreciation for champagne, or sparkling wine. Especially given their quality and market image. However, what would you recommend for individuals who can't commit to a $100+ bottle? Something affordable that could possibly provide the same eye opening experience without the upfront financial commitment. Cheers!

Geoff Smith wrote:
09.05.07 at 12:04 PM

Here's a recommendation: Bollinger Special Cuvee.

Geoff

andrea gori wrote:
09.06.07 at 8:07 AM

in my opinion, the most fascinating point of champagne is that we have to redefine many of the criteria which we use for evaluate a wine...
Could you give "outstanding" for an amber color like onion for a blush wine? or for a "vermouth" aroma like some old good millesimes???
I attendend a class in Italy developed by Roberto Bellini from AIS and I found that as a "regular" sommelier, I have soo much to learn to be a champagne sommelier...

Alder wrote:
09.06.07 at 8:29 AM

In addition to the Bollinger, which is an excellent choice, I also recommend the non-vintage Pierre Peters Cuvee Reservee which comes in somewhere between the $35 and $45 price range.

larry-s wrote:
09.06.07 at 11:59 AM

There's also a Noon-2 session so all is not lost if the later session sells out.

Chris wrote:
09.06.07 at 12:02 PM

I attended a Champagne tasting last year and one of the things I've learned is that you don't have to splurge $100 on the Dom and whatnot. While they're not bad, you can find bottles that are just as good for less than half the cost. However, I feel that's the case with most wines--you can find things just as good as the popular choices but for much less if you know what to look for.

I particularly remember anything from Tarlant being pretty good (range $25-45), as well as some decent ones by Gonet, and Roederer Estate's L'ermitage ($30).

andrea gori wrote:
09.06.07 at 3:06 PM

@ chris: totally agree with you! two weeks ago I drunk a N.V. Francois Hemart Brut Rose that was really fantastic, http://vinodaburde.simplicissimus.it/archives/308 and costed around 40 euro. The problem is how to find these "little" producer regularly. From Italy is a 2 day trip to Champagne AOC but for you in the states maybe is a bit more complicated...

David McDuff wrote:
09.06.07 at 7:54 PM

Sounds like a great tasting event, Alder. If only it were a few thousand miles closer to home!

I've been a huge fan of the grower Champagnes of Diebolt-Vallois for years. Their "Blanc de Blancs" and "Cuvée Tradition" are both excellent starting points for exploration and should be available for around $35-40 per bottle, though perhaps not throughout all 50 states. If anyone's interested, the details of a very memorable visit to the estate can be found at Grower Champagne: Diebolt-Vallois.

cheers,
McDuff

Tere wrote:
09.10.07 at 10:22 AM

Not being any kind of wine pro - just a big fan of wine in general and sparkling wines in particular - I'm trying to come up with a reasonable justification for actually leaving work that afternoon to attend this (alone!). All those bubbles, most of which I could never hope to come across on my own, only a block away from my office....

I will say, however, that in my humble opinion California sparkling wines can be every bit as tasty as "proper champagne." Schramsburg's Reserve (97, 98 and 99 - not so much the 2000) is always a carob/caramel joy; Domaine Carneros's "Le Reve" - so clean, crisp and food-friendly; the new release of Iron Horse's Brut Rose' which to me tastes like a Kir Royale! The (admittedly limited) French Champagnes I've had were usually perfectly nice, but I'll take one of the above over a Bollinger or Veuve Clicquot any day.

Tere

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