There are plenty of reasons to jump out of bed each morning: sometimes it’s that you just can’t wait to get moving on your ritual 6 am gym routine (ugh!); sometimes, you simply open your eyes to what is a spectacular day and just get moving!

Putting on the Spritz!

None of these motivated me to snap to last Wednesday. What did fire the engines however was the imminent, first-ever Champagne trade tasting to come to San Francisco, hosted by the professional body known as the CIVC (Comite Interprofessionel du Vin de Champagne) In all, a total of 31 prestigious houses, some venerable landmarks, some talented, lesser-feted participants  assembled to show their colors. The tasting was set on the spectacular top floor of the regal St. Francis hotel in the heart of Union Square. With it’s sweeping, panoramic views of the bay it was a truly breathtaking platform for the luxurious offerings on hand!

The room was bursting with wine professionals whose raison d’etre (literally, reason for being) this day was to indulge their senses and palates in the pursuit of the perfectly-crafted and irreproachably-refined cuvees from the land of sublime bubbles.

The event was divided into two sections with a walk-around pair of long tables brimming with ornate buckets and elegant bottles on one side and a dazzling room full of eloquent champagne professionals on the other. This latter room afforded the usual one-on-one exchanges with the winery ambassadors as well as some additional cuvees that were not offered in the speed-tasting set.

A dash of brilliant color evokes French flair!

Swirling my way through the wines on parade filled my mind with the sensation of observing multitudes of brightly-colored kites drifting effortlessly across the sky – each one with its own lofty pursuits, some more intricate, some more ephemeral and some built with wonderful technical skill yet lacking finesse.
While it is a herculean effort (I know, tough day job!) to indulge in all offerings I did push hard to visit several, some of which were fabulous efforts from well-known houses, others, truly delightful entries from smaller, more obscure producers.

The non-vintage Brut Excellence from Gosset was powerful with a lofty, sweet brioche nose followed by a lush, golden- apple palate; it showed lovely texture and purity and a long, bright finish.

Another classic offering came from Henriot. Where the non-vintage Brut Souverainwas lovely if slightly austere with pronounced minerality, the Brut Millesime 1998showed plump red berries fused with tart, black plums enrobed in the rich toasty aromas of fresh-baked bread, finishing with wonderful intensity and length. TheBlanc de blancs non-vintage was spectacular and filled my senses with white chocolate and freshly-baked croissants, the palate was richly-textured and the linear minerality and refreshing acidity unleashed a finale of pure pleasure!

Some of the smaller houses had some outstanding entries:

– the Charles de Cazenove Brut was a lovely effort exhibiting delicate white floral notes, succulent fruit components of ripe apple and pear and boasting a rich, full texture and enduring finish;

– the Devaux Cuvee D showed focus and purity along with toasty brioche aromatics, compelling citrus and nice minerality that made for an impressive effort;

– the Gaston Chiquet Blanc de Blancs d’Ay non-vintage was truly lofty with very attractive floral notes reminiscent of marzipan along with beautiful white peach and apricot on the palate;

I was also very taken by the offerings from Champagne Thienot whose range I found to be virtually seamless and expressive of a wonderfully-harmonious identity which is after all the continuous pursuit of all Champagne houses:

– the Thienot Brut was laden with extremely attractive and lush pinot noir red fruits backed with the complex minerality and steely persistence of the chardonnay; the wine was pure, had a persevering finish and intensity inspiring pause and reflection;

– the Thienot Brut Rose showed the bright and heady red berry aromatics of pinot noir with a clean and focused palate and again a purity and intensity that showed beautiful craftsmanship and presence;

These wines were really a fantastic discovery for this taster!

As I began making my way to the exit a friend commented that, “it was getting really hot in here!” I couldn’t help but wonder if the sudden rise in temperature was linked to the extraordinary volume of CO2 unleashed by dozens of bottles of champagne which had momentarily resulted in a slight alteration of the local climate; or, if the swirling, tasting and (mostly) physical purging (okay spitting – probably the least sexy word in the space!) of these tiny bubbles had somehow begun to make us all a bit flush and in need of a blast of that refreshing, Pacific breeze. Your guess is as good as mine!

Slave to the grape – worse fates there have been!

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