If only all my first days back to school were this good ... Really, how can you beat a class where the teacher's pouring you four different kinds of Champagne?
So begins Old World Wines at Algonquin, in among familiar faces and like-minded wine geeks, under the tutelage of Liam Doody. Fourteen weeks of the crème de la crème from places where wine families claim roots (figuratively) back to the 1600s, and the concept of appellation d'origine controlée takes a PhD to fully understand and appreciate.
Liam is a storyteller, which I like in a teacher. I remember my sociology of religion prof at Carleton, who would interrupt his lecture with lengthy tales of his adventures among the Masai tribes in Africa or spending years as a medicine man among the Maori of the Pacific. (He also called our mid-class pause a "psychotrope break". Sure looked it when he got back, too.)
But I digress. Liam wove his own "been there, done that" into the details about the ACs of Alsace and the controversy of the term "grand cru" in some parts of France. He suggests that Dom Perignon is the best champagne to drink when someone else is buying; he's not terribly fond of structured tastings, given that wine is so subjective; and he scoffs at the 100-point rating system, too. "That seems to be what passes for a tasting note these days. 'It got an 87. I'll take a case.'" Ah, a man after my own heart!
It's only taken me six courses, but I finally feel at ease in class, knowledgeable enough to talk shop with my classmates, even the ones who build their own wine cellars and know the latest going value on Petrus futures (and I don't even know what a Petrus is! Always something new to learn ...) The feel in the room was one of conviviality, of a relaxed, personal approach to wine. And that was before the wines even got poured. Yup, I think this is going to be a good semester.
Quaff this (if you can afford it): Champagne Pannier Blanc de Noirs 1999 Brut - A rare vintage Champagne, considering most are non-vintage blends. Buttery, fresh-bread yeasty, with a complex blend of flavours, deep yellow colour and fine strings of bubbles. Loved the finish: long, creamy and smooth.
Moët et Chandon Rosé Brut - Bright orange/peach hue, waning clear towards the rim. Soft aromas of peach, yeast, nuttiness; same on the palate, with a hint of strawberry. Luxurious finish, bordering on poetry.