After a lovely Argentinean meaty lunch, or what in effect is dinner here in Mexico, I was invited by a very lovely young wine maker to a champagne tasting event. Now, it is not every day that such an invitation comes my way, so I enthusiastically agreed to come along. The location? The Intercontinental Presidente Hotel in Mexico City. Time? Eight. It actually started at around nine, as we Mexicans like to say an hour, whilst actually meaning an hour later.
I arrived with my father’s best friend, and his nephew (who was the wine maker and whose family owns a winery in Ensenada). I was not expecting the event to be as formal as it was, and upon entering a private room and seeing that we were to sit at a conference table, each placemat surrounded by glasses, I couldn’t help but giggle. (As did my father’s friend). At first the conversation revolved around wines, and of course champagne. Everyone was putting their two cents forward. Gestures were made, hands poised to underline the high level of exquisite wine they had just tasted God knows where, murmurs of agreement bounding about the room. The scene reminded me of something one would see in a Woody Allen. One of the gentleman present may or may not have had Botox injected into, his entire face, one lady had a fur coat so big she seemed to be drowning in it, another man was reminiscent of the slithering Mr. Collins from Pride and Prejudice. There you go, the evening was complete with a hodge podge of characters, each one encompassing some form of social stereotype, each one seemingly snobby.
I was, however, pleasantly surprised to find that the wise saying of "don't judge a book by its cover" was indeed very true (in this case) and as we imbibed our champagne, everyone at the table, loosened up, and eventually truly let go. The descriptions of the champagnes from their colour, amount of bubbles, smell, finally to its glorious taste were a plenty, and although hesitant to voice my opinion at first, I soon acquired what they call "Dutch courage" and voiced my views as I slurped away eagerly.
What on earth did you drink? You may wonder. Here is the list:
1) Ruinary Blanc de Blancs
2) Taittinger Prelude Grand Cru Brut
3) Perrier-Jouet Belle Epoque 2000, Cuvee de Prestige
4) Louis Roederer Cristal 2002, Civee de Prestige
5) Laurent-Perrier Grand Siecle, Cuvee de Prestige
6) Laurent-Perrier Rose Brut
My favourite? Number five, unfortunately it costs 3,680 pesos, about $286 big bucks. At the end of the tasting, we all had to say which we preferred, and most importantly why. As each person eloquently described their most and least favourites, my heart started to beat rapidly. I admit, I was nervous. What on earth was I to say? At a loss, I said what I felt, and avoided any attempt to pontificate upon the liquids before me. I stood up, smiled, and cheerfully admitted that the most expensive champagne was my favourite. Why? Because it incorporated everything I wished for in champagne, it was fresh, a beautiful shimmering gold colour, and its bubbles raced to the top of the glass, the champagne swilled in my mouth and tantalized every taste bud, and it made me smile! I also added that due to the price, I probably could never afford it on a regular basis, so I also liked number one, (a more realistic choice price wise). I got a giggle from the others present, and felt an incredible sense of happiness when I sat down. Probably from the champagne but also from the thrill of having just spoken my mind ( I wasn't as detailed as I was here) and from seeing how unpretentious everyone really was. All these people were doing was sharing an appreciation for a beverage, and their respect for all the work that went into creating such a drink. I love that they found it ridiculous that some were so expensive, and we all agreed that of course what you like is personal, and as each palate is so distinct, putting a price on what is the "best" is very difficult.
[Nevertheless, I must add a note here. In a country with such a high level of poverty, there is something incredibly wrong about ssipping champagne whilst people are starving outside. Undoubtedly this happens all over the world. This argument could be applied to how wrong it is that we are privileged to eat three meals a day (some more!) whilst other in the same country, or in other countries starve to death. Awareness of what you have, and appreciation of ones situation in life is pivotal, we all know that, hopefully it can encourage us to be more generous towards those who aren't quite as lucky...I have always found that being in a country in which their are fierce contrasts between rich and poor, makes me more aware, exposed to how unfair the world is, and challenges me continuosly. You can't turn the little children begging for money off whilst you wait for the green light, as you can the television. You can't turn the page on the slums you pass everyday. It is there, very present, a reminder of how much work has to be done, and how important it is to participate in bringing about change....Nuff said.]
We all agreed that number three, the Belle Epoque was off; however, the sommelier was a tad bit proud and didn't concede this obvious fact until the end. Oh well. I suppose some sommelier's take it very personally. The fact is, that it is not the sommelier's fault if a bottle is bad. It is the process that makes a bottle off, the bottling, the care, the winery's "fault". As with all nature and organic products, some go bad. C'est la vie. The sommelier on our champagne night, sadly, became defensive, and unnecessarily insistent on how the champagne was fine. To each their own...To each their own...
After this glorious tasting we ate at a very fancy restaurant called Le pied du Couchon. Wowza! We had our own room, and glass doors that opened by pressing a green button (it was reminiscent of doors in a star trek or wars film). The delicacy of this place was a fried pigs hoof. At one in the morning I just could not stomach this (nor at any other time of day really..) so I had a soup. A delicious soup.
After many hours of talking, finally, at four in the morning I was driven home through an empty Mexico. Mexico City is never empty, except for in the early hours, and a journey that would normally take half an hour, took only fifteen minutes.
Home at last....into bed. Time to dream of champagne and pigs...Botox...and just how bizarre an evening I just had.