Top Champagne Tasting of Year in the Bay Area

The Institute of Masters of Wine Annual Champagne tasting event comes to San Francisco each year in September. Hosted in the beautiful Ferry Building at Embarcadero, with an eye-popping view of the Bay and the Bay Bridge, for $50 it is one of the greatest values you can find of any wine events in the Bay Area. You get to taste hundreds of Champagnes, many costing in triple digits, poured by Masters of Wine, the rare and highly respected breed of only 300 in the world, who can answer any wine questions you can ever think of (although asking them for a champagne recommendation can be exercise in futility). Starting at 5, the room stays relatively light until about 5:30, when crowds rush in. If you are able to navigate your way through until about 7:30, the place lightens up again, and you get unobstructed (and repeated, if I might say so) access to most of the wines. Needless to say, my friends and I take full advantage of the opportunities and delights this event affords us.

Each year's tasting helps me with buying decisions, particularly because I can re-taste the same Champagne multiple times without rush. I typically do three rounds to confirm the favorites. While a couple of last year's heavyweights were absent this year (vintage Krug and Henriot Enchanteleurs), the lineup was impressive nonetheless.

Note: This year was the first time I'd ever seen spittoons placed on separate tables in the center of the room away from the tasting tables, very smartly forcing the hordes to clear the path to Champagne in order to relieve themselves of their mouthfuls.

My favorites of the tasting were (in this order):

1. Veuve Clicquot Brut "La Grand Dame" 1998 - I've been tasting the 1998 for the past three years, and it just gets better every year. Wine of the tasting for me.

2. Henriot Brut "Millesime" 1998 - in the absense of 1996 Enchanteleurs, this one really stood out.

3. Gosset Brut "Grande Millesime" 2000 - I've been impressed with the 1999 vintage of this wine, and the 2000 is just as good if not better.

4. Krug non-vintage Brut - always reliably excellent.

5. Bollinger "La Grand Annee" Brut 2002 - delish.

6. Charles Heidsieck Brut "Millesime" 2000 - very toasty.

I didn't like many rosés, but these two stood out:

7. Perrier-Jouet Brut Rosé non-vintage - delish.
8. Bruno Paillard Brut Rosé non-vintage.

Many others were noteworthy (Philipponnat, Pol Roger, Ayala) but not as memorable as those listed above. But hanging out with Liz Thach - the first female Master of Wine on the West Coast - more than made up for any forgettable bubblies.

That's me with Liz Thach - the first female Master of Wine on the West Coast.

As tradition would have it, my buds and I headed downstairs to the best fast-food burger joint in the Bay Area (IMHO) - Gott's (previously called Taylor's Automatic Refresher). While slightly overpriced, their Texas burger and garlic / parsley fries are all-so-satisfying.


enochchoi said…
Love goin wit ya every year!
tom hyland said…

Nice writeup- maybe they'l have this tasting in Chicago one day.

Love the Paillard rosé as well.

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