Poppin’ Corks! WAC’s Sparkling Wine Event Bubbles Over with Insight
If you were one of the lucky participants of last Thursday’s Women’s Advancement Compact “All That Sparkles” wine event at Appellation Wine & Spirits in Chelsea, you would have walked away with not just a euphoric wine buzz and the flavor of my homemade olive tapenade on your palate; You would have also learned numerous bubbly essentials worthy of carrying with you through your career and beyond.
Presenter Stuart Gray of Martin Scott Wines (a former colleague of mine) was described by one attendee as having “gotten geeky” in his detailed-yet-entertaining seminar on what sets sparkling wine apart aside from those memorizing strings of bubbles. Together, we investigated 6 different regional bubblies, spanning the globe from Europe to South America to the US of A, and dissected the mysteries behind this complicated wine category, the consumption of which seems to be inappropriately reserved for celebrations.
When presenting the group of 22 with the most elementary but oddly challenging question about bubbly— “What is the difference between Sparkling Wine and Champagne?”, this educated crowd showed that it came to play, and stepped right up with the correct answer, notably that one is a style of wine, the other a region where that style flourishes. This was Stuart’s signal to hit the difficulty switch, and delve deeper into the subject.
The academic portion of the evening was enough to inspire anyone to run out and start a wine cellar. It was, nonetheless, pleasantly peppered with some famous bits of practical bubbly advice for the occasional imbiber, the clear favorite of which was Stuart’s demonstration of the proper way to uncork a bottle of sparkling wine, injury-free. But for the adventurous amongst us, he did refer to the art of sabrage, for those with a heavy chef’s knife, a backyard, and some safety goggles (even I have never tried this at home!).
I’ve been directly involved with wine in my career for over 2 decades, and even I learned something new from Stuart that evening. With the rise of grower Champagne (single-estate wines) vs long-established commercial house brands (negociant wines made from purchased fruit), there is now a solid reason to read the fine print on a Champagne label. Near the producer’s address at the bottom will appear a set of initials. NM (meaning Négociant-Manipulant) appears on the labels of large-scale, commercially-produced Champagnes with wide distribution. By contrast, RM (which means Récoltant-Manipulant) and CM (which stands for Coopérative-Manipulant) indicate that the wine is either from a single grower or a small cooperative of growers, who will craft tiny amounts of particularly exquisite Champagne from their own fruit, distribute it to limited markets (NYC is a big one!), and price it without that extra layer for marketing overhead. Talk about useful information.
My service bell was employed once again, following Stuart’s lesson, during an indulgent exercise wherein participants broke out into 3 groups, and rotated visiting 3 food and sparkling wine-pairing stations designed to educate the palate with regard to how the fatty and acidic components in food interplay with the structure in sparkling wine. My spread of artisanal cheeses and homemade treats ran the spectrum from salty to sweet, bitter to sour, and even umami, to prove how versatile this special category of wine can be with food. Light bulbs went off in heads, and faces were slathered in grins as everyone immersed themselves in a brand-new gastronomic adventure.
At the conclusion of the educational portion of the evening, the networking began on cue, in a highly-effective setting wherein everyone present was able to meet at least 11 other new people. With bubbles in hand, we all toasted to the most power-packed 2 hours that occurred anywhere in NYC that day! Thank you to Stuart Gray for the comprehensive lesson, to Scott Pactor of Appellation Wine & Spirits for all of your arrangements during this busy season, and to everyone who spent your valuable time at the event (and even ordered some of your favorite wines of the night). What a sublime conclusion to WAC’s first schedule year!