champagne tasting

Fourteen green bottles sitting on the wall

A friend invited us to a Champagne tasting recently – not at her house (that would have been really classy) but at a small local wine shop, one of those in danger of strangulation by Dan Murphy but bravely soldiering on in the belief that personality beats price. Which, in the end, it doesn’t.

The shop was like a dim, rectangular cave in which local customers and their friends were being offered free drinks and a chance to bullshit while holding a glass aloft and frowning.

They’d attracted a substantial crowd – as handouts often do. The freeloaders stood in a long line against a counter behind which the floggers showed the jollity and passive understanding of psychiatrists. There were so many different bottles that I immediately became confused, not helped by the fact that I’d forgotten my spectacles. I could see, however, that some of the bottles were not open and some that were, did not contain Champagne. This was, in fact, an attempt to create turnover under the guise of Champagne tasting.

There are certain types that go to Champagne tastings. The women are tall, meticulously made up, extravagantly dressed but don’t seem to do much drinking. Their main function is to be there – and watch their men. They, on the other hand are either in their 40s, jeans/jacket clad, with abundant careless hair or quite a bit older, tall, often with a walking stick to point out this and that, and a silly canvas hat.

Although this was a ‘free tasting’ the first offering was vintage Krug for which tasters were charged a fee. For my five dollars I got just enough to cover the bottom of my glass. I can understand why. This Champagne is $450 a bottle, working out, in my case, at about a dollar a drip. Did it taste good? My subconscious screamed at me: ‘of course it must taste good at $450 a bottle, you fucking idiot!’ So yes, it did taste good. But if it had been poured out of Great Western bottle, it probably would have tasted like Great Western.

The tall craggy men in the canvas hats don’t actually talk during a tasting. They make noises like ‘wuff wuff flup foggle’ – usually as the Champagne is being poured. They display quite different behaviour when they are tasting red wine, I’ve observed. They stare down into the glass as they are whirl-pooling it around and pull the most unpleasant faces – as though they are being to asked to rank the qualities of a turd.

One is obliged to buy something at such gatherings. I came away not with the $450 Krug but a half bottle of a sweet fizzy Italian wine that might be nice to pour over ice cream.