The Fizz Biz

by Chuck Hayward

The Fizz Biz

Post by Chuck Hayward | September 28th, 2010

The Institute of the Masters of Wine is a London based organization devoted to the education of the wine trade which culminates in the famous Master of Wine exam, a rigorous four day series of tastings and essays. Equivalent in study to a Ph.D., there are currently 289 members who have completed the study program and are involved in the wine trade in occupations as varied as journalists to grape growers.

MW Tim Hanni digs deep to pour some more Champagne.

The average consumer will probably not have too much direct contact with an MW; that is something that usually occurs with members of the trade. Once a year, however, The Institute hosts a tasting where both consumers and the trade mingle with local MWs to raise funds for their scholarship program.

To do so, they assemble a formidable amount of top-shelf champagne and limit attendance to a few hundred.

Annual Champagne Tasting program

For me, this presented a perfect opportunity to sample some rare and hard-to-find cuvees in preparation for our first annual report on champagne. Following in the footsteps of our popular 2009 Bordeaux report, JJ Buckley's wine staff is beginning to conduct research and compile tasting notes that will provide you with a handy guide and overview to the world of Champagne. Look out for this guide in November.

Steve Eliot (l) & Charlie Olken (c) of Connoisseurs' Guide to California Wine share some Champagne with MW Joel Butler.

The sold-out tasting offered up an intriguing mix of styles and producers with the grandes marques well represented by tete-de-cuvees alongside their non-vintage blends. While the expensive cuvees captured the attention of many consumers, sommeliers and wine writers honed in on the increasingly popular category of "grower champagnes", which emphasize vineyard location and site as well as different approaches to winemaking. As I talked with both friends in the business as well as champagne enthusiasts, favorites were spread almost evenly between the two categories with consumers finding excitement amongst the smaller properties while members of the trade found favor in the traditional cuvees poured by the larger wineries. It goes to show that champagne has something for everyone!