Did you know that the U.S. is the second-largest export market for Champagne, behind the United Kingdom? Over 20 million bottles were shipped to the U.S. in 2004 alone. Or that Port is a fortified wine that comes form the world’s oldest wine region?
The Center for Wine Origins was created to help Americans remember that location matters when it comes to wine. While excellent wine is produced around the world, it is important to know where your wine comes from. Not too many decades ago, nefarious producers and negotiants used inexpensive wine from the south of France to add volume to Pinot Noir from Burgundy. Today, such a ruse is nearly impossible given strict AOC regulation. Yet it is crucial to keep vigilant and the Center for Wine Origins exists to help educate Americans about the importance of location (or terroir) and to enable us to be vigilant when it comes to buying the “real thing.”
On April 14, the Washington, D.C.-based company invited me and several other of Manhattan’s top wine journalists to a lunch at the famous 21 Club to explain the Center’s mission. What was spectacular about the event that it was not simply a lunch in the main dining room, but in the private cellar where presidents such as Richard Nixon and movie stars such as Liz Taylor kept their private bottles in decades past. Presumably, celebrities would be advised when the restaurant procured a taste of fabulous Burgundy, Bordeaux, or other collectible wine and had the opportunity to buy it and have it kept waiting. Yet, as the sommelier explained, over the years, celebrities and their estates forgot about the bottles waiting for their arrival at the 21 Club, so now the club has many fine bottles approaching or past their peak that will never see their rightful owner enjoy them with Filet Mignon.
Attending the lunch were Paulo Russel-Pinot, Marketing Director of the Instituto dos Vinhos do Douro e Porto (IVDP), and Daniel Lorson, Director of the communications of the Comite Interprofessional du Vin de Champagne (CIVC), who brought along examples of their regions' most definitive products: for Mr. Lorson, it was Gosset champagne, and for Mr. Russel-Pinot, aged white and red Port. The gentlemen spoke at length about the fact that only a sparkling wine from the region of Champagne in France could be called champagne, and though many Californian and Australian producers call their fortified wine “port,” the only fortified product of this type that can be called “Port” is from the region of Oporto in Portugal.
California sparklers, for example, are delicious on their own and, as with Champagne, it is important to appreciate this difference and call them “sparkling wine.” The terms do not imply one wine is lesser than the other; they are just respectful terms for their regions of origin.
And given all the venues in New York to hold the lunch, the 21 Club was a fabulous choice because, like Port and Champagne, there is really only one venue in New York that has such a sense of historical place!