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Tuesday night I continued my mission to five hundred, with my new schedule of courses I would be studying the old world wines, exclusively, tasting up to 10 wines a night and learning a lot about a few regions in France, Italy and Spain.

We began by getting the lowdown on Champagne: Timelines of important events in the region like detailing the church’s role and chronologically making our way to Prohibition. After an intense amount of history was condensed into an hour, we jumped into the climate and specificities of the region; this was in hopes of getting the class acquainted with an historic region and then being able to taste our way through a couple selections the professor had imported.

We tasted two variations on a theme, both being Champagne, the first from Agrapart & Fils “Les 7 Crus” was a co-operative effort, and the second bottle hailing from R.H. Coutier, a smaller producer (Récoltant Manipulant, or RM, as it appears on the label), growing their own grapes as well as making their own wine.

Agrapart & Fils “ Les 7 Crus” blanc de blancs was straw in color with a moderately intense nose of green apples, vanilla, some toasted notes and a fainter smell of ripe pear. On the palate it was dry with medium high acidity, medium body and lengthy finish, yielding more apple and toasted bread notes.

R.H. Coutier’s Champagne was a mixture of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, showcasing a little more development in the bottle as the straw colored sparkler was redolent of mushroom (fungal notes) and ripe red apple. On the palate, it was dry with a touch of residual sugar, teeming with medium acidity painted on the sides of my tongue and medium finish length showcasing more ripe apple, bit of crushed rock and some almond.

A good caliber of Champagne in this sampler and definitely a lot more wonderful wines to come from the class as I look forward to another eleven classes left in the course—it should also help me achieve the five hundred mark a little easier than making up a lot of tasting ground late in the year.

Deuxième Classe:  Bordeaux

On Wednesday, I had my second course of the week and this one tested me on all things Bordeaux, as well as my ability to catch any of the Ducks game (vs. St. Louis), it is as if the classes have little regard for my hockey games. Luckily, I have many phone apps to help me to follow my team.

The class is four weeks long, each class showcasing six different Bordeaux and tailoring all imparted knowledge from the region’s topography, to the climate of the different appellations—and everything in between.

After copious notes were jotted down, it was time to taste; six glasses filled with wines ranging from hue/clarity to vintage (2005 -2008). The wines included: 08 Chateau Mylord, 05 Chateau Croix-Mouton, 05 Chateau Plaisance, 08 Chateau Haut Sociondo, 05 Chateau Cap de Faugeres and 08 Chateau Les Tours Seguy.

The lineup was designed as an introduction for the sake of our innocent palates, however it proved to be overwhelming. By the end of the tasting, the drying tannins roughed up my tongue, with a feeling similar to scraping your tongue in between your teeth vigorously.

I have too many tasting notes to bore you with, but some of the wines, even at the introductory level were interesting, like the nose of the “Cuvee Alix” by Chateau Plaisance which fell victim to Brettanomyces (not that I have a problem with the funk but it can be considered a flaw). Brettanomyces is a yeast strand that provides an odor equivalent of barnyard, bandages, and other off odors. Another standout was the Chateau Cap de Fagueres, which had the body of a heavyweight boxer with pronounced notes of dark chocolate, vanilla and blackberry on the nose and an even greater concentration on the palate of black cherry—still youthful after six years of bottle age.

By the end of the course, my teeth turned a darker shade of purple and my tongue had been fatigued, but I know I must work harder on combating palate fatigue if I am going to stand a chance at the Union des Grand Crus de Bordeaux tasting next Saturday. As for the hockey game it finished on a big note too—the Ducks won 7-4 and Bobby Ryan had an at-home hat trick. I now see a vision of 487 wines in my future like a mountaineer pulling into view of a target peak after getting over the first low hill.

It was Friday, the season opener for the Anaheim Ducks—it should have been a joyous occasion—and I was interested in watching the game immediately after work. To mark the occasion I was going to have a bottle of Washington Cabernet Sauvignon with a hamburger. I would need to choose a dining spot not five minutes (barring seemingly inexhaustible Los Angeles traffic) from where I currently reside on Santa Monica Blvd to catch the broadcast. Things were getting hurried and jammed.

In my sights, the Corner Deli and Grill, an inconspicuous pick, turning out decent fare at low prices, hidden in plain sight to the hundreds of thousands that drive by it in a day, it also fit my search criteria: a short drive from my residence. Operating within a mini-mart, armed with just the necessities to cook: a grill, griddle, counter, a case and few other tools to run the miniature kitchen.

I ordered the regular burger ($4.49), an economic deal for a 1/3-pound of “Angus” beef, tomato, lettuce and a considerable spread of mayo, including seasoned fries. No more than five minutes after my order and I was out the door with the Styrofoam carrier in hand, negotiating traffic on Santa Monica Blvd to better my chances of catching the Ducks game.

Once home, I got the hockey game primed—already behind two-zero in the first period, the Ducks were making a poor case for a fast start to the beginning of the season—and quickly unscrewed the top to my bottle of Chateau Smith, pouring the garnet liquid into my Riedel stemware, with the hopes of abbreviating the aeration. I gave the Cabernet Sauvignon a few minutes to open up, expecting the brash tannins of its California counterpart, before taking my first swig. In the meantime, I devoured the aromas of the Washington red wine, picking up some cedar, a little black fruit.

For some time I had wanted to acquaint my palate with the Washington winemakers, those many who have made significant success with Cabernet Sauvignon, vaunted for their finesse. I was hoping that their acumen would lead to a better encounter with Cabernet Sauvignon (the typical exchange left my wallet hurting and my mouth roughed up).

The maker of my bottle, Charles Smith—chief winemaker of K Vintners and Charles Smith wines—is a magnanimous character in the wine world, an important winemaker and practitioner of the grape in Washington. He has drawn lots of attention to the area with his critically acclaimed Syrah (fetching perfect scores from RP).

Wines hailing from Washington dwell in a long and cool growing season, unlike the scorching sun that shines mercilessly in some of the more famous AVA’s of California. The cooler climate is similar to the Rhone Valley but Chateau Smith is an elegant and fitting tribute to Bordeaux, blending 96.5% Cabernet Sauvignon with 3.5% Malbec.

The burger was huge, the sesame seed bun was soft and warm, the patty was painted with char marks and the first bite showed promise. The texture of the patty was not as tender as the “angus” would generally imply, but it was a good expression of a fast food burger. Then I brought the thin-rimmed glassware to my lips, pairing the bold char flavor with the Cabernet. It was a hit; my taste buds were delighted because the weight of the wine (medium-full body) supported the hamburger effortlessly.

The Cabernet on its own was very good, soft tannins, low alcohol (relative to the Cabernets to which I am accustomed) and nice persistence of fruit flavors on the finish.

The immediacy of the wine was unexpected but its result was instantly gratifying where I might have had to wait the better half of a decade before I could think of enjoying a bottle of Napa Cab. The burger was good (7/10) with respect to the style but the beverage overshadowed it. I enjoyed my first introduction to Washington Red wines via Charles Smith and if only the Ducks had managed to wrest their first victory of the season and had not fallen disgracefully to the Detroit Red Wings (4-0), the night would have been over-the-top outstanding.

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