Local friends may recall meeting sommelier Gregory Alonzo at the 5th Annual Holiday Wine Tasting put on by Valencia Wine Co. at TPC. At that time Gregory introduced the guests to the wines from the Republic of Georgia, many that had been aged in clay pots. Well, lucky me, I found Grisha (his Russian name) on Facebook and was completely reeled in by this story he shared of enjoying Champagne in Astoria Hotel’s Kandinsky Bar:
It was a cold snowy night, much colder than is typical for Saint-Petersburg this time of year. My dates, Larisa and Anastasia, decided it was much too cold to drink anything but champagne.
As we entered the Astoria Hotelʼs stylish Kandinsky Bar, I greeted the sommelier and with a Bond-esque swagger and ordered, “Bollinger … Bollinger RD.”
The Astoria is a beautiful hotel that was first built in 1912. A few years ago, it was completely restored to its original opulence. With such elegant surroundings, and the fact that I speak Russian, I was transcended into a world long since gone.
In almost the same instant, Anastasia brought me back to reality when she questioned why I ordered Bollinger. Before I could utter a sound, Larisa smiled, “Our Grisha is in a Bond mood.” She then quickly ordered Beluga caviar. “Make sure it is from the northern Caspian, we would not want to upset our Grisha.”
Once our wine arrived, I proposed a toast. “The first glass is for thirst. The second for joy. The third for delight. And the fourth, the fourth for folly.”
The 1999 Bollinger RD was served to perfection at 42 degrees Fahrenheit. For me, there is no equivalent in champagne to Bollingerʼs powerful and savory wines. The aromas are both delicate and complex gathering a style that is uniquely its own. On the palate, the wine is complex with excellent depth of flavor.
“True,” Anastasia smiled. “However, you Americans drink champagne too cold. I find that 47 degrees Fahrenheit is most appropriate.”
With a quick wink I reminded them both that I was educated at Luxembourgʼs European School for Sommeliers. Pity none of my American educated friends were here to spark a debate.
I have come to know Larisa and Anastasia quite well over the past couple of years. Both are sommeliers and graduates of Saint-Petersburgʼs prestigious “School of Sharbatova.” And since Russian ladies prefer to drink champagne, I couldnʼt be in better company. Tonight … tonight we are on a mission to share with you a few of the most popular champagnes in Russia.
With a broad grin Anastasia ordered a bottle of Louis Roederer. “Iʼm Russian, there is only one champagne for me.”
Traditionally champagne was made as a sweet sparkling wine. However in 1874 Madame Louise Pommery introduced the first commercially successful dry champagne
which was coined, “Brut Nature.” Success was due primarily to the British penchant for dryer wines.
Since Tsar Peter the Great first introduced champagne to his countrymen, Russia consumes more bubbly than any country in the world. In 1876, Tsar Alexander 11 commissioned what is considered by most to be the first prestige cuvee. Fearing assassination, the Tsar required the bottles to be clear and flat bottomed. He wanted to see the bubbles and make sure no bombs were hidden within. Louis Roederer commissioned a Flemish glass maker for the task of creating the now famous champagne bottle we all know as “Cristal.”
Our 2004 Cristal Brut, served at 47 degrees Fahrenheit, had a nice golden appearance. Upon first sight, you feel like you are in for something special. The aroma is pleasant and enjoyable with an intensity of citrus and red berries. On the palate, the wine is fruity and well balanced culminating in a powerful finish.
Larisaʼs eyes now beamed with anticipation. “Are we ready for the next selection?” With subtle coquetry, she made her recommendation. “Grisha, letʼs go with a 2002 Perrier- Jouet Cuvee Belle Epoque.”
Larisa, ever the romantic, I should have expected no less in her selection. In the States, we know this wine as “Fleur De Champagne.” This is a wine of finesse and delicacy. A wine that is noble and ravishing in fragrance and style. This is a wine that even the most discerning palates can appreciate. And as Larisa would say, a wine for tsars and lovers.
Settling back into my comfortable leather chair, “How about a bottle of Dom Perignon?” “Dom is too much for the American palate,“Anastasia giggled as Larisa also chimed in. “Krug, Pommery, Veuve Clicquot?” I queried “Perhaps it is time for vodka and zakuska.” Anastasia said demurely …
In no time we arrived at the stunning Grand Hotel of Europe and ready to drink vodka. Scanning my surroundings, who would have thought that the Russians could so willingly exemplify such decadence. But that my friends is a different story …
R. Gregory Alonzo is a sommelier, vodka connoisseur, and distributor of specialty wines and spirits. Educated in both the United States and Europe, he is fluent in seven languages. Greg’s passion is what he calls, “Tasting History.” For Greg, the discovery of the ambrosial delights of kings, the Caesars, and tsars is his personal quest. To share these discoveries is his joy.
Excess within control