If the assembled wine-tasters from Baltimore-based asset management company, T Rowe Price, would rather have been in the park on the finest summer evening this year, they weren't letting on. Instead, shoe-horned into an upstairs room in this traditional City boozer, they proved to be a model audience and even threw in some tricky questions - what dictates the size of the bubbles in sparkling wine and is there a correlation with quality? No, was the answer to the latter when you are talking about bottle-fermented (although the cheapest method of sparkling production which involves pumping C02 through tanked wine will produce large bubbles which will rapidly dissipate). The Champagne Companion (Michael Edwards, Firefly Book 1999) notes that 'bubbles should be uniform in shape, lively, and flow in a persistent stream toward the surface of the wine; Experts differ about the ideal size of bubbles. Most Champenois say that the smaller the bubbles, the better the Champagne, but large bubbles are not necessarily the sign of an inferior wine - your palate is a better judge.' If any one out there can convincingly improve on this thesis, we'll send them a bottle of Yapp Champagne!
Highlights of the Rhone wine tasting (it was sparkling Saint Péray that attracted the effervescent debate) were Domaine Georges Vernay's rare, single-vineyard Condrieu Coteaux du Vernon 2007 (400 cases produced) which was tasted (perhaps unfairly) against the Ardèche co-operative's generic Viognier (eminently drinkable, but not in the same league) and Patrick Jasmin's Côte Rôtie 1999. This was Patrick's inaugural solo vintage (following the untimely death of his father, Robert the previous year) and it proved to be everything one might hope for in traditional (rather than single-vineyard, super charged) Côte Rôtie - rustic-nosed, medium-bodied, supple, smoky and silky.
We departed into the balmy night and the discreet group never let on whether they managed the assets of a certain Baltimore-based wine critic.