I was chatting to a wine industry luminary last month and they told me they'd accepted the presidency of the International Wine & Spirit Competition thinking that it was the International Wine Challenge. IWSC? IWC? A simple enough mistake to make and a reminder that even those in the know can get confused now that medals are scattered like confetti and wine competitions two a penny.
I only mention it because, for the first time in nearly a decade, I was invited to the posh black-tie dinner of the International Wine Competition at the Guildhall recently, and although black-tie dinners are not high on my wishlist of fun nights out, I thought it was time to show my face. I wish I'd known that the highlight of the evening was a tasting of the award-winning wines and spirits, because I would have arrived sooner.
With 220 wines to taste and 179 spirits, maybe it's as well that I only had just enough time before the trumpet fanfare to taste my way, in pre-Christmas mode, through the 26 gold medal-winning champagnes. I wasn't just pleasantly surprised, I was blown away at the excellence of so much champagne. Leading the field were such treats as the 2002 Piper Heidsieck Rare, £120-£140, The Whisky Exchange (020-7403 8688), Harrods, and the magnificently perfumed, nutty 1995 Charles Heidsieck Blanc des Millénaires, £115.11, Exel Wines (01738 493535).
The famous brands produced yet more stunners in a fine, biscuity Charles Heidsieck Brut Réserve, £29.95-£31.95, The Whisky Exchange, Berry Bros (0800 280 2440), Besserat de Bellefon's superb 2002 Cuvée des Moines Brut, £29.99, Noble Green (020-8979 1113), and an elegantly dry, strawberry-mousse champagne in the 2002 Moët & Chandon Rosé Grand Vintage, around £54.95, Wine Rack, Nickolls and Perks (01384 394518), winedirect.co.uk. My favourites in this section were the intensely rich Jacquart Brut de Nominée, £38.92, Lay & Wheeler (01473 313300), and Taittinger's magnificently creamy, nutty Folies de la Marquetterie, £47.95-£52.95, winedirect.co.uk, Harrods.
The surprise of the night was to find what might have been thought to be a rather modest supermarket champagne in such exalted company. I was in no doubt that Tesco's Finest Premier Cru Champagne, £14.99, down from £19.99, deserved all the plaudits for a lively, fresh-textured mousse with delicious undertones of grilled nut and honey. After recently tasting Marks & Spencer's creamy and tangily dry 2005 Oudinot Champagne, £24, down from £29, I would have no hesitation in putting it in no less impressively stylish company. Speaking of fabulous prestige champagne, a handful of tickets remain for the Wine Gang's glittering champagne tasting on Tuesday, 11 December. For details, check out thewinegang.com/about/fizz.