The lengthy journalist's lunch, I told a couple of readers at this week's i party in Manchester, is a thing of the past. Not that I could lament it – I wasn't around when it did exist.
Older hacks will reminisce through rosé-tinted glasses of the days when liquid lunches would last an age and be covered by generous expenses. Nowadays, I tell those who presume this situation still prevails, the meal is more likely to be a business-like sandwich "al desco" or a quick run to the canteen.
But I was forced to eat my words with my lunch the following day, when I received a very tempting invitation. The Champagne house Ruinart, I was told, was cracking open the "new" Dom Ruinart 2002 vintage. Would I like to attend this momentous occasion? This was perhaps the easiest question I had faced all year, and I duly hot-footed it to the ageless Brown's Hotel.
And I learned a lot – it's very easy to think that all fizz tastes alike, but there are great differences between years, grapes and vintages. Things got technical with talks of sugar content and "disgorging". We were told to look out for "minerality" and "peat" flavours. I discovered that on the tasting scale there were such terms as "bergamot" and "oyster shell" (previously I would have thought them shades of paint).
But perhaps most importantly for my line of work, I was told by Frédéric Panaïotis, the chef de caves of the company, that a bottle of standard Champagne should be split between four people and last only ten minutes. That's a no-nonsense approach to celebrating if ever I heard one.
There was also none of the slurping, tasting and spitting out I have seen at other tastings. This was the good stuff, and none of it was for the communal bucket.
I then discovered that at these Champagne launches, one has to pace oneself. And taking Monsieur Panaïotis' advice could be dangerous. As you arrive, two glasses during conversation with your fellow lunch guests at the reception might seem like nothing, but the danger comes afterwards. When you sit down you are presented with a four-course menu. Each dish is paired with a different Champagne. These are not served not in a flute, but a healthy-sized wine glass. It seems doubly rude and wasteful to leave an unfinished glass of Champagne, especially if these vintages (and, presumably, the lunches) are only going to come around every few years.