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Around the World with LA Wine Tasting: Pioneer Regions

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The Los Angeles Athletic Club and LA Wine Tasting recently hosted "A Taste of the Pioneer Regions". Set against the scenic backdrop of downtown as seen from the LA Athletic Club, LA Wine Tasting's Jean Baptiste took us on an oenophile's journey through California's "Pioneer regions" where the first vines were planted in the early 1900s just before prohibition.

Although Sonoma and Napa Valleys were represented, most of the wines were of French vintage, which they refer to as "the old continent". Maybe in homage to the origins of the first vines? Maybe in homage to the many French people present at the event? French cheeses were paired with the wines by Nicole's Gourmet Food in South Pasadena, and Grand Cru chocolates came courtesy of Valhrona.

The Athletic Club, open since 1880, is the swankiest of the swank. A sparkling 25 yard swimming pool tempts you to take an unauthorized dip. In addition to the gym, The Club runs a high-end hotel whose multi-million dollar renovation has resulted in an urban chic boutique-style downtown hotel. The hotel features 72 updated rooms and 9 themed suites. Introductory room rates surprisingly start at only $149/night.

We were greeted upon entry with glasses of Manmousseau, unfortunately mixed as a "Cocktail a l' Ancienne" with a sugar cube and bitters. What a way to ruin champagne. Once we reached the rooftop and began the cheese pairings, things started looking up.

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The Club also functions as an impressive event location. The charming cabaret stylings of Dustbowl Revival drifted from the rooftop amid the glittering lights of downtown. The band was a "funky mix of folk-blues orchestra music fused with old school gypsy rhythms and bluegrass."

The evening was more of a social gathering, with wine and cheese serving as a backdrop for an active singles scene. In spite of the scintillating conversations, there was some good cheese to be had and we were willing to snake through the flirtatious crowd to get a taste. Souvenir "passports" guided the guests through the tasting and allowed the servers at multiple stations to present the items in a classic progression of intensity.

The opening pairing of a Brillat-Savarin cheese from France with a Napa Valley Savignon Blanc (Charles Krug
Napa Valley, CA 2008) was indulgently rich yet refreshing, the crisp fruit flavors of the wine cutting through the density of the cheese.

An organic Cotes du Rhone (Domaine des Carabiniers 2007) mated with a Charolais goat cheese appeared to be the most popular choice of the night, as attempts to "double up" on stop number two were routinely denied.

A Sonoma County Zinfandel (Seghesio 2008) combined with a Ficsalini Cheddar was tasty, the spiciness of the wine playing well against the sharp, slightly dry cheese.

The final taste treat was an armagnac from Gascogne (Laubade, NV), sweet and heavily alcoholic with a syrup-like mouth feel, along with an insanely intense but gloriously balanced Bleu de Causses.

Toward the end of the evening, after supplies were starting to run out, new, spontaneous combos were created from what was left. Probably the most successful was the combination of the Bleu de Causses with the Cotes du Rhone from Domaine des Carabiniers (2007).

The event ended at a reasonable hour, allowing the couples time to discover whether or not the souvenir passports really could be exchanged for a trip "around the world".

Bobzilla contributed to this post.