When the Ritz isn’t “Ritz-y”

26 Mar

Does wine tasting in a conference room dull the taste of what should be sunny Californian Chardonnays? Even if said conference room is in the Ritz Carlton in Toronto?

I’m afraid that it does.

A friend gifted me a class to the iYellow Wine School Winter sesssion. We picked a date and decided to go together as, she put it, “an excuse to hang out more and have fun”.

I must preface this critique with a disclaimer: wine tasting is not out of the norm for either of us. I’ve had the pleasure of living in France and going on wine tastings in the Rhône Valley. Oh, and in Italy my favourite spot to wine taste was in Orvieto. All in proper caves à vin.

Knowing this, one might call me privileged  I know that I am, and I am happy that I’ve had the chance to do these things, why be ashamed of things that I have enjoyed? But, this all tainted my feelings about my class with the iYellow Wine School.

Knowing it was at the Ritz-Carlton but not at their restaurant TOCA, I wasn’t expecting it to be in their cave à vin, but I didn’t think it would be a crowded and windowless boardroom either. But it was. And there were many many more people than I’d ever seen at a wine tasting. There were five  (if not seven?!) tables of eight. At least 40 people. 40! All of us under the bright and unflattering fluorescent lights of a conference room. The crowd was a very strange mix of young and young-ish professional women, middle aged men and a few couples. The womens hair was all very shiny and they wore high heels. The men tried to hide their lack of locks and weren’t wearing wedding rings. Surrounded by such a display, the couples seemed smug in their togetherness.

The observations about the people weren’t the first to hit me, at first I liked how organized the operation seemed to be. People knew where to direct us, there were smiles at the door, a clipboard to check off our names. But, after I was initially impressed but their efficiency of having already poured out the wine at our tables on a marked place mat  given us the list of the wines that we would be tasting and a pen for notes…  I was both intrigued and turned off by it. Is this what all wine tastings in the city were? Babysitting for adults looking for thoughts on wine to share on their next internet date? Oh, and where was the cheese? Did they expect me to try 4 glasses of wine without any food?

Turns out they did. No food until the 4 whites were followed by 3 reds. Our «fearless leader into the world of wine» (as my friend and I called the tall slim young man leading our seminar room of wine neophytes) lectured us, forgot to mention that you don’t have to drink the whole glass. I’m pretty sure half the class was drunk, and not just because he forgot that key fact. But also from the lack of food. And it was mid-week and right after work.

Besides that slip-up, the young sommelier/fearless leader was very knowledgeable. No matter how keen and earnest his interest was in wine, to me it seemed more textbook than passion. He was the first person to serve me wine at a tasting with with the clean nails of a city boy instead of someone’s hands who show signs that they helped bring the wine to life. But did he ever lecture with fervour under those florescent lights! Walking back and forth in front of the wine, telling us about climate necessary for certain grapes, asking us how much we would be willing to pay for a certain wine (I had never heard that at a wine tasting before!) and encouraging us to not «be afraid of the New World wines!». His horrible French pronunciation might have grated me more that it would others, but by glass number 5 my friend and I were the naughty ones in the back giggling about his bad puns and wondering loudly if there was going to be some bread.

And so they did finally serve us some bread! With some cheese. And a small cluster of grapes. One platter per table. How generous of you, Ritz-Carleton and iYellow! Ravenous and mostly drunk, the crowd attacked the platter and stopped listening to the poor young sommelier. I got two slices of baguette and some crackers, some cheese (which was actually very very good) and I stole most of the grapes.

After this we were told that we could go down to TOCA and receive a 15% discount on our meal. 15%! Just me or does a percent sound tacky? Why not say something like «a special hors d’oeuvre and dessert selection if you get dinner with us»?! A percentage off at the Ritz restaurant seems similar to a coupon at a mid range restaurants, something you like to take advantage of, but are almost embarrassed to do.

We were also told «Remember to socialize with your fellow wine lovers!». My friend and I looked around. Who were we supposed to socialize with exactly, if not just each other? The men who looked more beaten up by time than our fathers did? Or was I allowed to ask the woman sitting beside me how she got her hair to be so shiny? Was love something that you could get in a conference room after some good, some forgettable and one excellent wine (that you had to request and wasn’t offered to everyone?!)

Instead, after using the washroom (which were better designed and had better lighting than the conference room) we headed over to Gourmet Burger Co. on Adelaide. The only people in their besides the staff, I thoroughly enjoyed the classic GBC burger (and fries!). Remarkably good meat, fresh bun and toppings. With fries that weren’t overly salty. My friend and I spoke of the tasting and wondered if we were part of the yuppie ladies. «No, you don’t wear heels and you let your hair stay curly», she said before biting into her burger.

And then we did what we had wanted to do over wine: talked about our goals, our upcoming trips and how to avoid leering older men. No more iYellow Wine School for us, it seems. But as well travelled wine lovers, we might not be their target demographic.

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