Just back from the International Champagne and Sparkling Wine Invitational, 2010, in New Orleans, which while off to a rocky start with a blowing up volcano, and a lot of stranded Champenois, organizers, Peter Wasserman and team, including the fabulous Laura Maniec, some locals, especially Sara Kavanaugh pitched in and pulled off an original idea that was begging to happen. Also on board, Peter Liem, Charles Curtis, Fred Dexheimer but mostly the stars were bottle and winemaker. The concept was unprecedented. A weekend devoted to champagne and sparklers from growers? 74 sparkling producers, many of the vignerons installed. two tired sommeliers And even more? They came from all over, and were grateful to be there. I shared a panel with the always frank Lisa Granik (MW) and we presented sparklers of the world. I asked the group who showed up, what are you doing here and not in champagne? The heart warming answer was, "To learn something." Curiosity! May it never leave human kind. That said, I was also pleased that the non champagne wine of the weekend was the Robert & Bernard Plageoles Mauzac. ($15). pix courtesy of Mr. Anthony Wilson. Full disclosure, I was pouring the wine for Jenny Lefcourt, who couldnt make it but as I never get to be on the front line with the consumer, I found it a great opportunity. To hell with folk wanting conventional. One buyer from Houston of all places kept on coming back, " I can't believe this wine," she said. It has a mind of its own. it don't take no shit from no one." The wine was like a wacky sandwich, earth on the attack, a flower shop in the middle and stone, cold, stone on the finish. One of the champers of the event for me? Pierre Peters Cuvee Special, Les Cetillons Brut 2000, about $90. Afloral, succulent beauty with a long and sensual finish. I was happy, so happy, to revisit the individual champs of Billiot. The Brut 2004 had this wacky orange spice thing going on. (can't find the price, but should be around $65?) Camille Saves forever. Laherte rose saignee, which was from old pinot menuier vines was intense! It was like a man or woman, fragile in appearance and powerhouse of sensuality. ($85) And was happy to taste the unsulfured, no-dosage Drappier, not available in this country, but had me shaking my head, now how do they do it? The weirdest ? A sparkler from Catena, the Siesta. ($16) I swear if I tasted it blind? I'd think it was shiraz. Save it for cocktails, please! Post show revelers, drinking it up to Abe Schoener's amusement. And that night, instead of jazzing til the wee hours, I watched the volcano blow its top.