On Thursday May 10th, I received a lunchtime phone-call from a good lady friend who enquired if I was going to an inaugural wine-tasting event organised by a certain Svetlana Ruiz, nee Kasparova. Normally I would leap at such an invitation, but this followed hard on the heels of the May 9 Victory celebrations and I had pushed the boat out way too far, and was still in the throes of a slow recovery. “Oh come on,” she urged, “it will be fun, and there are some fine wines that need your approval.” At this juncture I was still vacillating whether I could take two nights in a row of heavy wine consumption; and there will be those among you already stifling a giggle at the thought of your scribe actually refusing an upmarket wine-tasting, because Simon Green and refusing a good wine drinking session are hardly synonymous! My thoughts were interrupted by my friend who was still hanging on the phone, hoping to change my mind. “I can’t believe you’re even contemplating refusing this invitation, there will be lots of nice ladies attending”- I acquiesced; she had obviously done her homework and knew my weaknesses.
I decided to pop into Chicago Prime at wine o’clock for a few “liveners” for Dutch courage, where I encountered the usual suspects hanging around the bar telling lies to anyone who would listen. I announced my plans to much mirth and guffaws from them along the lines of why would I swap happy hour prices for paying double at an event in a seemingly dubious location with only around 25 people going? I ordered a taxi and left to ribald comments inferring I would be back there half an hour later. The event was to be held at Pokrovka 31, and instructions for entry suggested going through an arch then finding a red door much further in this cluster of lacklustre entrances, then go downstairs into the darkness and find the group. This place is apparently used by today’s artists who gather there incognito to discuss the whys and wherefores of modern and old art. To my consternation there was no red door evident anywhere in this enclave of run down buildings, and the thought of giving up and facing the Chicago mafia was too much to bear, so I soldiered on around a couple of corners, then bingo! I descended some rickety wooden and broken steps until the bottom, but utter silence prevailed, not to mention darkness. I was having visions of this being an episode of a Hammer House of Horror story, with me as the unwitting victim, when I heard a low murmur of voices and headed in that direction with trepidation.
I pushed open a creaking door and lo and behold, a group of people greeted me, glasses of wine already in hand, and I headed towards the wine and a svelte and attractive lady serving generous glasses of the red stuff which was eminently quaffable- in my case a Syrah from the south of France which was her speciality for the evening which offered a choice of four wines from this region. Svetlana is a polyglot who speaks half a dozen languages; she studied political science at university, but found it boring. It was while she was having a stint in Switzerland that she fell in love with wine and its romance, married a Spaniard whose father boasts a splendid wine cellar, and decided to become a sommelier. She became a freelancer in 2013, and in 2017 produced her first online wine course which can be found at: Online Wine Course, Introductory | Happy Bellyfish
As for the evening itself, the more wines that went down, the more the volume of conversation went up. People there were convivial, with great humour and a desire to further their knowledge of the wine industry. Svetlana dispelled pearls of wisdom to anyone and everyone, and I found myself raising a silent glass to my friends back at Chicago, as my gamble had paid off in terms of the quality of wine and women present! This to me epitomises the life of the “bon viveur” that is me, and I just wish that there were more events like this one as it was a resounding success.