Champagne is a terrific wine sparkling region, now UNESCO-listed. There are so many bubble makers.
And Uncorked’s mission for travellers is to visit a clutch of houses of bubbles, take happy groups into very dark and cold places, then emerge into sunlight to drink the fizz they make.
In 2016 the Champagne visit list read: Bollinger, Canard-Duchene, Charles Heidsieck, Krug, Pol Roger, Taittinger, Tresors de Champagne Boutique, Veuve Fourny and Veuve Clicquot. A good geographic selection.
Some are corporate makers (think Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy-LVMH), some are collectives (Tresors) and the rest are private family businesses. All types comprise Champagne and there are many tastes.
The cultural side of this writer says Champagne drinkers need to appreciate all offers from all houses (if there is time to taste everything); or better still visit Champagne for some structured indulgence and first-hand plays.
Champagne bubbles are great levellers. Of course it is the national drink in cities like Reims or Epernay, and again in the quaint flower-box lined villages like Verzenay and Vertus.
And these collections of picture-perfect stone cottage aggregations are dotted all over the Champagne landscape. The production around each village is defined in the appellation, by its boundaries (just like a shire or city boundary). One is called Chouilly.
Champagne has 33,000 hectares of grapes in the Champagne-Ardennes prefecture, selling 315 million bottles a year. As regions go, only Languedoc and Bordeaux sell more bottles.
So there is an appellation of Chouilly which is defined as grand cru for grower payment purposes (sold grapes); this village produces mainly chardonnay.
A top presentation came from Chouilly grower-producer Carol Champion of Roland Champion showing off a great Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs Brut Carte Blanche NV (all chardonnay, 2012 bottling) at the Tresors Boutique.
There are entities who buy grapes (negociant brands) because they grow too little, those who sell grapes (growers) to negociants and those who make Champagne from just the grapes they grow (grower brands). The small and the large.
Veuve Clicquot is large, Veuve Fourny is small. Both make different wine. (Veuve is French for widow by the way).
Veuve Clicquot in Reims presented their standard drop, Yellow Label Brut NV, with a label colour you cannot miss, so bright it is in one’s face. And it was impossible to resist the more elite La Grande Dame 2008 (contains 8 grand cru villages), lovely, lithe, memorable.
Veuve Fourny’s Charles Fourny, part of the small concern, showed with family passion Grande Reserve Brut Premier Cru NV from his native village of Vertus (2012 bottling, 80% chardonnay, 20% pinot noir). From a chardonnay village; lithe, long and delicate.
On the Avenue de Champagne in Epernay, at Pol Roger’s most drinkable address, poured were two of the now-saluted 2008 harvest wines, Blanc de Blancs and Rose, both definingly different, delicious, deep and positively enchanting to the mouth. Rose has body.
Nearby in Ay, after touring the underground tunnels that store reserve wines in magnum size quantities, Sonia de la Giraudiere from Bollinger poured two glorious vintages, 2005 and 2002 which epitomise oxidative-style base wine fermentations in old barrels, the Grande Annee and then RD (recently disgorged or older vintage yeast removed and sold later).
At Ludes, which is in the countryside on the Montagne de Reims, Canard-Duchene’s Aurelie Lelarge chose the clever Cuvee Leone Green Brut NV, a responsible organic fizz with creaminess, delicacy and streams of nice fresh brulee yeast characters. Yum. The Leone range is exciting.
Back in Reims it was time to visit one of the five houses with Gallo-Roman excavations, made as deep as 30 metres around 200 AD into the mountain of chalk which sits within the city.
These crayeres have a peculiar shape due to the special engineering feats of the Romans, now adopted by Champagne makers such as Charles Heidsieck post the French Revolution to store champagne. The natural temperature of 9-10 oC slowly matures the wines.
Dominique Cima-Sander presented Charles Heidsieck 2006 twice, at a pre-lunch tasting, then with a plate choice of crevettes, potato, fresh asparagus and orange sauce. The wine has good spine but now also a roundness to make it fine drinking today, and a good recollection of the year in Heidsieck’s vineyards.
Sebastian at Krug presented the 2016 release of Krug 2002, which came alongside the much-discussed Krug 2003, with a truly hip blackboard menu displaying the Krug identity code of each bottle. Wines are outstanding, deep, different, powerful, masterful, both long livers.
Christine Tellier of Taittinger took travellers into the once historic Reims Church-owned crayeres to view the famous company blanc de blancs aging on lees in all sizes from 375 ml to 15 litre. Later pouring Comtes de Champagne 2006, personified in its elegance, always a poised wine, white flowers, with delicacy and freshness. Wine to love. Never miss tasting this.
Start the voyage, never miss the opportunity. This was the writer’s 16th visit, twice as Vin de Champagne Laureate, 1985 and 2014.
Uncorked and Cultivated’s wine tourists visited Champagne during May and June 2016