Wine Trip : Champagne, France

Now, when it comes to our fascination with wine, there is one type specifically that stands out above the rest (occupying about 90% of the floor space of our apartment) and that is sparkling wine *cue cherubs singing*. Now there are obliviously many different kinds of sparkling wine, some very popular like Prosecco and some less popular but absolutely stunning like English Sparkling (more on that in a follow up post) but today we are talking about the queen (king?) of sparkling, none other than Champagne.

Just like anything else enjoyable in the world, wine tastes better & has more personal value when you can match the maker and the place to the label. So, often we plans trips to our favourite wine regions, e-mail every wine maker/house that makes juice we like and hope for a reply & invitation and pretty often we get response. In our first Trip post, we’re going to write about our trip to Champagne and the makers we met there.

We kicked off our trip with a visit and tour of the cellars at Domaine Pommery about 10 minutes walk from the center of Reims. Once you pass the huge gates bearing the name Vranken Pommery in sparkling gold you are greeted with what looks like a Disney castle. It is indeed, quite impressive (yet somehow artificial) looking.

Domaine Pommery

The welcoming area is a large hall equipped with barrier gates to scan your pre-purchased tickets (which you can get via their website, starting at 20 EUR for a tour and one tasting if you’re over 18 (Under 18s are cheaper with no tasting included). Your tour will kick off at your scheduled time in a group down into the cellars below, for which I’d recommend you bring a jacket.

The tour is quiet fascinating, mostly for the pieces of art work strewn throughout the cellar and for the sheer size and complexity of the actual cellars themselves. After the tour we were lead back to the hall and offered a glass of Pommery Brut Royal, which was surprisingly disappointing. Certainly not the wow factor we were expecting, however it was standard non-vintage. According to their website Pommery contracts 2000 hectares of vineyards and grows 255 of their own, most of which go towards their more special bottles such as their Clos Pompadour. The result is a wine which compared to the thousands of small producers in Champagne, is mass-produced.

Some of the older bottles in Pommery’s collection oddly sitting under an very bright light.

For the remainder of our trip we focused on visiting only family run and owned smaller champagne houses and I would highly recommend these type of champagne makers as being the best to visit.

The most notable of all we visited was in Ludes. We were welcomed at Forget-Brimont for a private tour of their entire wine making facility and cellars – which ended up being the highlight of our trip. On a one-on-one basis we were taken through the entire procedure they follow to make their range of champagnes.  Forget-Brimont (and their second label Michel Forget) is a smaller house than the better known ones, which also means they can put in far greater care into each bottle, which ultimately means the wines taste far better and on top of that, retail for less then the larger houses ! Only cuveé juice is used to make their wine. The cuveé is the first and best juice that flows from the press when grapes are crushed; the taille, the coarser later juice which flows from the press, is sold (most likely to some of the larger houses) or to make marc de champagne. Smaller houses like FB also age and store their wines for longer than the Champagne region dictates, choosing the right moment to release a bottle instead of making and releasing as much as possible, as quickly as possible. Overall resulting in a better bottle of juice or all of us !

Less wow-factor building, much more wow-factor wines.

Unsurprisingly, all the champagnes we tasted, which was their entire range actually, were fantastic. I should note, not once were we asked to pay a tour or tasting free either.

Most notable from their range is their Grand Rosé, made with 15% red wine from Pinot noir and their Millésime 2005 Premier Cru.

We visited multiple other smaller champagne makers all over the champagne region and the largest take away, aside from how beautiful an area it really is, is that now I find it very hard to ever justify buying a bottle from the larger champagne houses that have turned their bottles into luxury brand items, which in terms of quality are simply not better.

PS. As almost all the Champagne houses don’t accept accept visitors during the afternoon hours and most restaurants and cafes close as well, i’d highly recommended stocking up on on some great local produce and taking a picnic at one of the tons of picturesque designated picnics spots all over the region! Just look out for the signs.

Other rerecorded houses to visit:

  • Jean Dumangin in Chigny-les-Roses
  • Etienne Lefèvre in Verzy
  • Tribaut Schloesser in Romery
Our take away collection from the long weekend.

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