Champagne CampaignApril 4, 2019
Winter travels typically take you to warmer climes. Perhaps somewhere to enjoy the turquoise blue waters of the Caribbean, the arid, dry heat of the deserts of Arizona, or at least lounging poolside at some swanky resort in South Florida.
What does Team Epernay do instead? We head to the Motherland of Champagne.
It is one thing to travel to far off wine destinations in the bucolic fall or warm summer, but we thought of this adventure more like when people ask us, “What’s it like to live on Nantucket in the winter?” You try to describe it, but the words never really convey the message you want to share.
Visiting Reims at the end of January was magical.
First of all, it was very easy to get there by taking the TGV high-speed train directly from Charles de Gaulle (CDG) airport in Paris. We were greeted by a light dusting of snow, very rare in this region, although it is known to be quite cold there this time of year. Reims is a bigger city than Épernay, boasting a larger selection of delicious restaurants, yet still walkable and easy to navigate your way around. Dining reservations were not necessary this time of year and menu prices were reflective of it being the “off-season,” as we would say on Nantucket.
Our host Xavier Gonet is from a line of Champagne growers and producers (according to him, there are 7 Champagnes with the name Gonet in them!). Born and raised in Bisseuil, just east from the village of Äy outside of Reims, Xavier currently resides in Bordeaux with his winemaking wife Julie Médeville and their family. He visits his home in Champagne often to overseeing his vineyards and the winemaking process at their facility, along with visiting his family locally.
Being in the Champagne region this time of year, Xaviar showed us something that we would never have experienced if we had come to visit at some other time. It was just the right temperature outside (5 degrees C) that the barrels full of wine that had completed their first fermentation were being stored outside for a natural cold stabilization of the wine. Xavier was so excited about how amazing the wines tasted already (before their second fermentation in the bottle that produces the bubbles) that we got to taste several barrel samples – different grape varieties, different plots, different oak aging regimes. We hit the jackpot here! Eventually we headed into the tasting room to taste some of the finished products (and thaw out!) – here is what will be in-store for you in the coming weeks..
Gonet-Médeville Brut Tradition, 1er Cru, Non-Vintage
Made from a blend of 70% Chardonnay, 25% Pinot Noir, 5% Pinot Meunier
White peach aroma, lively acidity, lingering dry finish – perfect with oysters!
Brasserie Le Jardin des Crayeres – more casual and affordable than the main dining room** at the esteemed Relais & Châteaux property of the region. Go early to enjoy the view of the gardens at this glass enclosed structure and sit near the kitchen to see all the action behind the scenes.
After a somewhat storied history spanning over two centuries (not decades), this Champagne house is now owned and managed by brothers Jean-Hervé and Laurence Chiquet. Our lovely host Sandrine brought us up to date quickly on the current status of the property as she showed us around the snowy vineyards, toured us through the chilly cellars, and rewarded us greatly when it came time to sample their finished wares. This Champagne house holds a special place in our hearts as it was a bottle of their “Cuvée 735” that Kirk and I were drinking the night we first kissed! xoxo
Most Champagnes are a blend of grape varieties, from several different parcels in the area, and a mixture of different vintages. This was not the case here! This was our one opportunity to sample vintage champagnes that came, not only from a single year’s harvest, but also from single vineyards in some of the most well-known Grand Cru and Premier Cru villages. If you are interested in purchasing these for your own edification, we can make arrangements for that as we do have the Corne Bautray 2004 from Dizy in stock. Otherwise, look for this on our shelves this summer…
Jacquesson “Cuvée 741” Extra Brut
This cuvée is the only blended wine they make and is meant to be an expression of the year, different than non-vintage Champagnes most producers make that are a blend of many vintages. They decided to give the wine the production number that the Cuvée had in their cellar book and hence began with the number 700 when the Champagne was first produced many years ago.
57% Chardonnay, 22% Pinot Meunier, 21% Pinot Noir
Straightforward, fresh, stimulating and crisp, the red grapes in this blend add fruit and structure to this wine that would perfectly match fresh tuna!
Le BOCAL – fish market by day, small restaurant by night – the seafood does not get any fresher than this. The relaxed atmosphere, casual menu, and unique affordable Champagne selections made this a winner!
CHAMPAGNE BRUNO PAILLARD
This young brand has exceeded all expectations in the Champagne business. At a young age, Bruno Paillard used his experience and family lineage as a grape négociant and broker to learn where the best grapes were coming from and decided to start making wines on his own. In a short span of time, he made a large impression on the Champagne region and was the first to put a disgorgement date on his labels. The business is now co-managed with his daughter, Alice Paillard, whom we had the great pleasure of meeting on our visit! These wines are sold exclusively through restaurants and fine wine shops only, and recently have been imported into the United States again after a brief lapse of importers. In stock in time for your summer soirée…
Bruno Paillard Première Cuvée, Extra Brut, Non-vintage
45% Pinot Noir, 33% Chardonnay, 22% Pinot Meunier
Lemony, creamy, lovely texture, long finish – charm, harmony and balance
Your picnic on the beach for sunset will thank you!
MUST VISIT WINE BAR:
Tresors de Champagne – Created in 1971, the Club Trésors was the first association of wine makers in Champagne to advocate an approach to viticulture based on the utmost standards of quality. This creative, approachable wine bar is an homage to those 28 artisan producers where you can casually sample a large (I mean copious) selection of Champagnes that change daily. No food here, just bubbles!
This was just the tip of the Champagne iceberg of our trip! The hospitality was beyond any of our expectations. We look forward to welcoming these Champagnes into our collection this year and toasting you this summer season!