A Quick Visit to Paris and Champagne

Well hello there. It’s been a while. But, I’m back. Back from having a little writers block. But the Spring temperatures and sunshine have melted that away. This article has been sitting patiently waiting for me to finish it, so enjoy!

Champagne. It’s not just that bubbly which you may think is very expensive and only for those “who can afford it”. It’s also a beautiful wine region just 40 quick minutes by train from Paris. With rolling hills lined with vineyards; churches on hill tops; and small little villages to big cities with history around every corner. I went for a 4-day visit there last October and I wanted to share with you a quick “what I learned” and what to expect.

When you think of Champagne the drink, you might just think of the top names like Moet and Veuve and Dom Perignon. But honestly, these aren’t the only historic Champagne houses, there are many you need to visit. Champagne is made up of lots of smaller producers, and they are everywhere. And because many are smaller, it’s smart to call ahead and plan out your route based on your appointments.

While visiting my friend and fellow wine writer in October, here’s what we got up to:

On Day 1, it was about getting familiar with the area. I took the train from Paris to the station just outside Reims and then we drove around and visited a wonderful restaurant and wine shop called Au 36 located in HautVillers. We did a champagne tasting while we ate local cuisine from the area. It was filled with ambiance and the service and food was fantastic. A must for your next visit.

My friends are staying in a little village called Chavot-Courcourt, so in the evening we enjoyed sipping on their neighbours Champagne Leabeau-Batiste champagnes.

On Day 2, we drove around blindly (instead of having appointments) through Verzy, Villers-Marmery and luckily stumbled upon two Champagne houses that were open in the village of Ambonnay (a Grand Cru Village). We stopped in at  Patrick Soutiran (Growers Champagne). A delightful tasting with prices per bottle around 20+ Euros.

We then passed through a few villages with nothing open at all – note: many villages close from 12/2-4pm for lunch! Our next stop was in the village of Louvois (a Grand Cru Village), Champagne Serge Gaudriller. Another wonderful small producer with some delightful Champagnes and decent prices.

On Day 3, we enjoyed a morning visit to Epernay for lunch at Bar Parisien; and did a Champagne tasting at a local wine store called Caves Champenoise.

They had an excellent selection of Champagnes and wine from the region. Afterwards we visited Avenue de Champagne, with a stop at Michel Gonet for a glass of bubbles in the garden; and Paul-Etienne Saint Germain for a lovely tasting, that was pre-booked!

 

On Day 4, we had an appointment at Paul Goerg in Vertus (a Grand Cru Village)

for a tasting and tour, before heading to the train station!

The most surprising thing to me, all the villages are much closer than they seem on a map!

Now onto my next stop: Paris!

I found a delightful little 3-star located near Gare du Nord –  Hotel Albert 1er Paris with breakfast included

and 24 hr. concierge. I enjoyed a picnic under the Eiffel Tower (with cheese and wine purchased at a local shop); a stroll through Montmarte to see artists and lots of little shops.

In the evening myself and my cousins enjoyed an amazing dinner at Pierre Sang , where your set course dinner (is a secret) is served without detail and only explained after you’ve eaten each course. A truly great experience and dinner. We also enjoyed a glass of wine at the O Chateau Wine Bar  – with wines from all over Europe. Not a bad weekend visit!

It was very easy to enjoy France when the trains are fast and the food and wine never disappoints.

Au revoir!

Champagne and Dim Sum

I’m not sure that I have ever cared if I had an alcoholic beverage when I’ve had dim-sum. Partly because I typically go in the late morning or I’ve been slightly hung over! However, I have changed my mind. I now care.

So what happened to change my mind? I attended a dim-sum lunch where Champagne was the guest of honour. And I can honestly say it was the best dim-sum lunch I’ve ever had! Who knew that sparkling wine from a northerly region in France would be so dam (I mean Dayum) good with sweet and savoury Chinese food!

For reference sake, here are some maps to re-familiarize you with the region.

wine folly champagne map

map from winefolly.com

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map from terroir-france.com 

In order to attend this particular lunch, we were told to bring one bottle of champagne. It would be tasted at our table and shared (if so desired) with the rest of the group (there was 40 of us). Now, I better mention, most of us were wine geeks. We work in the industry, or study wine. So when there are up to 20 bottles of champagne, we actually do just have a taste… to try as many as we can. It was absolutely delicious.

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Here are the Champagnes I had the chance to taste in no particular order:

Nicolas Feuillatte Brut Blanc de Noirs Grand Cru 2000 – (red grapes only – this one is Pinot Noir), it had a smooth and creamy mouthfeel yet nuanced with big notes of citrus, stone and dried fruits. Bold and Beautiful!

Pierre Peters Cuvée de Reserve Blancs de Blancs Grand Cru NV – (Chardonnay only) crisp citrus like green apple, slightly floral, nutty and fresh bread notes. Nicely balanced. Most of the grapes are from Le Mesnil sur Oger and the rest is from the Grand Cru villages of Oger, Cramant and Avize. 40% is reserve wine which is inspired by the Soléra Method (very cool!).

Champagne Jacquesson Extra Brut – Chardonnay driven of the three grapes, it has an almost salted nut character, nice acidity and lovely body. Produced by two brothers for the past 25 years, most of their grapes come from Vallée de la Marne and Côte des Blancs. 30% of the reserve wine used comes from 2008. This is non-filtered. Different and delicious.

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Louis Roederer Brut Premiere – (one of the oldest houses in Champagne) super crispy with citrus and mineral notes, a slight yeasty character to make this a complex yet easy drinking Champagne.

A blend of around 40% Pinot noir, 40% Chardonnay, and 20% Pinot Meunier, Brut Premier comprises wine matured in oak tuns produced from three Champagne grape varieties that originate from various crus selected by Louis Roederer. It is aged for 3 years in Louis Roederer’s cellars and left for a minimum of 6 months after dégorgement (disgorging).” – Louis Roederer website

Champagne Drappier Carte d’Or Brut – bright citrus, bold (assertive on the palate) style with stone fruit notes. Rich and finessed. 80% Pinot Noir, un-filtered.

Nicolas Maillart 1995 Cuvée Prestige – oh this was a delight, citrus with a slight ginger note (from the age), also slightly yeasty but overall nicely balanced – the age really showed itself here and it was so lovely!

Champagne Mandois Brut Zero – (there is no dosage added to the champagne) bright acidity with floral and citrus and stone fruit notes, yet earthy and herbaceous, with some mineral notes. Almost funky (in a good hipster kinda way). This family (9 generations) run Champagne house dates back to the 1700’s, and today is an independent.

Grapes come from famous villages and prestigious terroirs such as Chouilly, Vertus, Pierry and Epernay. Mandois’s vineyard is made up of 70% Chardonnay, 15% Pinot Meunier and 15% Pinot Noir.” – Mandois website

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Bollinger Champagne  – (one of the oldest houses in Champagne) big, bold (assertive on the palate) and citrusy, think baked apples with a little stone fruit. 60% of the blend is Pinot Noir.

Varnier Fanniere Brut Grand Cru – delicate with bright acidity, bolder style with slight ginger notes and maybe a hint of licorice on the back of the palate, mostly citrusy though. A family business for 3 generations. They have been producing champagne since the 1860’s but they were selling their grapes to the oldest champagne houses back then. Now, and since the late 1940’s they have been making their own. I liked this one!

Marie Courtin Extra-Brut ‘Resonance’ – (no dosage is used) smooth with bright acidity, juicy stone fruits with a floral note and dusty minerals. Finessed and balanced. 100% Pinot Noir, biodynamically farmed, naturally made. A boutique producer in Champagne. Very pretty yet still complex.

The domaine is run by the feisty and energetic Dominique Moreau and is named for her Grandmother Marie Courtin. The estate covers about 2 ha in the Aube. The most-southerly part of Champagne.” – Sedimentary Wines website.

Enjoy more Champagne (with dim-sum) !!

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Helpful Information:

When buying, be aware of the levels of sweetness

but don’t let this sway you from trying something, as sweetness can be balanced nicely with acidity!

Brut Nature (bottled without dosage. Also called Non-Dosé or Brut Zero)

Extra Brut (less than 6 gr of RS/litre)

Brut (less than 12 gr)

Extra Dry (between 12 and 17 gr)

Sec (between 17 and 32 gr)

Demi-sec (between 32 and 50 gr)

Doux (50 gr)

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Champagne Terms:

RS – Residual sugar.

Dosage – Sugar added to champagne after disgorgement, either through a liqueur d’expédition, which is a solution of cane or beet sugar and wine, or MCR, concentrated and rectified grape must. The dosage is usually a crucial component of champagne, as it balances the naturally high acidity of the wine and plays an important role in the aging process.

Cuvée – In the wine world, the word cuvée generally refers to a blend of wines. In Champagne it also has another, very specific meaning: during pressing, the cuvée is the first 2,050 liters of juice from a 4,000-kilogram press, which represents the finest portion of the pressing.

Prestige Cuvée—A prestige cuvée, sometimes also called a tête de cuvée, represents the most meticulously selected, most expensive, and presumably the highest quality champagne in a house’s range.

Non-Vintage Champagne—A term used to refer to wines blended from multiple years.

Vintage Champagne—Champagne made from the harvest of a single year.

Grand Cru – In Champagne, a term referring to villages classified at 100-percent on the old and now non-existent échelle des crus, which was a classification used to determine the pricing of grapes. There are 17 grand cru villages in Champagne—Ambonnay, Avize, Aÿ, Beaumont-sur-Vesle, Bouzy, Chouilly, Cramant, Louvois, Mailly-Champagne, Le Mesnil-sur-Oger, Oger, Oiry, Puisieulx, Sillery, Tours-sur-Marne, Verzenay and Verzy—and although the échelle des crus has been abolished, the terms grand cru and premier cru are still officially used, and these villages continue to enjoy a high level of prestige.

Premier Cru—In Champagne, where classifications have been carried out by village and not by vineyard, this refers to a village that would have been rated between 90 and 99 percent on the old échelle des crus: that is to say, it would have received between 90 and 99 percent of the fixed price for grapes in that harvest.

Millésime—A vintage year or a vintage wine.

Méthode Champenoise—The old name for the traditional method of making champagne, banned by the European Union in 1985 as a concession to protecting the Champagne appellation.
Méthode Traditionelle—The traditional method of making champagne or sparkling wine, involving a second fermentation in bottle. This is the officially-approved term today in the European Union for sparkling wines made by the champagne method.
Solera—Strictly speaking, the solera method is a system of fractional blending, used in Jerez for the production of sherry.