“I only drink Champagne when I’m happy, and when I’m sad. Sometimes I drink it when I’m alone. When I have company, I consider it obligatory. I trifle with it if I am not hungry and drink it when I am. Otherwise I never touch it – unless I’m thirsty.” (Lily Bollinger)
Once said to combat malaria, Champagne has always had a certain grace about it, something you drink on special occasions, when celebrating. Let’s face it though, we really don’t need a reason anymore to let the cork pop and enjoy a glass of sparkly. Champagne instantly lifts one’s spirits, its happiness in a bottle, life suddenly looks rosy. In this article, we’ll look at where this most festive and celebrated wine originates from, we’re off to the northeast of France: Champagne!
First let’s get the fact straight: Not every bottle of bubbly can be labelled ‘champagne’, strict rules are in place and only sparkling wine made in the northeast of France deserve that accolade. Three varietals are typically found in the wine: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. Unless the champagne house has decided to only use Chardonnay in which case ‘Blanc de blancs’ is clearly written on the label. Same goes for 100% Pinot Noir, these are labelled ‘Blanc de Noir’. So much for the basics on Champagne, now let’s get to the fun part: the tasting!
A real highlight of my own travels to the region and a definite must-see if you are in the area is the Mumm winery. Mumm was established in 1824 and is famous for the ‘cordon rouge’ (red stripe) on the label. Fans of Formula 1 racing will instantly recognize it as the wine house sponsors the celebration ceremony where litres of the good stuff are wasted and land on the tarmac. Hurts every time I see it!
Some 25 million bottles are stored in the caves which are opened to the public. After a quick visit to the museum, which is rather comprehensive and entertaining, it is time to taste the efforts of the vignerons. Try one of the vintage champagnes or discover the ‘house style’ by tasting the Grand Cru or Mumm Brut Rose. The best cellar door experience in Reims by a mile!
As an alternative to the big multinational conglomerates such as Moet-Chandon and Louis Roeder, it is often worthwhile to see what the smaller, independent vignerons are up to. For a more rustic and traditional flavour head on over to Tarlant, a family-run concern that has been making quality fizz on just 13 acres of land since 1687. They use organic fertilisers and produce a terrific brut which can be found in Michelin-starred outlets such as Gordon Ramsay‘s restaurants. Your chance to try something completely different.
|G.H. Mumm – The label with the ‘cordon rouge’.||G.H. Mumm – Inside the cave|
Dining options aplenty in the region. Epernay is one of the region’s larger communities and the town is built on champagne. La Cave a Champagne is a restaurant which has become an institution with people flocking from all over to try the creative French style of cooking practiced here. What’s extra special is that a lot of the dishes make use of champagne. Notable recipes are ‘scallops and crayfish tails in champagne cream sauce’ and ‘osyter gratin with cheese and champagne’. Wash it all away with a glass of fizz from the amazing wine list.
|Sub-regions:||Aube, Côte des Blancs, Côte de Sézanne, Montagne de Reims, and Vallée de la Marne|
|Size of vineyards planted:||35.000 hectares|
|Varietals:||Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier|
|Viticultural hazards:||Frost, cool and damp summers|
|Three oldest champagne houses:||Gosset (1584), Ruinart (1729) and Taittinger (1743)|
|Karen’s wine & cheese tip: A bottle of Champagne Jacquesson NV 734 might nog be your every day tipple at $ 85,49 a bottle but its just right for the festive season. An historic vineyard, early vintages were very successful and the house quickly established a good reputation, and the wines are said to have found favour even with Napoleon. Like any good general Napoleon never campaigned with a case or two of good Champagne! Light yellow color of pristine clarity. Gorgeous fresh apple and yeasty baked apple nose. This wine is a good match with a camembert, goats cheese or parmesean.Cheese matching:
Champagnes effervescent (bubbles) can also act like a cleanser on the tongue, scrubbing away residue ready for the next bite…and next sip!
If you would like to visit Champagne, Food and Wine Travel offer tailor-made travel solutions to the region. There’s a host of travel options available for you on the website. Alternatively, contact the author to speak about your personal requirements:
Written by Karen Ridge
Director Food and Wine Travel
1800 701 521
|Further reading:Restaurant La Cave a Champagne (website only in French and ‘Frenglish!’)
Famous Champagne quotes