The love affair, passion, addiction, call it what you will; that my wife and I have with this bubbly wine began twenty years ago. Champagne has been a part of our life together ever since our first date when I prepared a picnic for the lovely new girl in my life. Rubbery prawns aside, it went pretty well. Largely, due to the fact that it included a bottle of Champagne, not that either of us knew much about this wonderful craft back then. I believe it was a bottle of Lanson Black Label that got us started on this road of exploration. Champagne made regular appearances over the next year or so for any special occasion, treat or other worthy excuse.
At that time, our knowledge consisted solely of what we could find at the local supermarket or off licence, the same brands or “houses” which still fill those shelves today. Returning from our first holiday together, reading the complimentary newspaper on the aeroplane we noticed a special offer for a short-break in Reims. As we were now engaged, we decided we would book the trip as a fun way of finding Champagne for our wedding.
We arrived without knowing where even to start looking but the friendly Tourism Office next to the cathedral soon armed us with a map complete with freshly circled Champagne houses. The trip was great, the people friendly and we returned to England somewhat poorer (or richer depending on your view) with several cases of Piper-Heidsieck.
We returned again before our wedding when we visited even more houses. We still really only knew of the “big” commercial houses but through some newly acquired but somewhat outdated books; had new houses to try out.
By the next couple of visits we had begun to unravel more and more houses and their different wines. We began to purchase prestige cuvées as we had very much enjoyed a bottle of La Grande Dame 1989 by Veuve Clicquot-Ponsardin at our hotel prior to departing on honeymoon.
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Our journey through the prestige cuvées and our burgeoning enthusiasm was helped in no uncertain terms by multiple sales in 2002 as a result of excess stock, left over after the Millennium.This in turn led to a better understanding of the intricacies and nuances of different wines. It was at this point we found the single vineyard cuvées from Moët et Chandon: Les Sarments d’Aÿ, Les Champs de Romont and Les Vignes de Saran which was a new and interesting concept to us.
Thanks to more up to date and in depth books and our own ever increasing knowledge, we began to search for the really good smaller houses and grower/producers (Récoltant-Manipulant). Those who produce top quality champagnes and are in complete control of every aspect of the wine-making process from vine to bottle. This search has been going on for almost ten years now and continues to be a source of enjoyment and inspiration for us. Now our tasting has become more structured and we particularly enjoy the terroir character that can be found in these types of champagnes, especially found from biodynamic and organic producers. These wine-makers are in complete control of every part of the process.
We love experiencing the nuances between plots, villages and regions throught Champagne. The ripe Pinot Noir from Ambonnay and Bouzy on the Montagne de Reims is so different to the gutsy Pinot Noir from just down the road in Ay. These differences can be found throughout the appellation. The elegant Chardonnay found in villages such as Le Mesnil-sur-Oger in the Côte des Blancs contrasts to that found in the southern reaches of the Aube. There are World class producers all over the region, even those with less exalted terroir for it is firstly the skill of the farmer and then the wine-maker that can make all the difference. From the Montagne de Reims, Massif de Saint-Thierry to the far ends of the Vallée de la Marne, through the Côte des Blancs to the southern tip of the Aube, Côte de Bar and Côte de Sézanne, there are sumptuous cuvées to suit all palates.
Regular visits throughout 2012 to 2017 have allowed us to experience more than a hundred further cracking domaines, a number of which work biodynamically.
As opulent and pleasant as it can be when being entertained at one of the “big” houses in polished surroundings, there is nothing quite like meeting the man or woman who has put their hard-work, dedication, passion and love into making the wines. Sitting down with them, often at an old or improvised table and discovering after that first sip; another cuvée that has to come home with you.
Each trip uncovers something new to us and we look forward to sharing our experiences with you.