Just in time for New Year’s Eve, we visited the Champagne region for several days this past week, en famille. It was a nice chance to get outside of Paris into the French countryside and visit several cellars, sipping some of the world’s best champagne as well as to stay in a beautiful Chateau…sort of a final Christmas gift to ourselves.
We had been to the Champagne appellation only once and it had been when my son, who is now 26 was only 5 months old. He had clapped his hands and first said “Dada” much to our pleasure while we were staying at Chateau Fère in the region. I recall how they opened a private and very ornate dining room for us so we could dine with him in a highchair.
This time going with all-grown-up kids made it all that much more enjoyable. As we pulled up to the Chateau d’Etoges we began to feel vaguely royal. This very grand Chateau was rebuilt in the 1600’s and turned into a hotel in the 1990’s.
A royal looking allèe of trees leads you to a proper castle with both moat and turret.
Grand and petite salons await as does an Orangerie with several rooms in which to have a fine gastronomic meal.
We started out fresh the day after we arrived with a tasting at the centuries old Duval – Leroy headed up by two women and dating back to 1859, which in Champagne is a very old indeed.
We had our own private trip with a lovely and knowledgeable woman named Marie. This place is run by two women and produces a very special sparkler named Femme. They also have a regular brut which sells for 27 euros or so here as well as vintage and rosé wines.
I’ve taken many, many wine trips because we have a home in the Bordeaux region but this one was one of the most memorable of all. We learned all about the art and method of making Champagne and the tasting of three sparkling wines was magical. Experiencing it with my own kids was unique and probably the first time they’ve done a trip and tasting that they actually enjoyed.
Most of Duval’s wines are not available in the USA even though they produce 60,000,000+ bottles a year, but their basic brut is and its wonderful. If you come upon their BIO wine (organically grown), do try it. A note to all you women out there, please support these ladies because there are still so few female owners and vintners so we must take care of our own.
Next we had lunch at La Grillade in Epernay where they serve a myriad of meats and fish grilled on an open fire situated right in the middle of the dining room. Delicieux!
The town of Epernay is worth a visit, the porte from the 1500’s is stunning and the town itself, which is quite small, is terribly charming.
We felt we had to go to one of the big houses so that the kids could say later in life, yeah I was at blank back in 2016 and then every time they’ll see that particular wine on the shelf hopefully they’ll remember their visit. Today it was Tattinger, a historic house situated right in the middle of Reims, which is the larger and more well known of the two largest Champagne towns.
At Tattinger you’ll find the underground cellars to be incredibly impressive, having been built by monks from the abbey nearby many hundreds of years before they were filled to the brim with Champagne. The trip however, is not as good or thorough as the first one was. They are a huge brand and they receive a large amount of tripists so they don’t have to work as hard. Their rosè champagne however, as I discovered during the tasting, was quite scrumptious indeed.
I’m not a huge champagne connoisseur. I’m not as keen as others on vintage champagne so happily its one of the few luxury items I don’t have to spend through the nose for to enjoy. However, I do know that the important and sought after champagne labels nowadays are the grower producers. Whilst Duval-Leroy and Tattinger grow 1/3 or so of their grapes the smaller houses grow all of their grapes, which allows them to have 100% control over the process. Plus, they tend to produce a lot less.
For this last day of 2016 as we all say good riddance to a challenging year, put one of the following bottles or two on ice. But please do not wait for New Year’s Eve to drink Champagne or sparkling wine, there are good affordable French sparklers available now, allowing you to celebrate the big and small events year-round. Happy New Year to one and all!
Inside of the big Cathedral in Reims, St. Remi
According to Forbes some of the best value sparklers for the holiday are:
Bouvet-Ladubay Excellence Brut Rosé From France’s Samur region in the Loire Valley. This one is bright, crisp, lovely rich mousse in the mouth, delicate and precise. $14-17
Cote Mas Crémant de Limoux Brut Rosé From southern France’s Limoux region, located in the Pyrenean foothills. Palate shows racy lemon zest, raspberries and peaches on the nose, nice mousse and texture, a rich, $11-15
Gustave Lorentz Crémant d ’Alsace Brut Rosé Complex and delightful with notes of berries and citrus. Beautiful in the glass—salmon pink hues and precise miniature bubbles streaming up the glass. 100% pinot noir. $20-23
Etching from WWI seen on the cave walls of Tattinger
Grower producers recommended by Food & Wine:
Egly-Ouriet Brut Tradition A majestic, commanding and rich nose. Aromas of spiced blood orange, grilled nuts and honey all make for a complex and engaging proposition. $60-70
Chartogne-Taillet Champagne This Pinot Noir-driven Champagne has a focused, lightly toasty palate with fine mousse. $39-60
Vilmart & Cie Brut 70% Pinot Noir 30% Chardonnay, complex $60
Best Champagne for New Year’s Eve – my own personal preferences:
Duval-Leroy Brut Blend of Pinor Noir, Chardonnay & Meunier Complex & Traditional Fresh lemon and floral nose with some nuttiness, intense acidity and crunchy finish. $16.50-$22.50
Tattinger Rosè Deeply-colored. Expressive nose with strawberry and cherry overtones. $50-60
Veuve Cliquot A good classic standby $50