After our trip to Champagne last June, I decided to put away my notes and write my blog in December, when the season appears to be more conducive to consume the bubbly. Stop!!!! “HERESY” scream the Champenois, “Champagne time is all the time!”. And it was… Let just say that one can OD on the stuff: for 3 days we tasted and drank Champagne from morning to bed time…
It is through a pleasant drive from Paris thru beautiful rolling hills of vineyard after vineyard that you access the villages where the Grandes Marques of Champagne are located, they go on and on and just know that every acre of vineyard is worth a little more than $1 million bucks, pretty much like R S Fe property! On these vineyards grow Pinot Chardonnay, Pinot Meunier and Pinot Noir, the Pinot Noir can be used to make regular Champagne (by removing the skins after a couple of days or hours of pressing) or Rosé by adding a certain quantity of Pinot noir to the assemblage.
It is a treat to visit the beautiful old houses that harbor the famous brands of Champagne, all dating back to the 18th century, most of these houses bear the name of a Dutch or English prior owner (a few French) who were at the time, the main consumers of the stuff. The Russians tsars could not get enough nor could the English court aswell as the Dutch royalty.
These estates are built on top of deep chalky soil with miles and miles of caves dug up thru the centuries; chock full of millions of bottles resting in perfect temperature and humidity before being dispatched to every corner of the world. It is mind boggling that, just in the small village of Ay, to name just one, they have created over 100 miles of large tunnels, built on top of each other, 3 deep.
Not to bore you on how Champagne is made (you can easily Google it), note that you can spend minor of very big money on the different levels and bottling of the sparkling nectar: the scale of Champagne starts with the Non-Vintage one (the most common) which is a product of mixing several vintages of still wine, some as old as 15 years to the latest harvest (typically 2 years old) to reproduce the special taste and profile which is the hallmark of each brand vintage after vintage: not an easy task! Then of course will be the vintage bottling of Brut, Blanc de Blanc, Rosé or Cremant ( the recent great vintages now available are 1996 and 2002) and at the top of the pyramid the special vintage bottlings, ie: Salon “Clos du Mesnil”, Dom Perignon “Oenotheque”, Pol Roger “Sir Winston Churchill”, Cristal and many, many others.
Enough of the technicalities, the Champagne producers are proud to say (almost a litany) that you never get a hangover from Champagne and one can enjoy his bubbly with everything from fish to venison, caviar to chocolate in fact, it is hard to find a dish that will clash with this lovely liquid. I love the richness and roundness of the Chardonnay, the yeastiness of the Pinot Meunier and the elegance and depth of the Pinot Noir, all these grapes are blended in different quantities by the different houses or may compose 100% of each bottling. Only with much tasting can you decide which Champagne will be your favorite, or you may like them all, as do I!
So you get the idea, for the holidays, raise a flute: Champagne is great for special occasions but it is also wonderful for any and all occasions (I will collect my vig from the association of Champagne growers later!), and remember, NO hangover, what a plus!