Monday, March 23, 2015

Champagne supernova

On Saturday, we headed out of Reims and took the scenic route to Epernay, trying to follow the Route des Vins as much as possible (tricky since it wasn't signposted out of Reims, so we just headed towards a village that seemed good and picked it up at some random point along the way). Saturday wasn't quite as wonderfully sunny as Friday, but we still got some nice weather, especially for our lunch in Hautvillers, which was nice.

Stopped off at some random point on the road and hiked up to an old church on a hill (unfortunately closed) to take a few snapshots:

A pretty cool photo, if I do say so myself! It looks like we were up really early in the morning, but this is actually slightly later than the photo below, it was just really hazy down in the valley. Pity the vines are still bare!

I look like I'm wearing a romper

Pensive moment in the vineyard (or am I just trying to get my hair out of my eyes?)

We stopped off in Hautvillers and visited the grave of Dom Perignon himself, which was fun although the abbey where he's buried isn't otherwise especially noteworthy. But our lunch on the terrace at Au 36 was a highlight. The staff were actually very friendly and accommodating, which of course is not always the case in France, we shared two glasses of champers (plus an extra for me) for a very reasonable price, and they served up a delicious tapas-style selection of Reims specialities. The pâté en croute, boudin blanc and mini potato and ham galettes were to die for. And that giant pink thing on the side was a rose and raspberry macaron! Jules had the slightly less exciting duck platter, but I did let him try all of mine, so he didn't come out of it too badly.


Wine tasting at Hautvillers - we tried chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier-based champagnes - it was interesting how different they tasted, with the pinot noir my favourite. Most champagnes are actually blends of two or three of these grapes ("assemblages")
Once in Epernay, we headed to the famous Avenue de Champagne, home of many prestigious champagne houses. Unfortunately it seems we were a little early in the season, as all of the beautiful ones pictured below seemed to be closed and were shut away behind elaborate wrought-iron gates (I poked my camera through). It still made for impressive viewing though, and it was nice not to be surrounded by coach-loads of tourists.

This one was the nicest, I think it's Perrier

The town hall

Part of Moët and Chandon's massive property, on both sides of the street. If you ever doubted there's money to be made in champagne, just come here and see the magnificent palaces the big houses occupy
We stopped for a tasting at one of the only places that seemed to be open, A. Bergère, and enjoyed a zero dose champagne in the sunshine and peace and quiet. I'm a little bit obsessed with zero dose sparkling wines, since having a fantastic (but, frustratingly, not for sale) zero dose Montlouis at the Tours wine festival. If you don't know, dosage is the amount of sugar added to the wine in the final stage, after they take the sediment out and before they put the cork on. Brut, the standard dosage you probably drink most often, can have up to 15 grams of residual sugar per litre, whereas zero dose (also called Brut Nature) has no added sugar and no more than 3 grams total. Apparently back in the day people used to like their champagnes ridiculously sweet - with up to 50 grams of sugar per litre, but tastes have changed and more and more winemakers are experimenting with low or zero dosages. This is apparently aided by climate change producing grapes with more natural sugar in them, thus eliminating the need for added dosage. The A. Bergère champers wasn't my favourite of the trip (that would be the 2004 Joseph Perrier we had at Le Foch) but it was interesting and I'd definitely love to try some more - I hate sweet wine!

Me and my zero dose
We then took a tour of de Castellane, which was not a name I recognised, but you've probably seen the white bottles with a red diagonal cross on them. They also have a very pretty building with a 66 metre-high tower (which we walked up, exhausting) - a former water tower. It was an interesting contrast to the tour I took of Taittinger with my sister. That basically just shows you the chalk cellars and it all looks very traditional and oldy-worldy. Although you go into the caves at de Castellane as well, you also tour through their factory and get to see the modern process of how champagne is made today. It would be interesting (although I suppose noisy) to see it during the week, when the factory is actually operational. They bottle a phenomenal amount each day, I can't remember how much, but tens of thousands of bottles every day from just one champagne house, and not even a particularly big-name one (although I think it is a very solid mid-range supermarket champagne).

Outside de Castellane

We walked up a horrible spiral starcase to the first level of windows in the octagonal turret

I love my champagne friend!
View from the top - not hugely scenic, but the river was an amazing green colour
We capped off the evening with a tasting of six champagnes (between us) at C comme Champagne. I was really hoping for more of a guided/commented dégustation, which we didn't really get across the whole weekend. In fairness though, the bartender did give us a quick rundown of what we would be tasting at the beginning and then answered some of the questions we had. For example, I finally learned what makes some sparkling wines bubblier than others. It's not the amount of yeast or sugar, as I had thought, but how long they are aged. Wines that are aged for longer will have more delicate and fewer bubbles than younger wines. The barman sniffily commented that that's why Alsace wines are particularly bubbly - "they don't age them at all, amateurs". That actually makes sense to me, because I prefer finer bubbles and it does seem that you are more likely to get that with a more expensive wine, which of course means that the vinter has to be able to afford and have the space to keep the wines in the cellar for longer.

Our selection of champagnes for the evening
After getting up before 6 am on Sunday to watch the first (sadly, dull) F1 race of the season, we returned to C comme Champagne and A Bergere to make some purchases with the car on hand to haul our booty away, and then we headed back to Brussels so that Jules would have the time for a rest before having to drive back to Luxembourg (poor thing). On the way, probably the most exciting part of our mini break happened - an encounter with the largest wild boar in the world!!

His name is Woinic, he weighs 50 tonnes and was made out of steel by one dude pretty much just as a hobby over 11 years.

Pretty awesome

Excitement levels were very high for this boar encounter, I can tell you. What better way to finish off a lovely anniversary weekend?


  1. The first picture is really cool, as is the wild boar. And your lunch :-)

  2. What Canedolia said.

    I enjoyed learning about the zero dose, and why some champagne is more bubbly than others, too. (Not that I ever drink real champagne, though!)

    M x

    1. Same goes for any méthode champenoise. You can pick up cheap champagne here in te supermarkets for about 10€, plus there are often specials, so you'll have to try when you're over!

  3. We actually saw the boar on our way down to Reims (there was a road sign announcing it and it's pretty visible from the highway). We wouldn't have driven past it on the way back to Brussels if I hadn't missed an exit, clearly it was destined that we meet the world's biggest boar.

    1. Can't get mad about missing the exit if it leads to wild boar fun! :)

  4. Le cochon de reims! Or in english reams of pig.

    1. Le cochon de somewhere on the motorway near Reims, not the same ring to it.

  5. Yes, that first photo is unreal!

    Your captions, as usual, crack me up.

    A duck platter sounds exciting to me. Duck is always my preferred dish.

    1. I love duck too, but not foie gras, and maigret is not my favourite cut. Give me Peking Duck or confit de canard and I'm a happy bunny though! The duck rillettes he had were yummy too.


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