In late summer 2017, I had the honor to attend a friend’s wedding on the west coast of France, an hour away from Bordeaux city and right border the Medoc region. It came as a surprise to many of my friend as that was the first time I visited a vineyard. The time spent with friends, exploring the French culture, cuisine and especially the wine of Bordeaux was merry and certainly fulfilling.
I would share about my wonderful experience in Bordeaux in another more mellow note. Today, as another year draws to a close and comes the moment to raise a glass, waving goodbye to 2018 with cherish and reflection as well as opening the door to welcome 2019 with plans and hopes, I’d like to share my humble encounter in Champagne region this past summer. There are a few things this region is famous of, the most famous of all bears its name – Champagne.
I took the Euro Star train from London to Paris in late June and connected to the city of Reims, the biggest city in the region. The city is a holy place in France, whose cathedral winessed the cororation of many French emperors for over 8 centuries till the collapse of the monarchy. As I have been to many places in Europe and visited many catherals, this is the most beautiful one in my opinion. The cathedral stands high and grandeurin the city centre, drawing attention to its exquisite, expensive and sophisticated architecture and decoration. its bell tower and the long history that connected to the rise and fall of the mornachy. I picked a small airbnb right near one of the city bakery, Andre Boulanger Patisserie, where I bought a baguette and pastries every morning, as well as Cul de Poule restaurant, where I dined at awe every evening.
Of course I tasted and drank way too much Champagne. The summer was bright, warm and breezy. The time stood still. I was enjoying my time.
My humble knowledge of champagne came mostly from my first cellar visit, the Veuve Cliquot, which I stepped foot in nerely an hour after arriving in Reims. It’s cold and beautiful inside, millions of bottles nesting next to each other, dozen of km of domed cellars all connected, hundred years of history in the making.
Champagne is simply sparkling wine, strictly coming from the Champagne region of France. Unlike other wine which is fermented and ages once in wood barrows, metal tanks or urns (the case of traditional wine from Georgia) before being bottles, Champagne wine goes through 2 fermentations blah blah until it fills our glasses of joy.
To my abundance of neglected memories, I remembered 2 names standing out in the history of champagne. The first is Dom Perignon, considered the inventor. Long before, sparkling wine was said to be “haunted” by evils, due to the fact that during the aging, sometimes explosion of bottled happened. Dom Perignon lived in the abbey of Hautvillers, who tested out and finessed the technique of champagne making, including the underground aging to sustain the need to humidity and temperature. In the region of Champagne, there are no fewer than 200km of tunnels/cellar protecting millions and millions of bottle of champagne underground. The calcium carbonate rich soil give the ideal humidity for the aging and storage of wine.
Another name that tied to the history of Champagne is madame Veuve Cliquot Ponsardin, the extraordinary business woman, a young widow who overcame her grief at the age of 26 and grew her husband family’s small house of Champagne Cliquot-Muiron et fils (“Cliquot-Muiron and sons) into the second largest house of champagne in the world. Veuve means the widow in French and her name is kept in every single bottles of Veuve Cliquot Champagne – VCP. She invented the riddling board and started the export of vast quantity of champagne out of France, including sneaking out boats of champagne to Russia during a shiping blockage under Napoleon (who favoured house of Moet-Chandon). At the defeat of Napoleon, Russia was toasting Veuve Cliquot champagne.
Do you know how rose champagne was made in Champagne? Only here it’s allowed for mix red wine with champagne to create the jolly colour for this marketing hoax. Elsewhere, the colour is made from pressing process.
Aside from visiting the big houses and venturing into their massive system of cellars and history, I took a half day vineyard visit, tasting remarkable champagne from boutique producers and taking in the beauty of this land. One of the house we visited produced the limited edition champagne for Formula 1 – those big bottles that the F1 racers shook and wasted in their victorious moments. The trip took us, a Vietnamese, an American couple & an Australian couple to the beginning of it all, Abbey d’Hautvillers where Dom Perignon lived, made wine and rested in peace. The place was so humble as compared to the luxury and cheerful image of the wine, as compared to the long Avenue of Champagne in Epernay, the capital of the regions where house of Moet-Chandon places its headquarter.
Truth to be told, most of the productions from the big house were exported to the world and people of France, especially people of Champagne, rarely buy those. “Well, why paying 50 euro a bottle while you can get 5 bottles for that much, equally good quality?”. Very true and very fair. I tasted from vintage of the big houses to a random bottle from supermarket and I couldn’t agree more.
Once you get a real Champagne glass, you are ensured the ultimate experience of bubbliness!
Well, let’s raise a glass!
Happy New Year to you all.