A glass of Champagne

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Hautvillers

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.

img_9692Aside 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.

 

Love,

 

Kate

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Georgia – I came for the wine

England, 17 August 2018,


After a month of lugging my suitcase around Italy, Croatia, a bit of Serbia and Georgia, i got back to England. I told my neighbour J that Georgia had great wine and so did Croatia. “Kate, you have gone to Champagne, Croatia, Italy and Georgia this summer…. I see a pattern here”, J joked on my alcoholic behaviour. I do have a sincere love for good wine.

And so below are some of my wine stories in Georgia


– Kate, so what brings you to Georgia?

– I came for the wine.

We were at Divino, into our third glass of wine or so.  The bartender kept pouring one type after another and we wouldn’t care much. We, me and an Italian couple, had been on this physically challenged walking tour of 4 hours around the city, we deserved this. The Italian moaned about the  American girl trying to inflict so much of her daily life into the tour. I moaned about the weirdly long stop at the bakery where I had to get myself a mojito (and who ate cheese bread at 5pm?).

This is the start – my first day in Georgia.

I didn’t even know there was such a country till about 2 years ago when I watched a random documentary on Food Network about the birth of Shiraz. Yes,I like wine so much I watched documentary about it. As it turned out, the wine is one of the oldest and was “invented” on the area of Caucasus mountain, in between Iran and Georgia. Nowadays there is no wine making in Iran for religious reason but Georgian people still ferment and bury their wine in big ceramic churns  Everyday. That afternoon the name Georgia registered in my head. I did some research and figured the country situated at the end of Silk Road, bordering Russia and share Black Sea with Turkey. I wanted to go there to drink wine one day.

End of June, about 3 days before my month-long trip in Europe, I booked my ticket to Georgia, heading east instead of west from Croatia after much of the plans were changed. “I like your style”, bf remarked when that destination came up.

Throughout my stay in Georgia I have tasted so many type of wine and visit the wine region Kakheti. I visited Khareba winery, one of the biggest, where I met Eka, a smart beautiful young Georgian woman who is now my 3rd friend in Georgia!

There are about 500 types of grapes and in Georgia along there is about 250 types. So the wine are of great variety, and lucky me, of great quality. The Georgian way of making wine keep the skin and stem in the juice for the entire period of fermentation, which result in darker color and stronger wine. The thing they use to keep wine is called “Qveri”. The wine is typically quite young but certainly ha reached a good level of complexity. 2 excellent examples are the Amber Wine and Sarapevi.

Amber wine – You don’t see this anywhere- the grape is from Georgia and with the increase skin contact, a luminous color of amber liquid with strong full taste. This is definitely my favourite among all.

Saparevi is deep red grape, which after the prolonged skin contact produced the Black Wine. I personally like full body red (like Burgundy) so this won me completely.

But here is the most exciting part, a definite pleasant surprise to me – sweet wine! Before this trip I hated sweet wine and considered Moscato the most disgusting wine Human beings had ever invented. So sweet my throat hurt. However, I was made to taste Georgian semi-sweet wine. It’s delightful! Light hint of sweetness, smooth, ruby red and light. I never thought of the day I’d buy a bottle of semi-sweet wine. I did! So I recommend you to try the sweet wine in Georgia as It may well be the best you have ever tasted.

With the great wine, Georgian drink and feast a lot. In fact the Guardian of Tbilisi Kartlis Deda holds a glass of wine as a symbol of hospitality. In a Georgian feast, 1 man will be designated “tamada” (literally toast master). He certainly speaks well and initiates a lot of toasts. He would drink from a goat horn which can hold up to 2l of wine. He would drink it in one go before it got filled up again. The use of the horn is because of it shape, it can’t be put down. One told me she knew someone who did 19 toasts and the only way to avoid drinking in Georgia is to have a doctor’s order. Pregnancy does not count!

Georgian has also made many wonderful things out of grape juice:

  • Chacha – it’s similar to Raki/Rakia and lethal! The homemade chacha can be up to 70deg.
  • Bvac – delicious thirst wrenching light flavoured soda without crazy amount of gas. I saw this first sold at the train station and was slight taken a back my this nation’s alcoholism thinking to myself “Man, they drink a pint of wine in the sun!”.
  • Churchella – the wonderful sweet made of string of nuts (typically walnut as this is very popular in Georgia) cover in grapevine paste (grape juice and flour). It can be in sheet type as well.
  • Bread is not from grape juice but is baked in big bell ovens (like Indian making naan) which is fuelled by grapevine and leaves. Smell delicious, taste Devine!

As said, I came to Georgia for the wine, I got that, together with other things came my way unexpectedly!

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Visa requirement

This is for people from the like of Vietnam who have much restricted on traveling. Americans, you don’t need visa to enter, please stop asking Google.

Georgia is now petitioning to join the EU (target 2019) and currently  you can enter Georgia with valid multiple entry tourist Schengen (like the Balkan countries), US or British visa. There are 14 countries outside the Schengen Agreement that you can enter with Schengen visa. Please make sure you triple-check before you go as things may change fast and tell airline staffs because they DO NOT know and will take about 20’ trying to agree among themselves before giving you the boarding pass. Been there, done that.