Two weeks ago, my friend Etienne Hugel passed away in a most sudden and unexpected manner, although there is no consolation for such a loss, the many good memories he left behind may console his friends and especially his family; his beloved wife Kaoru, his son Jean Frédéric his daughter Charlotte and the whole Hugel family.
“But when from a long-distant past nothing subsists, after the people are dead, after the things are broken and scattered, taste and smell alone, more fragile but more enduring, more unsubstantial, more persistent, more faithful, remain poised a long time, like souls, remembering, waiting, hoping, amid the ruins of all the rest; and bear unflinchingly, in the tiny and almost impalpable drop of their essence, the vast structure of recollection.” Marcel Proust, In Search of Lost Time (1913)
This is one of those taste and smell memories…
It was mid May 2012 during one of our “Saturday lunch” gatherings with my friend Judy Chang , she said: “my friend Etienne Hugel a winer from Alsace is coming for a three day visit to Israel , how about you hosting an intimate dinner with Etienne?”.
It is not everyday that I get to host a real member from the Aristocracy of European winemakers: The Primum Familiae Vini –(in latin) or First Families of Wine, the eleven families that belong to this exclusive ‘club’, where the criteria for membership are: quality and continuous family ownership.
The list of members is astonishing: Pol Roger from Champagne, Château Mouton Rothschild of Bordeaux, Maison Joseph Drouhin from Burgundy, Hugel et Fils from Alsace (second oldest in the group with 13 generations since 1639), Perrin et Fils from the Rhône Valley, Egon Müller from the Saar, Antinori, the oldest wine family of the list (26 generations) from Tuscany, Tenuta San Guido with their Sassicaia, Miguel Torres and Vega Sicilia from Spain and the Symington Port estates in the Douro.
A member of the Royal families of European wines at my house? will he be a pompous “prince” who is going to look down on us PLEBS (in ancient Rome: despised social class, commoners, low-born, undistinguished…), this guy will dwell for a few hours under my roof? but than, Why not? this is an opportunity and so I readily took the “challenge”, (being told by Judy he is a cool guy, a hippy of sorts, this is where I feel comfortable)
This is going to be a night of food and wine, it has to be special, extraordinary, This guy knows his food and wine, he dined everywhere and drank anything, he has good palate and nose, I can not surprise him, but I will do my best… after all, this is a meal for only 5 diners, (shame I have to work late that day and will have only an hour and a half before the guests arrive).
As it turned to be, it was a night of food, wine, Rock n’ roll, amitié (real friendship) and giving (but thats for later on…)
Planning the menu has to include 2 first dishes cooked on the spot , the main dish will have to be a roast (let the oven do the job for me while I’m busy prepping the first 2 dishes and the theme? Eclectic! things that go well with Alsacian, Hugel wines (which I bought in advance at “Derech Hayaiin“ , of Family Shaked, Hugel representatives in Israel (Importers) and the best chain of fine wine shops around the country (http://www.wineroute.co.il/?tree=english&item=0&theme=he-il.
So I have Gewurtztraminer, Riesling, and Gentil “Hugel”, which as they say: “brings together the suave spicy flavour of Gewürztraminer, the body of Pinot Gris, the finesse of Riesling, the grapiness of Muscat and the refreshing character of Sylvaner”, all the above Hugel wines as my cooking wines, this pulled me to opt for dishes with a touch of the far east, a touch of the middle east (after all that’s where we are, and the guest is coming from a visit to Beirut, prior to his “Holy-Land” visit… all with a delicate french touch.
For first course: Giant crystal Shrimps rolled in Zucchini, fried in goose fat, in Champagne and Riesling shrimp sauce. This is a takeoff on Joël Robuchon’s dish with Langoustine in champagne sauce. this sauce is really alluring you could almost drink it on its own with all the shrimp and champagne aromas , sublime!
For the second course: I need a south east Asian touch to accompany my second cooking wine the Gewürztraminer, Fried Veal sweetbreads in a light gwurzt curry cream sauce on a bed of blanched wild Rocket. for the blanching I used a bottle of simmering Gentill Hugel wine .
For the main course : Mediterranean style Roast Leg of Lamb, served with Roasted potatoes, steamed Spinach in Olive oil, White and brown Oven steamed Shimeji Mushrooms (homage to Japan…)
Than, A selection of french and local goats cheeses with green salad.
For dessert: Tart Tatin of Pears and Ginger served with dessert wine which turned to be to amazing 1976 Gewürztraminer Hugel “Sélection de Grains Nobles”, Nectar of the Gods …
I have just finished rolling my shrimps in “zucchini leaves” , and prepping our sweetbreads : blanch, peel and all… and most of the Mise en scène (after all cooking is a bit like movie making or a theatre production) and Mise en place, that our front door was open and in came my old friends Yair and Judy and a stormy guy in slightly sweaty T shirt (it was a hot day outside), his face lighted the room with joy (almost childish), his hands full with presents, offerings of fine wines and a mystery Pink box the content of which I will reveal later. With a rolling stones song at the background he immediately blended into the music and my greetings met his happiness and good will. A simple guy like me and you, not the aristocratic attitude I dreaded at first.
I immediately felt (I like this guy) and after a brief introduction we became the oldest best buddies ever…
The kitchen is partially open plan and the dinner table was laid down, and with no further pause he “demanded” a Champagne Cooler Bucket full of Ice to put the 2004 Louis Roederer Cristal Brut Millesime Champagne, he had in his hand .
Cristal is a magnificent wine of 40% Chardonnay and 60% Pinot Noir, aged for six years!!! on the yeast and a further 8 month in the bottle without yeast. and the vintage 2004, Ai Yai Yai (as Etienne said several times that night…) We impatiently opened the wine after it got to our temperature of taste (not too cold). After the first sniff and sip the Cristal hallmarks are evident: “purity, precision and the unique harmony of flavours associated with the subtle power of our historic vines, located on the finest Champagne Grand Cru terroirs.” – as described by Jean-Baptiste Lécaillon, Roederer’s Cellar Master, an extraordinary champagne on all counts.
This wine has a lot of layered aromatic elegance of white peach, apricot, honeyed citrus blossoms and amazing minerality , grilled hazelnuts and creamy butter texture, very sensual and a great company to our first course, which got hailed around the table
(Though I know the Cristal did most of the job, raising the dish to a higher level, it went gloriously with our first dish of the evening and in the end Etienne did ask for the remaining sauce to be served to him as a soup, he loved every tiny bit of it and drank it to the last drop, a most amusing moment… as you can see below.
My guests were asked to pass the time as I go prepare the next dish (sweetbreads), but Etienne insisted on a “tour” of my cellar (a small room with a few gems collected over the years, nothing like the cellars he is used to…), still not bad by local standards, I gave him the “Royal tour” and chose a bottle of Krug Grande Cuvée, to keep the champagne bit of the evening going on, which met immediately Etienne’s approval, the Krug Grande Cuvée NV Champagne, sat on ice to be cooled just slightly more, and the primum Vini represenative in the dinning room followed me to the kitchen, noticing my Lacanche stove he said (In his lovely french accent):” There’s one like this one, in the presidents private kitchen at the Élysée Palace” (the official residence of “Le Président de la République Française”), than immediately started to ask questions regarding our next dish, from a knowledgeable point of view, an interested observer willing to help, full of amazement almost like a child , discussing the how and why and the thought behind them. I guess I was a bit distracted and pulled the Arugula out of the “wine steaming” slightly ahead of time, the leaves were still a little too tough but it somehow went well enough with the curry cream sauce and the tender, butter fried sweetbreads,
Etienne helped me serve the dishes to the table (such a sweet guy), as we were eating sipping our wonderful Krug Etienne most graciously looked at me and said (again in his sweet french accent) : “are you trying to give french cooking a bad name?” commending my second dish with the utmost compliment (a polite expression of praise or admiration), by now we were already drinking the powerful Chassagne-Montrachet Les Chenevottes 1er Cru Michel Colin Deleger 1993 , not the best vintage year for this wine, even worse after the two great champagnes but better than anticipated. Although my cellar stores great Bourgogne whites, we kept for the moment with the wines brought by the guests for the occasion. This is a leisurely dinner and we were not going to be deterred by a mediocre Wine here or there, and so we withdrew to the “drawing room” adjacent to the dining table for a smoke and a cheerful chat, while our joint of lamb was resting on a rack waiting to be carved soon.
This is turning to be a great fun occasion and we are only half way through, the rest of this meal, the wines, the food, in Part 2 and the promised surprise in the pink box to follow soon…
Champagne visit Day 2 PM
By the time we finished our meeting at Moet, we missed our scheduled meeting at Perrier Jouet (Chef de cave Herve Deschamp is busy till late afternoon), but don’t despair Yair Haidu has rescheduled the meeting for 5pm so we’re all sorted out, more or less. Now our next meeting is a good 2 Hours away in Aÿ at Champagne Deutz so he’s calling Bollinger to see if they have a regular “tourist tour” this afternoon… and… “Lo and behold” there’s one starting in 10 minutes time, so we rush over, through the narrow streets of Aÿ and park across the road from the gateway to one of my favorite champagne houses BOLLINGER.
We’ve done the Blanc de Blancs, and here at “Boly” they proud themselves on the fact that Pinot Noir is the Base of the Bollinger Blends 60% in the Special Cuvée NV, and 65% in their Grand Année (vintage) champagnes. And they use for these blends for the NV 80% grapes from Premiers and Grands Crus and for the Vintage Champagne 100%! For all their wines they utilize only the “Cuvee” (the cuvée refers to the best grape juice from gentle pressing of the grapes. In Champagne, the cuvée is the first 2,050 liters of grape juice from 4,000 kg of grapes ), the remaining 500 liters called taille (tail), or pressed juice is sold to other champagne Houses… Impressive! But you knew all that right?
The guide and the group of 3 from Australians and us are led to a small vineyard, a lot of less than half an acre vineyard “the only non phylloxera affected vineyard in the whole of champagne”, still blooming and looking healthy.
The winery tour starts at the Destemming and Crushing area and passes on, to the Oak barrels room, all Bollinger’s wines undergo first fermentation in Oak Barrels (a great pride) and so we are given the important “tour of the Barrels workshop”, where the in-house barrel maker makes new barrels, fixes old barrels and prepares used barrels by scraping off the crystal sediments that accumulate and cover the barrels yearly. This guy is quick, showing his expertise to the onlookers.
Now we go down the stairs to the cool cellars 8Km long!!!! under the streets of Ay, (you enter in one place and come out somewhere else), with more than half a million Magnums and many more 75cl size bottles all resting in one position or another on their racks or pupitres. A pupitre is a wooden rack made of two hinged heavy boards. Each of the boards has 60 holes that are cut so that a bottle can rest, by the neck, in any position between horizontal and vertical. At first, the bottles lie horizontally, and gradually, through a process called remuage, they are hand “riddled.” This is an arduous process where each bottle is rotated and tilted very slightly each day so that the yeast loosen and finally accumulate into the neck of the bottle.
The Bollinger wines:
Special Cuvée (non-vintage): A Champagne blend that uses grapes from a given year, with a balancing addition of up to 10% reserve wines, from the last fifteen years. The blending gives the special cuvee the complexity and structure on every year. I love it. (60% Pinot Noir, 25% Chardonnay, 15% Pinot Meunier.)
Grand Année (vintage): Whenever there is an exceptional harvest, Bollinger will produce their prestige Champagne Grand Année (“great vintage Year”), it is aimed to express best the character of the vintage. Only the best wines from the different crus are selected for this purpose. This Champagne is also available as a Rosé. The wine spends five years on its lees and is aged in bottle under cork. (65% Pinot Noir, 35% Chardonnay)
R.D. (vintage): récemment dégorgé (“recently disgorged”). This is the “Reserve” Grand Année blend. R.D. spends eight years on its lees, aged under cork R.D. The disgorgement date is given on the back label. The different disgorgement dates are noticeable in aroma and flavor and touch between R.D. Champagnes of the same year. Only 19 vntages since Inauguration in 1952 (first RD) to date where made in the RD format (one of which is my birth year 1953 I wish I could lay my hands on one magnum for my 60th birthday next year).
Vieille Vignes Françaises (vintage): Bollinger’s prestige cuvee, this blanc de noirs is made in small quantity with wine from two small plots of un grafted rootstock planted in low density (3000 vines per hectare). These two low-density and yield vineyards, Clos St-Jacques in Aÿ and Chaudes Terres in Aÿ, are severely pruned, and thus produce 35% less juice per vine.
Special Cuvée Brut and Special Cuvée Rose wonderful wines on all counts!
Bollinger Grand Année 2002 even on its 9th year it is still a youngling very fresh and fruity mainly citrus; with strong grapefruit notes and a faint touch of white tropical fruits. Great balanced acidity and fruitiness. This is a keeper for quite a few years, so… WAIT!
The Best Bollinger I had lately was without a doubt the 1995 Grand Année, The complexity and depth was tremendous, smooth with aromas of ripe white fruits and bursting fig aroma roasted hazelnuts and toasted butter cinnamon brioche with hints of vanilla, a smooth gentle touch on the palate with exceedingly long finish on palate and nose Excellent!!!
We left with a DVD disc of the Various James Bonds ordering Bollinger RD 1961….. My name is B O N D, James Bond!
we pass the Courtyard Statue of Cupid, the Roman god of desire, love and affection He is often portrayed as the son of the goddess Venus, His Greek counterpart is Eros. Cupid is also known in Latin as Amor (“Love”). Undoubtedly the spirit of Amour De Deutz.
We are, in yet another small and gracious looking estate built in the traditional Champagne style, we sit for a casual wine chat with our host in the drawing room the furniture and surroundings are all original pieces with a very homey feel. We move to the tasting room facing the gardens and champagne glasses are laid down on the glass top modern dining table.
Deutz Brut Classic: This is a lovers champagne charming accessible and well balanced for a couple who are about to get acquainted. The classic is affordable champagne that has all the element of style and elegance, but make no mistake this is not the “Amour de Deutz” Millésimé Deutz Brut, The more sophisticated multilayered yet fresh and lively champagne suitable for the private engagement party and a pure Blanc de Blancs Champagne.
Deutz Blanc de Blanc 2004, The 2004 Brut Blanc de Blancs is full of exotic tropical fruit flavours, very rich and elegant mufti-layered Champagne complexity, and a very sharp clean finish. The Deutz Blanc de Blancs is made principally from vineyards in Avize and Mesnil, with 20% coming from vineyards in Villers Marmery, Oger, and Cramant .disgorged July, 2008.
Cuvee William Deutz 1999
The wine is a crystal clear champagne with lovely small bubbles and a pale lemony golden hue. The nose is fully opened with rich aromas of ripe apples baked in butter, and some hints sweet spices of anis and nutmeg. It has a rich fully ripped, spiced long finish.
Deutz, formerly known as Deutz Geldermann, based in the Aÿ region of Champagne since 1838. It was run by successive generations of the Deutz and Geldermann families. Today, under the leadership of Fabrice Rosset, the passion for terroir and tradition is at the fore front of the production attitude, the 3 F’s : Finesse, Freshness & Fine.
I could have stayed in the lovely garden sipping away the Cuvee William but “duty calls” we still have our last visit of the afternoon (in Epernay) before parting Champagne and back to “Old Paris”.
This one is at Perrier Jouet with chef de cave Herve Deschamphas.
First the House’s jewel in the crown La Maison Belle E’poque at the historic house of the Perrier family at 11 Ave. de Champagne. This a most amazing living collection of Art Nouveau pieces of furniture, architectural pieces, objects d’art, paintings all from the era known today as La Belle Époque “The Beautiful Era”. This was a period in French history starting in 1890 and ending as the first World War began in 1914. It was a war free period of optimism, a time for scientific inventions and discoveries: Louis Pasteur developed the Pasteurization (or pasteurization)process, antibiotics and the rabies vaccine. Mathematician and physicist Henri Poincaré made important contributions to pure and applied mathematics. Marie Skłodowska-Curie Her study of radioactivity, led to discovery of polonium and radium, winning the Nobel Prize Twice!! for Physics in 1903, and the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1911. New technologies such as the invention of the motion picture (Film), The Lumière Brothers held their first private screening of projected motion pictures in 1895. Peace and prosperity in Paris allowed the arts to flourish, and many masterpieces of literature, music, theater, and visual art gained recognition.
The Term Belle Époque was coined in retrospect, when it began to be considered a relative “golden age” in contrast to the horrors of the World Wars that ensued. (click on the photo to enlarge)
We are honored with a guided visit of the House of Belle Époque with Herve Deschamphas who will be with us throughout the whole tour and of course the tasting. This is almost unreal, the gateway and the splendid doorframe, the furniture, the decorations, the art on the walls (some Henri De Toulouse-Lautrec and others all originals and of best quality) even the double bed, the basin, faucets and the Loo all original Art Nouveau from the best artists of their trade! Inspiring and heartwarming (The house special guests from around the world get to stay the night there, it has its own kitchen and chef!). What a delight!!!
We go down to the Labyrinth of cellars (Its really cold 8-11 degrees) with some caged doors behind which stored bottles of great importance or age tucked in safely. There’s also an area for keeping wines bought by clients and celebs for special occasions arranged separately in niches in the wall and lots more…
We sat down to our Tasting with chef de cave Herve Deschamphas
first he opened the Perrier Jouet Grand Brut NV. This is a Fresh champagne with some delicate bouquet of ripe white fruits like white peach with a touch of Smoky Oak and spiced melted butter biscuits. It contains all the elements to make it alluring to all the participants in for instance a public function or a party.
Belle époque 2004: (50 % Chardonnay, 45% Pinot Noir and 5 % Pinot Meunier. A very elegant wine that hits you with strong aromas of wild flowers in the spring, quit reminiscent of the bottle’s artwork, (designed by Emile Gallé in 1902). On the palate, ripe tropical fruits: Annona and pineapple flavors very open and spiced. Still fresh and elegant with a nice touch of minerality that extends the length.
Belle époque Rose 2002 The orangey pinkish color radiates through the translucent bottle in sensual colours (the usual Belle époque blend the Rosé is made by adding red wine rather than the saignée method). It is all about finesse and delicacy without the show off of concentration or strength, very good balance.
Belle époque Blanc de Blancs 2000 : The most prestigious of the Perrier-Jouët Belle époque series. A show off of the house terroir coming exclusively from Cramant and just from two parcels, Bourons-Leroy and Bourons du Midi, at the heart of the Cramant Grand Cru in the Côte des Blancs. Responsible for this 100% Chardonnay wine grown on pure chalk soil, on the south, south-east slopes. Again we are introduced to the floral aroma touch a characteristic sign, this wine, of more fragrant flowers like honeysuckle freesia and acacia, and very sweet spices like vanilla scented toffee delicate and easily approachable.
Thank you Herve.
Perrier Jouet 28 avenue de Champagne, 51201 Épernay
Telephone: +33 (0) 3 26 53 38 00. www.perrier-jouet.
As the days grow longer, towards the year’s longest day on June 21st , we started on our way back to Paris the clouds started to gather again, but the sun rays pierced through the clouds in an heavenly manner, to end up 2 glorious days in champagne .
Thanks Yair for arranging this unforgettable tour.
Your Wine guide
A visit to Champagne with Yair – Day 2 morning
The breakfast at L’hôtel restaurant Les Avisés, Chez famille Selosse was so neatly laid out, the coffee and pastries were perfect, (not easy)! the breads divine, accompanied with local cheeses and cured meats and a fried egg made to perfection what else would you ask for first thing in the morning after a perfectly good night sleep.
We parted with Thanks fairly early cause we have a full day schedule Starting at Ruinart – the most ancient champagne house 1729, a meeting with Ruinart Chef de Cave, Frederic Panaiotis
A visit to Rheims Cathedral,
We drove up north from Avize to Reims pass Epernay (we will return there soon enough, it is a very busy day…) we enter Avenue de Chamapgne and the Names of the BIG Houses of Champagne at the entrances to each of the Polished “suit wearing” champagne house appear on every corner , Here’s Veuve Clicquot. Than Pommery on the corner of Bd. Henry Vasnier , from there up Rue Libergier.
The glory size and beauty of Rheims Cathedral “hits” you in the face. This cathedral is counted amongst the top 7 Gothic Cathedrals of Europe, proudly stands with Milan and Seville Cathedral, York minster, Notre Dame de Paris, Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence and Chartres Cathedral near Paris.
All the kings of France were once crowned in Rheims Cathedral. Along with the cathedrals of Chartres and Amiens, Rheims is a member of the illustrious triad of “High Gothic” or “Classical” French cathedrals built in the 13th century.
Yair gives me 20 minute to wonder around this wonder of medieval architecture where In 498-499, Clovis the first King of the Franks who united all the Frankish Tribes in Gaul was baptized by Saint Remi. However, the first king to be crowned was Pepin the Short at Soissons in 751, then again at Saint Denis in 754 by Pope Stephen II. From then on, all the Kings of France were crowned in Rheims by their archbishops.
But the symbol of the Cathedral and indeed the City of Rheims is without a doubt a statue of a smiling Angel at the North façade of the North Portal (the main entrance). It has a story that goes like this: At the outbreak of the First World War, the 13th-century Rheims Cathedral was seriously damaged by German shelling. The serene heavenly smiling statue of Angel on the north portal was decapitated by a burning scaffolding beam, during the fire of September 19, 1914. In the newspapers, this statue became the “Smile of Rheims” or “Smiling Angel”, a symbol of French engineering and heritage destroyed by German brutality and bombs. The monument quickly became an emotional picture of the tragic and destructive consequences of war. From original fragments and a casting preserved in Paris, this famous figure was reconstructed after the war with American donations and was returned to its place on February 13, 1926. The Smile of Rheims was restored and the “Smiling Angel” welcomes you as you enter the huge Cathedral. This is the kind of building the gives you a sense of humility (although the aim is impress you with grandeur…) The interior of the cathedral is 138.75 m long, 30 m wide in the nave, and 38 m high in the centre.
And so are the so called Great Houses of champagne they have separated themselves from the “agriculture, farm look” side of champagne and reside in Grand houses meticulously kept, with driveways and gardens and proper “dress code” for all employees, after all, Noblesse oblige…
The day is set for our first meeting in Ruinart. Founded in 1729 by Nicolas Ruinart, this is the first Champagne house in existence with the present, young and charming Chef de Cave, Frederic Panaiotis. He is really a most charming person who gives you a warm welcome. In the spacious tasting room, he has prepared for us a variety of wines from the NV Brut to the Dom Ruinart Rose Brut 1996, he emphasizes the difference in champagne making philosophy between the Artisans we met the day before and that of the “great Houses” who sell millions of NV champagne bottles every year, and “have to conform to a TASTE” their customers got used to… still in the last 10 years they opted to cut vineyard yields by almost 50%, thus improving the quality of the wines tremendously and reaching the level of elegance and delicacy Panaiotis believes is in the essence of champagne in a glass!
We tasted the NV Brut, Blanc de Blancs (Ruinart Blanc de Blancs, 100% Chardonnay, and Ruinart Brut Rosé, 45% Chardonnay and 55% Pinot Noir, The Dom Ruinart Rose 1996 a very pleasant, precise wine with good touch, length and balance and the 1998 Dom Ruinart Brut with its lovely show of tiny bubbles in the glass. Dom Ruinart Brut 1998 is blended exclusively from Chardonnay grands crus, 66% from Cotes des Blancs and 34% from the northern part of Montagne de reims. I must say The 1998 Dom Ruinart is the most elegant wine of our visit, a very voluptuous wine with multilayer’s of white flowers and fruits with roasted blanched almonds and excellent freshness and balance, WONDERFUL! Merci Frederic.
Sadly we has to miss the house’s famous deep chalk cellars (called the crayeres) These were excavated around 50BC by the Romans, and are considered a French archeological monument. This is a magical place but alas we did not have time to take the cellar visit. (Some of these old “Grandes Maisons de Champagne” have kilometers upon kilometers of chalk cave/cellars at a constant 11º C, some of the tunneled caves require small trains to travel in or you spend the whole day underground (getting lost in the labyrinth of caves). But the virtual tour of the cellars on their internet site: http://www.ruinart.com is a “must visit”, check it out (there’s also a wonderful free, I pad app version).
Ruinart , 4 Rue Crayères, 51100 Reims, France. www.ruinart.com
Dom Thierry Ruinart, was a learned Benedictine of the congregation of Saint-Maur, been born on June 10th, 1657 and died on September 27th, 1709, in the abbey of Hautvillers in Champagne region. Ruinart collaborated with dom Pérignon with whom he studied and perfected the secrets of champagne-making process. He and Dom Perignon were really good buddies and we are heading across the mountains to the “headquarters of Perignon” Moët & Chandon. A little-known fact is that the talented Chef de Cave of Dom Perignon, Richard Geoffroy, was one of the winemakers for the 1996 Dom Ruinart!
Now we have to cross the Parc Naturel Régional de la Montagne de Reims that separates Reims and Epernay, it is better not to let a busy person like Benoît Gouez, chef du cave at Moët & Chandon to wait for you and we already asked for a 20 minutes delay…
We park our car near Dom Perignon‘s statue at the entrance to Moët, as you know Dom Perignon was one of the developers of the clear, bubbly, Champagne and the initiator of using cork and cage to seal champagnes, almost in the same way we know it today… Dom Pérignon learned to select the best wine from different grape varieties grown in different soils of the area and blend them to a perfect effervescent drink.
It must be said that the Dom didn’t “invent” Champagne, since the art of the double-fermentation process to produce champagne came from the experimentation and later expertise of other cellar masters of his time as well, but his name is in the front of innovations in all aspects of developing the Champagne method to producing quality clear sparkling wine and it all began during his time in the second half of the 17th century partially due to his curiosity and relentless efforts (the mystery concerning the legend of popping bottles down Perignon cellar one morning lingers on either as a fact or maybe local urban legend?).
It is difficult to separate the monk Dom Pérignon from the trademark carrying his name (now belongs to Moët & Chandon) and this “line” is used for their high-end Champagne. Dom Pérignon and his close friend Dom Ruinart both ended up as namesakes of their trademark. Their abbey: Hautvillers, is located 4½ miles from Epernay, and overlooks the vineyards along the slopes of the Mountain of Reims is a testimony to their acheivments.
Dom Petrus (Pierre) Pérignon, (1639-1715) is burried in the abbey church of Hautvillers in Champagne France’s where he served as cellar master at the Benedictine Abbey of Hautvillers for many years.
The entrance to Moët & Chandon premises, is full of chic, style and elegance in black silver and gold colours, a chandelier made of champagne glasses hanging from the ceiling, a celeb feeling in the air (perfect for those who like this style),
Benoît Gouez meets us in a more traditional setting of the tasting room. He conducts pleasant conversation re: Moët’s recent champagne’s aspirations and the influence of the Dom Pérignon’s label and champagnes on the Moët line. The meeting is backed by two exemplary Moet wines of the last 2 decades: The Moët & Chandon 2002 and the Moët & Chandon 1992 Grand Vintage Collection
The Grand Vintage 2002 is one of the finest wine made under this label and can rival even some lesser vintages of Dom. It has fruit and elegance. Made from 45% Pinot noir, 15% Pinot meunie and 40% chardonnay. The aroma of apple blossom, pears and white wild flowers is apparent, with very long finish of rich and buttery brioche touch. Excellent champagne!
The Moët & Chandon 1992 Grand Vintage Collection Brut is a real keeper on it’s 19 years of age still a very fresh wine, with flinty, mineral, extremely dry texture. The acidity is fully present with a kick, still very refreshing, and crisp.
A different style from the wines we had yesterday and the from your usual NV Moët & Chandon People use to sprinkle on one another from the winner’s podium (This habit is beyond my understanding, still I guess mother earth needs a drink from time to time…)
I paid tribute to the Dom’s statue on our way out, Thank you Benoît for your hospitality and patience, we’re off to Ay to visit 2 smaller Houses in the afternoon
Moët & Chandon , 18 Avenue de Champagne 51200 Épernay, France
Our afternoon adventures and visits in the next post…
(This is an interactive post! please press play for music as you go along reading)
A visit to Champagne with Yair – Day 1
June 7th 2011, My 58th Birthday is 4 days from today, Decided to treat myself with a visit to Paris and combine a two days trip to Champagne This is something I have been meaning to do for A LONG TIME… for me coming from Tel-Aviv the general direction due west …or as the Beatles say follow the sun…
We set out early morning from Paris its a rainy Day. The mini cooper is quick to gulp the 137Km to the village of Vertus Where we’re suppose to visit Pierre Larmandier, of Larmandier Bernier later this afternoon.
But we took off early and the mini is swift , so we have several hours to “kill” in the area before our meeting for a tasting at Larmandier starts.
Yair is the ultimate Guide in the wine regions of France and there is a structure to his wine Journeys for Pros and Novices alike, it contains much more than just some visits for tasting wines.
There are Visits to the vineyards,a bit of history, and other places of general or particular interest are all included. So we set out into the vineyards of the Côte de Blancs Our destination for the first day with the Men and Legends of the sub region. This is the source of the vines of the Best Chardonnay lots of champagne. We take the vineyards road all the way up to the top of the cote de blanc up to the forest,
we look down the slope of the rows of chardonnay vines to the valley below and the sun comes up The sun rays caressing the vine leaves and the air gets warmer. Now I understand (at least I think I do), why those farmers of champagne installed those giant Ventilators in the entry to the Valley, it gets pretty warm here even though we are on the 49th parallel, in fact this is the northern most wine region on the northern Hemisphere.
We stroll carefully amongst the vines, the grapes are just starting to cluster, we look down the rows, what a sight. I must show you something says Yair we drive into a little village: Mesnil-sur-Oger. Tucked in between the small houses, just off one of the streets is the the renowned Clos du Mesnil vineyard. The small ally leading to it is almost unseen called: Allee clos du Mensil (the S in silent pronounced Menil).
This historic 1.85ha vineyard has been enclosed by a stone wall since 1698 and is set on a southeast-facing slope and is sheltered from the weather by its wall and the Vilaage houses. Purchased by the Krug family in 1971 it was restored to its previous glory by replanting the Chardonnay vines one section at a time. The 1979 vintage finally achieved expected quality by Krug standards and the first vintage of the Krug Clos du Mesnil was produced since than about 12,000 bottles of this wine are made in only the top vintages. We climbed an elevation of the ground which set us just above the wall line, The “Legend” infront of our eyes and the wall separating us humans and wine Royalty. I was not humbled but certainly excited. A sip from a 1985 Clos du Mensil would make this moment perfect, Alas Krug do not have a stall of wine by the glass on site.
Lets pop in to see my friend Pierre Gonet and his sister Chantal says Yair since we’re in Mensil Sur Oger, Only Chantal is there but she gives us a very warm welcome and a proper tasting of ALL their wines The one with the intriguing name: Philippe Gonet EXTRA-BRUT 3210 Blanc de Blancs, means Aged 3 years, 2 terroirs, 1 variety, 0 dosage is the crisp, fresh and the most acidic of them all and they start with higher acidity than your usual blended champagnes here at the Côte de Blancs! It’s a backbone that stretches through all the other different wines, an excellent start to a sunny day in the countryside CAMPAGNE. ..Grandma Gonet (picture above, deceased over a century and a half ago), was overlooking the tasting with her stern posture
We depart and set out the short ride south to VERTUS to our first “booked” visit of the day at Larmandier Bernier. Sophie Larmandier welcomes us to the wonderful tasting room on the ground floor
Pierre ia an artisan producer, he says: “we do disgorge the bottles, we add the dosage, to give the final touch to the champagne. But while most brut Champagnes are dosed at around 12 grams per litre, we never exceed 5 grams for our brut cuvées. For the ‘Terre de Vertus’ Non Dosé’, it’s simple: we add no sugar at all. Generally speaking, there is about 1 gram of residual sugar anyway”.
“We prefer to favour the maturity of the grapes and their natural sugar rather than adding sugar when the bottles are disgorged and running the risk of making the Champagne heavier and losing sight of the terroir”.
First we go down the spiral stairs to the cellars to have some of last vintage wines before bottling. The acidity at the moment is sky rocketing though it will mellow at the end of the process but keep an elegant, tight, dense and fresh, but delicate champagnes of the highest order.
Pierre is so enthusiastic and feels at home amongst the Oak barrels on one hand and the strangely looking egg-shaped concrete tanks. These small tanks assist in oxygenation of the wine. Their shape aids fluid movement for temperature and reduces pressure on the lees. The shape also aids the deposition of the lees across a larger floor area than a barrel and avoids the need for stirring. The material is porous, allowing fermenting wine to breathe without imparting the oaky flavors. Concrete is insulative while stainless is conductive, so concrete acts as a low-tech temperature control.
This is not your everyday champagne these are “terroir-related” champagnes, with very little interference in the essence of the initial wine produced.
” Current trends among these artisan producers include decreasing yields, increasing use of oak for fermenting and ageing the still wines, lower levels of dosage with the likes of Gimmonet, Larmandier-Bernier and Jérôme Prévost offering wines with no dosage at all, and wines that are rather less aggressively fizzy than the champagne norm. Many of these producers also give far more information about make up of the blend and disgorgement dates than the average champagne producer.” Jancis Robinson
We tasted the :
Larmandier-Bernier Tradition Premier Cru NV
Larmandier-Bernier, Extra Brut Blanc de Blancs Premier Cru NV
Larmandier-Bernier, Terre de Vertus Non-Dosé Blanc de Blancs Premier Cru NV
Larmandier-Bernier, Vieille Vigne de Cramant Extra Brut Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru 2005 and 2006
Some non disgorged cloudy 2009’s which had the scent and feel of a delicate cloudy fresh apple and grapefruit juice.
And the Brut 1979 Larmandier Bernier Blanc de Blancs
All the above are excellent champagnes each with its own character according to “pedigree” They can be described as very delicate with smooth small bubbles size, delicate to creamy mousse and excellent balance with long and lingering presence of citrus fruit and mineral touch of “Pierre à fusil” (It is the smell of heated flint or burned gun powder), aromas associated with the mineral character of the wine and that of the terroir. They are lighter champagnes when young with perfumes of flowers, slight aromas of grilled bread spread with butter, brioche and hazelnut. When getting older, they gain in smoothness, developing notes of fully ripe white pears and peaches. Wonderful precision!!!
As Pierre was preparing to fly abroad the next morning, we parted with sorrow but fully content and joyous
We are now heading to our final destination of the day to meet champagne’s “High Priest” in Aviz, Anselme Selosse, a good friend of Yair, what a lucky guy I am to have such friends.
It is hard to think of a single winemaker in Champagne today whose work is more influential on the new generation and on the philosophy of champagne production than that of Anselme Selosse. In heart he is a farmer, a wine grower, who happens to have this genius sparkle, which come to him with ease. (He answers to nobody but himself in the vineyard and the cellars…at home he answer to the wife like we all do)
I do not know him well enough but they say that his brilliance he has change the course of wine making in champagne region and that Anselme is the man most responsible for the revolution that’s taking Champagne to a new level. Since he studied oenology in Burgundy, he coined the idea that first you have to produce a great wine and only than make them into a great champagne all produced from grand cru vineyard in Avize, Oger, and Cramant.
In the winery, Selosse uses only indigenous yeasts for fermentations and by minimizing the use of SO2. He ferments his wines in wood barrels on their lees for more than 2 years, and in 1994, Gault-Millau named him France’s best winemaker in every category take that for an achievement. Some describe him as the most original winemaker in France today, and still he goes on with his aspiration and interests and seemed to me utterly unaffected by all the Razzmatazz around him. He is friendly, humble and thank god still eager to improve the small intricacies on the path to perfection. “Chapeau”!!!!
We tasted great (young) chardonnays from the Barrels bursting with fruit and livelihood some almost 2 years old and still expressing youth characteristic of a month old wine from a steel tank rather than a wine in an oak barrel on it’s lees.
The Champagnes: (we did not taste them all, left a few for the next visit)
Blanc de Blancs
Initial. A “classic” Brut. An assemblage of three vintages. Aged 2 years before degorgement.
Version Originale. Anselme’s great multi-vintage cuvée is aged 42 months before degorgement, and bottled with very little (1.2gr) or no dosage.
Millésime. The expression of character of a single vintage year.
Substance. The taste and character Avize’s vineyards.
Exquise. With a slightly higher dosage
Blanc de Noirs & Assemblage
Contraste. Show off with Pinot Noir from Aÿ.
There’s something very correct and precise about these wines on both the wine and the champagne stage, but it also has its “sexy” side. It is voluptuous. elegant with tons of finesse. BRAVO!
I had so many exquisite wines on the day for tasting which seldom went into the spittoon (sheer greed) with nothing to eat since last night , I was beginning to feel a bit weary and tired.
I was thankful that we were invited to spend the night, at the exquisite almost finished new hotel his wife Corinne erected. a nice neoclassical residence linked to the production of wine CHARLES KOCH since 1820 it make you share the soul of champagne in the past with the luxuries and amenities of the present. It is a perfect place to stay rest eat with style and quality
At the moment I leave you only with the details of the Hotel (below)
Hôtel Restaurant Les Avisés – 59, rue de Cramant – 51190 Avize
Tél (33) 326 577 006 – Fax (33) 326 577 007 – Email : email@example.com
Check the dates with reception
A separate post, about the Hotel and Restaurant will be posted in the near future.
I like winter celebrations, a cause to PARTY.. A champagne festival. GREAT!
They are “A decoration of our lives”, some with trees and glittering adornments
and others with lots of presents around. There are those who would like a trip to a warm exotic place, whatever fills your life with joy and gets you through the next quarter.
I wonder if you celebrate Christmas and New Year’s time around the end of December, and Easter around end of March beginning of April (it goes by the Lunar months) what do you celebrate in mid August Napoleon’s birthday or India’s Independence (both on August 15th), or maybe Just the Kids summer Holiday or just your own Summer. Then you get to stick again to the Gregorian calendar, introduced by Pope Gregory XIII, by a decree signed on 24 February 1582 (the previous calendar was 11 minutes too short per year which means that every million years the Christian faith would lose around 21 and a half days (Oi Vei…) If you asked me pope Gregory wanted to down history with something in his hands and HE DID!!!!!!!!!!
Lets move on Just to let you know (for the next trivia Quiz you will play round the old fireplace with a glass of eggnog in your hand :
The 3 oldest calendars are :
The Byzantine 7520–7521 calendar which calculated the first day of creation to September 1st, 5509 BC to August 31st 5508 BC ANNUS MUNDI + 2012 = 7520/21
The Assyrian 6762
The Hebrew 5772–5773
All the above count from the “day of creation” according to their belief and calculations Nice!
Back to our own humble celebration which celebrates US.
If wine (mostly Champagne is not the issue tonight than the food will balance the occasion.
* Cappuccino of white beans with white and black truffles Home made seasame and Parmigiano grissini
- 2 salads: Roasted endive with fresh figs, Rockfort, and Pomegranate dressing.
- Oven Roasted Tomato sald with Tulum cheese
Tulum cheese (Turkish: tulum peyniri) is a traditional Turkish goat’s milk cheese ripened in a goatskin casing. Due to its unique flavor
* Souflee of French goat cheeses and fresh porcini mushrooms
* Lobster whith cream of sweet pepers (Girardet style, I wish…..) servrd with a puree of violet potatoes, fried cubes of yellow potatoes mange tout and baked Shimeji mushrooms
Festive Macaroonsn with Port and Coffee
for starters Duval Leroy Blanc de chardonnay 1999, I must admit it was not the best of choice but since all our drinks were different champagnes leading to our midnight champagne to receive the New Year it was subtle enough. The pronounced sweetness which I personally dislike was appetizing to my family members. It acted as an appetizer with salty munchies and led us
We quickly moved to Bollinger Rose NV to ease my pain of shattered expectations between us it did not but raised the level from our first champagne and took us through the salad break which gave me a chance to grt the soufflé to the table at the best possible timing
With this perfect soufflé (I must add) we had to move to a sure bet one of my favorites The Bollinger grand annee 1990 . The 1990 Bollinger has a rich, light golden hue in the glass, and nice sized bubbles. Upon pouring it reveals the full array of mature aromas, roasted almonds, toffee, even creamed coffee with burnt caramel or honey, than wet mushrooms and even earthy truffles. Full bodied, but vibrant and sparkling. It has fully evolved flavours, still nicely supported by the acidity. What a delightful wine a real mood maker and it is going very well with the mid course. The Champagne and our mid course delighted us and got us closer to the “…stroke of midnight …clock hands join palms in respectful greeting …” of the New Year (may I use and add to the wonderful opening lines of Slman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children). So Just before the midnight hour we filled our glasses with the last bottle of one of my favorite champagnes: 1989 Heisieck Monopole Diamant Bleu , A rich lemon-brilliant gold color opened in the glass with a perfect mousse of tiny bubbles, complex elegant nose of butter fruit tart in Crème pâtissière, with a whiff of grilled almonds and buttered toasted brioche, all tender but expressive long and persistent aromas of “more” . one of the perfect examples of a perfect champagne of equal amounts of Pinot and chardonnay. The perfect opener to a new year and a wonderful accompanying drink to our desert (eaten after the 10th stroke of midnight)
With the Lobster I wanted a winner We worked our asses off to get the claws out of the shells intact (actually V. did most of th work on that she somehow got the hang of itwhich allowed me more time to look after the tails and the Lobster and sweet peppers sauce so…
So Just before the midnight hour we filled our glasses with the last bottle of one of my favorite champagnes:
1989 Heisieck Monopole Diamant Bleu , A rich lemon-brilliant gold color opened in the glass with a perfect mousse of tiny bubbles, complex elegant nose of butter fruit tart in Crème pâtissière, with a whiff of grilled almonds and buttered toasted brioche, all tender but expressive long and persistent aromas of “more” . one of the perfect examples of a perfect champagne of equal amounts of Pinot and chardonnay. The perfect opener to a new year and a wonderful accompanying drink to our desert (eaten after the 10th stroke of midnight)
Happy celebrations for whatever reason to Ya all.